Friday, April 20, 2012

Hazel Archer at Black Mountain: Discovering the Heart’s Own Interest (1982)

Combine one quarter cup of Che Guevara’s incendiary passion with one quarter of Bucky Fuller’s mental gymnastics and one half cup of Santa Claus’s magical good humor and boundless generosity, stir well, and presto!  You’ve got Hazel Larsen Archer, surely one of history’s unlikely revolutionaries.  White haired and rotund, plainly dressed with just a hint of lipstick to mark formal occasions, she looks benign enough as she moves about her small Santa Fe house in a motorized wheelchair (she was stricken with polio as a young child).  There are no slogans scrawled on her walls, nor any pictures of martyred heroes, in fact, no picture of any kind.  Books and papers, however, are everywhere, and the air about Hazel fairly bristles with her passion for making over the world. 
There’s no doubt about it – Hazel Archer would change things radically.  Though in a very ladylike manner, she would take this country’s institutions by the scruff of the neck and shake them angrily like one might an ill-tempered cat that had just befouled your favorite down pillow.  The institution that is receiving the brunt of her intellectual attack is education, the one she judges as the most stifling and arcane, more responsible than business, religion, or science for our current social miasma.  “Orthodox education,” she says, “despite or perhaps because of, its high intentions, has instilled fear in the whole culture, and it’s the fear of change, of what might happen if we were truly free and spontaneous as children are.  We have become sheep.”

Hazel herself teaches classes of up to 20 students in her home and the subjects are as varied as photography, beginning and advanced Perceptual  Investigation, and geometry based on Buckminster Fuller’s “energetic-synergetic” theories.  They are attended by a small but fanatic following of Santa Fe artists and non-artists.  The intent of the courses is to foster the capacity for what she terms “insight,” the capacity that she believes can, if fully exploited, turn the sheep into lions – creative, and truly responsible individuals and citizens of the world. 

To promote on a broader scale her concern for insight, Hazel has organized Insights into the Future, the Individual in Question, a symposium of like-minded thinkers to be held in Santa Fe from September 22 through 28.  Fuller will deliver the opening and closing addresses at 7:30 p.m. in St. Francis Auditorium.  Ruth Asawa, a San Francisco sculptor and art educator, Carroll Williams of the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe, Beaumont Newhall, the noted photographer and historian of photography, Hazel, and others to be announced will lecture or conduct seminars during the week.  Each will be speaking about the process of insight as encountered in their particular field, “where it has surfaced,” she says, “the process, and who brought this process into being.”  All the participants were active in, or influenced by, Black Mountain College, the renowned experimental liberal arts institution in North Carolina which fostered free thinking and original work in all the arts.  Founded in 1933, the list of Black Mountain teachers and students is a veritable Who’s Who of the 20th century avant garde art –Josef Albers, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Fuller, Walter Gropius, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olsen, Robert Rauschenberg, Jack Tworkov, and Newhall.  The college closed in 1953, but not before making an incredible mark on the culture of our age.  Cage, Cunningham, and Rauschenberg were among those who raised high the roof beams of contemporary art and did so, not by hammering at the doors of accepted aesthetics, but, Hazel believes, by acting with the innate genius of children.

Hazel, who in the spring of 1944 was studying art education at the University of Wisconsin (she was born and raised in Milwaukee), saw a notice in a local newspaper that Josef Albers was offering summer courses at Black Mountain in color, design, painting, and drawing, and she decided to attend.  Though she returned to Wisconsin in the fall and received her degree there, the next nine years of her life were to be spent as a student, administrator, and instructor at Black Mountain.  She credits her years there as being critical in the development of her ideas about education and the nurturing of genius.

On three separate occasions last month, we sat in Hazel’s kitchen, sipping tea and discussing Black Mountain, creativity, genius, and the state of the world.  She speaks slowly and clearly, though when she gets most excited, she leans forward slightly in her wheelchair, and whispers intently.

As has always been the case with her mentor, Fuller (Dymaxion principles, anticipatory design-science, energetic-synergetic geometry, etc.), Hazel’s ideas are essentially quite simple yet expressed in circular waves of thought using precise but, to the uninitiated, esoteric vocabulary.  We began with an attempt to pin down some meanings, and I asked her for a definition of what I hoped was the simplest – insight. 

“It’s closely associated with intuition,” she said patiently, “and with putting that intuition or insight into activity, for which we would then use the word initiative.  But its root, very beautifully, is ‘to gaze upon.’  I have found this to be true in working with very young children and adults.  With my ongoing investigation into geometry, I find that to build a model and to gaze upon it, without saying ‘what does this mean and what am I going to get out of it,’ something comes through.  It is utterly remarkable.  It works.”

Having worked hard for a gentleman’s C in high school geometry, I pressed for clarification. “If you take four tetrahedrons, put them vertex to vertex, point to point, and you look at it and look at it, sometimes for weeks and (whispering, imitating the viewer’s awe at discovery) ‘I never saw it!’ Right in the center of this relationship which is an enlarged tetrahedron, there is another of the prime regular figures, and that’s the octahedron, a spontaneous emergence of another figure which surprisingly and very beautifully is one of the five polyhedra that Plato named, that have been with us ever since and no one has ever discovered any beyond five, which is a question in itself.  Are there only five, or are we blind?

“I still don’t get it,” I admitted, beginning to feel bewildered.

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “I’ve had people who have been in my other classes --photography and perception and a design class – and the last class anyone wants to take is geometry.  There’s so much resistance to it.  It doesn’t help to tell them that it’s not hard.  That’s one of the things I’ve discovered about education, telling doesn’t’ work.  There’s a way . . . Poets tell something, but they don’t do it with the intent of improving someone.  It’s something they’re expressing out of their own experience.  In orthodox education, telling directed toward improvement – always with high intention, but that in itself seems to get in the way of insight.  ‘You don’t know this, so I’m here devoting myself to you.’  But exposure of the same material by someone who is excited about it does wonders.  Then there’s a connection.  And this is one of the beautiful things that happened at Black Mountain College.  The faculty that was there offered material they were interested in, and if someone asked them a question they would talk about it.”

That started to ring some familiar bells in my head.  I remembered instances in my own education, college in particular, when the learning was rote and devoid of any sense of surprise – the Shakespeare course in which we were graded on our ability to memorize soliloquies being the most ‘memorable’ example.  I didn’t rebel until my last year when I refused to review four years of material in preparation for literature comprehensive exams.  By accident, I guess, I stumbled upon the criticism of Northrop Frye, who pioneered the analysis of literature from the standpoint of archetypes, reread a couple of novels by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and invented a way to answer every test question based on the reading that had interested me.  To my surprise and the college’s credit, my grade of Distinguished was the highest in the class.

 It was a lesson that has to be reinforced periodically, as it was recently in reading about John Cage, Black, Mountain alumnus, in Calvin Tomkins’ wonderful book, The Bride and the Bachelor, (Viking Compass).  In recounting a college experience similar to my own, Cage said, “I went to the library and read other things that had nothing to do with the assignment, and approached the exam with that sort of preparation.  I got an A.  I deduced that if I could do something so perverse and get away with it, the whole system must be wrong and I wouldn’t pay attention to it from then on. “ The resultant freedom induced by such a realization led to his revolutionary music composed with the aid of such ‘chancy’ tools as the I Ching.  As quoted by Tomkins, Cage’s purpose in composing music was “purposeless play.  The play, however, is an affirmation of life—not an attempt to bring order to chaos or suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one lets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

Traditional education, Hazel believes, has been strangled by its dependence on the known.  Though in art schools in particular we are encouraged to be original or creatively different, the emphasis on what has already been done, the works of the masters, rather than on the process that led to the creation of the work.  “We find that these people [the great artists and achievers such as da Vinci, Bach, and Einstein whom Hazel thinks of as High Humanitarians]  had little or no exposure to any kind of traditional, orthodox education during their young years.  Sometimes the child was so frail that he couldn’t go to school, or the nature of the father’s work was such that the family was uprooted every couple of months.  Sometimes the child was considered a dunce, an imbecile that it was such a terrible thing for the child to experience that the parents didn’t force him to go to school or wouldn’t take him.  So the child, left on his own, begins to develop some kind of exploration which is self-directed by his curiosity, and firsthand experience.  He does something and finds out what happens when he does it.  That is dramatically different from being told how everything works.  Even in art school, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are originating our own paintings, but it is coming out of the already established known of the painter.”

