Interview The Raoul Hgaue Foundation
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    Has your reading influenced your work in any way?

    No. 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 Auden’s quotation in one of the scrapbooks: “Private faces in public places, are nicer and finer than public faces in private places.”

    I’m 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.

    Yes. 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 don’t 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.

    How influential is the original form of the wood in which you begin to work? What makes you choose a particular block?

    The size. It has to be large now, and I have chosen walnut most of the time because it doesn’t 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 can’t get it very large. No, I’m not choosy, but I have to have the girth. At least 42 inches in diameter. I’m interested in height also. I can’t handle more than 6 foot four-and-a-half inches in height. I’ll take anything, either drum shape or a crotch.
        Now they’re using all that kind of wood I need. Here they are, making tables with walnut, highly polished.
        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.

    But you have made a table of it too!

    Yes, I did make this, but it is not walnut, it’s pine.

    Tell me again the story of de Kooning.

    It 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 couldn’t 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.