Interview with Stephen Long for the Artists Research Group’s Oral History Project, by George Hofmann, on November 6, 2001, in New York City
GH: speaking. We’re recording for the Oral History Project, sitting with Mr. Stephen Long of Long Fine Art in New York. It is November 6, 2001. And we’re going to reminisce. (Laughter.)
SL: Well it’s a pleasure doing this, George.
GH: I think it would be helpful if we had a little background information about your origins, and coming to New York and so forth and so on. So if you would
SL: Oh it’s my pleasure. Yeah. I grew up outside of Toronto, Canada, a little Victorian paradise called Port Hope. It’s about an hour’s drive east of the city. And through a very close friend and an inspired art teacher I got the flame for art. In the late sixties I was introduced to issues of Art Forum and Art International. And The New York school was opened up to me through those two very important influences in my life. And the art teacher, Mr. Wilde, Leslie Wilde, took us to Toronto to see the museums and the latest in contemporary art being shown in the city. And David Mirvish who was quite an entrepreneur still in the city, opened a gallery in the mid-sixties focusing on Pop Art, but swiftly changed to the New York School of abstract painters, including the Abstract Expressionists and Color Field painters, including Motherwell, Frankenthaler, Louis and Milton Avery. Among the twelve I think David really focused his eye. And when he opened his big gallery in 1970 with a group show it just knocked me out. I mean, the most memorable moment, I think, was seeing Milton Avery’s SpeedboatWake. That was the first Avery that I’d ever seen and I was like nineteen or twenty atthe time. And then
GH: What was Mirvish’s gallery first called?
SL: The David Mirvish Gallery. It was just David’s name. And David now has built two theaters in Toronto, the Princess of Wales, and actually runs the Royal Alex, and brings in all the major Broadway shows including The Producers when it travels and so on. But David was a huge collector, still is
GH: Yes. And his second gallery was also called the David Mirvish Gallery?
SL: Yes. And it was a huge gallery. It’s about as large as the Gagosian Gallery here. And so he was able to show fifty-foot long Stellas and so on, large Anthony Caro sculptures and so on, David Smith. And so that lit the fire for me. It was like a moth to the flame. And then when Motherwell
GH: This was in the sixties?
SL: It was actually the early seventies.
GH: Early seventies.
SL: Yes. I began to look in the mid-to-late sixties but it was the early seventies when I began to focus on what I wanted to do with my life. When Motherwell gave a lecture, he was on a panel with Tony Caro and Alex Colville, the super realist Canadian. And Motherwell really impressed me with his… with his eloquence.
GH: In Toronto.
SL: Yes. It was at York University. And I actually lugged a much bigger version of your tape recorder there, a reel-to-reeler and recorded it. But anyway
GH: The panel.
GH: How wonderful.
SL: Yeah. And I might want to give it it to the Dedalus Foundation, which is the Motherwell estate. And shortly thereafter – I was making sculpture at the time and attending university studying art history and philosophy and decided that I’d had enough after two and a half years, and went to London to hang out with Tony Caro while I was making sculpture. But then, after a very cold winter, came back to Toronto, got my house in order and moved to New York in 1977, the Summer of Sam, and the blackout. Welcome to Hell. [Laughter]
GH: Nineteen seventy-seven.
SL: Yeah. And got a loft with a friend of mine which we promptly lost because the recession, the depression almost, in real estate was so bad.
Then I joined a print gallery in 1978, Associated American Artists. I had been working at a Toronto gallery for five years but my expertise in prints got me into this wonderful old gallery that had been founded in 1934 and I spent fourteen years there.
GH: They then were, if I remember, on 53rd Street, or something like that.
SL: Very good. Yes.
GH: On Fifth.
SL: Yes. Yes. They were between 52nd and 53rd on Fifth, kitty-corner to MoMA. So Riva Castleman, who was then curator of prints, would always have her Saturday hamburger with Sylvan Cole, my boss, my venerable boss, my mentor in prints…. a walking encyclopedia.
And it was like working in a museum with four centuries of prints from Rembrandt to Rauschenberg, and everything in between. But the gallery’s fame was based on it’s publishing Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Woods and so on. But Sylvan also had the very best in American contemporary prints, including Motherwell, Frankenthaler and so on. So that’s where I really….