Though Hazel herself is too modest to put herself in the company of the High Humanitarians, she believes that, at least in part, her capacity for insight was fostered by a long absence from the framework of orthodox education.  Her childhood was normal until, at the age of ten, she was suddenly unable to walk.  She was bedridden for three years with what was eventually diagnosed as polio.  She read all the time.  “I never minded it,” she remembered with a smile, “never thought about it until much later when I got involved with these questions of perception.  Sometimes life picks us up by the scruff of the neck and gives us a shake, and we’re off, temporarily, the merry-go-round of living.”

Others are able to get off the merry-go-round by making conscious decisions to do so.  In her studies of the geniuses and discoverers, she found that she often went through what she terms “time-out periods.”  Fuller went into a two year period of silence.  Martin Buber, in the midst of translating the Bible, editing a Zionist newspaper, teaching and working on several books, suddenly stopped and entered a Hadassah retreat where he stayed for five years.  “Vacations or weekends aren’t enough,“ she maintains.  “These people begin to look more and more like fountains, and I see it very much related to those time-out periods.  They’ve tapped something of tremendous importance educationally.’

Going on a long retreat is hardly a vacation.  It is not a matter of ‘checking out’ or doing nothing.  “It’s working with purposelessness,” Hazel says, echoing the thought of John Cage quoted earlier.  “It isn’t waiting around for something to clunk you on the head.  It’s hard work, but it’s work that doesn’t have the carrot before your nose all the time.

“History’s most creative and inspired people worked like children most of their lives.  If you simply watch what a child is doing, without judgment, you see they go ahead with supreme confidence.  They don’t know the word faith, but they are led by curiosity.  Until it is atrophied through our cultural ways, curiosity is a driving force.  The High Humanitarians, because they were not subject to orthodox schools, were able to answer to that beautiful capacity that we have.  The overwhelming drive is to find out.”

How do we foster curiosity and avoid stifling the urge to “find out?”  Hazel believes the Black Mountain approach, which she has incorporated into her own teaching techniques, is a solution.  She uses Josef Albers, who has been referred to as the “Rector of Black Mountain,” to illustrate:  “His color course really had to do with one’s own finding of how color works, watching it work,’ she says.  “We’ve been given the names of colors, the primary colors, the tertiary colors, the color wheel, so we accept that.  We start with the known.  He made his students find out for themselves how colors relate.  In doing exercises, which were always changing, in seeing what happens when I put this color next to this, take another color, and suddenly they’re not the same colors you had to begin with.  What happened?  He was a magnificent teacher, but a taskmaster.  You couldn’t do sloppy work, one had to be articulate and clear.  He encouraged a constant watching, observing without saying anything about it, so that something can surface from whatever it is we’re looking at.  It goes back to the root of insight, which is to ‘gaze upon.’”

Hazel’s own photographs taken at Black Mountain are insightful and revealing of their subjects.  The playfulness of Rauschenberg, Cunningham’s flying leg, the childlike, total absorption of Fuller in his studio –they all speak in their own way about creativity.  The portrait of Albers  (see cover), the stern and aloof Bauhaus Burgermeister, so determined and dedicated, is most remarkable  in those upturned eyes which are soft and sad.  In them, and in the set of the mouth, we can gain our own insight into the human price one genius paid for his single-minded dedication.

But what of the future?  What can the example and teachings of Black Mountain and of a woman like Hazel Archer, do to stem the threat of nuclear annihilation, our world’s continued disregard for the sanctity of life, and the development of true human potential?  Half joking, I asked her what she would do if she were President of the United States?  In a long, rambling discourse, she recounted much of the material we had been discussing about insight, following the example of the High Humanitarians, before finally getting down to what she believes is the crux of our problem:  “The only hope is the child.  We must very carefully look at the way we expose the child to the world.  This intimately relates then to a learning process.  What we do, through the way we work with this child, is give the child attitudes, not only about himself, but his parents, his country, another country.  What did the astronaut say when Columbia landed recently, on the 4th of July?  ‘This is the greatest country in the world, we are the greatest people.’  The child is given a fictitious indication of what the world is and what he is to become, and this is all through traditional education . . . It creates a tremendous separateness.  It’s as if we need to be led by a child, simply because the child’s processes are so clear and are that totally of the genius, those people who discovered their heart’s own interest and spent their whole life developing interest.”

Ruled by what is an aberrant Puritan ethic, many regard such ideas as hedonistic, self-indulgent, irresponsible, and potentially disastrous.  Hazel’s inquiries into the lives and thoughts of the High Humanitarians – from Christ and the Buddha through Plato, Bach, and Fuller – have led her to believe otherwise:  “They are inadvertent humanitarians, because their work is not confined to one country, one nation.  Sometimes I call them the spiritual architects of the ascent of man.  There is no sense of separateness.  I don’t think there’s any hope for the planet unless we come to realize that what we want for ourselves , we want for everyone else, instead of this game of musical chairs, who’s going to end up with the one chair because of armament, how much wheat or oil you have.  It’s inconsistent that we wouldn’t want for every child what we want for our own.

“But back to if I were President.  Some of the dilemma of the human condition is we don’t know our function as human beings.  If everyone were paid to do whatever they wanted to do, nourished by a few thoughtful people who also discovered their heart’s own interest . . . that gets contagious and we wouldn’t have to worry.  No one destroys anyone else.  To be with a group of individuals who are exploring is a beautiful way to live.

“When a child emerges from one of these periods of zeroing in on something, it’s like they’re waking up.  They look as if they’ve been washed.  It’s as if there is an inner illumination.  But as a by-product, they also become considerate and aware of things they weren’t aware of before.  You can’t force that, but given the opportunity, encouraging it indirectly, it happens.  Consideration is a by-product of interest and involvement.  Interest is magic.”

To paraphrase Rauschenberg, art isn’t anywhere near as interesting as life.

Stephen Parks, September, 1982

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Fog, Near the Cliff (1983)

The temperature in Corrales hovered just under the 100 mark one recent afternoon when we visited Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.  Dressed in jeans, a bright red shirt, and long beaded earrings, the artist was animated as ever, but her menagerie of animals in the yard between the adobe house and studio were paying quiet homage to the heat.  Takota, Jaune’s old Australian shepherd dog with one brown eye and one blue, barely yapped when we opened the gate.  The guinea hens, Chitty-Chitty and Bang-Bang, and the brace of geese, Harold and Maude, lay sensibly motionless under the spreading peach tree, and Cheyenne, Jaune’s beloved palomino-paint, temperamentally more dog than horse, pulled his head from inside the cool studio just long enough to see who was coming before reinserting it.  He stands there as long as Jaune is inside the studio, occasionally interrupting her when he needs a carrot or a kiss from his mistress.   The cats and the Polish hens were nowhere to be seen. 

