Interview with Stephen Long for the Artists Research Groupâ€™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 wouldC
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 ASpeedboat
Wake@. That was the first Avery that I’d ever seen and I was like nineteen or twenty at
the time. And thenC
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 AThe Producers@ when it travels and so
on. But David was a huge collector, still isC
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 MotherwellC
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 anywayC
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
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 toC
GH: Oh you became director.
SL: No. I was seniorC
GH: Oh, a new director came inC
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, AMaybe 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
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. OrC
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 AAutomatism A@ 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 HollanderC
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 pressCthey were world famous for making pressesCwith 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… SoC
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 C
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. ABurning Elegy@; ABlue 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 ABlue Elegy@. And when my turn finally came I said, AThat’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, AJust 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’sC
SL: And what’s so important, at least in Motherwell’s case, is that the â€“ 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, AAh, 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 printsCthe 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, AAh, 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 AmericanCat least it was thenCfor 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 â€“ 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 heC
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 APortrait 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 ADynasty@ and I couldn’t believe my ears. And this big yellow sticky on the dial saying, Adon’t touch, RM.@ [Laughter]
And one of my best friendsCand 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
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 Aelliptical@ fashion, which meant that he spoke about wine
and France andC[laughter]Cand 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 : Awhat do you fear most that your legacy will be?@ And he said: Athat 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, AIf 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,
ADamn, 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’sC
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 somethingC
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 APollack
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 -Awell 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, Afrankly, 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, C
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 wasC
GH: That’s right.
SL: You know, that’sC
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 C[laughter]C
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, ironicallyCbecause Motherwell and his compatriots looked at all aspects of our culture C 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 spacesC
[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 AStorming the Citadel@, which is a film made in the last
couple of years on Motherwell’s life. And he said, AIf 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
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,
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 â€“ 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
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, ALook Bob, if you don’t think it’s any good, I’ll take it down@. He said, AWhat do you think?@ And Bob Motherwell said, AWell 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. HisC
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
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
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 andC
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 toC
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 â€“ 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, AWhy 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’: AThat
quaint old earth custom, Painting@. I think that, you know, there’s a lot of mileage still
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 artistsC
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’ orC
GH: So there is association andC
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
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 forC
SL: For great art.
GH: For great art. It’s ironic. And you don’t wish it butC
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 weekendB! 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
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.