After he… he retired from the gallery in ’83 and we had a new director for a few years, until I left in ’92. I was able to vastly expand the scope of the gallery, and bring it sort of up to date and introduce Motherwell to
GH: Oh you became director.
SL: No. I was senior
GH: Oh, a new director came in
SL: Robert Conway.
GH: I see.
SL: Yeah. And, at the time I wasn’t interested in being director. I was interested in being a sculptor and to pay the studio rent while I worked there.
Then I began to feel that I’d love to show the work of the artists that inspired me to make art in the first place. And after a loss of my space – it was a city-owned building and the boiler died in the dead of winter and we were all kicked out – I said, Maybe the art god is telling me something here.
GH: Cold has pursued you.
SL: Yes, it has!
GH: It drove you out of London.
SL: Down from the forty-ninth parallel in London. You’re right. [Laughter] So I was very fortunate when I decided to leave AAA, as they called it, in 1992. I fortunately got seven of the ten artists that I started out with–. When I opened my own gallery at 57th Street in ’93, seven of the ten artists that I had introduced came with me, including the Motherwell estate, and Sam Francis, Milton Avery and so on, in terms of their works on paper.
And it was a wonderful start, a rocky start, because, 1993 – the print market feels the recession first and recovers from it last. And it was a tough time. But if it weren’t for Robert Motherwell I would not be having this conversation with you today. He literally saved me through sales of prints.
SL: Yeah. He was about the only show happening. And from ’93 through ’96 the gallery in terms of actual dollars sold more Motherwell prints than Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined. And we’re proud of that. And the estate was very pleased.
So when we moved here [W. 14th St.] we decided to reinvent the gallery, which was in 1998. And we’ve added five or six young contemporary painters.
And my first love is painting and sculpture. Dealing in prints was to pay my sculpture studio rent. So now I have the good fortune to handle unique works again in a growing way, as well as prints.
GH: And of course the Motherwell was not so much of a coincidence as one might think
because he was prolific, more so than almost any other modern artist.
GH: And had a gift for graphic work.
SL: Well, yes. When he first began making prints at the invitation of Stanley William Hayter in 1943, Robert — Hayter said you’re a natural printmaker’. But Motherwell didn’t like the collaborative atmosphere of Atelier 17. He preferred to work alone. He preferred the solitude, as so many of the Abstract Expressionists did. So – he made collage with Pollack sporadically in the fifties – but returned to serious printmaking in 1960, ’61, at ULE, Universal Limited Art Editions of West Islip.
GH: With Tanya Grossman.
SL: Yeah. And he also had his large retrospective of paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965. And he felt that he’d been laid naked. His whole career up to that point, his whole painting career, had been laid out on the walls, and severely overhung.
He was not happy with the installation.
GH: And that was by Rubin?
SL: I don’t know. Or
GH: What year was that?
SL: Nineteen sixty-five. It might have been Alfred Barr. I’m embarrassed. I don’t
GH: That’s hard to know, who did that. I’ll have to look that up.
SL: Yeah. So he suffered a painting block. And also, David Smith died in May of ’65, and he was considered his closest friend. So Irwin Hollander, a master lithographer, approached Motherwell and suggested that they make some prints together to get him out of the solitude of the studio, and to have some camaraderie and he took off. At the front of the gallery is one of his most famous prints from the Hollander collaboration, which is Automatism from 1965, which is reproduced in three – two standard reference texts on American printmaking. And the newest book, which is Abstract Expressionist prints from the Worcester Art Museum, which is a recent publication.
GH: And, when was that with Hollander, about what year do you think?
SL: Sixty-five, sixty-six.
GH: And so his earliest forays had been with Tanya Grossman.
SL: Yes, in 1960.
GH: And then he came back to work with Hollander
SL: In New York.
GH: And that was in New York.
GH: Hollander’s setup was in New York.
SL: Yes. And then Motherwell had some sporadic contributions to portfolios and single prints. But in 1972, ’73 he was approached by, I think his name was Sid Schiff, of Dain Schiff, to work on three or four etchings.