Neither heat nor being a woman nor an Indian nor a hot woman Indian artist would keep Jaune from her appointed rounds.  Movement seems to be key to her and her work, movement from place to place, person to person, group to group, time to time, painting to painting.  Movement inspires her, and she is peripatetic.  We asked what she’d been up to, and she eased into a monologue:  there was a show, Common Ground, a few months ago in New York at the American Indian Community House, with work by three Indians (Jaune, George Longfish, and Peter Jamison) and work by three Anglos selected by them (Harmony Hammond, Paul Brach, and Allan Gussow); her adventures with Coup Marks, a co-op organization of Flathead Indian craftsman she founded, which she has had shows, this year in Washington, D.C. and New York; the PBS film on her completed last year; fund raising efforts for the Indian Reorganization Act, an upcoming lecture to a group of anthropologists in Seattle; and her painting that, judging from the amount of work in the studio, she’s doing plenty of.

We knew Jaune, a mixture of French-Cree and Shoshone, was raised on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, and that she often travels back to visit and attend powwows.  Coup Marks sounded curious, and we asked her to elaborate: 

“I decided to set it up last fall, and I talked to the people about marketing, and asked them to bring me their work.  They brought it to me in pockets.  Safeway bags, and a lot of it was kitschy.  I had to be diplomatic with them, pick what would go in New York, et cetera.  What I want to do is instill contemporary, marketable ideas on the reservation, get across that idea to them.  I’m a bridge, a connector of people.  The people are so poor, I want to create a cottage industry there.  But it’s important that I eat potluck at home, and the next week have lunch in a fancy restaurant with the director of public relations for Philip Morris.  So many Indian professionals . . . I’m proud of the number of Indian professionals – doctors, lawyers –but many of them these days don’t go home, see the kitsch on the walls, the way they live.”

     Stringing ideas together like beads, Jaune continued: 

“I’ve been talking with Lucy Lippard (a feminist New York art writer and curator) and she’s excited about doing an Indian kitsch show, maybe at P.S.1.  I saw a pickup truck last year at Crow Fair and the whole thing was totally covered with beadwork.  Think of it!

           “My point is I want people to know we’re alive!  Collectors only want the old stuff.  They don’t buy the contemporary stuff, some of which is so beautiful (her voice slipping to a whisper), so well crafted.  They keep talking about the Vanishing Americans, but we’re everywhere, and we find one another.  But we’re low-key, we don’t have a Martin Luther King, and so we get overlooked.

“Some people think I’m wasting my time doing this sort of thing, writing all the letters I write.  But this networking (an example of newspeak, which we’ve been hearing frequently as 1984 approaches) is important.  I hear about their loneliness, their jobs, alienation.  A woman who works on movie lots in L.A., a fisherman who wrote me – they don’t understand that Indians cross all the lines, from the conservative Pueblos to urban Indians.  A lot of professional Indian people I know carry medicine bags.  They still sing.  It isn’t made up, it’s authentic ritual that lives.  Some things change.  You don’t wear kilts or Pilgrim clothes anymore, so don’t expect me to grunt and wear feathers.  There’s body language that has survived, a sense of humor that’s black.  In Denver, New York, I’ll find Indians or they’ll find me.  It’s like a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.  So getting around for me has been very valuable.  I talk at public schools, colleges . . . It sounds like I don’t paint, but that’s what I do all day when I’m here.  I become a hermit.  When I travel, I’m gone no more than four days, and I’m like a whirling dervish while I’m away.  I don’t know if I make any difference, but at one high school I showed films on Oscar Howe (a pioneer  contemporary Indian artist) and me, and slides, and afterwards all the kids ran out of the room except for these five little Indian kids who came up and asked if they could shake my hand.

(Jaune’s eyes quickly filled with tears at the memory, and she went on.)

‘I told them how long it took me to get through college, 22 years, that I mailed a matchbook cover to the Famous Artist School, how hard I had to work to become an artist.  Some bubbles have to be burst.  So many young Indian artists when they get out of I.A.I.A. (Institute of the American Indian Art, in Santa Fe) thing they’ll be famous like Gorman and Scholder . . .”

She mentioned several other ambitious projects – to instigate the first major Indian Institute and Exhibition Hall in Washington, and curate a show of Native American photographers (scheduled to be shown at the Southern Plains Museum in Andarko, Oklahoma, in December), a fascinating project which, in light of the Indian prejudice against the “Shadow Catcher,” will undoubtedly be controversial.  But underneath all her projects is her fervent belief that Indian culture is alive and well and living all over the place, and the idea that her personal and public power originates in her work, her painting.

“I talk to a lot of anthropologists, and I can’t make them understand that I’m as authentic as those living at the Pueblos.  Because I live off the reservation and went to a university (she has a M.A. from the University of New Mexico), doesn’t mean I’m vanishing!  I’m here, and I’m giving back!” she said with quiet fierceness.  “Where my power comes from is my work.  If I could hook up with a major publisher, I could generate money . . . the college at home (on the Flathead reservation in Montana) needs so much money.  But I haven’t been able to bastardize what I believe about my work to generate money.  I’m mostly interested in originals, and my work has changed a lot, which many dealers don’t like.  I think it’s research and development. “

Jaune’s work has been evolving steadily in recent years.  During her student days of the ‘60s and ‘70s, her painting and sculpture contained decidedly Indian subjects but they were executed, though skillfully, in a mainstream mode of contemporary realism.  There are several examples of work from this period in her home, including a Larry Riverish portrait of four Indians, one of whom is only roughly sketched on raw canvas, and a life-sized sculpture of an Indian Madonna with American Flag skirt, bird feather hands, and antique gold framed portrait for a face.

In the late ‘70s, however, Jaune began to find her singular voice.  She simplified her drawing and began to develop a vocabulary of a child-like pictographic symbols  which she incorporated into abstract swatches of color suggesting landscape.  In her series of drawings and paintings such as Wallowa Waterhole, Porcupine Ridge, and Kalispell, the subjects of which are related thematically and emotionally with places she was intimately associated with, often from childhood experiences, she managed to fuse contemporary and ancient painting styles.  The synthesis she has achieved in her style yields work that is rife with associations.  Past and future vision combine to make a statement about the present; urban Indian alienation, rural Indian poverty, and ancient Indian ritual work side by side in her work to belie the notion of the vanishing Americans.  Ledger book symbols become Cy Twombley, a Blackfeet robe could well have been designed by Agnes Martin, the color fields on a Hunkpapa drum are pure Rothko.  Jaune’s work is shaped by such ideas, and the result is art that speaks richly of the artist’s vision of the world and her place in it.  As she has said, “It’s like being able to speak two languages and not finding the right word that is common to both to express myself.”

Her most recent series of paintings, Sites, which are on view this month at the Marilyn Butler Gallery in Santa Fe, uses real and imagined archaeological sites as the starting point for her work.  They are more abstract than most of her earlier paintings, and in the laying of color and obscuring form, they are deeper.  She set the series about the studio, offered us soda and water, and talked:  “These aren’t realistic paintings of sites, but the essence of my feeling about the site.  I do love the land, and these are landscapes.  Usually they are inhabited.  They are not dead places.  The wind is moving, trees are moving, anthills . . . there’s movement from present to past present to future.  I compress time, but the work is about the present.  It’s like . . . Most Indian people relate to the land, and they often talk about going home.  That’s the deep attachment to where you’re from.  I think of the land as being alive.  It’s now, it’s my environment.  I live in it. 

“And somehow my knowledge of art history adds to my sense of place.  Going through Leonardo’s notebooks is like sitting in Chaco Canyon.  Each contributes to a heightened sense of how things relate.  We reach out behind and ahead, and find our place in the midst of things.”

One of the paintings, Mesa Verde, features fields of white and green, and pictographic forms resembling shells, corn, and a man dancing.  “There’s a back and forward sense of time,” she commented about the painting.  “You find shells around here, shell fossils up in the Sandias.  I put a dancer in the corn on one side, and these fossils from millions of years before on the other.  So the dancer is young, very young by comparison.  I like that idea.  It’s like a dry ocean here.  It even smells like the ocean sometimes.

