I don’t know how this show [at the Dorsky] got put together. Had they asked me, this is a great ceiling to hang sculpture, I would have brought things in. I think this is a space that would handle especially my work very, very well, the 3-D work. It happens that it was made a prints and drawings show. Printmaking is not a change of heart at all—it’s always been part of what I do.
Learning by Making Art
If I don’t learn something doing a show, if there isn’t a new motif, a new ingredient, a new set of techniques, I would stop. I’m a bad learner. I was a bad student. I hate books, I hate reports, I hate authority. I’m really a little feral in that way. So for me, I realized a long time ago that making art is a way I teach myself. So if I want to know about Japanese prints, or Victorian building, or the landscape, I’ll just immerse myself in that. It’s like reading a book I forgot to read growing up. A new show is a chance to have a new thing to think about. The installation in Houston is very involved with the weather, because every time I think of Texas, all I think about is terrible storms, terrible politics. It was like: Great, we can do tornadoes, and for me it can be a sort of political metaphor.
I started teaching at Bard in 1994, and I traveled around as a carpetbagger for a couple of years, until I finally got a place in Kingston. Now I’ve bought an old Victorian, sort of an Addams Family place, in a strange little community there. It’s the first time I ever had a place with rooms with specific functions. I’m used to having a big loft space where the kitchen is in the corner.
I miss the city intensely, though. If I had my druthers, and didn’t have a job up here, I’d probably still be there. I’m getting used to it up here, though, after all this time. I still don’t hike, fish, climb rocks, or anything. But the fellow next door to me has the most beautiful farm, that has cows and I get my turkey there for Thanksgiving. It’s like the quintessential child’s idea of a farm, it’s perfect. The guy who runs it is from Brooklyn! And even with my craggy self, I do find I’m getting to like it.
So now I’m a rural artist. I like new endeavors, new climates, and new things to look at, and new landscapes. It’s like the Victorian house brings with it a built-in set of images from the turn of the century, and you live there and it winds up in the work. If you’re paying attention, it has to.
There is a beauty in the landscape, and there’s a landscape element, almost a fantasy concept of it in the work. I think that the Hudson River landscape and the romance of it have found their way into the work. It’s almost ridiculous.
On Winning the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship
I was an emerging artist until just last year. And then I became the trusty old MacArthur fellow who’s been around for a very long time. When did that happen? I think it’s just in the perception of the art world. I got bumped upstairs. In a funny way it makes me very nervous, because everybody knows how much money you make. There’s something very public about that. The fellowship did make building my studio in Tivoli and putting heat in it possible. It has relieved me from my lifelong terrible worry about money. In the last few years, making prints and drawings has saved me [financially], and the MacArthur on top of that? Oh my God, I can pay people better, I can take them out to dinner, I can be more generous.
It’s been the roughest two years, and the best two years, since the MacArthur. Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gotten it, nothing bad would’ve happened to me. It reminds me of that old TV show, “The Millionaire,” [every episode of which began with a man] who drops a pile of money on someone’s doorstep. Ninety percent of the time that show ended badly. I’ve heard of people who win the lottery—somebody wins $50 million and four years later they’re homeless. For a year I thought, it’s the “MacArthur curse!” But now, two years into it, I think I can change it to “the MacArthur fabulous life blessing.”