And Motherwell worked on a Brandt press they were world famous for making presses with Catherine Moseley, his master etching printer. And that began a long, long collaboration, which stretched uninterrupted from 1972 through 1991.
GH: And that he did in his own studio.
SL: Yes, yes.
GH: And she printed there.
SL: Yes. Yes, you’re right.
GH: He had the… So
SL: And then in 1982 he established a proofing press in Provincetown where he actually made the drawing, all the copper plates. We’re talking etchings here. And did the acid bath and all that. And proofed rough proofs, rough trial proofs in Provincetown because he was so happy there. And he considered the printmaking to be a wonderful diversion from the painting studio in Greenwich. So he was primarily making collage and prints in Provincetown in his later years.
SL: The plates were then taken back with the trial proofs to Greenwich. And then the editioning was done on the larger formal press in the etching studio at his painting studio. But he produced just under five hundred editions from 1943 through 1991. I think only maybe Jim Dine has done as many or more.
GH: Yeah. Yeah.
SL: A prolific printmaker firmly immersed in the Picasso and Matisse notion of the School of Paris ..of doing everything. I’m surprised that Motherwell didn’t do sculpture because Smith encouraged him to do it. And with the Elegies specifically they would have been quite striking pictorially.
GH: Yeah. And, of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is Miro and, naturally, Picasso. But the gift for graphic expression certainly just was a natural for
SL: Well he loved to work on a very intimate scale. Some of his smallest prints are some of the best. Not to be perverse and say the biggest ones aren’t masterpieces either, they are. Burning Elegy; Blue Elegy, in particular, I wrote about. I just thought it was just a masterpiece.
I fondly remember when Ken Tyler opened in Mount Kisco [NY] in, oh, it must have 1987, very early, because it was very cold. And when we… we took the train up – Motherwell was kind of leaning on the press and holding court. There was a little line and I wanted to go there to shake his paw. And I looked to my left and there was this trial proof of Blue Elegy. And when my turn finally came I said, That’s fabulous. And then later I found out that Tyler had gone to great lengths to persuade him not to print it in black. He said, Just for once do it in something other than black. And he did. And it’s considered to be one of Motherwell’s top five prints. It’s just sublime, just a… symphonies of blues and soot grays and tans, very unusual for Motherwell.
But he would go over to Tyler’s, since Greenwich is only a few miles by car, just a few minutes away, on Sundays, and work quietly with him on his large prints.
GH: And he would do that with Tyler. I mean the connection I’m making is that Tyler had a setup for very large prints, which I guess no one else really did or had. I mean, he had a huge press, I think.
SL: Oh yes. They were as long as a car.
I mean, we think, out of the Renaissance and Baroque tradition, these tiny little etching and book presses. Tyler simply scaled everything up in response to the new American painting. The artists were capable of producing large-scale prints, mural size almost. I mean, when you put them continuously together. And that was Tyler’s forte. And also the notion – very finely crafted, very multi-layered prints. He brought it to a new level, to give him so much credit.
GH: Yeah, yeah. One doesn’t often think of that and that really was innovative there.
And I think, effective.
GH: That’s extremely interesting as it’s, you know, perhaps documented, but not widely discussed. The implications of that and the significance in terms of contemporary art, you know, it’s
SL: And what’s so important, at least in Motherwell’s case, is that the symbiotic relationship between paintings and prints… Motherwell would tack up a trial proof of one of his etchings on the studio wall in Greenwich, and look at it and say, Ah, it’s the seeds of a composition for a painting. Or he would even, as is illustrated in the catalogue raisonne of his prints have an impression of a piece, of a lithograph or etching, right beside him on the floor, mapped out in a grid to produce a much larger painting with subtle adjustments and so on.
And that worked in reverse as well. The large painting would whisper the possibilities for a print as well. And that again is another aspect of the School of Paris, where prints cross-pollinate paintings and vice versa. Motherwell embraced that and loved it.
And also, remember prints the lateral inversion, which is the hallmark of printmaking and the element of surprise when your composition is totally reversed, Motherwell delighted in that. He said, Ah, that’s different.
GH: Yeah. That, as an artist, I know throws you at first and then you come to value it because it’s a surprise to the eye and, and, it’s a tonic in a funny kind of way.