“This one is the garbage dump,” she said of another, Pecos Ruin, “but it’s a site, too.  It has all the relics of society.  Here’s the brass bed, an old rubber tire.  It’s a romanticized garbage dump, but that’s how it felt.  Painting is an adventure for me.  It’s what I uncover in the studio.  By the time the gallery opening comes, I’m already thinking about the next series, the next adventure.”

Jaune’s horse Cheyenne had been standing patiently at the studio door for half an hour with his head in the room.  A two-by-four across the door frame keeps him from walking in.  He clomped his right front hoof in an attempt to get his share of his mistress’s attention.  She patted his head, kissed his nose, and fed him some broccoli.  We asked if the horse in the dump painting was Cheyenne:

“That’s him.  He’s in a lot of my paintings.  He makes them alive, present.”  We noted that it was true;  Mesa Verde, the one in the Site Series without a horse, had an eerie floating quality peculiar to the series.

Digressing from the subject of her work, we asked about the Charles Bronson poster hanging prominently in the studio.  Bronson does not appear in the paintings.  “He’s a Mongolian, a Pole from Pittsburgh.  I love him.  In the movies he’s always on the side of the minority.  I like him for that reason, and in his films there’s a tinge of violence , he’s that silent hero, invincible but offbeat.”

Cowboys, Indians, and horses, three triggers to the imaginations of many American kids, were the reality of Jaune’s childhood.  She told us that her father had no formal education and therefore couldn’t hold a regular job, but he bought, sold, and traded horses – an old Indian way of life – and rodeoed when he was a young man.  At times, the family had as many as 40 head of horses, and it’s not surprising that they appear so frequently in her work.  “Leonardo said that next to man, the horse was the noblest creature,” she explained, “and they are wonderful to draw.”

“Here’s Cheyenne again,” she said, indicating another painting, Cottonwood Canyon, with rich and heavy cream and burgundy paint.  “This one is really Baroque, the density and the royal colors.  It’s strange . . . See the vertical pole with the four black dots?  Many societies put up poles to mark their clan, where they live.  The circle is for the site, the kiva, for what was.”  Approaching the painting for a closer inspection, we noticed that Jaune had collaged various materials onto the surface.  “I use muslin or calico, things that ribbon shirts are made of, or rice paper, things I like.  Occasionally, I throw a paper towel in, though don’t tell museum curators that.  I leave the structure underneath – drips from the early washes.  It tells you what’s inside, how it was constructed.  And it reminds me, too, of the texture of the rock walls around here, how strafed they are by the wind and the sand.  I get that tactile feeling of landscape while I’m painting.  It’s rough, scarred.”

“These are all landscapes,” we commented, “but you don’t put horizons in them.”

“I’ve never painted them.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s psychological.  I’m tied to the earth, and not as concerned with the sky.  As (painter) Charles Garabedian said, ‘The fun is wandering around in the fog with the cliff nearby.’  I get so carried away with painting and constructing paintings, and if I didn’t put the pictograph figures in, they’d be totally abstract paintings.  I don’t attach rational meanings to the figures, and yet they’re universal ways of talking with people.  Wherever you are, whoever you are, X marks the spot.  Often I’ll make a shape, a tool shape for example, and later I’ll find out what it is in a book or something.  They are common bonds.”

Jaune had spoken earlier about her social and political role as being a connector, and it occurred to us that her paintings served as a bridge of sorts themselves.  Much of what she paints is Indian in origin, but she is always trying to connect the ancient Indian forms and meanings with the contemporary forms and meanings of cultures which, ostensibly, are very different.  We would venture to say her purpose , in the current Site paintings in particular, is to present views of the continuum of time and space of which we are all a part, drops of water in a long river.

           Often, however, her own people do not appreciate, much less understand, what she’s doing.  Not long ago, Jaune showed one of her works to an old woman on the Flathead Reservation.  “What’s it good for?” the puzzled woman asked.  “That made me laugh,” Jaune said, recalling the incident, and it’s not surprising, given her response, that she does not consider herself to be an Indian painter.  The analogy she drew was with James Joyce, who, though an Irish writer, was not fully understood or appreciated by his own people.

Nevertheless, she is fiercely proud of her heritage and the aesthetic contributions that her people have made to art. Jaune glories in making comparisons between Paul Klee and an old Naskapi bag, for example.  “The Indian has no word for art, and that’s an important distinction,” she said.  “Your shoes, leggings . . . something was added to them to make them beautiful.  Art was on everything.  They would make beautiful little cases to hold their ration cards which they used to buy their wormy beef!”

Jaune knew at the age of six that she wanted to be an artist.  What she loved about art then, some 38 years ago, is what inspires her to work today.  “It’s the feelings, the pleasure of drawing or painting, that going into your own world, closing out the outside.  When I’m working, I’m literally out to lunch, I don’t know what day it is.  There are classical and Romantic artists, and this may be simplistic, but there are those who know exactly what they’re doing and those like me, who don’t.  Not everything comes out right, it’s not all art, but I’m pleased and I know it’s good when the work talks back.  That makes the outside, the other reality, more intense, too.”

Whether inside or out, she relishes intensity.  Another aspect of outside reality with which Jaune has a passionate connection is feminism.  She first felt prejudice toward her as a woman artist when she was a teenager in art school, and a teacher told her that, although she could draw better than the men in the school, she could never become a painter.  “That was hard,” she said in a soft quivering voice.  “But times have changed.  Women have pushed.  If it weren’t for Lita Albuquerque, Judy Chicago, Lucy Lippard, Jennifer Bartlett, Joan Mitchell, and others, I’d still be making things and giving them away.  I know these people, and I feel close to them.  I wasn’t in the feminist movement, I guess because I was fighting my own battle of survival at the time.  But I understood it and what they’ve done for women artists.  Where I was, there was no movement.  I was raised by my father as a person, not a woman.  I helped him put in fence posts!  Most Indian women are raised to be independent for economic reasons.  The conflicts I found were later, as an adult, and that was their problem, though I had to deal with the consequences.  So you can’t really call me a feminist.  I don’t know what you would call me.  How about humanist?”

Stephen Parks, August, 1983

The D.H. Lawrence Paintings: A Look at the Work, a Talk with the Owner, Saki Karavas (1982)

“Scotland Yard detectives last night seized about twelve paintings by Mr. D.H. Lawrence, the novelist and artist, from the Warren Galleries in Maddox Street, London, about which complaints had been received.  It is surprising that the authorities took so long.

“I climbed seven flights to have a look at these before I had any idea what they were like, which absolves me, I trust, from any prurient curiosity.  They were quite on par with the less restrained portions of Lady Chatterly’s Lover (there is no need to particularize further) . . .”  (From the London Sunday Times Magazine, June, 1929.) 

The fifty-third anniversary of the seizure is as good excuse as any for ARTlines to check into the current status of Lawrence’s “scandalous” paintings.  He is, of course, remembered as the author who, more than any other, dragged sexuality out of the musty Victorian closet and threw it onto the verdant fields of the twentieth century.  As a painter he is not remembered – and for good reason.  His pictures for the most part portray chunky, naked women and bearded, satyr-like men in poses that can no longer be considered sex-sational.  In technique and intention they are obvious and heavy-handed.
D.H. Lawrence, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1928

“Ours is an excessively conscious age.  The modern theories of art make real pictures impossible.  You only get these expositions, critical ventures in paint, and fantastic negotiations.  And the bit of fantasy that may lie in the negation – as in Dufy or a Chirico – is just the bit that has escaped theory and perhaps saves the picture.  Theorize, theorize all you like – but when you start to paint, shut your theoretic eyes and go for it with instinct and intuition.”  (From Lawrence’s essay, Making Pictures.)

