Photorealism

 

 

 

 

Photorealism

Q.

A. I worked in Dutch Snyder’s studio from the summer of 1984 to December of 1989. And all in all I have to say the experience was a good one.

Q.

A. Everybody kind of did everything. So that’s what I did, I did a little bit of everything. And actually when I started out I was nowhere near the works in progress. I was cataloguing photographs. Dutch had these boxes of photographs. Some of them were studies for some of his early works. I remember one day looking at the contact sheets from Twirler, and thinking My God, what I’m holding. It was this interesting glimpse into the thing before it was the thing. What would become this iconic image—blown up to enormous proportions of course—of Dutch’s work, was just stuck in there, shoulder to shoulder as it were with all these, to be honest, just mediocre little images. Anyway, it was stuff like that. Or it was photos of the work going on in the studio. Photos taken during interviews. Whatever. And I had to try to guess when these were from and mark them and give them some kind of order.

But I wasn’t at that for too long. A couple months. Then I was moved into the studio, and, yeah, I did a little bit of everything like I said. But you got known for certain things after a while and that sort of became your specialty. There was one person who was really good at painting chrome, another who was really good at painting glass. Someone who could mix a certain color just perfectly.

Q.

A. I was good at painting flesh. More specifically, I was good at painting the pink. Lips, nipples. You know.

Q.

A. We would usually get there before Dutch showed up. And there would be an hour or so when it was very quiet, and we would all begin on our little projects, and we would just work.

When Dutch arrived, the first thing he did was cue up the music. There was always music, and it was never really consistent. Sometimes it would be classical, or jazz. He liked Ellington. He liked Bruce Springsteen a lot too. And Bob Dylan. I remember coming in once after lunch and rap was playing. Just before I left, one of the other assistants had given him a Pixies tape, and he would play that constantly. The one with [sings] This monkey’s gone to heaven, this monkey’s gone to heaven.

So, and after he had the music going he would go from one station to another. He would talk to the painters, the composers. There was so much activity. There would be, I don’t know, at least six or seven projects under construction. It was almost hive-like, and, like I said, we all had our job to do. I hesitate to use the word factory, because of you know the obvious parallel that draws with Warhol. But it was something like that. There was definitely a factory-like atmosphere going on there. Dutch was very hands on though, if you were doing something and it wasn’t sort of exactly like he’d seen it, he’d let you know. But there were times too that he would see something and he would be like, Oh. That’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, keep doing what you’re doing.

Q.

A. When I first began, he used a cane. By the time I left he was in the chair.

Q.

A. He could sort of sketch them out, a little. He had this thing on one of this braces that held the brush and he would do these little mockups with watercolor. They would sometimes be like notebook sized, other times they would be almost as big as a tabletop, and they were stunning. I mean, he had to forego a lot of detail, for obvious reasons, but there was this softness to those pieces that I really loved, and that seemed to work in that smaller scale. As the illness progressed he began to rely more on text. He would type out on this old manual typewriter these elaborate descriptions of the composition he was envisioning. They were almost like plays, the way he directed them. At the beginning was a list of elements, with the precise dimensions, the color he was looking for, and sometimes in parentheses he would have suggestions where to get them. I remember in the end, more and more we were having to fabricate what he wanted, you know. This precise kind of chair. He wanted a blow up horse, but it had to be this color and this size. Well nothing like that existed anywhere, not anywhere in Chicago at least. So finally someone went to him and was like Dutch, you know, what you’re asking for it isn’t of this world. So Dutch was like, okay. Fuck it, we’ll make it ourselves. The staff was more than doubled after that. It was amazing. We were building what was in Dutch’s mind, and then photographing it and then painting the photograph onto canvas. And then we would destroy the objects. Nothing survived, or nothing should have. I’m sure something got smuggled out in someone’s bag.

Q.

A. No. I never did. It didn’t seem right to me. I mean, if Dutch wanted it destroyed.

Q.

A. Well, yeah. That is how some people saw it. They were their creations too. Or not even too, they were theirs. Period. They made them, and they had a right to say whether they would be destroyed or not.

Q.

A. It’s sort of a funny logic to me. To believe that, to really believe that, you have to forget what you’d signed up for. We were working for Dutch. Everybody was so happy on their first day to be there, to be a part of something like that, to have this opportunity to learn from someone like Dutch Snyder. But for some people that wasn’t enough after all. There became this feeling of We do all the work, but he gets all the credit. Well, yeah, but no one ever said it would be any other way. It’s what we all signed up for. It is what it is.

Q.

A. In a way though we’re no different than tools, like the brushes and scrapers and power drills and belt sanders we were using, we were extensions of him.

Q.

A. What I always say to that is, Artists have always had assistants. Apprentices or whatever. And I know, it seems odd. You can look at Peaches 29 for example, which he never touched the canvas with a brush ever, and you can say, What did he do?  But it isn’t as if it has always been like this. He’s not just some guy who has hungry art students make things and then he steals the credit. He’s Dutch Snyder for Chrissakes. He paid his dues. He made some of the greatest paintings of the 60s and 70s—in my opinion anyway—without anyone. By himself, in a studio he shared with three other artists. And, yeah, I mean I hate to say it, but his condition sort of makes it easier to make sense of. Without a team of assistants, he wouldn’t be able to work at all. Those pieces would not exist. There’s other artists who get to a certain point and they bring on all these other artists to help them, and for what?  I don’t know, money maybe?  I guess I have a little bit of a harder time with that. I guess there’s a line somewhere. Like, okay, a photographer who has someone roll his film and load his camera and go out and buy paper. And even, really, process the film. I mean all of that is just freeing him to devote himself to the more creative parts of the process. But once the assistant gets behind the camera, then I don’t know, is something changing?  Is the line crossed?  And, yeah, with Dutch all of his assistants are doing a lot of real hands on stuff. I mean they’re doing so much of the quote unquote creative stuff. But with his illness. For me that changes everything. I want to cut him more slack than I might otherwise. But that’s me.

Q.

A. No. He never did.