Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bob Haozous: Indian Individual (1981)

Lady in Love III, alabaster, 70 inches long

            Using saws, chisels and grinders, Bob Haozous creates sensuous stone, metal and wood forms that combine pointed social commentary with an abiding concern for beauty and grace. Haozous shares a love of polished, finished surfaces with his famous sculptor father, Allan Houser, but there the father-son similarity ends. While Houser's work is the epitome of lyrical, Native American ideals of beauty, harmony and pride, Haozous is concerned with the experience and the meaning of the contemporary Indian individual, and his sculpture often has a satirical or ironic bite.
            Haozous is articulate and soft-spoken. When he talks, there's a sense about him of restrained intensity and enthusiasm--not that anything's going unsaid, but that words are delivered with a curious lack of passion. Perhaps he saves the passion for his work.
            We talked in his studio, atop a hill a few miles west of Santa Fe.

I just returned from a show in Texas, and these people said, "Why are you doing this kind of work? It's not Indian art!"

What do they think Indian art is?
Decorative. No philosophy, no religion, just an extension of Indian craft. The whole subject kind of burns me up.

Let's ease into it then. What's the source of your art?
In one way or another, I think most of my art is based on my childhood. I was born in Los Angeles, but I grew up in Utah. This was during the '50s, what they called the `termination' period, when the government sent Indian kids away from the reservations to schools, cut off their hair, forbid them to speak their own language. My mother and father both worked at one of those Indian schools, in northern Utah, but I went to a public school, and that was strange. The kids of the Indian employees were separate from the anglos, separate from the Indian kids in the Indian school...but that experience was instrumental in what I'm doing know. It gave me a distance. The people I grew up with, the ones my friends and I respected for their wit, their intelligence, their sensitivity--they either became artists or alcoholics. Some of them are dead now. The others, to survive, totally divorced themselves from their Indian culture.
            As soon as we could, we all left. I'm finding that a number of my old friends are beginning to congregate here in Santa Fe--Gail Bird and Yazzie Johnson, who are jewelers, Robert Shorty, a sculptor, Harold Littlebird, who's a poet and potter, and my brother, Phil Haozous, another jeweler.

Can you be specific about how your early experience has been reflected in your art?
Well, the experience wasn't urban, it wasn't reservation. It was a contemporary setting where we could pretty much make our own rules. I had a generalized Indian awareness, and what I'm doing now is to try and generalize in the statements I make with my work. Rather than express any particular tribe's ways or rules or symbols, I try and express the general Indian awareness.

How do you characterize that awareness?
The non-Indian philosophy is based on the Western tradition of man as being superior to everything else on earth. The Native American says man is an equal part of everything. To the Indian, God couldn't look like man. I'm not a religious man. On the other hand, I feel I have a responsibility to somehow privately form my own religion.

You whitewashed some of your early sculptures. Was that intended as a literal symbol?
Yes. That's the general American idea that if you can't control something, manipulate it, whitewash it, it's not right. So I started painting things white. I did a wood piece once called Initiation, which showed a lady holding a mask. She looked Indian, but you weren't sure, and the mask was painted white. There were these beautiful cracks in the wood and in the woman, and the guy who bought the piece filled them in. He whitewashed the whole thing.

 Did you experience a lot of the whitewash while you were growing up?
I knew people in Utah, Indian people, who joined the Mormon Church. They were taught that if they really believed in the church, their skin would turn white. And those people believed it. That's the power of the dominant culture. I've never made a point of wearing Indian jewelry or clothes, because everyone has tried so hard to look like an Indian. I don't care what people look like. Appearances are so unimportant. When I was in school--California College of Arts and Crafts, in Oakland--I wanted to go through as a neutral person. People thought I was Italian. Teachers tried to get us to dig into our past, but at that time I was more interested in intellectual and technical stimulus. The one time that I painted an Indian, the teacher gave me an A, and it was the last painting I did.

Has your father had much influence on your work?
He gave us clay when we were kids, critiqued our drawings. But he was aware of the harm that could be caused by pushing us, and he didn't. He looks traditional, but he's very tolerant. I think the most important thing I've learned from my dad.... In his work, everything is intentional. I admire that. It's a professionalism I want, too. I want control. Many people stop working on a piece too soon. They stop when they think the piece is salable, rather than when it's finished. That's why you see so much rough rock in sculpture. They're not finished.

Most of your figures are women.
They always have been. I started doing degraded Mother Earth images. Indians view Mother Earth as the live earth, anglos view her as a woman with big breasts, big hips, a very dominant woman. So I did the anglo attitude. When Indian societies were destroyed, it was the men's roles that were ravaged. In my tribe [Apache], for example, the men were hunters, raiders, and the women took care of the families. When the men lost the ability to do the hunting, there was nothing left. The woman became very dominant--luckily, because they held things together.

But aren't you often sculpting Anglo women?
I decided I would do Indian art that portrays non-Indians. So, yes, I do anglos, I expose them, in a strange way. The men all have a gun, a symbol of a false sense of manhood. Having a gun is like using technology to rule rather than instinct. On the women, I often put necklaces, like the hippies in the '60s wore. They'd put on a necklace and think they were relating to the noble savage. But they didn't relate to who the Indian really was! With my women, I was dealing with the surface decoration to show how all this stuff affects the stone. But the stone, its essence, is still there, underneath, and showing through all that other stuff.

"M," painted wood, 60 inches tall
 You're known for your stone carvings, yet you also have done wood panels like this one [titled M, a frontal female nude, with stars, hearts, and pictograph-like cowboys]--carved in relief and colored--that have the impact of paintings.
I guess I had a lot to say with that one. I wanted to put an anglo, or an anglo-looking woman in a Southwest landscape. She's a friend who...just say she's dissatisfied--with herself, with the landscape, the place. I put her with her soldiers, her ten little white men. She's naked, offering you everything. She's aggressive. The rabbit next to her is timid. He's in the environment. She's a beautiful shell, easily obtained and empty. The hearts--they promise true love, what she thinks she wants. The piece is a hinged triptych, like an altar piece. She stands on top of the hill, blocking the environment, the beauty, offering something very unimportant. She's like the beautiful people who come here, thinking the landscape is so beautiful, and then they put a house on top of the hill and ruin the landscape.