SL: Well, George, Motherwell’s famous phrase is that when you have a predetermined conclusion you have academic art by definition’. So that was just the surrealist notion of surprise, which Motherwell sort of translated and transcended into abstraction.
GH: Yes, yes. And another aspect that occurs to me here, about what you’re saying, is the monumental aspect of, in effect, drawing on this scale, which we’ve seen disappear in painting, but which is very much in evidence again today with Serra, and the scale of sculpture. And, the enormous scale of museums that are now being built, and the whole concept of installation art, filling vast rooms and space. And, and it shows you how much an artist like Motherwell was really thinking – twenty years ahead. Perhaps, you know, not projecting but, in the forefront of – developments.
SL: Oh, very much so. He really brought – and his compatriots brought – the notion of the easel picture out, off, out of the cabinet and onto the floor and then onto a massive wall. He said, you know, when you’ve got a small studio you paint small pictures but when you’ve got a big loft you paint big pictures.
GH: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. And some of that has disappeared, for the moment. But, as I say, I think it’s evident in other manifestations, and it’s something that seems to have a life in art, that transcends eras.
SL: Yes, oh yes. And, also, it’s very American at least it was then for the vastness of the country – to express that. Not in terms of the way the Regionalists did, in tidy easel pictures of cornfields and so on. They wanted to express it in abstract terms, and in literal terms. So that’s how the mural size abstract painting was born really. In response to their – their literal space that they were painting in, but also the metaphor of America.
GH: Yeah. Yeah. The quote of Motherwell’s is extremely interesting. Was there any other wonderful thing that… that you remember well that he
SL: Well, I mean, it’s so funny because I’m quite fond of the people at the Dedalus Foundation, which is the Motherwell estate. And that’s out of Stephen Dedalus, the Joyce figure from Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. And Motherwell named it the Dedalus Foundation I think in ’90, ’91 when he founded it. And we all chuckled, that Motherwell really had quite, quite a broad idea of culture from popular culture to, of course, the most serious high culture.
And I remember when I was in his studio, one time I was… there was this huge TV set. And I found, indirectly, that one of his favorite shows was Dynasty and I couldn’t believe my ears. And this big yellow sticky on the dial saying, don’t touch, RM. [Laughter]
And one of my best friends and she was an artist who studied with Motherwell at Hunter -Roz Goldfarb, her husband was in to pick her up one day… Ben. And Motherwell was [there] with his feet up on the desk reading, I think, the Post or the Daily News, the baseball scores. So he was a baseball fan.
GH: At the college?
SL: Yeah. And apparently he mumbled a lot, so he was hard to hear. But just…. to go back to the estate: they sent me down this wonderful little clipping, of a baseball game in the sixties, I guess. And Motherwell compared the baseball field to an early Italian Renaissance painting of – the starkness and whiteness against the greenness of the playing field and the ball, and so on. He was able to translate something that is ubiquitous in our culture to something quite special, because he was all about light, all about color.
He loved the latitude of Long Island and Provincetown, because it reminded him so much of Venetian light, for instance. And he just had a…
And, also, he was born in Aberdeen, Washington. And the light on the ocean was just…
I mean he had salt water for blood. I mean, Motherwell was a real Maritimer, in that sense. And I relate to him so much for that, because half my family on my mother’s side was from New Brunswick in Canada, right on the ocean. And we shared a similar love of boats and things like that – and seafood, you know. [Laughter]
GH: From past conversations with some Hunter alumni it’s clear that there were those in his classes who sort of got it, and those who were utterly mystified, and who… it just went right over them. And someone who was on the Hunter faculty, whom I taped, said that he taught in a very elliptical fashion, which meant that he spoke about wine and France and[laughter]and so forth and so on.
SL: Well, that again reminds me of his– I can’t quote it exactly, but he’d think that, you know, red… say, to take, for example, the color red. We have all kinds of associations, fire engine red, Chinese red. And you can just hear Motherwell, in wonderful films and interviews – just sort of a stream of consciousness almost – to freely associating, all the rednesses of red from various objects in the world. And then what is the … the
And that’s partly–. You know, he’s been knocked for being an intellectual. And one of the big put downs is that he’s a better writer than a painter, or a better printmaker than a painter. In fact, he was asked : what do you fear most that your legacy will be? And he said: that I’m considered a better printmaker than a painter. And that’s nonsense. Motherwell was absolutely superb in both. And I think it’s out of envy and jealousy – that that kind of pronouncing must be stopped dead in its tracks.
