May 29, 2008

The type of memories
that turns your bones to glass

Howard Greenberg, Untitled, 2004

* From a December 21, 1965 interview of Robert Rauschenberg:

Interviewer: Perhaps the word hero slips in there because at this time there was a kind of attitude among a number of the artists of taking a rather heroic stance. Perhaps, this is really something that the critics opposed almost more than the artists, but there was a feeling of the artist having a role outside of society, let's say, and sometimes it could become almost a Messianic role with certain artists. This was not, of course, general. It was part of the attitude that emerged. As you were sitting in club meetings at the Cedar Bar, listening to discussions of that more rebellious attitude, that feeling that the artist has a special role to oppose the demands and the ways of a commercial, materialistic society, can you remember any particular feelings that you had? Or ways in which you expressed them to yourself or to anybody else at that time?

RR: Well, I don't know how accurately I remember. It was certainly a lot more complicated and I felt more involved than probably my generalization about it now. But I was in awe of the painters; I mean I was new in New York, and I thought the painting that was going on here was just unbelievable. I still think that Bill de Kooning is one of the greatest painters in the world. And I liked Jack Tworkov, himself and his work. And Franz Kline. But I found a lot of artists at the Cedar Bar were difficult for me to talk to. It almost seemed as though there were so many more of them sharing some common idea than there was of me, and at that time the people who gave me encouragement in my work weren't so much the painters, even my contemporaries, but a group of musicians that were working: Morton Feldman, and John Cage, and Earl Brown, and the dancers that were around this group. I felt very natural with them. There was something about the self assertion of abstract expressionism that personally always put me off, because at that time my focus was as much in the opposite direction as it could be. I was busy trying to find ways where the imagery and the material and the meanings of the painting would be not an illustration of my will but more like an unbiased documentation of my observations, and by observations I mean that literally of my excitement about the way in the city you have on one lot a forty story building and right next to it you have a little wooden shack. One is a parking lot and one is this maze of offices and closets and windows where everything is so crowded. And I remember I was talking to someone about this one time, and they said well, you know, parking lots are the most valuable real estate in New York City because there's absolutely no overhead. And I thought this is so absurd, all these officious looking buildings and actually, the best business would be not to have a building at all. I'm getting a little off the subject now.

Interviewer: No, I think that's fascinating, Bob.

RR: It was this constant, irrational juxtaposition of things that I think one only finds in the city. One doesn't find that in the
country. I had traveled quite a lot in Europe just previously and I didn't find it there either. There's a kind of an architectural
harmony. Whether it's chauvinism or patriotism anyway, there's something that tended to unite the people. And so everything
abroad that I came in contact with was so much more coherent or cohesive than I found New York. And I think that even today, New York still has more of this unexpected quality around every corner than any place else. It's something quite extraordinary.

Interviewer: Yes. Are there particular sections of the city that appeal to you more than others?

RR: Well, I like way downtown near the Battery. I lived down there at this time and for, I guess, the following well, this is where I moved to uptown and I've been here for four years and this is 1965. And this is as far uptown as I've lived except for one period in my life when my wife was carrying my son and under the insistence of my mother in law we got a ground floor apartment and lived sensibly for about a year or a year and a half. But I like that area down there because maybe there the contract is even more emphasized; it's more dramatic. On one side of town you have the largest pet store in New York, with all kinds of wonderful animals. At that time they had the Washington Market; that was the only one in the city where you could get all kinds of fresh vegetables and meat. It was like a farmer's market and imported cheeses. Then, right within the same block they had wholesale plant places. The flower district is up around 26th Street, but this was a different kind of area. And in the next block they had surplus hardware stores galore. And electronic equipment. And then across town, you had the Fulton fish market. The two were separated only by big business. And during the day, the streets would be so filled with people that it looked like an ant hill that had just been kickedtrover. And then Bam at six o'clock you could hear footsteps three blocks away. And the buildings were the tallest there. I always like being close to water if I have the choice. And if the roasting of coffee wasn't too strong, you could always smell the fish market. I think that is a very rich part of town.
Interviewer: Coming back to the other thing that you mentioned that you had been at that time very closely associated with John Cage and with other musicians I know that many people have assumed that because of your association, that accident and a philosophy, an outlook of accident was important to your work, since it had apparently been in Cage's. And I gather that this was not your feeling, that you were once quoted as saying that you didn't believe in accident any more than anything else. Was that a strongly developed attitude?

RR: I was very interested in many of John's chance operations. Each one seemed quite unique to me. I liked the sense of experimentation that he was involved in. But painting is just a different medium and I never could figure out an interesting way to use any kind of programmed activity. And even though chance deals with the unexpected and the unplanned, it still has to be organized before it can exist. I think maybe chance works better in a situation like music because music exists over a period of time, and you don't maintain constantly the you can't refer back from one area to another area. One's familiarity or lack of familiarity with time is very different from, say, the size of a canvas, which is what I would compare it to. One can see that a canvas is six feet by eight feet, say, quite accurately. But you can spend two minutes and think it's five, or thirty seconds and it's just a different bed for activities there. The only thing that I could get with chance, and I never was able to use it, was that I would end up with something quite geometric or the spirit that I was interested in, indulging in, was gone. I felt as though I was carrying out an idea rather than witnessing an unknown idea taking shape. If this is called accident I certainly used accident, and I certainly used the fact that wet paint will run, and lots of other things. It seems to me it's just a kind of friendly relationship with your material where you want them for what they are rather than for what you could make out of them. I did a twenty foot print and John Cage is involved in that because he was the only person I knew in New York who had a car and who would be willing to do this. And I poured paint on one Sunday morning. I glued, it must have been fifty sheets of paper together; it was the largest paper I had, and stretched it out on the street. He had an A Model Ford then and he drove through the paint and on to the paper and he only had the direction to try to stay on the paper. And he did a beautiful job of it. Now I consider that my print. It's just like working with lithography. You may not be a qualified printer but there again, like the driver of the car, someone who does know the press very well collaborates with you and they are part of the machinery just as you are part of another necessary aspect that it takes to make anything. Would you call that accident?

* Twofer Thursday: Charlie Mcalister edition. If you like Jandek, Daniel Johnson, Neutral Milk Hotel or other similar artists, you'll love Charlie Mcalister. This is some of the best previously unknown to me music I've heard in a while. I have no idea what the real song titles are, the song titles below I made up (If anyone knows the actual titles please advise).

-- Fabulous Career

-- Staying Here

* "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." -- Hansell B. Duckett


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