All the images in your work seem to have very particular meanings. What are the chrome balls you've added to some of your stone sculptures?
I did that first in Woman with Necklace. First of all, I like the contrast between marble and chrome. People hated them, so I carved planes and clouds into the surface of her dress. She's till a Navajo woman, but she's controlled by her new environment. No matter where you are, you see planes in the air. The chrome balls are technology, but they are beautiful forms, too.

Sometimes your symbolism is pointed, but your forms are almost always very lush, beautiful. Some of the women, especially, are reminiscent of Lachaise.
I've always admired him. His forms are so simple, yet so difficult to do. They're earth forms, the simple forms. It's what I want. Doing sculpture, especially Native American sculpture, it's so easy to rely on the decorativeness and forget the forms.

And what about the pieces that appear to be nothing but form, the donut-shaped sculptures?
I think of them as Zen forms, and I don't know how any of this we've been talking about relates to them. They don't need my signature. What's the old thing--artists are afraid of their death? These pieces aren't like that. They're not related to immortality, to ego. They don't need me. They're themselves. They are mine, but they're anonymous, too. I'd like to just bury them, and hope that someday someone would dig them up and wonder about them. I like them, I guess, because they're instinctual.

What's the connection with Zen?
I love archery, and I was reading Zen and the Art of Archery, and I was trying to understand how sometimes an arrow would go just where it was supposed to go. I began looking for the same thing in art, and somehow this form symbolizes that for me.

How did you find it?
I did a carving once of a happy man, and he was holding up this shape, which looked like a donut. I loved the shape and how it worked as a symbol.

Does it have a specific meaning?
I've used it both as a female symbol and a symbol of the universe. My work has been going in two different directions--one is these universal symbols, which I don't really understand yet, and the other is representational sculpture, using Native American symbols and ideas. Eventually I think they'll come together.

Individuality is important to you, but you come from such a tribal, community-oriented background.
I want to combine the two. I try to relate how Indians were by how I am. That individuality, expressing that, is important to me. It's important that I do what pleases me. Native American's have tended to do things just because it pleases them, like I do with my donuts--not for money, but because it pleases me. Unfortunately, that's changing for many Indian artists. They're trying to describe, to explain, to please someone else, and the work ends up decorative, with no individuality. I'd like to see Indian artists refer more to themselves, using history as a reference. That would be cultural art, and art has to be cultural.

Do you find that money is a factor in the production of so much decorative art?
The goal for most artists is financial reward, and that's a shame. But the fact that we have no cultural art says we don't want it yet. Two of my donuts used to stand out in front of the gallery, and everyone had to touch them, which was wonderful, but after a while, some kids dumped them, turned them over. It was kind of an anti-art statement by them, which I can certainly understand. This society isn't ready for fine art.
            But it's not the artists fault. I often feel pressure from critics and gallery people to keep things simple, decorative, salable. They don't want to be challenged or strained. My White Buffalo, for example. People liked the form, but they didn't like it when I put the hole in it and added the hand. The hole is a bullet hole, and the hand symbolized the signature of man. It's man who's killing himself. But it's not that simple for me, either. The hole is also a Zen hole. It causes you to wonder.

Isn't it a legitimate goal, though, to want to simplify your art, your statement?
Yes, but it takes years, experience.... It's something for older artists. They have no choice. They have all that culture behind them. My grandfather, who had ridden with Geronimo, was an Indian sheriff, and when I was about six years old, he used to shoot with us. He had this very particular way of shooting. He'd snap his arm down real fast and shoot, while we always extended our arms and aimed so carefully. I could never understand why he shot that way. Then I was out riding the other day, and I saw a rabbit. I tried to aim an imaginary gun at it, and I found that there was no way I could aim while riding. The only way to shoot from horseback is to snap your arm down as my grandfather had done. He had hundreds of years of experience and culture behind him, and I was too dumb to see it.

Are you an Indian artist?
Of course, though my definition might be a little different than some others. If I deal in my art with my environment, my reality, it reflects my culture. And my culture is Indian. But it is my culture, not my parents' or my grandparents' culture. I don't have my grandfather's eyes, thank goodness. You can't go back.

--Stephen Parks, August, 1981

Friday, November 9, 2012

Eugene Dobos: My Charred Flowers (1981)

Eugene Dobos is a Taos painter and sculptor with boundless energy and enthusiasm for life and art.  He is a bluntly honest and articulate conversationalist, and any discussion is punctuated by expressive gesturing and steady pacing.  Energy crackles around him as he hurls himself into an argument or painting.  He speaks with a magisterial boom, relishing the delivery of each word. 
He was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Russia, on Christmas Day.  When he was eleven years old he nearly lost his life:  a live grenade he was tinkering with exploded in his hand.  He lost one eye and all his fingers except two.  Dobos makes the loss seem inconsequential.  He pursues such active interests as cross-country skiing, throwing and collecting boomerangs, breeding and racing homing pigeons, gathering fire wood, shooting skeet and collecting Mannlicher Schonauer rifles.
His evolution as an artist has been marked by phases that appear radically different from each other, but share a common thread of humor, vulnerability, pain and love of beauty.  The paintings that launched his success were somewhat cynical portrayals of human foibles, often featuring angels, devils, or members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.  His targets were pompous and inflated egos, and snobbery of all forms.  After nearly two decades of such sly prickings, Dobos put down his brush, laid himself down on the living room couch, and after a year of counting vigas he got up and devoted himself to sculpture.  He created puzzling and provocative juxtapositions of familiar objects that tweaked our expectations, challenged our prejudices of the way we see.  Some of the pieces were large and velvet-covered; others were small, mirror-lined boxes, often containing flowers.  One, a mirrored box which contained a dark brown velvet rose placed above a damaged brass bullet shell, had a disturbing symbolism that echoed Dobos’s interest in illusion and touched on such varied associations as coffins, sex, beauty, castration, and death.  From the boxes Dobos returned to painting, though his focus was still on flowers.  He painted large canvases of roses, lilies, and hollyhocks.  A trip to Arizona led to an interest in cacti, and he painted them as abstract, phallic shapes, with a painterly mélange of color.
He is now experimenting with Krylon spray paint and stencils, painting multiple shadows of dead aspen leaves and hollyhocks across a silver surface.  Colors are subtle, interlacing with velvety blacks and grays, and evaporating like smoke.  He calls them “my charred flowers . . . look at how gracefully they die . . .” The effect is bittersweet.
About his approach to art, Dobos says:  “That’s my repertoire.  It’s like writing music:  a composer has more than one song, and I have more than one in me, too.  It’s all playing.  Spray paint is my new toy.”  The following conversation with Lois Gilbert began with a discussion of that the interview should be about:

I just read the interview you did with Marian Love for the Santa Fean in 1979.  Did you like the way it was written?
My God . . . that was incredible.  We drank two bottles of champagne and I just raved about everything.  I thought she would edit a little, but she wrote down the whole conversation—it was insane!  It was fun.

I like the way she portrayed you, as a renaissance man with a lot of joie de vivre.
 Well, I don’t want to talk about any of the old stuff.  No history.  That’s all water under the bridge.  Let’s just talk about me and my work as we are now.  I’m a hell of an interesting guy, you know. 

 O.K.  Why do you have so much work here?  Are you planning a show soon?
No, no!  There’s too much promotion going on.  Too much Madison Avenue.  Artists should stay home and work. 

 So you stay and home and come up with a new batch of Doboses every two or three years?
. . . and I’m drummed out of my galleries because I change.

Sometimes change isn’t commercially feasible.  But that shouldn’t stop you from evolving.
It stops a lot of people.  But you’re right:  when you paint for money, you look in the mirror in the morning and it says, “There’s a hypocrite.”  That’s not a good feeling—I don’t care how much money you make.  When I get up in the morning my mirror says, “There’s a good man.”  That’s worth everything.

Isn’t an artist entitled to some financial security, though?
 It’s not true to art!  Security and art are like oil and vinegar.  Art is revolutionary.  Artists are a bunch of malcontents.

What about Renoir?  He was successful, married and happy.  Was he a revolutionary?
Yes.  A revolutionary is a malcontent.  Someone who is dissatisfied with the status quo.  A normal person will say, “Gee, that’s a beautiful mountain.”  An artist can’t leave it alone.  He will say, “Yeah, that’s a beautiful mountain, but wait until I get done with it!”  That is the process.  And that’s revolutionary.

That seems like egomania!
 Believe me:  it takes a lot of ego to take a clean canvas and screw it up.

Some artists are trying to get away from that ego-oriented art, though.  One of Andy Warhol’s famous quotes was, “Wouldn’t you love to be a machine?”
Well, I could be a choo-choo train for that matter.  But now you’re talking about what kind of revolutionary you are.  The process is a subversive process.  The process is the kick.  By-product is by-product.  If you sell it you sell it, if you don’t you don’t.  But the process of inventing and bringing things forth—that’s where it’s at.

What is your process?
There are no two people who proceed alike.  But I am very much concerned with man in the contemporary world, now.  Each generation has a unique dilemma.  Resolutions of past dilemmas are applicable in part, but anyone who calls himself a contemporary artist is someone dealing with contemporary problems.  Artists have a finger on the pulse of society.  They say, “What’s happening?”  It’s a wonderful phrase.  “What’s happening!”  When Russia was on the brink of revolution in 1917, there was total chaos.  So what do the Russian artists start doing?  Russian Constructivism.  If you cannot achieve order in society, the need for order is still there.  So they constructed tidy little worlds of their own.  It was very original, but unfortunately short-lived.  It was the great beginning of Russian Modern Art.  But then Stalin took over and stomped it all out.  The outlook of the Communist state on art is completely different from ours.  No matter what you do, it’s for the State.  In that climate a truly creative mind cannot exist.
            So the process is like making whisky.  Artists have a facility to distill the confusion of the world, and synthesize it—crystalize it—and bring it forth.  Have you ever watched people make whisky?  You take all the mash, and it’s the most goddamn smelly awful crap you ever saw . . . and then it comes out this exquisite Scotch.

If an artist synthesizes contemporary dilemmas, that sounds political to me—and limited in its appeal.
You can look at it in political terms.  Or religious terms.  Jesus Christ was not content with the status quo.  So you don’t have to be politically oriented to be a revolutionary.

But how do your paintings distill contemporary dilemmas?
 Well, if I have to explain that, my paintings are falling on deaf ears, or they’re falling apart.

Falling on deaf ears?  Why not blind eyes?
Blindness is too terrible to even mention.  No, I don’t think paintings should be explained, especially by an artist.

Sunflower,  construction, 24x24x8 inches
Well . . . I’ve been going to the Taos Ski Valley for many years.  In the last few years I’ve noticed that the spruces on one side of the canyon are turning brown.  They are dying.  I’m not a bleeding-heart conservationist, but I started looking into it and discovered it’s being caused by carbon monoxide.  And the Saguaro cacti are falling dead in the desert because of carbon monoxide.  I think it’s a very contemporary dilemma.

Aren’t your paintings commenting on death rather than carbon monoxide?
 Of course!  But carbon monoxide brought it to my attention.  It’s part of the collective consciousness.  It comes down to dichotomies:  life and death, good and evil, yin-yang.  But we are in a new dilemma:  Mother Nature’s breasts are running out of milk.  And I think of this as I do my work.