Lawrence certainly did “go for it,” and perhaps he was right about this being “an excessively conscious age” over-dependent on theory, but he failed to mention the discipline and craft, and he failed to develop them himself. 

There is the sense that these paintings were done by a man who refused to grow up and knuckle under to discipline – in his paintings or in his books.  He had the heart of a man and the head of a juvenile, and the impulses that struggled within him looked on canvas like leering prurience. 

Lawrence apparently loved to copy pictures as a child, but he was 40 before he began to paint seriously.  From that moment on, he was a convert, as passionate and narrow-minded about his new found faith as any convert.

            “I sat on the floor with canvas propped against a chair and with my house-paint brushes in little casseroles, I disappeared into that canvas.  It is to me the most exciting moment – when you have a blank canvas and a big brush full of wet colour, and you plunge.  It’s like diving into a pond – then you start frantically to swim.  So as far as I’m concerned it is like swimming in a baffling current and being rather frightened and very thrilled, gasping and stroking out for all you’re worth.  The knowing eye watches sharp as a needle; but the picture comes clean out of instinct, intuition and sheer physical action.  Once the instinct and intuition gets into the brush-tip, the picture happens, if it is to be a picture at all.”  (Making Pictures.)

            Lawrence was a complex blend of egomaniac and humanist, man and child, saint and sinner, and, despite his own innocent joy at making pictures, his intentions, at times, could be called anything but that.  The excesses of his writing carried over to his painting.  His loathing of critics, in a letter to Dorothy Brett, ended on a serious but characteristic note:

“I’ve done my novel (Lady Chatterly’s Lover) – I like it – but it’s so improper, according to the poor conventional fools, that it’ll never be printed.  And I will not cut it.  Even my pictures, which seem to me absolutely innocent, I feel people can’t even look at them.  They glance, and they look quickly away.  I wish I could paint a picture that would just kill every cowardly and ill-minded person that looked at it.  My word, what a slaughter!”

            D.H. Lawrence comes as close as any writer to setting the pages aflame with his fierce, uncompromising passion for life.  It is fitting that he made the Phoenix the central image of his work.  One can see him with his red beard and deep little eyes, strutting about and flapping his skinny arms as he wrote the following lines:

            “Familiarity wears a picture out.  Since Whistler’s portrait of his mother was used as an advertisement, it has lost most of its appeal, and become for most people a worn-out picture, a dead rag.  And once a picture has really become popular, and then died into staleness, it never revives again.  It is dead forever.  The only thing is to burn it . . .

            “On the other hand, if I had a Renoir nude, or a good Fricsz flower study, or even a Brabazon (sic) watercolor, I should want to keep it at least a year or two, and hang it up in a chosen place to live with it and get all the fragrance out of it.  And if I had the Titan “Adam and Eve,” from the Prado, I should want to have it hanging in my room all my life, to look at:  because I know it would give me a subtle rejoicing all my life, and would make my life delightful.  And if I had some Picassos I should want to keep them about six months, and some Braques I should like to have for about a year:  then, probably, I should be through with them . . .

            “Pictures are like flowers that fade away sooner or later, and die, and must be thrown in the dustbin and burnt.  It is true of all pictures.  Even the beloved Giorgione will one day die to human interest – but he is still very lovely, after almost five centuries, still a fresh flower.  But when at last he is dead, as so many pictures are that hang on honoured walls, let us hope he will be burnt.  Let us hope he won’t still be regarded as a piece of valuable property, worth huge sums, like lots of dead-as-doornails canvases today.”

            “But we all have to stare at the dead rags our fathers and mothers hung on our walls, just because they are property.  But let us change it.  Let us refuse to have our vision filled with dust and nullity of dead pictures in the home.  Let there be a ground conflagration of dead “art,” immolation of canvas and paper, oil-colours, water-coulours, photographs and all, a grand clearance.”  (From his essay, Pictures on the Wall.)

            If Lawrence’s “Modest Proposal” were to be adopted today, we would be obliged to deal forthwith with his own paintings.  Indeed, were they mine, I would burn them with all due respect, but I would burn them nonetheless.  I could call together my most passionate friends, build a sturdy cedar pyre out on the mesa, and just at sunset, as harp and trumpets played Noel Farrand’s Alleluia, torch them.        
Saki Karavas in his La Fonda Hotel office, 1980

            But the paintings, or at least ten of them, are the property of Saki Karavas.  They hang on the walls of the La Fonda Hotel office in Taos, amidst framed letters from, and publicity stills of, politicians, movie stars, Taos cronies, and Albert Einstein.  For $1, you can see for yourself.

            A couple of weeks ago, we had a short chat with Saki about Lawrence, the paintings . . . and Saki himself.

How did you get the paintings?
I bought them from Angelino [Ravagli], after Frieda died.

How many do you have?
Ten.  Originally I bought nine, and then I swapped for another one.

What do you think they’re worth?
 (Snickering quietly)  I don’t want to go into that.

Are they for sale?

I’ve heard talk that if they’re not sold, you’re going to donate them to the Greek Government.  Why would you do that?
Because England has the Elgin Marbles.  They’re very famous sculptures that Lord Elgin took out of Greece in the nineteenth century.  They fill an entire room of the British Museum.  I went to see them.  They’re marble friezes.  Greece should have a piece of England.

I’ve also heard that Scotland Yard still has a ban on these paintings.
Here, you read this letter.  It’s from Lawrence’s agent.  (Aside, calling to his receptionist, Judy!  Call the woman at the cleaners.  Ask her when she’s going to bring those shirts back.  Tell her I’m tired of waiting for snaps.)

 (Reading from letter framed and hanging on office wall) “D. H. Lawrence gave an undertaking to the authorities here that the paintings would never come back to this country.  It was, if my memory serves, on these conditions that Scotland Yard and Home Office returned the paintings to D. H. Lawrence after they had seized and closed down the exhibition.”  Dated 1958, from Gerald Pollinger, his agent.

I bought these paintings away from Shultis, I’m trying to think of his first name, he got killed in a car wreck.  A very wealthy Swiss.  He had bought the Lady Chatterly’s Lover from Frieda.  And then he bought a painting, and then he went back to Europe and commenced negotiating with Angelino for the rest of the paintings.  So then . . . 

So what do you think of the paintings?  Do you like them?
I’m not crazy about them.  So they started negotiating – I was going to tell you – and I happened to meet Angelino in the street, either the day he heard from Shultis or the day after, one of those two days, and they couldn’t get together on price.  Angelino was ready to leave, to go back to Italy for good, so I said to Angy, “Sell them to me.” And he said, “Do you think you could raise the money?”  And I said, “Well, that’s what they have banks for, you know.”  So I had to act very quickly.  So I borrowed the money, but don’t ask me how much I paid for them.  I can’t tell you how much I want.  It makes it a rather unusual deal, doesn’t it, huh?  But the main reason, that always remained at the back of my mind, was that Frieda had said to the late Aga Khan, the grandfather to the present Khan – they used to weigh him in diamonds -- he wanted to buy these paintings, and also one of the Rothchild’s, but which one I can’t tell you.  Did you see Priest of Love?

In the film they show the paintings on exhibition, and they show Scotland Yard coming in to remove the paintings, and then Gulbenkian, you know who he was?  His father was Mr. Five Percent.  He made five percent of all the oil coming out of the Middle East.  His son lived in London, and always wore a flower in his buttonhole, and that flower was brought in fresh from I don’t know where in the hell, India or someplace.  So, in the back of my mind I knew that if these two men were interested in the collection, it had to be worth something.   And If I sell it to them, I can become a playboy.  Get my little monoplane, drive around the world, drop out little Hershey Bars.  You can’t be a broke playboy.

You seem to do all right.
I live a quiet life.  (Laughter)

Were you ever a fan of Lawrence’s books?
No.  I have a lot of his first editions, two with his signature.  The best thing I ever saw him write was Sex Versus Loveliness.

