.do you paint every day?
.do you miss it when you don’t?
.are there colors you don’t like or colors you find hard to use?
That’s not my kind of question.
.how do you decide on the size of a painting, especially the smaller ones?
Have you noticed that painters with little to say often choose the largest canvases on which to say it?
.what comes to you first, color or shape?
.there’s the idea that a painter is always painting the same painting. do you agree?
If it’s who I think you mean, I agree.
.i think of you as a king of composition. where do all your ideas come from? you explore so many possibilities.
It’s trial and error, making mistakes and figuring things out along the way. I make no preparations to start a painting and have no clue where I’ll wind up. It sometimes takes months before I even know which end points north.
.do some paintings get tossed or do they hang out in the studio until they are resolved? what’s the longest amount of time it’s taken to resolve a problem painting?
No paintings get tossed. At any given time you’ll find twenty or thirty of them sitting around my place in various states of undress. Some paintings are finished in a few months, others may take a few years—several in the current show took over ten years (this may be more interesting than it is important).
.are your paintings purposefully pushy?
I don’t believe in agendas.
.what about deceptive? to me they look like tv but read like film.
The more one gives to a painting the more one receives.
.what are some of the reasons you prefer abstraction over representation?
I don’t make abstract paintings and my favorite artist is Florine Stettheimer—perhaps this is one of those trick questions?
.why hard edges and not soft? i noticed in one new smaller painting in particular a softer ezier paint application.
It’s not my place to say.
.do you still make your word collages? that’s the first stuff i saw of yours, at international with monument back in the mid- 80s. when and why did you switch to painting?
Once in a great while I’ll break out the scissors and glue and make myself a new collage (for the record, the International With Monument show was in 1983, a few years before the word collages began).
And I never switched to painting! I made hundreds of paintings throughout the 1980s (as well as hundreds of other items from books and photos and thrift shops finds). My work was often autobiographical, ranging from slapstick to the lugubrious. Eventually I grew tired of the circus and by the early ’90s dismantled it all. All except for painting. But this time the paintings would have nothing specific to rely on: no preconceived ideas, no personal or outside references, no pictorial imagery, no words, no numbering systems, no theories, no agendas, and no gimmicks. I’ve done my best to work this way ever since.
Anything pertinent to the paintings and working process that I should be aware of?
Funny you should ask that, Hudson, let’s see . . .
I sit on the floor when I paint. The paintings either sit in my lap or are propped up in front of me, leaning against a cardboard box or something else leanable. I don’t like standing, as I’ve got flat feet; plus, I can’t steady my arm sufficiently to paint all those delicate passages . . .
I use prestretched canvases because that’s the way I’ve done it since the early ’80s. I’m too lazy to stretch my own (and I’m not very good at it). I’ve wondered if the paintings might have more “oomph” if they were on mightier stretchers. Oh well.
I like working with oil paint because by the time I run out of ideas, the canvas is wet and in need of a good drying (and painting with acrylics feels like crap). At any given time there are ten to fifteen to twenty paintings—the record’s about forty—in various states of being made. Any given day finds me working on five to ten pictures, some for only a few minutes, others for a few hours. Several are completed each week.
I don’t mix my colors except with white (and sometimes a little yellow in with green). I mention this because recently I learned that most painters mix their colors (several painters told me this so I guess it’s true). This solves the decade-long mystery regarding why my pictures have been described from time to time as “high-key” and/or “from-the-tube.”
I’ve always considered preplanning the kiss of death. The same goes for trying to “finish” a painting. Each has its own internal clock and I’ve got no sway with any of them as to when they’re done. When working, I may have an idea of what to do next, but I rarely know if that idea is going to be “the big one” or a big fat setback. That’s OK, because setbacks, along with worry, doubt, and General Chaos are all valuable tools. I’ve learned over time that a dull or misguided or obvious or just plain lousy painting can be my greatest asset, as it may force me to find a new way out of the morass. No matter how much I may love looking at a finished picture, it’s the finding-my-way-from-Chaos-to-terra-firma that is at the heart of making things.
I try not to get too involved while working. If I pay too much attention to what I’m doing I’m in danger of getting in the way and possibly falling into the too self-conscious, too precious, too artistic, too craftlike, too-too trap (a trap I’ve cascaded into on more than one occasion). So I find having the TV on while I work is a helpful little distraction (besides, I’m a TV addict).
These two things still surprise me:
Thing No. 1:
I’ll have a painting on my lap that’s a true disaster, light-years away from being completed. And then I’ll do something minor to it—perhaps add a shape here or remove one there—and a transformation occurs, completing this misbegotten picture as quickly as a thunderclap. I sometimes keep these pictures for myself, as they’re a mystery to me.
Thing No. 2:
I’ll be working on a painting that is kind of “iffy” and, when done with it for the day, I may lean it for amoment upside down or on its side, and suddenly that “iffy” painting becomes something great—often fully finished! Some of my favorite pictures have come about this way (it just happened again today). Now when I’m working, I regularly turn a picture in all possible directions to see which side is truly UP.