Could I watch you paint a painting?
Sure.  I prepared the backgrounds on these with about five coats of silver spray paint.  It’s a very elusive surface.  It looks flat now, but when you move to the side—

 It shimmers.  I like the texture of the morilla board under that silver.  The dimples look like waves on an ocean.  Do you use anything but stencils and spray paint?
No.  One of these days I’m going to blow myself up, keeping these spray cans by the stove.  It’s ironic; I’m using these spray cans to paint about pollution, and they’re destroying the ozone layer.  Now we want this to be ghostly.  In the early morning, when dreams and reality fuse . . . that’s the feeling I want.  That’s the best time to create.  This is the opposite action of action painting.  It’s meditative.

Do you meditate?
No.  Why should I?

You can induce dreams.
My God!  I live in them!  No, I tried it once and I got scared.  It got out of control . . . Beautiful, eh?  Sometimes you almost have to will it on there.

You’re going to cover up all that nice black?
In order to create something, you have to destroy something.  In order to get fed, you have to kill something, right?  It’s silly to be a vegetarian.  People say they won’t kill animals, so they kill plants instead.  What’s the difference?  They’re all living things.
            You must remember, we are playing.  In order to play you have to take risks.  If we want security we can go to Brooks Brothers and buy a tweed jacket.  Come hell or high water we know we can go to Brooks Brothers.  If you’re still insecure, vote Republican.  Those who know how to play are artists.  Those who cannot play—collect.

 It looks like fun.
It is fun.  Why do you think artists get hooked on this?  I consider myself a paint junkie.  Now I’m a goddamn Krylon junkie . . . You might think I know what I am doing.  You are wrong!  Now, let’s have a rehearsal on this piece of paper.  You are sitting on my stencil, Lois.

Sorry.  Does it bother you to have someone watching?
 I love an audience!  I love to show off.

Death and the Maiden, spray paint and stencil
Are you really thinking about death?
 Of course.  This is Death and the Maiden.  How do you make death more deadly?  Introduce a maiden, a virgin, an unfulfilled life.  (Dobos bumps the stencil, it moves slightly and leaves a tiny smear.)  But you do not put blemishes on maidens.  Son of a bitch!
            The world is ready for romanticism.  Where else can we go from Ellsworth Kelly?  But don’t get me wrong, I love Ellsworth Kelly.

 Is death a part of your romanticism?
Sure!  It’s like God.  You can make it as abstract and romantic as you want.  One fellow went to Heaven and came back.  His friends asked him, “Did you see God?”  He said, “Sure.”  They said, “What does He look like?”  He said, “She’s black.”

Did thoughts about death go into those huge flowers you painted last year?

When did you start thinking about it?
When I went through my mid-life crisis, that’s when!  I realized you gotta cut out the bullshit.  But nature devised death to be merciful.  I don’t know why people are afraid of it.  Let’s see what we can do before it comes.  I choose to be a revolutionary, and the result of my revolution is a state of elevation.  After Handel wrote The Messiah he said, “I went to Heaven and saw God Himself.”  That is what the process is like.  In making art, man elevates his spirit and celebrates his royalty.

Is this finished?

Eugene Dobos shows at the Heydt-Bair Gallery, Santa Fe; CJS Gallery, Denver and Putney Gallery, Aspen.

--Lois Gilbert, April 1981

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gary Mauro: Sculpted Verbs (1981)

            During the past ten years, Gary Mauro’s expressive talents have been revealed in a startling array of modes.  In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he painted abstract works on un-stretched canvas.  He cut up those paintings and reassembled them as abstract cloth sculptures.  Gradually the sculptures became figurative.  In the mid-70’s he executed a group of superb colored drawings, the Rock Series—tight compositions of isolated rocks and shards that evoked whole landscapes.  At the same time, he continued to explore the medium of fabric sculpture, and combined it with his unabashed love of the figure.  He recently did a series of large, abstract, mixed-media paintings and incorporated them into such diverse materials as coal dust from deserted mines near his boyhood home of Walsenburg, Colorado, and bits of steel collected from sunken ships in the Caribbean.      
        What is common to all his work is Mauro’s uplifting sense of rhythm.  And while Mauro continues to work in various mediums, his primary focus now is on the figurative bas-relief wall sculptures made of stitched and stuffed and minimally painted fabric.  ARTlines editor Stephen Parks interviewed Mauro last month in his Ranchos de Taos Studio.

How did you learn to use a sewing machine?
I was teaching art in a Denver high school in 1969, somebody donated a machine to the school and one of my students taught me how to use it.  There was a whole fabric art movement going on in the late ‘60s.  I wasn’t acutely aware of it, but it must have affected me because I was cutting up my abstract paintings and sewing them back together as non-functional quilts.  As I was doing that, I became intrigued with the potential of using the sewing machine as a drawing tool.  I liked the line quality, the way the line keeps popping out of the machine.

How did you get from non-functional quilts to sculpture?
I used to store those quilted paintings by rolling them up and standing them in a corner.  I began to regard them as sculptural because they stood there.  I made pant legs and sleeves as sculptural objects.

Like Claes Oldenburg?
No, more abstract than his. But they reminded me more and more of figures, especially a piece I did that was panty hose.

What happened to them?
I threw them all away.  They just didn’t work as a solution to the problem of making sculpture from fabric.  They looked like guts.  Then I hit on the idea of drawing with the stitches and building up a low relief with stuffing between layers of fabric.  It combined both interests – figure drawing, which was always the bottom line for me, and sculpture, which I was getting more and more interested in.  The first piece I did like that was based on the Three Graces.  It was wall-oriented sculpture rather than full-round, but I found I could still treat the full figure by doing the front and back views of the figures, rotating them across the horizontal plane.

You still do a lot of abstract paintings.  How do you relate your work in these two seemingly very different styles?
I feel the two are very close.  Both have an energized relief surface.  In some of the work, I get the surface with stitching, and in some I get it with collage.  I use the same gestures in the lines and strokes in the two types of work. Barbara Rose once asked Lucas Samaras what the connection was between his boxes with pins and needles in them, his large, sewn, fabric reconstructions, and his Polaroid photo transmutations.  “Oh, I’m not sure,” he said to her.  “It’s probably too early to tell.”  I feel some of that.
Figures and Shadows (detail), fabric relief, 5x6 feet.

