Interview by UK graduate student for thesis

Interviewer Name Unknown. 1980s


  1. I am particularly interested in your work which shows a classical sensibility. Do you desire to restore or to breathe life on ancient myth?
  2. Is mythology used as a pretext for painting and not as a fundamental category of thought?
  3. Why do you center some of your work around mythology? What relevance can mythology have for us today? Do you consider yourself to be intensely aware of art history?


My sensibility has evolved from a careful study of Nature. And an admiration of great classical work from the past. My first drawings from the nude figure were accompanied by a study of Michelangelo drawings. I also studied his theory and poetry. (His passion and serious intelligence were exciting models for a young artist.) The balance between sensuous insight and simple graceful form is exciting. Further, I have learned the necessity of measurement and proportion. At the onset of my career, classicism was a fresh uncharted exploration in the face of abstract expressionism.


I want the means to balance passion, sensation and reason – to see and understand Nature. Therefore, I am interested in classicism as a means not a stylistic end.


This desire and intuition developed into a philosophical position, in favor of a simple Leonardesque struggle to see clearly – a liberating rationality. However, I was deeply opposed to vulgar, authoritarian, technological rationality. I felt that the human project is to develop provisional metaphors to Nature. I rejected the platonic concept of ideal form as too primitive, static, and authoritarian; in fact, destructive. The serious and crucial point is that Nature and is morphology is logically and ethically prior to reason.


I am interested in developing a new, naturalistic idealism – an image of the good which accepts the priority of Nature and earthly values. I consider supernatural, super-earthly values to be an archaic hubris and thus socially lethal:

*Thus, aesthetically, while my first love was Florentine drawing, I now consider   the material and sensuous reality of the Venetians more just and meaningful.

*Thus, I am drawn to the sensibility of Corot and the morphology of Velasquez   and Degas.

*Thus, I am drawn to Poussin, the work which illustrates his stoicism and   celebration of Nature.

*Thus, philosophically I am drawn to Heraclitus, Epicurus, Buddhism, Greek         tragedy, Feyerbach, Nietzsche, the young Marx, Frankfort School, Sebastiano          Timpanaro, Norman O. Brown, and more.

*Thus, I am drawn to the Greek concept of hubris as the just critique and antidote            to Judeo-Christian platonic supernaturalism.

*Thus, my classicism is a fundamental category of thought which constitutes a      critique of western irrational rationality and intends to reestablish the    materialistic life-giving with Nature: rationality in the service of love, Eros.

I use mythology as Freud uses mythology – to illustrate a concept or model. For me, Dionysos is as pertinent to explain our concept of the environmental social         crisis as the Oedipus myth (or the myth of Narcissus) is to explain psychic structure and dynamics.


  1. Do you quote from art history in both form and content? Is tradition very important to you? Are there any particular artists who have influenced you?


I am very interested in art history, particularly as a history of images or representations. I am also interested in art criticism. Artists who are most important to me are listed in chronological order:

*Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Degas – for etching and         drawing.

*Poussin, due to political and philosophical insight. I find his poetic restructuring of emotion, and his rationality, to be ironically very moving and pertinent.

*Corot, for sensitivity to environment and perceptual color.

*Degas, for openness, contradiction and spontaneity.

*Matisse (to a lesser degree), for structure, order and joy.


Historically, there are other examples of painting which celebrate Nature and the myth of Dionysos: primarily Titian and Poussin. Also, see Anthony Blunt on Poussin’s mythological paintings.


Most “quotation” is due to familiarity and pleasure rather than explicit rhetorical postulation. The “quotations” are often unconscious appropriation.


  1. Your work is essentially Post-modern What do you consider to be the issues concerning artists of the 1980s which are reflected in your work?


My painting is about a new vision of social order in Nature – to solve the epistemological/environmental chaos of modern being. It is classical due to necessity. Perhaps it is an aggressive determination to maintain the integrated intelligence of innocence. It is certainly not about gratuitous self-expression or gratuitous chic play with images of the past. It maintains faith in art.


While my work may be “post-modern,” as I am interested in the question of semiotics and the history of images, I am also interested in the simple problem of painting what one sees unmediated by rhetoric (in my drawings and landscapes, for example). I am interested in the intention not to “mimic” Nature but allow “thinking” and process to be available to the viewer. I am also interested increasingly in abstract modes of organizing and micro-organizational issues about appropriate handling of edges and tone. For example, I certainly would like to be an expressionist in at least some sense of the word, perhaps as an objective expressionist.


  1. Do you believe your work embodies essentially American characteristics?


I would hope my work is transcultural or universal and not particularly American, but of course it is American. However, I make no chauvinistic point of American imagery. If there is an energy and respect for freedom in American culture, then I hope that can be a part of a more open dialectical and progressive classicism. I am mindful of American artist/critic Fairfield Porter’s criticism of technology in general, and his urge to have artists respect the specific place or environment where they work. This helps to “ground” my sense of classicism.