GH: Well it’s always very suspicious-making amongst painters that, amongst artists, for anyone not to be – functioning outside of the realm.
GH: And, he was pretty unabashed about that.
SL: That’s true.
GH: You could easily see where…
SL: He flaunted a little bit.
GH: And he did flaunt it. That’s right.
SL: Yes, he did.
GH: In all fairness. Yeah.
SL: But, on the other hand, If you’ve got it, flaunt it!
GH: Well, in a way that’s what he did. And from having known him just a tiny bit I, I came to see that. And yet, my own experience has been that the paintings hold up.
GH: Twenty years later, you’re startled by the sight of a Motherwell. And you think, Damn, that is a good painting.
SL: Absolutely. They really stand the test of time.
SL: I’ve been dealing recently in a few of his paintings and drawings, but primarily in his prints in a serious way, since 1985. And I have never, ever had anybody want to return a print to re-consign to the gallery. They live very well. They give everybody a lot of pleasure. And I found that they speak to a universal audience. My youngest collector for him is like – in their teens, and most elderly would be in their eighties.
GH: Well, and that’s
SL: And, as you said George, they get it.
GH: That’s, that’s an aspect ofB
GH: Of that generation, that is now overlooked. As is this broad culture that you speak of. Another figure who had this broad knowledge was Tony Smith at Hunter. And students reveled in this because, in the course of a lecture so very much would come out. So it was an education of… through osmosis or something
SL: And on many levels.
GH: That’s right. That’s right.
SL: No, it shapes the person. I mean, I began collecting films of artists making art. That’s just one of my passions. And there are some – a favorite part of my collection, the Hans Namuth film, which I bought from Mr. Namuth, a video copy of it, of Pollack Painting. It’s fascinating. It’s short. It’s like twelve minutes, but it’s worth every second to see him working.
And also to hear Motherwell talk about -well you’ve got some people in an office and there’s a… there’s a message pad at the telephone. And you watch people doodling as they’re taking a call. You go back to that pad in a month and you’ll know exactly which person made that doodle. They’re all so individual. And he said, frankly, I’d start by doodling. And so he had this modesty to him, a self-effacement, at least in later years. That’s the Motherwell I knew, that was refreshing. And that he would look at popular culture the way I do. I, I love everything from 1930s animation to horror movies. Motherwell loved the whole – the whole spectrum of our culture.
GH: Yes. And of course, in the very beginning, when he first came to New York, his broad interest was shared by people like Gottlieb, like Barnett Newman – Rothko, who were very, very broad in their interests and,
SL: And by osmosis, as you say, they took in everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to African art, the way Picasso and Matisse did, to the mural size of – even billboards may have been an indirect influence. You know the largeness of the country, which was
GH: That’s right.
SL: You know, that’s
GH: And, of course other influences, like – with Motherwell – certainly came from Mexico, where he spent some time. He married a Mexican woman.
GH: He surely came under some influence of Sequieros and Orozco and other, other big Mexican figures. And you don’t shake that from someone’s background o…
SL: Well see, he embraced the Mediterranean and all its wonderful aspects. I mean when he married Helen Frankenthaler, I think, I guess it was in ’58, I think in the early sixties, they took the grand tour of Europe, and spent time in Spain. And one of Motherwell’s most famous early portfolios was The Madrid Suite. And they were painting in Europe at that time together, buying bed sheets to paint on. But Motherwell– the room apparently had this wonderful mottled wall. And Motherwell just tacked up some sheets of paper and used a crayon to do his drawings, which resulted in a portfolio.
But what he did was that he drew with the crayon right on the paper that was attached to the wall, and just did a tracing, almost, of the wall. [Laughter] And then he replicated that with the lithographs, with Irwin Hollander.
GH: Oh, I wonder if that still exists.
SL: A couple of the drawings do.
GH: Oh, really?
SL: I had Madrid No. 2 in the gallery, about a year ago, yeah.