Most of the figures in your work are female forms.
It may seem old-fashioned that I relate to figures like that, but . . . I certainly respond to them.  A woman, a curator from the Whitney Museum, once asked me why I didn’t do more male figures.  I couldn’t answer that for a few years until I realized that there was far more rapture in me in the female form than in the male. A lot of times, I don’t think of the figures as having gender.  Deep down, I’m dealing with pure form.  I did a commission for a man in Belen, Carlos Schidlowski, and when we started talking about it, he told me how much he loved horses and buffalo, Indians on horseback, and I said no, I didn’t want to get locked into any narrative content, I speculate in pure form.  He said, “Great, I speculate in pure money.”

What’s pure form?
I’m more concerned with the sculptural aspects of a shape, its pure form, than I am with the message, the associations of the shape.  It could be a buffalo or a woman’s body for all I care.  There’s a lot of modeling involved.  I use fabric like another artist might use clay.  I add and subtract to get down to the shape and form that is rhythmic, interactive.  It leads back to the idea of figure drawing that is other than flat.  I can have undulating surfaces that are both drawing and bas relief.

Earlier you used the word rapture.  Is that a key to the way you relate to your work?
I relate it to the feeling I get in a Gothic cathedral, the empathy of all that upward movement in architecture.  It’s charged.

There’s a classical, Italian Renaissance feel about your work.
It’s the way I learned to draw.  I remember in school I illustrated my own verbs.  If the teacher was talking about the verb to spit, I’d draw a picture of a man spitting.  And later, in art history classes, I’d always do quick drawings of the slides being shown, as a memory device. 

The sculptural pieces are still very active, very verby, in their vertical thrust . . .
There’s horizontal movement, too.  In the piece I’m doing now (a 24 –foot wall sculpture for a Denver office building), I use the same model for all the figures, but I rotate her and change the posture as she moves from right to left.  Each piece has an optimum rhythm and proportion, a pictorial kind of logic that determines how one line and shape relates to another, and to the whole.  And I’m finding as I do more commissions that the rhythm and proportion have to be right, not only within the individual piece, but within the space, too.  It has to fit with the shape and size of the room, the lighting, the environment of the whole building . . . There’s that added excitement to doing commission pieces, creating them for a space.

When did you do your first commission?
In 1975.  It was for a Los Angeles film maker, Paul Monash.  A few years later, I did one for another producer, Paul Heller, who made all the Bruce Lee movies.

And you were involved in the Art in Public Places program.
I did a large piece for the Bataan Memorial Building in Santa Fe, and one for the Mary Medina Human Services building in Taos.  The Santa Fe piece has imagery evocative of tense, muscled, working people.  The Taos piece is mostly animals – a bull, a charging horse, a flying bird.  Before I started on it, I interviewed the people who worked in the building, and they told me about all the people they dealt with, and the piece attempts to help them forget their problems, lift them up.  I tried to work from the condition of the people who would see it.  R.C. Gorman commissioned me to do a diptych that hangs over his pool, I did a commission last year in Hawaii . . .

Have any conflicts arisen between what you want to do with a piece, and what the commissioner of the piece wants you to do with it?
None.  So far, I’ve taken them an idea, and they’ve gone for it.  I couldn’t do it any other way.  I have to feel the piece has the art in it I have to get out of it.

In some of your abstract sculptural pieces, you used quite a bit of color.  The figurative ones are considerably more restrained.  Why is that?
The sewn, bas relief resembles a kind of marble.  As you begin to draw attention with color, it can compete with the relief, with the sculptural presence.  I draw graphite lines on muslin, and use an occasional accent of color—I love color—but I don’t put much of it in these pieces.  I use it in a draftsman’s sense.  The color describes the drawing and the sculpture.

The figures in the new work appear bolder, more frontal.
They seem to be pushing more now, demanding that they be more figurative, and less abstract in comparison to some of the earlier work.  I love the little nubs, the sculptural details of elbows and knees.  I ain’t just makin’ tits and ass.

What artists have been a strong influence on you?
Rodin.  I’ve always liked the visceral quality of his work, the action, the pathos, the anxiety of his figures.  I try to establish the same sort of charged, rotating, twisted point and counter-point in my figures.

Any contemporary artists?
Laddie Dill, especially, whose work gives the illusion of incredible weight but they’re actually quite light.  And I like Richard Serra . . . his solid sheets of hot rolled steel leaning against a building.  At times, that’s the effect I want my abstract paintings to have, a surface that looks like something else—steel, or a rock wall.  It’s exciting to make a painting not look like a painting.  And I’ve always loved de Kooning’s work.

Your drawing has the same sweeping, gestural quality.
I met him once.  I lived in the Bowery for a year, and one Sunday I went to East Hampton to go sailing.  It was a lousy day, and I was talking to a guy on the dock, I told him I was an artist, and he said, oh, we’ve got an artist here, his name’s de . . . dekoo, something like that.  So I found his place, and he was working away in a frenzy in his studio.  I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I waited for about an hour and he didn’t take a break, so I decided I had to knock or leave.  He came to the door with brushes dripping.  I said I was an artist from New Mexico and I just wanted to say hello, so he said “Five minutes.  Five minutes.  Come in,” in his Dutch accent.  It turned into an hour and a half.  There were his drawings of the Women Series all over the floor.  The ideas he shared with me, mostly about how he worked, were really exciting.  I asked if he worked from a model, and he said no, though he had in his early days.  “Gorky would model for me,” he said, “but I’d never model for him in return, so he quit that.”  And then one day he found this pair of overalls, all stiff with paint, leaning in a corner, and he grabbed them up and put them on a stool, and made a quick face out of plaster, and hung it up on the wall behind the thing, and all of a sudden it reminded him of himself.  And he also used to draw nudes from himself in the mirror.

