When Joe Zucker showed up for a photo shoot in 1969, he was groomed,
as he put it, like a midwestern used car salesman, with slicked
hair, jacket and tie. Did you think, "Man, I wanted a picture of
you, why did you dress up like that"?
I thought it was interesting, because he was sort of wresting
control away from me. And he realized that he didn't need to get
involved with the image if it didn't look like him. He just needed
to produce evidence that someone like that existed. But it didn't
have to be him. And I thought that was so typically Joe, you know...it
made it even more about him.
How do you choose what photos you'll work from?
plagued with indecision in my life. I can't figure out what to order
in a restaurant. But it's usually not a problem. One of them floats
to the surface. And sometimes I really want to paint somebody and
I don't get a photograph that I want to work from and somebody that
I was far less interested in painting...their photograph just cries
out to be made into one. Certain images are just more interesting,
more compelling than others, and some of those are the ones that
I've recycled the most. Sometimes it's formal issues, like Philip
Glass with his curly dendritic locks that look like Medusa or something.
Those can become translated into fingerprints or dots or whatever,
in interesting ways. It's sort of more interesting than a smooth
outside shape. And then sometimes it's more psychological...I just
like the pose...or that there's something about their humanity or
something that comes through.
That's a very nice photo of Robert Rauschenberg out there in
the entry way. He looks very much at ease.
Yeah...actually I just did a big painting of him which is out being
After the photo, what's next?
I take the photograph and I have a lot of sheets of acetate with
various size grids on them - diagonal, horizontal/vertical - and
I slide them around on top of the photograph and see how the rhythmic
beat of the squares fall on the image, and that usually determines
whether I want to do horizontal/vertical or diagonal. The number
of squares that it breaks down into will determine whether it's
a 9 foot painting, a 7 foot painting.
In Keith/Six Drawings, what did "random" mean in the title,
Random Fingerprint Version?
It means they were not organized in a grid. All the fingerprint
paintings are done without a grid.
You've lived in New York for 4 decades. How has the city changed?
It's a lot more expensive. The city continues to be a magnet for
the best and the brightest that come here from all over the country
and all over the world. It's a very vital exciting community. The
artworld gobbles up people and spits them out the other end and
keeps chugging along. It's a very dynamic process, hard on the individual
artists but good for the artworld. I think in Europe there's a very
different attitude towards art--you're sort of given your whole
life to make your work, whereas here it's, what have you done lately.
There are certainly downsides to that, but I insulate myself from
it by following the kind of logical progress of the work, and so
if fashions change or attitudes change it doesn't seem to have much
effect. But it does make for a very dynamic artworld. And Europe
often seems sort of overly concerned with the weight of history
and stuff. We don't have much history here, so...[laughter]
So the pressure for something new creates a dynamism, but does
it also bulldoze over some art?
Oh yeah, sure...certainly when tastes change and fashion changes.
There's a kind of prevailing sensibility in any given moment in
time, so sometimes the artworld gravitates away from your issues
and then sometimes it will come back towards them. And you can either
choose to try and follow them, which isn't a very good idea, or
you can just sort of keep doing what you're doing and hope that
what you do and what the artworld wants intersect again.