have seen sexual references in your work.
Well, you cannot miss it. There are, if you want to see it, sexual forms in nature. It is very easy for them to see. I am interested in natural forms mountains, caves.
Its nothing you put in?
From what I see? No. After all, in the city I was expressing myself differently, and differently in the country still. Of course Im affected by the things nature has done, to the rocks, to the trees and water. They do things to each other. They create a tremendous visual drama. I dont take notes. But what I see works in me. People seem to see sensuous qualities, Those qualities are from here, from the mountains.
The piece you are working on it looks wounded, it looks anguished its bleeding, raw. That is, as you are working on it; and yet the finished pieces are all contained, and at rest.
Yes. You go into the woods and take an axe and wound the tree. Its very hard to look at. But the tree will not die, will heal itself. Even if the tree is cut down it doesnt die. They have a way of working. They breathe and sweat, and thats why they check and why we have cracks in the tree. Well, you can burn them to ashes. Theyll disappear. Thats what you see in the studio, what you call wounds. I made incisions in the trunk and you call this a wounded tree.
Do you have any associations, like with the human condition when you see a felled tree?
Oh no. I dont have anything to do with politics.
No, not politics, just the fact that this was alive and now is dead.
There is a battle in the forest. One growth trying to kill or choke another, like animals. There are some fantastic shapes in the mountains. I know the ocean is tremendous and most artists, modern artists, have chosen the ocean. But I have chosen the mountain brook. It talks, it whispers, and the Greeks listened to them. There is an old lumberer who lives next to a creek, born and grown up there. His talking is like flowing water in a creek bed. Yes, I know the oceans arrogance can be tremendous. As I said, I like the gentleness of the brook.
I think Mediterraneans generally respond to the gentler things in nature, the hills and the rivers, rather than the mountains and the oceans the more intimate, feminine.
Yes, yes. Thats true.
Somewhere I read that you feel that your great interest in literature retarded your progress in the plastic arts.
Well, I have lived most of my life alone. Dont listen to radio, and never had a television. I go to the libraries (Vassar), get about five, six books, read most of them. That makes my television program. I read books for my own enjoyment. In the twenties, when I was young, I used to read heavier books, like Nietzche, Spengler, Schopenhauer. Not now, though. In the twenties we started with H.G. Wells. And then Melville and Conrad. N.Y.U. literature students used to come and visit me in my studio on 18th Street. We talked about Whitman. In the thirties a friend of mine got me in touch with Henry Miller. He used to send me lists of books to read.
Henry Miller did?
Yes. I remember the books he suggested. The Egyptian Book of The Dead, Seraphilia Seraphitus, and Louis Lambert by Balzac. He kept me going. I met Jimmy Cooney who published Pheonix Magazine. He introduced me to D.H. Lawrences works and then we got to Joyce in the thirties and Proust. As the years went on, we got Gide and Kafka.
I moved about four times in the city at that time. Each building from which I moved was torn down. Those buildings, I got them cheap, because they were ready to be torn down. I lived on the top floor, third floor, and I had to move all my stuff up and down each time stones and all. I had a studio on Lexington Avenue and 25th Street, over a book store. Goldsmith was the owners name. We made friends. His wife used to give teas in the back room for Columbia University professors. And they used to sell me books of English mystics fantastic kinds of writers. But then I straightened myself out by discovering French writers Gourmont, Laforgue, Villiers de lIsle-Adam. Their minds are clearer. Yes, Flaubert you mentioned. Yes, of course. And Stendhal. He is the freshest of all. I felt, reading him, that I was breathing a cool Mediterranean breeze.
Besides browsing in bookstores, reading in libraries, general book learning, there is a knowledge gotten by walking the streets. It is a special way of seeing. Those are the scholars made on the city streets. I like to mention here those whom I happen to know who use their eyes in a special way, starting with Gorky, Robert Frank, Charlie Egan, Peter Larkin and Bradley Tomlin.
About that time, in the early fifties, Bradley Tomlin left Woodstock. That is when he said to me, Hague, there is nothing in Woodstock for you. You are getting your books from the Vassar library. Keep it up. I borrowed books there for twenty-three years steady. I hitchhiked at first, then owned a motorcycle, then a Model A Ford, and finally a Volkswagen, to go to Vassar Library.