He used himself for shapes for the Woman Series?
Yes.  And he told me how he painted on a day-to-day basis.  He’ll take a painting that he thinks is resolved, and do a verbatim tracing of one part of it that he was excited about, and transfer that part to a new canvas and use that as the launching pad for the next painting.  Once he had the figure, the image, whether it was from the thing in the corner, from himself, or from another painting, that was the given in the formula, then he was at the business of painting and no longer dealing with the figure.  I feel the same way with these figurative images.  I have established the given, and then go about the business of fabricating the sculptural-ness, the overall rhythm and picture.  I don’t worry about the given anymore.

Do you think of your art as being at all Southwestern?
I have friends doing Southwestern images—Red Loving, Bill Gersh, Richard Thompson, even Carl Johansen—and I’m beginning to think a school is being established, but I don’t feel related to it.  The Western imagery used to irk me.  I felt it was provincial, but I’m mellowing.  I’m coming to the conclusion that New York formalism is as provincial as horses and cowboys.  Gersh was back East recently, and as he said when he got back, in New York they know what they can sell, and Elaine Horwitch knows what she can sell.

You’re a drummer, and I’ve seen how well you can control a speed bag with your fists.  Is there a relationship?
I feel the same sort of rhythm in my hands—playing the drums, hitting the bag, and drawing. I have a good friend, Kester Smith, who’s a drummer for Taj Mahal.  He stayed with us for ten days once, drummed most of the time, and I did a series of watercolors based on his rhythms.  I titled them after stories he told us about the West Indies.  When he was a kid, he and his friends would catch birds, but the winner of the game was the guy who caught the bird with the most beautiful song.  Then he’d stand on the street, so proud, with his prized bird . . . That was his background in music.
--Stephen Parks, September 1981

(Gary Mauro exhibits at the Wildine Gallery, Albuquerque, and at his studio, P.O. Box 473, Ranchos de Taos, NM.)

Barsano, Hacking, and Goebel: Of Bachelors and Impressionism (1981)

Just getting to interview with our three subjects—Ron Barsano, Rod Goebel, and Rulon Hacking—was difficult.  The arrangements were made:  7 p.m. at Rod Goebel’s house just west of Arroyo Seco; Rulon would pick me up around 6:30, and Ron would meet all of us at Rod’s.  I picked up a six pack to facilitate the discussion, ease the tensions and inhibitions inherent in the perverse process of the interview situation.  6:30 came and went with no sign of Rulon.  At ten to seven I popped open a beer, lit a cigarette, and got on the phone—no Rulon.  7:10 and I’m sure he’s forgotten the whole thing.  I’m calling his home every 30 seconds or so and pacing.  In desperation I call a good friend of his.  The person on the other end speaks soothingly.  “He’s often late you know.  This is nothing.  He’ll be there.  Just relax.”  Ten minutes later, Rulon arrives.  I hop in the car and we head out of town.  “This damn car has been . . .” and before he can finish his sentence the car gives an insinuating cough and the engine dies.  “See?” he says as we coast off the road onto the shoulder. “Vapor-lock.  Gotta let it cool off for a few minutes.  Might as well have one of those beers there.”  We sit and drink.  I glance at Rulon who’s staring rapturously at the mountain bathed in the crimson gold of the sunset.  “God, look at that will you?”  I look.  That’s it!  That’s what these guys are doing, it occurs to me, trying to capture that in paint.  In a few minutes we are once again on our way, stop for more beer, and two miles down the road the engine is repeated.  It happens three more times, in fact, but we’re drinking and laughing and hardly care if we make it or not.
We do.  Rod Goebel’s house is tasteful, elegant, almost opulent by Taos standards.  “Let me give you the tour so we can get that out of the way,” he says.  It’s a solar house made of beer cans covered with adobe plaster, beautiful gardens in the back and surrounding the house.  His studio, separate from the living quarters, has a stirring view of the mountains.  There’s a large painting in progress on the easel (Summer Clouds over Pojoaque, subsequently finished and pictured here.)  We go back into the living room and the tape is rolling.
Ron Barsano, Fiesta, Taos Plaza, oil on canvas, 20x30 inches

Rulon Hacking:  Yeah, I’m heading to Phoenix tomorrow morning.  My sister had a baby boy and my parents will be there and I haven’t seen them for a while.
Rod Goebel:  Well, this is a good time of year to go.
RH:  (Laughter) Yeah, perfect.
RG:  119 degrees.  (Laughter)  And you’re getting vapor-lock at 85 degrees?  Great!
RH:  I’m going to borrow a car—a little more reliable.  I’m going to do some painting along the trailside down there.
RG:  Cactus.  Cactus is big . . . Cactus, yuccas.
RH:  I tried to paint one last year.  Well, several, but God, the bugs would drive me crazy.  Thorns everywhere. 
RG:  They know how to protect themselves.

AL:  Rod and Ron, you were both members of the Taos Six [other members were Robert Daughters, Walt Gonske, Julian Robles, and Ray Vinella] which formed in the mid-‘70s.  Would you tell us about that group?
RG:  It was just a group of artists who were all painting and doing good work and had the potential to be one of the big groups in the country—in the West, certainly.  It was gangbusters, really.  Had it stayed together, we’d be having shows today that would . . .
Ron Barsano:  With relatively no publicity we were involved in shows in the Philbrook Museum in Texas, the Maxwell Gallery in San Francisco.  The name caught on unbelievably.

AL:  Why did it break up?  Painterly disputes?
RG:  It’s very complicated.  It was nothing among the artists.  It was a matter of artists versus galleries.  The usual problem.
RB:  In any group there’s going to be problems.  We all knew that so we drew up by-laws.  One of them stated that any artist could show in any gallery he wanted to.  The only real commitment was we’d have two shows a year as a group.

(Telephone rings.  RG answers it.)

