Personality had nothing to do with it. Gorky had a very progressive mind
and eye, even though he imitated Picasso and Cezanne in the early thirties;
he had an eye which elevated him to surrealism in later years and
he could draw.
I met Gorky through a very
beautiful Armenian model who was posing at the Art Students League when
I as the monitor there. She was Gorkys sweetheart, living with him.
Gorky was a jealous man. Ruth was having an affair with Jose Limon, the
dancer. One day Gorky tracked them to a Broadway hotel. He kicked the
door of their room down, grabbed her by the arm, carried her down and
put her in a taxi, drove to his place. Of course Limon was a big man and
he could have leveled that Gorky. After that, the relationship between
them was broken. Later, I used to walk with her in the Village streets.
She was always looking behind in fear that Gorky would be following. Then
she told me the story, that she had been barefoot, with only a negligee
over her. Gorky many times showed me a portfolio of drawings, watercolors,
of Ruth. They were exquisite. Gorky was tall, very tall, very handsome,
even for today. He showed me all those drawings which were destroyed in
the fire in Connecticut. I did not see Gorky after the Second World War.
started in stone and did not stay in stone...
used to carve in stone in the summer. In the winter, in the city, I carved
in wood. But when I came here to Woodstock, the bluestone was impossible
to work in so I stuck to wood year round. In the city, Gorky came
to my studio and liked my work very much. But the next morning he was
at my door again. He didnt enter my studio. he said, I made
a mistake. I changed my mind. That is not good art. I took that,
and remained friends with him.
did not change from stone because of something in the wood?
no. I cant find stones here that I can work with. You cant
do with stone what you can do in wood, by undercutting, transforming the
shape completely. The Baroque artists such as Bernini could shape stones
almost as if they were modeling in clay. I cant do that.
With the Second World War,
I was drafted in the army. In the city I did not know what to do with
all my sculpture pieces. Hervey White who lived in the Maverick offered
me his cabin to keep my sculpture in while I was away in the army. So
this is the way I came to live in Woodstock.
When I was five years old,
my uncle one afternoon took me to a place like a store with a stove in
the center. An old man was sitting there. He had a paper book and he was
cutting the pages. He had a pot on the stove and now and then he would
stir it. His walls were lined with sewed, unbound books. It was peaceful
there. What a difference from the bedlam of our house, with six children,
the mother and aunt and all.
I have drifted to this old
mans peaceful way of life in a cabin. I live in a cabin now. I chose
this house because I saw his image here. Even in the army, I saw a cabin
near the mule stables. It looked like the one in the Maverick and the
one in the old country. With three beds, a stove, and some pinups on the
walls. I asked the stable-sergeant, Can you use me? And he
said, Yes. He was very anxious to have me. I didnt know
what I was in for. I shoveled shit the rest of my army stay.
Those mules, oh theyre
fantastic animals! There were ninety of them. At night I couldnt
stay away from the stables. Mules standing on four legs, with their heads
almost touching the ground, would scream like a woman in childbirth, and
draw deep sighs, and wheeze. But it was the cabin. I chose that again.
it the density, the impenetrability, the weight of wood? Is it the mass?
I cut the mass into fragments and I move in it. One can orchestrate in
the wood I dont have a clear idea when I start. I am not
a conceptual artist. So you begin. You stare at it, and finally you have
to do something. You are not making a story out of it. You make a cut.
From then on it follows. Like the jazz musician, music comes out of you.
You make one cut, then you become intimate. That thing becomes humanized,
a being. It becomes part of my life for the next three or four months.
I do my chores around it. I drink evenings, looking at the progress of
my work during the day.
One day a young sculptor came
over to see me, showing his work, which he said looked like mine. There
it is, sharp edges, convex, concave, like your work. That shocked
me. Its not that. I never have done that. I havent got a mathematical
mind. I am not an intellectual.
there any surreal elements in your work, even in the direct method of
carving which might echo the surreal idea of automatic drawing?
I do enjoy surrealist work like Magritte and Dali. But I have never let
myself go into surrealism or dramatic action, working in the big trunk
of the wood. I consider the wood has got half of the relationship with
me. I cant dominate the material. It is a very close association.
It has all sides that is my struggle. It has to get together. What
I do in front depends on what I do in the back.
I wish you would stop that
kind of questioning! It is very hard to explain.
Steinberg, in his writing, has said that your work is almost a classic
revival, because unlike the perfection of the classic ideal which has
all its limbs, your work respects the fragmentary, the ruin.
I had a letter from him a couple of years ago, about work much later than
what he saw in the early fifties. My work has changed quite a lot. I sent
him some photographs. He liked them very much. I have not heard his latest
comment on my work. I respect him.