The essay?
Right.  The best thing he wrote.

What did it say?
What makes people tick.  There has to be a flame there.  If the flame isn’t there, it doesn’t mean anything.  I have it if you want to read it.  And I like Lady Chatterly’s Lover, too.  I never read much of Lawrence.  But maybe someday the paintings will sell, and I’ll go to Paris and live it up for several weeks.  It’ll be very unusual.  Then maybe to Bangkok, City of Sin.  Maybe it will change my life after I sell these paintings.

How many people, in the course of a year, say, come in here and see these?
It’s hard to tell.  I’ve never kept count.  People come from curiosity.  They come from all over.  The movie missed out on the story.  It just didn’t congeal.  But it’ll be interesting to see what happens to these paintings.  There’s just my mother and I, they’ve got to go somewhere.  Everything’s got to go, right?  Including ourselves.  Right?  What do you think of them?  If Lawrence hadn’t painted them no one would look at them.  Let’s be honest.  But so much has been said about these paintings that it can become counterproductive after a while.  Do you think that?

I don’t know what you mean.
Did I show you the article from Sweden?  The article in The Observer?  (He pulls out copies of these and other articles).  Some people have the cookies, some have the jar.  That’s how I look at life.  Some have both, some have neither.

 And these paintings are the jar?
No, they’re the cookies.  Somebody once said to me, “If you didn’t have these paintings and these rugs, no woman would ever look at you.”  I said, “You’re right.  Every spider’s got his web, buddy.”  (Pause)  Do you think the paintings will ever be sold?

If you want them to sell badly enough, they’ll sell.
I have to find someone who will pay the right price.

That’s what you have to decide – do you want to go all the way around the world first class, or will you settle for a couple of weeks in Paris?
(Pause)  I’ve got a lot of fantasies.

Stephen Parks, June 1982.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doel Reed: A Lifelong Love of the Figure (1983)

Doel Reed, who celebrated his 89th birthday on May 21, is currently the subject of a major retrospective exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe on view through October.  To gain some perspective on his long career and to find out what he’s thinking and doing these days, we paid him a visit at his bright, memento-filled studio in Talpa, just south of Taos.  Reed is of medium height, slender, slightly stooped with age.  With his sparse, closely cropped hair, thick glasses and quizzical expression, he somehow reminded us of Igor Stravinsky.  He is the quintessential gentleman, dressed for the interview (indeed, we assumed he was always so dressed) in a blue shirt, red silk tie with small blue amoeboid forms, held neatly by a silver and turquoise tie clip, blue-gray trousers, grey suede shoes and black socks.  There is just a hint of Oklahoma accent in his speech, a vestige of some 35 years spent teaching and working in that state, a “Western” informality and sense of humor in conversation, and a clear recollection of incidents and conversations in his life.

Most prominent in the studio are about a dozen of his own paintings, aquatints, drawings, and etchings.  Otherwise the three-room space is dominated by a sizable, cross-handled press, and notifications of various awards and honorary memberships in professional organizations.  Just inside the door is a plaque from the National Society of Literature and the Arts.  “This is to certify that Doel Reed is a member of the society whose purposes are to recognize achievements in literature, music, and the fine arts, and to improve the condition of the creative arts in America.”  On one table is a stack of catalogs, the top one being the 59th National Print Exhibition of the Society of American Graphic Artists, at Cooper Union in New York late last year.  One of his works was prominently featured.

We started our conversation pretty close to the beginning.

You were raised in Indiana, and I read somewhere that your first exposure to art was at the Indianapolis Museum.  What is it that you saw there?
The school used to take all the kids to the museum every so often.  We went there, and went all around, and the teacher would ask us to pick out one we liked best.  I said I liked the one up there.  Well, they had a great big painting up there of some shipwrecked sailors and the mermaids in the water, and they’re reaching out to get ahold of the mermaids, and they’re big, juicy German girls, nudes, water running off their breasts (laughter). . . Hell, I thought it was a great picture.  I still think it was a good picture!  I was kind of ostracized after that, I guess.  It’s funny how people get such strange ideas about nudes.  I thought, after all, women go and pay a lot of money to get their portrait painted, and they go and buy a new dress, and then somebody comes and looks at it the next year and says, “My goodness, she’s got on last year’s dress.”  If she was painted in the nude, they wouldn’t say that.  She’d be in style forever.

You went to the Cincinnati Art Academy. . .
That’s where I really got interested in figure drawing, because it was a figure school.  That’s an old idea, from the Munich School and clear on back to the Renaissance, that you learned to draw the human figure.  And by that you got a great deal of knowledge.  It’s one of the most difficult things to do.  I’ve got a lot of respect for the figure – not as a pinup girl or something of that sort, but great respect for beauty and form, line, all that sort of thing.  Oh, we even had to do some anatomical things of muscles, the sort of thing that artists have done from the very beginning.

I saw a program recently with Henry Moore, and we tend to think of his abstract forms, but he said that his primary interest has always been the human form, and he showed all these sketches he had done of people in the tubes in England during the “blitz.”
I think that so many of the younger artists don’t think that drawing is such an important thing.  Well, I don’t think their things will be looked at 400 years from now.  We look at the old masters because they were great in terms of the subject.  Just like great music and great books.  Many of the young ones don’t think that’s necessary any more.  Well, I suppose if you’re just going to pour some paint over the canvas and add a few lines, it’s not necessary.

Did you start to see this kind of disinterest in drawing when you were teaching at Oklahoma State University?  (He taught at the Oklahoma A & M University, now Oklahoma State, for 35 years, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1959 when he moved to Taos.)
No.  When I first went there, in ’24, I was the first artist on the campus.  I think I must have been a curiosity.  I’m sure I was.  But I’ll always be thankful to the state of Oklahoma.  No one ever told me how to teach.  They left the whole thing up to me, and in all the time I was there I was never questioned.  I turned out some darn good students, and I developed myself.  But there wasn’t any art around there to be affected by.  Nan Sheets in Oklahoma City was a professional artist.  She later became the director of the Oklahoma Art Center.  And Oscar Jacobson, who was director of the art department at the University.  We were about the only professional artists.  Boy, we had a bunch of amateurs!  But we got together and formed an association, kind of got things together, and now, by God, the place is full of all kinds of artists and it’s quite vigorous.  But it was a long, hard row, I’ll tell you.

Let’s go back a little bit.  From the Cincinnati Art Academy, you went into the army and the First World War?
Yes, I thought about going into the National Guard Engineers, but something told me not to do that, even though I’d had a little experience in architecture.  So I waited until my number came up and off I went to war.  The engineers went down to an old turpentine camp in Mississippi and stayed there for the whole course of the war.  Boy, I was glad that I wasn’t them.  I was in Camp Taylor in Louisville for one month before I was on the high seas on my way to France.  Can you beat that?  They were going to put me in the camouflage department, and I didn’t know anything about that, and one day they called off a list of names of men to go as replacements to the Fourth Division, and I wasn’t on that list.  Like damned fools, this friend and I went over and said, “How’s come we didn’t get called?” The officer looked at us like he thought we were crazy, and of course we were.  He told us to find a couple of fellows that didn’t want to go, and that wasn’t hard to do.  By George, the first thing you know, I was up in front.  I ended up as an observer, sitting in front of the line in a little hole somewhere.
That wasn’t too safe a place to be.
No, it wasn’t, I remember that.

 It seems that during both World Wars, a lot of Americans who went to Europe went through something of an artistic awakening by being exposed to that culture, the museums.  Did something of that nature happen to you?
Oh, I wouldn’t take anything in the world for that experience.  I have no regrets about it, though I was badly gassed and still have trouble.  I’m down here getting antibiotics every so often for the scar tissue in my lungs.  I was in the hospital in Tours for a total of about four months, and when I was able to get out I went to the museum in Tours.  They had moved some of the things from the Louvre down there and I saw them.  Tours is a very old city, and it has a very old cathedral that we loved.  We went to church there, though we weren’t Catholic.  But that didn’t make any difference.  We loved being in that enormous cathedral.