RG:  Hello. (Pause) Yes. (Pause.  Laughs.  To group at large) Wait.  Wait a minute.  This is a woman who’s writing a book called Who’s Who in New Mexico Bachelors.  (Much laughter from all.  RG into phone) There’s a bunch of us here, all artists, what would you like to know?  (Pause) Forty-five minute interview?  (Pause)  Who’s gonna buy a book on Who’s Who in . . . Well, what if I don’t like women?  (Laughter)  So what do you want?  Um.  Sure . . . (Continues talking into phone.)
RB:  (Continuing) So to get back to this.  Rod was dissatisfied with the gallery where we’d all been showing.  He wanted to pull out and we talked him out of it.  He decided a second time—I gotta pull out and I don’t want to talk to the guys because they’re going to talk me out of it again and I gotta get out of here – which I don’t blame him.  So he pulled out without saying anything, which really upset two of the members of the Taos Six.  They thought the gallery was doing a hell of a job for us.  Anyway, the whole thing blew up.  We tried to get back together, but it just never worked out.  The only bad thing about a group that’s promoted as the Taos Six is that everybody knows about the Taos Six, but they don’t know Barsano.  So I realized . . . I was kind of glad it broke up.

AL:  It allowed you to establish your own identity.
RB:  Right.  My own identity was more important to me than the Taos Six.  I wanted people to say, “Oh you’re Barsano.”
RG:  (Waving phone) Here you are, you’re next on the list.  (RG gives phone to RB, accompanied by much laughter.)
RB:  (Into phone) This is Ron Barsano, bachelor, what can I help you with?
RG:  She said someone else did a book like this in Texas, and it was a best seller.  They had a lot of pictures . . .

AL:  They’ll probably want a lot of pictures of your place.
RG:  I’m not sure I want this at all.

AL:  Let me change the direction a little bit.  Do you object to being called impressionists?

Rulon Hacking, Winter Brook, oil on canvas, 40x30 inches
RH:  It’s the best term that I can think of to cover that manner of painting, but there’s a kind of stigma attached to a school of painting that’s a century old.  When you say impressionist, people automatically think of Monet or whoever, rather than think of what impressionism is—the projecting of an impression of a scene, or a feeling, without having to do the whole . . .
RG:  The fact of the matter is that the impressionists were painting what was really going on out there in the real world, and they were the first ones to do this.  The public tends to think that impressionism is an artificial style or technique, whereas it’s really the most accurate means of representing the truth—the truth of light and form as it exists outside.  Monet was out there!  And so impressionism is far more realistic than what people think of as realism.  It is more realistic.

(RB interrupts, handing RH, bachelor number three, the phone.)

RH:  Hello.  Yes.
RG:  (To all)  Let’s wait until this is over.
RH:  (Into phone) Pardon?  R-U-L-O-N H-A-C-K-I-N-G . . . five foot ten . . . (much laughter) … Do I have to remain single for a whole year?  Well, I’m dating a lady but I don’t want to get married.  She wants to get married.  What?  All kinds of ladies . . . hmmm . . . Well it sounds really fun.  Kind of kinky though . . . Well, okay.  You know, I’m probably the wrong guy . . . Tomorrow?!  I’ll be in Arizona . . . I’ll let you know.  Cecile Spall? . . . 471-6748 . . .in Santa Fe . . .Right.  Bye. (Hangs up phone).

AL:  Is she herself single?
RH:  I don’t know.  She’s a graduate student in something.  They’re going to have this big party when the thing gets published and invite all these ladies and there’s going to be all the guys to autograph it.
RG:  That would be fun!

AL:  Sounds like the all day duck races in Deming.  (Laughter)
RH:  What were we talking about?  Impressionism, wasn’t it? (Laughter)

AL:  I was saying that you all are working in a traditional style or manner . . .
RH:  It’s about the only thing left that can’t be called contemporary.  Super-realism is now called contemporary, but it’s not new.

AL:  How did you happen to choose, individually, this style of painting?
RG:  One doesn’t necessarily choose a style of painting.  Some do, and those are the people who tend to be bad artists because they’re not . . . it’s not coming from within themselves.  But a realistic vein or mode has always been the thing that interested me.  It was natural to me.  Taos was the natural place to come because I grew up in Albuquerque.  The early Taos school was still here, the landscape is extraordinary, the mountains are totally unique.  Taos also has a far greater variety of things to paint than any other place I’ve seen.  In Santa Fe the landscape tends to be the same everywhere you are.  The magic is what attracted those earlier artists.  Interestingly enough, all the members of the Taos Six came out here about the same time—about ten years ago.  And since that time, other than yourself, Rulon, there have been very, very few other artists working in a realistic vein that have come here.
RH:  I can’t think of anybody . . . What’s his name?  He does really tight super-realism?
RG:  Bill Acheff.  But, of course, Bill is not painting the area.  That’s not the area—still lifes.  You could do a still life in San Bernardino.  Some other young artists have come since, but they haven’t stayed here for the most part.

AL:  Any good ones?
RG: (Silence)

AL:  Well, why did you choose this style, Ron?
RG:  When I was growing up in Chicago there was an illustrator who lived next door and I was friends with his son.  He always said that when we were old enough, we could go to the American Academy of Art and study under William Mosby.  I graduated from high school, my friend decided he wanted to be an actor, and I went to the American Academy and studied under William Mosby.  I was very naïve about fine art.  But immediately I knew that was what I was going to do.
RG:  Why was it, Ron, that you came to Taos?
RB:  I saw what happened to other artists who left school, started painting, and thought they were better than anyone else, and I saw how their quality and their success dropped to the point where if they worked in the arts at all, it was with some commercial studio.  I realized that you have to be open to new things, and to criticism from other artists.  I had heard about Taos, about Fechin, some of the American Academy students were out here, so I decided, I’m moving to Taos.  I didn’t like it, but decided to stay for a year.  Then I fell completely in love with the place for exactly the same reasons Rod gave.
RG:  Plus, don’t forget, there are also so many wonderful bachelors here. (Laughter)

AL:  Rulon, do you infuse feeling, emotion into a scene, or is it a particular feeling that the scene conveys to you . . .
RG:  (Interrupting) If you don’t put that in there, it’s not art.  Reproducing a landscape does not make art.  Only when you put your own spirit . . . It’s much more difficult to do something that’s realistic and at the same time show your emotional response to it, than it is to do an abstract sort of thing, which is all emotional response.  The viewer gets some emotional response from an abstract painting, if it’s successful, but if you’re doing a realistic painting, if that painting is good you also get the same emotional response from that work.  You’re painting not only what is there, but you’re painting what was in you.
RH:  The main component in any work is the idea, the underlying emotion that you try to project whether it’s from arbitrary symbols or known symbols, which is realism.