Now onto other things:
I started making colored pencil drawings a few years ago. I can now manage to get in and out of a drawing with a minimum of dawdling. I used to work quickly way back when and had forgotten how good it feels to see something brand-new-in-the-world appear in just minutes. This rediscovered fast pace has quickened the way I paint, too.
My titles are always numbers. Always. My work is never untitled. Never!! Numbering goes way back to my Rutgers days, when I decided to number every assignment I was given. I’ve been numbering ever since. Eventually I realized that the numbers were indeed my titles. As for word-titles, I think it makes no sense placing word-ideas in someone’s head when they’re looking at my visuals.
For this little ditty, Bach, Mozart, Stenhammar, Handel, Haydn, Delius, Debussy, Poulenc, and Sibelius have all been assisting at various times. Classical music has played a major role in my life and work. There’s a certain way of listening to classical music, especially Lieder, with my ears that is similar to how I listen to paintings with my eyes. For many years I went to Lieder recitals and sat front row center to see and hear a singer (usually a soprano) and a pianist (usually a good-looking guy in a suit) make their sounds right in front of me—it was very important that I witness this on a frequent basis. I’d take in every piano note (every single one), every vowel and consonant (every single one), every gesture and movement (every single one).
Did you know that I used to make paint-by-number pictures? They were the turning point for the paintings I now make. A little background as to how this all came about: Back in the ’80s, when I was still a fresh young newbie, I not only made oil-on-canvas paintings but also hundreds and hundreds of objects and collages and drawings. I used an uber-plethora of whatever materials made sense, including old books and boxes, discarded photos and engravings, thrift shop paintings, hair, glitter, artificial xmas trees, mirrors, dirt, fabric, grave dirt, marbles, butterflies, ermine, leaves, branches, semen (my own), menstrual blood (not my own), smashed figurines, electrical wiring, dried-up food, pins, poop, ladies’ compacts, cockroaches, windowpanes, bottles, feathers, scraps of wood, pearls, even my own ancient headshots from my defunct cabaret act. The pieces ranged from the roughhewn to the laboriously detailed, from the comically deadpan to the dolefully mournful, from the wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve autobiographical to the arm’s-length conceptual. All these works in all their various modes simultaneously sang their songs in my tiny, packed-to-the-gills Third Avenue apartment. Sure kept me busy! After a few years of this menagerie, Typhoon Andy began losing steam and that’s when the paint-by-numbers entered the picture. I had a hunch they’d be the perfect antidote to ten content-heavy years: I could put my mind on hold while painting pretty pictures and have a few chuckles to boot. You see, I figured my number-pics would be a lovely compliment to the proliferation of the slick, pre-fabricated crap that was all the rage in nearly every trendy Soho gallery at that time. With a gaggle of paint-by-number scenes to choose from, I decided that deadpan portraits of doggies and kitties best reflected my personality. I executed these pics with painstaking care, so much so that my finished products looked better than the examples on the box! And during this process something came over me: I really started taking to these nutty paintings! I loved the endlessly interesting shapes I had assigned myself to paint! And the paint! It was so creamy and the colors so bright (how come MY paint was never like that)!? And oh, those wonderfully clashing color combinations! I remember one of my kitty’s faces was various shades of green set off by an orange and pink background!! A minor Matisse masterpiece!! By 1992, with lessons learned from my cats and dogs firmly under my belt, I went back to making paintings-from-scratch that were completely my own. I knew these canvases would be small and simple, with no gimmicks or add-on materials of any kind. I knew I’d be painting hard-edged, flat shapes, using creamy, brightly colored paints. I especially knew that they’d NOT be made in the paint-by-number style: sink or swim, they’d be painted in the Style of Andy (although I wasn’t quite sure what that was). For the first six months I sure did sink more than swim, making some truly awful paintings. I didn’t fuss too much about it; the paintings eventually turned themselves around, and fifteen years after planting those first saplings I’ve got a good-sized forest on my hands.
Somewhat briefly, a few people I have delighted in, cried over, and died over (not necessarily in that order):
(1) At Rutgers it was Modigliani all the way (with a little Egon Schiele thrown into the mix). I died a thousand deaths over Mo-dig’s Thora Klinkowstrom (1919), when it hung on long-term loan in the late 1970s at the Guggy. There were days I was unable to leave the museum, immobilized by that painting! Saw Thora just recently for the first time in over 20 years and some of that old magic was still there.
(2) Before his MOMA retro in 1980, I thought that Joseph Cornell did little more than put small shits in boxes. Was I ever wrong! His objects had the power to lure me in and keep me looking. He opened new ways for me to think. I was especially taken with his wonderful sense of both the absurd and the tragic (without an innate sense of humor you can’t possibly convey more sober emotions). By the early ’80s my work became heavily Cornell-influenced—I needed to figure him out and know his every secret. One realization became unfortunately clear: when you devour an artist to the degree I did Mr. Cornell, you run the risk of no longer finding him all that interesting (sorry about that, Joe).