  1. Do you think your painting is inspired by a strong allegorical impulse? What is the reason for it?
  2. Are you conveying a message to Post-modern man? Do you believe art should be durable, beautiful, perennial and universal?
  3. How would you describe the relationship of your work depicting the antique past with today’s world?
  4. Do you believe yourself to be part of the movement labelled Post-modern classicism?


The allegorical impulse in my work is conveyed in a prior statement. I do believe most art should be universal and beautiful. Beauty as a category is still liberating, moral and sublime. (Wild and crazy deconstructing art is sometimes intriguing.) Ultimately, I find subjectivism and necromantic chic boring and decadent.


  1. Are you proposing a Utopian vision in your Arcadian figure compositions? I believe the intensity present in these scenes differentiates Arcadia from Utopia. Are there no spiritual dilemmas in this world?


I am proposing that the world must accept the reality of dependency on Nature to have the greatest chance for finding happiness and survival.


The spiritual dilemma is to accept the imperative and responsibility of emotional maturity and the social contract made more urgent by rejecting supernatural solutions (religious pacification) and accepting the limitations on life by the dynamics of Nature (and our emotional response to Nature). The “spiritual” dilemma is acceptance of dependency on nature: to accept the hard reality of limitation and responsibility for the environment and social well-being.


  1. Where does your space stand in today’s world?


Considerations of space in my work are important in the execution of the image but not the generating concern. I want the “space” and environment to feel real. However, I am perhaps more interested in behavior and social interaction and the development of the image. I work to make a coherent space and sense of time and light.


I am a friend of Robert Birmelin (we shared a loft in the late ‘60s and went to Yale together). His primary research is with the perception of behavior in “palpable” space. Naturally, I am interested in the paradox of a flat surface making “space.”


  1. Do you wish to escape from this world of lost innocence?


To the contrary, my work is about facing the realities of the modern world in leading our world to a “post religious” morality and developing a pictorial vision which emphasizes an ecological or environmental or Dionysian morality.


What appears as irony is the semiotic necessity of the content of the work. My foremost intention is to have layers of meaning or content. I am aware of the humor that may be communicated. Humor due to irony can enrich the work and strengthen the tragic or emotional dimension.


  1. Do you wish to strengthen the values of classicism?


I need classicism to survive as a person. The world needs Dionysian classicism to survive as a species; that is, a sense of balance and resolution of conflict. I am definitely opposed to reactionary or repressive classicism. But healthy, aggressive classicism which demonstrates erotic rationality is always socially progressive.


  1. You seem to incorporate several styles within one scene – atmospheric landscape, geometrical hardness of inert objects and glowing gesturing figures radiating energy – is this a deliberate attempt to create hierarchy? Could you explain your ideas on style?


My work is the result of trying to honor and celebrate what I see, and articulate the conceptions that are born out of this first vision. I see style as a means. I respect an artist like Degas who can work at once with a variety of means (styles). I am aware of the many and diverse stylistic possibilities made available by mechanical reproduction.


Style is, in a sense, an epistemology. My work intends a meta-epistemology that is a consciousness of layers of possibility: the object in itself, the perception of the object, the sign of the object, the object/ground relationship, etc.


I have a major concern to make the figures fuse with the environment and I also want, when possible, the viewer to be able to recapitulate the process of thinking. In that sense, the style is the history of the thinking process.


One contradiction I contend with is the desire to make a metaphor to the complexity of Nature and yet simplify so that the details are minimized or that only the pertinent details are utilized.


  1. What is the main theme of these works? How does your work relate to today’s climate of ideas, both socially and artistically?


The main theme of my work is the celebration of Nature and my feeling for human Nature, as well as fresh clarification of the process of visual thinking.


The work that I make from direct intuition (perception) celebrates Nature implicitly. The conceptual paintings attempt to articulate an idealism grounded in Nature. I am attempting to create a new image of social well-being – a transfiguration of values – a new ideology utilizing my intuition and knowledge of signs of the past, but primarily using my pleasure with the figure and emotional insight into personal experience.


I have a deep commitment to Nature and a critical distrust of technological rationality (vulgar rationality). So, in a progressive sense my work is subversive of the hubris of narcissistic rationality and bogus mystical authority. I use the history of representation to sublate aspects of Judeo-Christian values. The form may seem conservative the content is progressive: just as the Christians employed Greek prototypes for their figures, so I want to use Greek and Renaissance signs to promote naturalistic “spirituality.”


