Thursday, August 2, 2012


Blue Dot, collage, 10 x 6 ", 2012

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I’ve been working on a series of small painted sculptures I call Dumb Boxes. Back in 1965 I got my first apartment, in San Francisco, a block from Haight Street. I’d moved there from the Midwest after getting in trouble with authorities who’d threatened to jail me for creating pornography. Because of that, I stopped showing people my personal work for the next 35 years or so, and destroyed or lost most of it as the years rolled by. At any rate, the very first thing I did in the sixties was create a group of minimalist sculptures out of cardboard adding words and photos cut from magazines. Jump ahead to January of  2012: we got a chance for an apartment in Manhattan for the year and to celebrate, I decided to reproduce those cardboard boxes in wood. I dropped the photos, and instead I painted them with gesso and acrylic.  It’s been very satisfying to finish up a project started some 45 years earlier.

Can you describe your working routine?

Paint. Paint out. Paint. Paint out. Despair. Get back to work. Paint, paint out, paint—wait! I think that works. Stop.
As many hours a day as possible.  I try to take off Sundays.

"Dirty projects room" San Francisco studio

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

The studio in San Francisco consists of three small rooms: one for drawing, one for computer, and one for painting (we call it the last our dirty projects room, and it is very dirty). In New York, my wife Vivienne Flesher and I do our illustration in the dining room of our apartment and we have a painting studio in the garment district: 300 square feet with one window, no running water, no computer, no connection to the web. So in San Francisco we’ve got everything we’d want, including food, garden, place to nap, each other.  In New York it’s minimal, nose-to-the-grindstone, all attention on the work.  We’ve got no history here, no old paintings or sketches lying around, no friends asking to see the work. And that means focus is always on exactly what being done now. That can be both helpful and not.

New York studio

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I like to work on a very defined, consistent group (ex: the Dumb Boxes, a hand-painted book, large canvasses), then follow that with a group of things that veer wildly in different directions (ex: my collages). The first group is often defined by subject (names, a text, an image) or by the way I apply the paint. I work on as many pieces as I have space to lay out for drying. Most important and most uncomfortable is that once a direction is decided upon, I have to be willing to drop it when that Other Thing takes over––intuition, divine guidance, whatever you call it—that thing that almost everyone I respect seeks: the moment when one feels he/she is not in control, that something separate or higher or deeper or more knowledged has taken over.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

As usual: finding out what I really want to see that perhaps I alone can/will make.

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

When I paint I especially like to use paste for a medium, I learned to use it at a book-making class and I love the syrupy fluidity of it, the way it changes as it dries: that change prevents me from every having complete control of it and that is something I appreciate. Lately I’ve really liked working with gesso on wood, there is something so quiet and absorbing about gesso and sandpaper

Group of dumb boxes in NY studio

Archipelago, 14 x 6 x 6", 2012

What does the future hold for this work?

George Lawson Gallery in Los Angeles has scheduled a show of these sculptures in November 2012 and I look forward to that, in part because I have such respect for the other artists that George exhibits.  But as for the work itself: I really don’t know.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As an illustrator I always had an audience, it comes with the job; but as a painter who started showing at the age of 60, I feel a great appreciation for those who will take the time to look at my work.  So thank you for the interest.

Disappear, acrylic on paper, 48 x 34", 2012

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