Were you always interested in architecture?
Oh yes.  When I was in high school I went down and apprenticed myself to an architect because I thought I wanted to do that.  I did that for a while, and then I just decided that wasn’t quite it, so I went to off to art school.  Drawing and painting were interesting to me, but the interest in architecture has been very beneficial to me.  I used to tell my students, “ I swear I’m going down to the lumberyard and have them send up a couple of window frames so you can draw them and know that a window has dimensions other than just up and down.”  You draw better if you know how something’s constructed.  At Cincinnati I studied with James R. Hopkins who gave me more ideas about the classical parts of art than anybody else.  The main idea in those days was to discourage anyone they didn’t think had any ability.  Get rid of them, there was no need their wasting the time.  One teacher once said to a guy, “Young man, is there anything else you can do for a living?”

Have we entered a time when there are too many school-taught artists, too many artists who should have found some other way to make a living?
I think people go to exhibitions and see a lot of modernist work and they say, “I think I can do that too,” and the first thing you know they’re in the business (laughter)! But if they had to go through the years of learning how to draw and doing it over and over, composition and color. . . Well, they just wouldn’t do that.  And I think one of the faults has been the universities.  Teachers don’t want to be classified as old-timers, so they push all the modern things.  I knew a teacher who came into class with an armload of books and he’d say, “Now we’re going to do Matisse or Picasso.”  Well, you’re not developing anybody.  The funny thing is they were imitating Picasso, and the next week he was doing something else.  If I’d asked one of my students in the early years who Picasso was, he’d have said he ran a pizza parlor.  They didn’t know who he was, and thank goodness for that.
Were you showing your own work while teaching in Oklahoma?
I was showing in exhibitions in New York. (Pause) I think one of the mistakes so many young people make is that they get so wrapped up in local shows.  Local shows won’t get you to first base.  I always told my students they could show in local shows but I don’t think that’s important.  Try a big New York show, and if you get kicked out you can say I’ve been kicked out of better shows than this.  And do it again and again.  The first thing you know you’re doing something they recognize and you’re in.
When did you begin printmaking?
Oh, I guess when I was in Cincinnati I did a few things.  I was a member of the old Cincinnati Men’s Art Club and they had a big etching press and I did a little plate to announce Martha Jane’s (Reed’s daughter) birth.  I did several things there, and then when we went to Oklahoma I got the department to buy a press, and many of my early things were done on that.  Later on, several of the engineering students built this press (the press in Reed’s studio).  They made the rollers out of a drill stamp for an oil well, they put an axle through it and welded it in there.  I did a special plate for the Museum of New Mexico for their 50th anniversary, and I was printing the thing, and I twisted the whole center out of the dern roller.  I was just sick about it.  I heard about this man, Werner Schultz, and was told I could find him any day after 5 at the Sleeping Boy (a legendary Taos watering hole).  He’d received his training in Germany where the first problem they give a machinist is a block and a file, and you make a ball bearing out of it.  (Laughs) I thought that was pretty good.  He came out and looked at this thing, took it all apart, and he said “I can make a new roller easier than I can fix this one.”  I said, “Fine, let me know when you’re finished.”  He said, “I don’t have to do that.  You come up to the Sleeping Boy tomorrow and I’ll have it ready and we’ll put it together.”  And he did it, all out of one piece of steel.  It fit together like a glove. I’ve used that press, I guess, 40 years.  It’s not a big press, but it’s not a mural medium.  I don’t know what they want those great big presses for.

One of the most distinctive things about your work is the mood.  Each one has its own mood, many of them are black.
I’ll tell you.  Years ago, I used to go outdoors and paint.  I found that not only are you fighting the wind, the bugs, and the snakes, but you find yourself matching the blue of the sky, somethin’ over here, somethin’ there.  So I quit that, and I go out and make a drawing, I look around and I finally find something that I think will have possibilities for a painting or a print, or maybe just as a drawing.  Then I organize the thing as I go.  And I try to think about the things that caused this landscape, the upheaval, the volcanoes.  The adobe buildings which are really part of the earth.  I try to get that sort of mood.  I like to think about mountains geologically rather than in terms of vegetation.  Many times I’ve been out sketching and seen a little procession moving through the fields, carrying a little statue of San Ysidro, blessing the fields and so on, and I think I kinda like that.  Those are the people of the earth themselves.  They farm the earth, they know the earth.  If someone doesn’t bless it, we don’t have rain and sunshine, we’re all lost.

So there’s a sense of history to your work, too, of how things came about rather than just how they are.
But there is that dark mood, the crosses, the campo santos. . .
Well, you know, I’ll bet you that the artists back in New York and people who go and visit the shows must wonder about me.  Maybe they think I’m a Catholic priest or a penitente.  But after all, this is a Catholic country.  The cross is everywhere.  It’s part of the country, and I want to get that feeling.  I’m not morbid about the country, I love it.  It’s part of the design, and the cross makes an interesting design patter itself. 

But there is the feeling that you live here and you’re affected by it as well.
Yes, I want to feel a part of it.  I did a special plate for the Society of American Graphic Artists in New York, and I got the nicest letter from a man who had seen it and he said, “You know, in Virginia we have no earthly idea about a landscape like this.”  Well, I did the thing down in Pilar along the river with those big headrocks up there, all that volcanic rock, and that sort of thing.  (Pause) So I’m sure they wonder whether I make up this landscape or not, but I don’t.   It’s here.

As opposed to this feeling of moody desolation, there is this painting here, An Afternoon in Summer, which looks almost like “New Mexico Gauguin”.  There is a sense of freshness and sensuality in it.  Do you like that one?
(Smiling) Yes.  It’s one of my favorite paintings.  And Rod Goebel bought it.  That’s pretty good when a fellow artist buys one of your paintings, isn’t it?

Is there a story behind that painting?  Or a story in it?
Well, no.  It’s just one of those idealistic things that I like to do.

Well, I suppose so, after all. . . (Pause) John Stebbins.  Did you know John Stebbins?  He lived up the canyon here.  He used to be a photographer for Time magazine for years.  He and his wife and I, we used to meet at La Dona Luz for lunch, had the greatest time.  And she’d say, “Now, Doel, do you actually see these women around out at your place?”  And I’d say, “Why, yes.  Haven’t you ever seen them?  They’re everyplace!”  (Much laughter)  And she would get so upset.  She wouldn’t come to the studio if there was a nude on the wall.  We’d have to turn it to the wall.  (More laughter) We used to have a lot of fun.

Do you think it’s important to draw from a model?
Oh yes!  Yeah.  I can draw very well without it. . . You need . . . I think drawing has to be anatomically correct.  I don’t object to El Greco making the legs a little longer or the arms a little longer.  They were still anatomically correct.  The joints were in all the right places. 

How much are you working now?
Well, not too much.  I’ve had these two eye operations, and I’m not doing too much.  I’m doing some caseins.  I’m still doing some printing.  I do that all right, but I just can’t get down to doing a fine line.  But those two caseins over there I’ve done this year. 
To change the subject back to your subject matter, just looking around your studio here it looks like the predominant subject you’ve worked with has been the female form. 
I think so. 

It’s an obvious question, but why do you paint so many nudes?
Oh, I love to paint nudes.  It’s a challenge.  They should always have a classical look that removes it from being personal.  That’s important.  And all of those that the great masters did were certainly not personal at all.  The great Titians, even Reubens.  All those big Flemish girls . . . I don’t know how they’d get along here.  They’d probably have to go jogging to get rid of all that . . . (Laughter) I thought it was one of the funniest things, all these style ads in the New York papers, and the magazines.  They got the skinniest, boniest women, their cheeks are all fallen in, and the eyes are dull, and they’re built like an ironing board!  Men don’t like women like that!