SL: Yeah. It’s in a private collection.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
GH: One thing… Oh, it slipped my mind now.
SL: Oh, about maybe Spain or Madrid?
GH: Well, this broad base: to some extent we’ve lost that in teaching. And, and we… I think we’ve lost that in – to a certain extent – in art. Everything has become so wildly international that I suppose we don’t have to have a reference to Polish culture because we have the Polish artist
SL: That’s true. That’s true. We don’t need Cahiers D’Arte from Poland.
GH: There you have it.
SL: You just look it up on the Internet, or whatever.
But what I see, ironically because Motherwell and his compatriots looked at all aspects of our culture today’s art looks just at popular culture and sort of thumbs its nose up at so called high culture in many ways. And it’s a dumbing -down that I find very disturbing indeed. The art world is just run like Hollywood these days where…
GH: Well, we are in entertainment industry, almost.
SL: Our industry.
GH: Yes. Yes.
SL: And you see these – as you said George, earlier, the whole scaling up of things in these huge museums and commercial galleries, like Gagosian and so on, was… huge, huge spaces! Paul Cooper, I mean they were the pioneers here in terms of building these huge gallery spaces
[end of tape 1, side A]
GH: It’s certainly… the seeds of our present situation can be traced to the period of the Abstract Expressionists, in part. And there’s been comment made about how that era, or the group, was eventually rent by jealousies because some people were financially successful, and some were not. And the money entered in, and so forth and so on. But I think that we can’t really overlook the origins of that period. And, and when you look back, I think – even for Motherwell – what they had to react against, which was stultifying, academic, dead, insular, provincial, protectionist, isolationist, it was a heroic effort that they made.
SL: And they felt they had nothing to lose.
GH: They– and they were in that position of having nothing to lose.
SL: Motherwell said… I reviewed Storming the Citadel, which is a film made in the last couple of years on Motherwell’s life. And he said, If we all had had money, the results would have been the same. They really believed – no matter what -that they had to do this. It was tragic. They were very much a sacrificial generation for us.
GH: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. There were those amongst them who had nothing. But there were those who had something. And they were all – one as devoted as the other…
GH: To this…. it was a… it was a cause, and a calling that was really – [bell].
GH: So, just to leave Motherwell for a period, for a little here: I don’t know that you came much in contact with any of the other Hunter figures, Tony Smith, Ray Parker, George Sugarman
SL: They weren’t in my world.
GH: They – weren’t in your world. Well, Smith was a bridge to that world. But others seemed to be removed from it, I think generationally, because they were, they were the next generation, after the Abstract Expressionists.
GH: And were… and were some steps removed, I think.
SL: Or … and, aesthetically, they weren’t as… as important to me personally as to contrast Tony Smith to David Smith or, or to Anthony Caro.
I come more under the… when I was making sculpture, utterly Constructivist tradition of Gonzalez and Picasso and so on. So the more minimalist patterned work of Smith, for instance – Serra – didn’t speak to me as much as the other artists.
GH: Yeah, yeah.
SL: I formed my taste pretty early on, you know, to just the circle of artists that were pretty close. I did an Abstract Expressionist print show in ’86, which was [my] really first focused show. There was a larger one called (unclear) that…
GH: Called The Bloody?
SL: The Vital Gesture. It might as well be Bloody Gesture!
SL: But it was all over the place. It included Abstract Expressionists in Tokyo. I mean mine was just School of New York. And it included Pollack and Reinhardt, Gorky and so on. And Motherwell was, of course, center stage, because he was the most prolific of all the painter/printmakers.
SL: So that really– I really formed my tastes pretty early on, with a certain rigor that I try to maintain today.
GH: It’s unfortunate about a wonderful artist who was, really, at Motherwell’s side, aesthetically – who was a Hunter professor, was Bill Baziotes.
SL: Oh yeah.
GH: And… but, Baziotes died in his forties. And I think, didn’t come to the point of this prolific outpouring….
SL: Oh, no. He was robbed, and it was tragic.
It’s interesting… you mention Baziotes, because Motherwell helped him hang one of his shows at, I guess Sam Kootz, or at Sidney Janis or Peggy Guggenheim… I can verify that for you, which gallery it was.
