your reading influenced your work in any way?
My reading, as I see it now, because I have no one to talk to, is like
a lot of newspapers left out in the rain. Of course my reading could not
influence my work. They are two different things. I am a man who uses
his hand an eye more than his mind. All you see in this room the
knickknacks I made them. I play around. Yes. And for the last forty
years have been making large scrapbooks. Not about myself. I paste in
them pictures and articles that have steered me. I have put Audens
quotation in one of the scrapbooks: Private faces in public places,
are nicer and finer than public faces in private places.
very impressed by your courage, not only in the way you live but in the
way you have chosen to work. You come close to disaster, you take enormous
chances in your work.
But I take changes very hard. I have to have a continuation.
I take chances, but wood stays
there. You can always go along with it. You can make space in the wood,
go in. You know, I dont add to it. I am always in there. By cutting
away, I make additional space. But then I have learned to have accidents
work for my benefit. If you are not afraid of accidents.
influential is the original form of the wood in which you begin to work?
What makes you choose a particular block?
size. It has to be large now, and I have chosen walnut most of the time
because it doesnt check very much, and cuts evenly. And it stays
very well compared to other woods. I know how the wood will react. The
other wood is chestnut, but you cant get it very large. No, Im
not choosy, but I have to have the girth. At least 42 inches in diameter.
Im interested in height also. I cant handle more than 6 foot
four-and-a-half inches in height. Ill take anything, either drum
shape or a crotch.
Now theyre using all
that kind of wood I need. Here they are, making tables with walnut, highly
In spite of what people think,
I do not see the graining at all, throughout my working with the wood.
I am not choosing the wood because of its graining.
you have made a table of it too!
I did make this, but it is not walnut, its pine.
me again the story of de Kooning.
was in the early thirties. De Kooning had a studio on Union Square then.
Gorky, de Kooning and I met. Elaine came along, and we went to the Metropolitan
Museum, and Gorky took us on a tour. We stood in front of a painting,
I think it was early Renaissance, painting of monks and nuns in Paradise,
cavorting on green grass. Gorky looked at it, pointed at it and said,
Innocence, tenderness. And then we moved to another painting.
This was Florentine, a girl at a casement window, standing in profile,
and from outside a Renaissance young boy looking at her almost frozen
gaze, and Gorky said, Electricity. So it was a great tour
of the museum.
After that we went to Central
Park. We hired a boat at the lake, Gorky and I rowing. Elaine was sitting
at the stern, holding her hand up, showing us her engagement ring. She
had long legs and we could see through her skirt. Bill saw where our eyes
were focused. He changed his seat and covered her. After we finished rowing,
de Kooning put Elaine on a bus and sent her home. She was eighteen, very
beautiful, and like nice girls she should go home for dinner.
The three of us decided we
should go to Chinatown for dinner. We took the Third Avenue el and Gorky
surprised me. He got sick. He couldnt take heights. He had to sit
down and close his eyes. That boisterous man who was always punching everybody
around, had a weakness. At Chinatown in the restaurant he recovered. There
was a young girl sitting on a chair, very beautiful. I pointed her out
to Gorky. I said Do you like her? He said, No. I like
a women who sits on one cheek of her ass. Afterwards, we walked
all the way back home. And Gorky sang, and when he sang, he cried, and
made a big show out of it. They were very good friends, Gorky and de Kooning.
We were talking about jazz
musicians and the blacks. Right across from my house in the Maverick there
was a very old man who was living in a cottage. Very handsome, very tall.
(Black men, as they grow older, become
handsomer than old white men when they grow older.) He had a garden. In
the Maverick, the artists hired him to bury their outhouses. When he was
out to do that job, his get-up, his clothes, were fantastic. He looked
like a scarecrow. But then when he was ready to go to Woodstock for shopping,
he dressed and looked like a Spanish Don. Black two-piece suit.
He used to read grocery packages
or labels on cans of food before he opened them to eat, as if he were
reading from Genesis. One day he used
the word ambiguity. I said, What
John? He repeated the word, ambiguity, very slowly, but looking
directly into my eyes. That knocked me over because in the forties
the word was being bandied around at the city bars, by artists and intellectuals.
Where did he come across that word?
I would say that for myself
I have gotten out of blacks more that I have gotten out of whites. Blacks
have style, and have given style to Americans.