AL:  Is that a feeling you have to wait for, or are you able to conjure it?
RB:  You can’t conjure up the emotion, and you can’t wait for it or you’ll paint one or two paintings a year.  And I paint ten paintings a year so I’m close to that but not quite there. (Laughter) Your real goal is for someone to come up to a painting and say, “I’ve been there,” to get some kind of physical response, and not to have them say, “Well, this color will match my furniture.”
Rod Goebel, Clouds over Pojoaque, oil on canvas, 42x50 inches

RG:  You want some universal feeling to come through.  I think basically the reason why I work in realism is that it’s universally understood.
AL:  Do you find it difficult working against almost a cliché, in the sense that a hundred people have painted it already. 
RG:  It used to be that aspens were painted a lot.  Now try to find an aspen painting.  You can’t.  Certain subjects, because of their inherent beauty, are overdone, done by too many bad artists.  And that is unfortunate because there is nothing more glamorous to me than an aspen forest.  It’s unfortunate that that happens because everything is the subject of art and it can never be diminished no matter how many times it’s used, no matter what the trends are as to what people buy.  All that’s important is whether it’s a good painting.  What’s being painted isn’t all that important to the buying public.

AL:  Apropos of that, I was in the Variant Gallery recently looking at slides of your work, Rulon, and I came to one with an Indian figure and I remarked on it, and the gallery director said, “I wish he’d paint more of those.  If he did I’d sell them like crazy.  Fifty people wanted that painting.”  Does that put certain pressures on you?
RH:  I think we all feel that way don’t we?
RG:  There’s always a danger for any artist to become locked into any one subject because it limits his freedom and the true artist should have as much freedom as possible.  That should be the first and foremost thing.  Certainly an artist has to live, so you are aware of those considerations.  But I’ve always found, and I’m sure that Rulon and Ron would agree, that whenever you’re painting something that you are really most interested in, that’s the painting that sells.  Always.
RB:  I don’t know.  When I moved here aspen paintings were the hot thing to do.  I never did one until last year when I was up in Garcia Park and I saw this beautiful setting.  I painted it and it never sold.  (Laughter)

AL:  Somebody I knew once said that if they were going to do landscape paintings here they’d set their easel up in the junkyard.
RG:  That’s the easy way out.  That’s what you find in art schools, that sort of philosophy.  Even though you’re surrounded by beauty and inspiration, you’re not really an artist unless you do something totally different.  To search for something outside of yourself is to ignore the basic element of art, and that is your own humanity.  And to go to something else is false.  Whether it’s Picasso or Rembrandt, their humanity comes through their art.

AL:  Do you work more in the studio or in the field?
RH:  I used to work mostly outdoors, but in the last couple of years I’ve tried to work more from my imagination.  Occasionally I do a color or pencil sketch on the spot, but a lot of times I’ll just start from scratch, from an abstract form—make a few brush strokes and sit there and stare at it until I think about a scene that I remember and then try to recapture the whole thing.
RB:  I don’t do any work that way.  The subject matter is in front of me, but the painting, I’m happy to say, is usually nothing like the subject that’s in front of me.  Colors are different, values are different.
RG:  The problem with working realistically is that you still have to follow certain physical laws of nature.  The tendency, I know my tendency is to ignore that, to get lost in the excitement of the color and the paint and so on.  But there are certain confines you must work within.  Now painting a landscape is, in a way, much easier than painting a figure, because you can change the shape of a tree very easily.  You cannot change the shape of an arm.
RH:  All these things have to become second nature.  You can’t paint a masterpiece of realism or anything and be laboring over how the finger goes.  The eye can’t stop at a toe and be wondering if that’s right.  You have to feel it.

AL:  How long was it before you had that feeling?
RG:  Many years.  Because the best is based on exactly that – feeling.  And more often you sense or feel not when something is right, but when it’s wrong.  And the skill comes in saying, “Why is it wrong?  What will it take to make it right?”  And that feeling only comes from many, many years of doing it.

AL:  Do you enjoy talking to other artists?
RG:  No.
RH:  It’s hard.
RG:  Part of the reason I don’t is that whenever I have it’s always gone bad
RB:  The reason is that in Taos the realistic artists have their group of friends . . .
RG:  Well Taos is just like everywhere else.
RB:  No, no, I disagree.  If you lived in a place like New York City, in a building that housed every type of artist, you would get together with that group and it would be really stimulating.

AL:  Was the Taos Six like that?
RG:  No. It can be a very bad thing because when you get a close group of artists like that they tend to paint for their peers.  And they tend to want approval, especially when you’re working in an area that is so nebulous, where you don’t know what you’re doing, whether it’s good or bad.  So you want some kind of reinforcement and the danger is that you tend to paint to please them.  Any time you have an artist’s colony this happens.

--Thom Collins, September, 1981
(Rod Goebel exhibits at the Total Arts Gallery, Taos, the Peters Corporation, Santa Fe, and Trailside Galleries, Scottsdale.  Rulon Hacking is represented by the Variant Gallery, Taos, Pelham Gallery, Santa Fe, Carlson Gallery, Denver, and Trailside Galleries, Scottsdale.  Ron Barsano’s agent is Linda Hill, Box 2860, Taos.  He exhibits at his studio, and at the Wichita Gallery of Fine Art, Wichita, Kansas.  Paintings by both Barsano and Goebel have been selected for the Beijing Exhibit of American Western Art which travels to China in November.)