But he helped him install it, and they were looking around, and Baziotes turned to Motherwell and said, Look Bob, if you don’t think it’s any good, I’ll take it down. He said, What do you think? And Bob Motherwell said, Well of course, I said the work was superb.
That was that kind of doubt and self-doubt that was rampant and led to suicides and heavy drinking and, you know, whatever.
GH: Well, of course. And not to mention that, for someone like Baziotes, hard life alone was a factor in his early death. But it’s sad about Baziotes, because he had the graphic gift. His
SL: A couple of prints do exist by the way, in terms of graphics.
GH: Yeah. And, his drawings, that I found in the – actually there are – some of them – in the Archives of American Art. Wonderful, insouciant drawings, that – some of which he did – even at school, while he was having kids take a test or something – you know, were just like his paintings and would have been remarkable. He would have been a remarkable printmaker.
SL: But before you go, I’ll show you the Worcester Museum catalogue. It has Rothko’s only print in it.
GH: Oh, really?
SL: Yeah. And real early Gottliebs, and so on. Gottlieb, in terms of the abstract painters, along with Newman – of that generation – were the three most prolific. You could include DeKooning in there, too.
SL: You know, DeKooning did his first two lithographs in Berkeley… at Berkeley.
GH: Oh, really?
SL: Yeah. Everyone was getting a little sauced. And he had this huge mop and this huge stone. And I think it was four feet long. Got up on the table beside the stone and dipped in, with the tusche, a lithographic medium, and swabbed the stone. And MoMA has an impression of it.
The sheer pressure… I think he stood on the stone occasionally and it cracked, so they were able to get a few impressions. But the bravura of the gesture was just amazing, so immediate and so direct! That was really the new dawn in American printmaking.
GH: And, of course, it makes you wonder what they would be doing, were they to be alive today.
SL: Yes. With Tyler Graphics around, and stuff like that.
GH: Yeah. Yeah.
SL: I must say that some of the large prints, not just by Tyler, but other presses, tend to get a little inflated, and for sheer money, too. They know they’re printing money when they make a big print. They can charge more for it.
And Clinton Adams, who is head of the print department at the University of Alberquque… Clinton’s a wonderful guy… he said, when he looked at a Stella – said, oh, it’s a surrogate painting. [Laughter]
It’s a very good point. And a lot of them – if they’re dark – you look at yourself in the morning, everyday. It’s a big problem, which -of course, in painting – you don’t [have] a barrier. But you must cover a work on paper all the time.
So, but in general, the most successful large prints, especially by Motherwell – since I’m so fond of him – are just magical – to see the scale, you know, achieved. It’s just amazing.
GH: Just going back a little back, you’ve now been an observer for thirty years of the New York art scene. And that’s a lot of water under the bridge. [Laughter] And seen the culture change, and art’s role in the culture and
SL: Heads roll, too!
GH: Yeah. Yeah. It’s… I notice a sense of regret often, when you talk about the present day in relation to
SL: I do, but only with some regret, because every time I look around the Gallery, I feel so invigorated by the artists that are painting.
GH: Younger artists.
SL: Yes. One that comes immediately to mind is Jonathan Willard. He’s a young painter, not that well known. But Jonathan – he didn’t know who Jules Olitski was when he joined us, and just had heard of Motherwell. But he … just being with us, and in this mix…
SL: He’s in his early thirties.
SL: Painted for a while and was painting in a very good style. It was extremely promising. But once – my associate, Constance Gill, and myself sat down once and gave him some constructive criticism, Jonathan took it and ran with it. And is producing some of the most interesting painting today.
And I do regret it, because I think that we’ve become so, so… we’ve scattered our shots by, you know, anything goes. And one painter came in and said, Why don’t they organize a painting museum?
GH: Oh, my God.
SL: I mean everything is called art these days – that, as Spock said, in Star Trek: That quaint old earth custom, Painting. I think that, you know, there’s a lot of mileage still in it.
GH: Oh absolutely.
SL: But that’s – rare. If you take a tour around Art Land, as Stanley Boxer would say, bless his heart and God rest him, you see so little painting today. And that’s part of what the Gallery’s mission is, is to show painting and works on paper.