(3) An even bigger commotion occurred when I came face to face with Forrest Bess. Within the first seconds of seeing his 1981 Whitney show I knew I was a goner. Quite emotional for me. I never knew paintings could look the way his did or have that kind of impact. Small yet monumental, proud yet humble. Truth staring me in the face. During my many treks to that exhibit, No. 12A (1957) became my main squeeze—even kissed it when the coast was clear (no tongue). What a mess I was over that painting! Through a combination of serendipity and lucky breaks it’s been mine since 1989 (along with his No. 31). Been great having them run around my apartment all these years! Forrest is THE quintessential soft-speaking/big-stick-carrying painter. What I’ve learned from him is incalculable.
(4) Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (1899–1962) is my favorite nonobjective, hard-edge painter (“konkret” in German). Perfect placement of shape and color. I was staying in Zurich in 1999 when I found out that his centennial retrospective was taking place in Ulm, Germany, the city where he spent his last years. Off I went on a five-hour trek and spent a day in full bliss! I mean, how often does one get to be surrounded by roomfuls of Vordemberge-Gildewarts!? A museum guard even brought me a chair when he saw me sitting on the floor looking at the show! Sure would never happen at that wretched MOMA . . .
(5) Augusto Giacometti (1867–1948). Please don’t confuse him with his semi-hack cousin, Alberto. Virtually unknown in the U.S., Augusto is a near patron saint in Switzerland—one of the earliest makers of completely non-objective pictures. He also happens to be creator of the Eighth Wonder of the World: a mural painted in the entrance hall of Zurich’s main police precinct. Walk in the front door and you’re engulfed from floor to ceiling (including the ceiling and a gaggle of arches) with shimmering reds and yellows, oranges and golds. I’ve dropped dead several times taking in that mural. And now that it’s been opened to the public, I no longer have to sneak in!
(6) Give me a folk art painting over the usual Chelsea fare. Folk art pics have a certain frontal, stilted, awkward quality that hits me just right. They feel more real to me than their MFA-challenged counterparts. I love the way that Folk Arters paint up to the edges of their pictures and that whatever they paint is strategically positioned so that overlapping is kept to a minimum. Everything’s given equal weight, all delineated for my careful inspection. And unlike “professional” artists, isn’t it refreshing that Folk Arters never make paintings about art (folk or otherwise)?
(7) Thrift store/junk shop paintings are an endless source of fascination. It’s great to find pics that not only rejoice in their bevy of stultifying choices, but also achieve startlingly original results. Direct, unfussy, honest—unique pictures never to be duplicated! These artists have got something to say, they say it, and then they go bowling—not a whiff of art-speak in the bunch! True, one must pick carefully among the ruins in any thrift store, but over the past twenty-five years I’ve slowly assembled a trove of jim-dandy pictures that’ve come straight from some of the leading junk shops in North America.
(8) Honorable Mention: James Ensor (can never pass up his delicious feast Banquet of the Starved  when I’m at the Met), Max Ernst (when I’m confronted by a great, off-kilter painting that I can’t place, it’s often by Max Ernst), Marsden Hartley (can’t beat his late paintings), Edward Hopper (Two Comedians  is an amazing final work—no painter has ever gone out on a higher note), Frantisek Kupka (his black got under my skin), René Magritte (his 1940s “sunlit surrealism” and vache paintings), Henri Matisse (everything), Tina Modotti (her puppet photos have been keeping me company), Barnett Newman (all his early drawings—and there are a couple of early paintings that I’d croak myself to own), Georgia O’Keeffe (a hack—was interesting to me in college), Meret Oppenheim (I admire her risk-taking—nearly all her work teeters between brilliance and bellyflops), Francis Picabia (his tremendous, small dot paintings with his name dominating the canvas make me wonder why I continue to bother painting), Laurence E. and Mildred C. Tilley (sensitive, serious funsters), Cy Twombly (had a crush on him during my Paleolithic days—feel kinda ho-hummish about him now), Bart van der Leck (his little painting in Zurich’s Kunsthaus taught me well), James VanDerZee (artfully artless pictures—an aside here: his widow once said to me “Andy, you’re so far out there, there aren’t arms long enough to pull you back!” I took that as a compliment).
(9) I’ve selfishly saved the best for last: One of the great tragedies of my life (no lie) is that I will never have met Florine Stettheimer (the piddling fact that she died thirteen years before I was born makes not one fig of difference). Her highly original, personal, visual language took many years to carve and hone (it wasn’t until she was in her late forties that she came into her own). Like me, she painted “out of the tube,” loved Proust, was less than thrilled with Beethoven, and found herself bored with much of contemporary art. Her Portrait of Myself (1923) is my Favorite Painting In The History Of Art. It is the most unique, profound, and unequalable self-portrait ever made by anyone who’s ever held a brush. By the time I fully adored her I was a bit too long in the tooth to call her a direct ancestor, but in my mind I live amid her colorfully colorful colors and find strength in the steel it took to paint fully and completely on her own terms, practicing what has become the lost art of painting without looking over one’s shoulder. For Florine I carry and very heavy and permanent torch.
So, Hudson, does that answer your question?