It’s funny what you said about the dress going out of style.  In nudes a certain body type has been going out of style.
It’s certainly gone out of style in this case all right.  But when you look at all the things from the early Greeks on up through the Renaissance and up through the Flemish painting, even the 19th century American painting, they were full-blown women!  There is a certain beauty about them.  (Pause) Well, I guess that’s the way I think about it.  I don’t know . . . I, ah, . . . (Phone rings and Reed answers.  Pause.)
Has your taste changed much over the years?  Do you still like the same things you used to like?
I think I like pretty much the same things.  I go to the exhibitions and find things I like.  But I don’t want to be influenced by it.  I try not to be influenced by anything but my own thinking.  Well, I don’t know, sometimes I think I ought to sign my name up along with Mozart’s and Beethoven’s and people like that because I like that too, which I think has the same sort of thing I’m doing. . .

Real harmony . . .

And that attitude carries over to your own view of art?  That it should be an expression of joy, of humor, of harmony, rather than . . .
Sure.  Yes.  You know I think so many times that these younger painters, who want to be abstractionists – I have nothing against abstract painting.  I’ve been on juries at times and I’ve given awards to good abstract painting.  But if they want to get good examples of fine abstract composition, they should look at the old masters, because that’s what they start with.  They start with great masses on their canvas, and then they had a theme which they developed within these masses.  But that big pattern is far superior to most of the abstract painting today. 
A change that seems to have occurred in art, in the last, oh, 20 years, is that the personality of the artist, in many cases, has become at least as important as the work that he does.  Certainly in terms of sales.
Oh yes.   I know it.  I know it is.  (Pause) The year before last I got a letter from the organization up in Denver that said they were inviting 62 American artists to this particular show, and I was one of ‘em.  Well, I thought, that’s pretty nice.  So I sent up a few things.  (Pause) Well, I guess I was kinda stupid . . . for one thing.  I didn’t realize it was one of those big moneymaking affairs.   It was run by the . . .

Denver Rotary Club.  Artists of America show.
Yeah.  And I sent up a few things.  And I had a moderate price on the things.  That’s where I think I made my mistake.  You can’t sell anything in a show like that for $4,000.  You have to have $60,000 to $80,000 on it.  And the one thing that sold for $225,000 was a landscape done in a canyon. . . Well, I’ve been in this business long enough to know when a thing is painted from a photograph!  And this was painted from a photograph.  I know it was because here in the foreground were some little rocks about the size of a grapefruit, with some careful shadowing.  No artist would be interested in those little rocks with a shadow cast when you’ve got a great canyon here and this sort of thing!  They were in the photograph so he put ‘em in there!  (Shaking his head.  To himself. . .)  $225,000. . . good grief. . .Now if I’d known that I coulda tacked on a couple of more zeroes . . . (Laughter) I’m a little conscientious about things like that, I suppose.  (Chuckling) I think that’s highway robbery.

So those paintings were overpriced rather than yours being underpriced.
I’m afraid so.  (Pause) Well, I’m sure there were good paintings in there.  But the man who did one for $225,000, I saw one of his paintings down here at the Gaspard House and, gosh, it wasn’t a painting at all.  It was just a little tinted thing on canvas.  It didn’t have any painting qualities at all.  I think a painting, and all the great works I know, had paint on the canvas.  And they were able to manipulate it in the right way.  It’s not just a matter of tinting a drawing, that sort of thing.  I’ll bet poor Mr. Gaspard about turned over in his grave.  (Laughter)

Did you know Gaspard?
Oh yes, quite well.  I loved that ol’ boy.  And he used to like for me to come over and talk, because he wanted to talk about certain American artists.  But, you know, he was a little difficult.  He’d go out and bring in a couple of glasses about the size of a jelly glass and a bottle of vodka, a bottle of vermouth, and a bottle of red wine.  No ice.  He’d pour that glass just about full with vodka, 4 or 5 drops of red wine to make it pink, ‘cause he loved pink.  (Laughter)  And he’d get mad at you if you didn’t drink two of ‘em.  Boy, you’d be practically horizontal.  (Laughter)  And he used to invite us out there in the summertime on Sunday for dinner.  And he was a good cook.  We went out there one time and Mrs. Fechin was there.  I don’t know if the Fechins and the Gaspards got along too well or not, but Mrs. Fechin, when Gaspard brought out the vodka, she said, “Vodka is for peasants.”  (Laughter) The Russians didn’t drink vodka, they drank the best French brandies.  They wouldn’t drink that old stuff. Some friends of ours went to Russia and said the vodka tasted terrible.  (Laughter)
Who were some of the other early Taos artists that you were close to?
I knew Blumenschein.  He was a character.  I knew Berninghaus.   I thought he was one of the best artists here.  And he was an absolute gentleman from the word go.  A fine man, I liked him very much.  Blumenschein – oh, he was a funny one.  You know, he used to be a baseball player.  He used to go on the narrow gauge railroad and go over to Tres Piedras to play baseball.  And he was a tennis player.  I guess he could do most anything.  And a bridge player.  He was so good they wouldn’t let him play, they wouldn’t let him stay in the room even. 

(We repair to the adjoining workroom where there is a bucket of ice, bottles of tonic water, gin, bourbon, sherry, Courvoisier.  He begins by showing us older aquatints and describing the settings and circumstances of them as we drink.)

This one I call Wedding Preparations because the girl was getting married.

Yeah, she’s cutting her toenails I see.
Yeah, she’s getting all ready for him.  The model was from Boston.  Her name was Murphy.
What did your father do, if I may ask?
My father was a commercial traveler.  He was a real gentleman, and I think I learned more about how to behave myself from him, just from watching him.  When I got home from the war he had a lot of extra time and the YMCA was advertising for secretaries.  He’d been a seller all his life, so he knew he could do that sort of thing.  So he went down to Indianapolis and they said, “Mr. Reed, we think you’ll do just fine.  And by the way, are you a praying man?”  My father said, “Hell no!” (Much laughter) He said, “I thought you fellows could do that and that I was going to do the work.”  (More laughter)  So he didn’t get the job.

I spent a little time with Andrew Dasburg just before he died.  He would drive his car around the house and park along the fence looking out across at Llano, and sit there in the front seat of his car all afternoon just using a straight edge and a pencil to define the landscape that is Llano Quemado.  It was an inspiration to watch him work.  He was then in his 90s, still every day. . .
Did you ever see him drive his car?

Coming down here he was turning into his place, so he turned way out on the left hand side of the road to turn, and he got hit by another car.  And he was so mad that the State Patrol didn’t know that you had to do that.  (Laughing) You had to turn out like that to get in the drive.

Did you visit with Mr. Dasburg much?
No, I didn’t.  I’d seen him in a gallery someplace.

I thought maybe living right down the road, as you do, you might have . . .
I’m afraid that we were as far apart as the North and South Poles.  (He continue rummaging through prints) Ah, there she is!  (Pulls out print of nude) That was published in a British publication as one of the finest prints of the year, in 1938.  It’s called Fertility.  (Pause) She was a beautiful woman with red hair.  I love red hair.  Just the kind of woman, as Thomas Hart Benton said of one of his models, “The kind of woman that causes a man to go around all day mumbling to himself.”  (Laughter) I met Benton one time.  He was quite a guy.  It was at an exhibition and reception and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to him.  I saw him down the line a little ways and he yelled at me, “Hey!  Are you the guy who does those swell aquatints?”  I thought that was kinda nice.

Thom Collins, Stephen Parks, June 1983