GH: Yes. Yes.
SL: Because it’s survived the test of time, and its … signals of it’s… or pronouncements of it’s demise, are premature.
GH: Do you think the spirit of community has left us, or does it exist?
SL: Its like – little city states. I think the art world is so big, that there’s the video crowd, and the video crowd within the video crowd, and the installation crowd, and things like that.
But remember, you could do 57th Street in the 40s, in an afternoon. It’d take you days to do New York galleries now. It’s just so big. And paradoxically, there’s so little quality, you know. The level of quality enhancing – has shrunk, you know, if anything.
GH: And are most artists
SL: I found that with our gallery artists — Thank God, they all get along with each other, and they swap recipes, and kid each other. You know, loosen up or
GH: So there is association and
SL: We had a wonderful… for our opening group show of our young painters, we had this wonderful party after. And I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed being with artists as much as that. You know, maybe it’s, probably, my age now. But they were just so full of life, and talking about art, and talking about painting, and talking about everything. It was just fantastic.
GH: So the community doesn’t disappear, it changes. It changes its form.
SL: It changes its form, I think.
GH: But exists.
SL: And it gets into sub-strata and, and, as I said, little groups, and little factions, of which we have one here at the gallery. And they have friends as well, so it’s been expanded. But, yeah, I think there still is … not the kind of community, the Cedar Bar kind of mentality that maybe you’re referring to.
GH: I was just thinking back to that and… and thinking that in a sense with their… in those days…with their mission, that they must have had a sense that they would affect the world in some way. And I don’t know whether that’s present today.
SL: It…. I believe it is. But I think it’s turned more to a defense, not by being on the offense – in the defense of painting. I think that that kind of mission is more in abstract terms. And so many of ours have a real sense of moral values as well, like Motherwell did.
Motherwell, his Spanish Elegies. He didn’t wear his politics on his sleeve, but he transcended it into his art without making, you know, stop the Vietnam War in big letters all over his paintings. He just did this universal symbol, an icon now today, so…
GH: Yeah. It’s heartening to know, from someone on the scene, that there is a sense of community and a purpose. But, of course, in the period that Motherwell, for example, emerged from, it was so clear, and so necessary, that it just overrode everything.
SL: I think that maybe – the stars, unfortunately… may be realigned. Remember they were… the artists in exile were in New York… it was war. And with the way things are going now, we may unfortunately have another similar mission.
GH: Bad times can make for
SL: For great art.
GH: For great art. It’s ironic. And you don’t wish it but
SL: No. It reminds me of an article recently in the Times – saying, more or less, that popular art responds more quickly, and by implication, more effectively, than higher art. And the letters the next weekend! That was in the Arts and Leisure section, the article… long, sprawling article. And Guernica was the only work of Fine Art that was cited. The Elegies were never mentioned, and nothing else. And so many people responded – even Johns, with his flag; all the letters, the next weekend, disagreed with the author, and said that, excuse me, this is not the case, and went on to just debunk that.
GH: Yes. Yes. You can’t see the Elegies without being moved.
SL: Oh, heavens! To see a room full of them it’s just fabulous and very… almost disturbing. It’s not like – the same impression you have – of the Rothko Chapel, or the installation at the Tate. It’s a different feeling. But it, nevertheless, is on that level of mourning, of tragic loss.
GH: That’s right. One wonders…I suppose it was mourning for innocence or …
SL: Yes. And liberty, and freedom and revulsion to fascism and ignorance and hatred, which is what’s part of our world today.
GH: Yeah. Yeah. So, they had a mighty thing to struggle against, of course. And they distinguished themselves in their struggle.
SL: Oh, absolutely! And I can’t think of any movement since that has achieved that, that level of feeling, and quality.
GH: Maybe we need the resistance.
SL: Yeah. I think maybe that’s true. It’s a horrible thing to say. But if history’s anything to go by, George, you’re right.
GH: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you, Stephen.
SL: You’re welcome, George.
GH: It’s been a wonderful… informative and interesting, going through those years. And very interesting to hear these recollections of Motherwell first hand.
SL: Well it’s my pleasure. And I thank you so much for thinking of me.
GH: Thank you.