Did you ever consider yourself part of the photorealist movement?

I never felt like I had much to do with the people who painted tushies or trucks or something, but it wasn't that I just hated all that stuff. No artist ever likes to be pigeonholed. And what happens is that when critics begin to identify something that they see as a tendency, they tend to write about what people have in common. And what they share may not be the most important aspects of the work. In fact, it's what makes each artist's work different from the others which is interesting. But also I had trouble with the word realism itself, because I was always as interested in the artificiality as I was in the reality. It's the tension between the marks on a flat surface, and then the image built, that interested me. And I was always a dyed-in-the-wool formalist anyway. I think process sets you free, because you know you don't have good days or bad days. You just show up. You don't wait for inspiration.

You've said that it's the same ethic associated with traditional "women's work."

Yeah, I love what used to be called women's work. There was a reason, and again it has to do with my learning disabilities. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel every day. I wanted a way to work so that today I do what I did yesterday, and tomorrow I'll do what I did today...and while I sign on to this process for a while I will eventually make something. And you know when women make quilts or something like that, it was something they could pick up or put down, and go back to after they start dinner or weed the garden or whatever...feed the baby. I like that. I liked knowing where I was going to be for a while. And things that are made that way are different from things that are made all over at once. It's an entirely different thought process. It's much more akin to writing, actually, than it is to anything else. I mean, if you think about a writer, you're going to write a novel that takes several months, but there's never a time you're doing anything more than shoving one word up against the next. And clusters of those words make sentences and paragraphs and a chapter. You just try to maintain the same voice and the same attitude so it sounds like the same person wrote the last chapter that wrote the first chapter. And you keep the whole in your mind but you can't worry about the whole. You have to engage yourself on this very particular level of just fashioning something big out of a lot of little pieces.

I know your father worked in sheet metal and was always building models, and even your bicycles, from scratch.

He was so competent that while he was alive I didn't try to make anything. I just watched him make stuff. But when he died I inherited his tools, and I think had he lived I probably wouldn't necessarily have ended up as handy as I became, you know. But my parents were both very supportive of the idea of my being an artist. I had trouble in school and I think they wanted me to feel good about myself and feel special, so when I exhibited interest in magic, they would help me do magic shows, and puppets, and also they got me private art instruction when I was about 8.

Now tell me how it came about that you took figure drawing lessons at a local house of ill repute?

I'm assuming that's what it was [laughter]. It was only later that I figured out what must have been going on, because there were a lot of women in the house who would pose for me and there were a lot of men knocking on the door.

Not other art students.

No...being able to draw from the model did separate me from the rest of the kids.

And you also did artwork for your classes in school, for extra credit?

Yeah, since I couldn't demonstrate that I cared about the class material by giving them names and dates and all that stuff, I was always looking for some other way of telling them that I cared and that I was serious. I remember doing this huge mural of the Lewis and Clark Trail for extra credit, or when we were doing poetry or something I would make some beautifully illustrated poetry book or something, and that sort of hauled my ass out of the fire. I never found any way to do anything in math though.

I was thinking, what did he draw for math? Maybe grids?

People look at the paintings and they assume that I must be, you know...

Kind of mathematically inclined?

And I am so not. Here's the thing: Most people are good at too many things. And when you say someone is focused, more often than not what you actually mean is they're very narrow. And yet if you put all your eggs in one basket and that's all you've got to fall back on, pretty soon you distinguish yourself from the pack by being more committed, more engaged, and caring more about it. Because I wasn't athletic, I couldn't catch a ball, I couldn't throw a ball, I had all kinds of physical limitations as well. So this was it.

What's the best thing and the most aggravating thing anyone has ever said about your work?

Well, when I was walking around I was 6 foot 3, and people didn't tend to approach me very much, and one of the interesting things about being in a wheelchair is it sort of cuts you down to size and perhaps out of sympathy or whatever people feel much more like coming up to you. I'm more accessible I guess down here. And then people are also pulling for you. They like the idea you are able to continue working or whatever. So it's been very gratifying to have people tell me that my work has meaning for them. And you don't really always know that, because you have this sort of ritual dance you do in the studio and the painting is a sort of frozen record, the evidence that the ritual took place. And then it goes out into the world and you don't really know whether or not someone else is dancing along with your piece, so it's nice to have them come back and tell you that it was important for them. There are people, some critics, art historians who have given me a way to think about my own work and certainly have changed the way I think about the work myself. And then of course there are all the negative reviews, which also are incredibly important. I was going to use, as an example of what's the best thing that was ever said to me, the most vicious thing that was ever said to me, because it was a vicious thing said by the right person. Hilton Kramer hated the work, and if he had loved it I would have wanted to commit suicide, so. [laughter] And I still remember to this day that he called me a lunatic and he said the work is the kind of trash that washed ashore when the tide of pop art went out...he took a whole page of the Times railing against me. And I thought, Gee, if he doesn't like what I'm doing, then I must be on the right track.

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