  1. Do you consider your work to have grown out of recent trends or are you rejecting modernism?


At the beginning of my serious work, I felt that modernism was bizarre and solipsistic, pathologically subjectivist. I still feel that non-objective art is an understandably neurotic solution to a culture overwhelmed by war and the loss of “innocence” or Narcissism (see Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents or Future of an Illusion). The schizoid, autistic characteristics of modernism could be rejected. The progressive aspect of modernism, its pure research with the musical dimension of pictorial form and the sensitization of tactile surfaces, I have learned to cherish. Also, while I have little interest in Picasso’s childish aggression I am, on the contrary, very impressed by the sublimation of that energy. I certainly respect the simplicity, organizational elegance of Matisse. Concerning present day contemporary art, I am interested in other figurative painters, such as Lennart Anderson. I want my art to objective, clear and socially significant. I am mindful of the absolute necessity of basing my work on honest passion and sensuous observation.


  1. Do you choose Dionysian themes in opposition to rationality – an attempt to understand the nature of man in creation?


I have chosen Dionysian themes to signify a new rationality, to be a sign of the priority of Nature, of fluid, creative becoming and not static rationality (rather the erotic rationality of emotional wisdom – emotional integrity and a new feeling of Nature). Dionysos represents rebirth and change and also is the associate of women’s liberation. Dionysian rationality is in other words a critique and compensation to technological oppression, a rationality which critiques itself with the criterion of harmony with the environment.


  1. In the Birth of Dionysos II, is the pale Narcissus fading into death?


In this painting, Narcissus is dying and fusing with the earth. As in so many myths and structures, there is a reciprocal relationship. One stage must pass for the new stage to develop. This is symbolic on many levels, but the most significant is its indication of the progression from childish or pathological narcissism toward mature Dionysian sexuality and social responsibility – joy in life in Nature. It is historically prescient that the stories of Dionysos and Narcissus in Ovid are linked and the late painting by Poussin illustrates this linkage. I mean to make this linkage signify an explicit need for this new social structure, with awareness of the corrupting power of narcissism.


  1. Do you intentionally counter colour sensuousness with linearity?


I am aesthetically concerned with sensuous appropriateness and with linear arabesque – more in the sense of Raphael than Matisse, but the final resolution is intuitive


  1. Do you believe Thomas Cole said, “We are still in Eden, the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our ignorance and folly.”?


I am bothered by the nostalgic and retrospective aspect of the Thomas Cole statement. I am more interested in creating a positive archetype for the present. If an artist can create a living image of joy in Nature, it can then exist both as an image of the good and a critique of the decadent and violent.


  1. How do you treat this innocence in an age of lost innocence?


There is no innocence but that recognition does not give us license to indulge a decadent cynicism. In a sophisticated and emotionally mature person, there are moments in life that are as like innocence: for example, the feeling of immediate love of children. We continuously need to sensitize our capacity for compassion and charity. Our art should teach and nurture this capacity. I find the real challenge to be maturation and enlightenment – or at a minimum, “enlightened self-interest.” (Freud)


  1. What would you like artists to inherit from you?


First, I would like artists to inherit a renewed love of Nature. I would like them to recognize that all form is provisional, that form that implies morphology is preferable. I would like them to be honest and sensual before experience.


I would hope they share my intention of visualize images of society in harmony with Nature. That they will recognize that only with some grasp of the history of representation and with a fresh emotional/perceptual base can the most pleasurable and socially beneficial modern art be made. Finally, and perhaps ironically, I hope they inherit a skepticism towards all concepts.


  1. How would you place your work in the context of today’s art?


Today’s art is composed of many elements. As in musical culture, there is a division of visual arts into popular expressionism and classical art, which is further divided many times. Since my art is figurative and critical of popular culture with its cult of chic narcissistic deconstruction, my art, along with a few other artists’ work, stand in contradiction to contemporary culture both as a critique and an alternative criterion. There is an intention in my work to confront classic issues of human value and content extrinsic to decoration, which may be difficult for popular culture to accept.


However, I believe that these values should be and will in time be universally held. And if the figure’s emotion and intelligence portrayed are beautiful enough, then culture can respond to new values; in fact, it may be new images of the good which help us to visualize a good society.


  1. Wherein lie the origins of your work?


The origins of my work?


On a psychoanalytic level, both my parents are important. I feel a basic love of life and confidence. I could write much more on this topic.


On an intuitive level, I have an oceanic empathy for the significance and beauty of Nature – and enormous curiosity. I remember in elementary school standing near the street hating the acrid smell of auto exhaust and deciding to be a “cowboy.”


On an intellectual level, being excited by ideas which promote freedom – ideas which are legitimate but nevertheless in opposition to the status quo.


On an aesthetic level, spontaneous yet sensitive drawing, particularly of the human figure in its environment, pleasurably organized, always excites me.


[Note: It is unfortunate that the name of the author of these questions seems to be lost, but the content remains valuable. The Birth of Dionysos II was exhibited in a one-person show at AM Sachs Gallery in NYC in 1979; my dating of the interview takes a guess that the interviewer saw this exhibition. Christa Cornell, 2018]