Teenage Wildlife

The Charlie Rose Show

March 31, 1998

Transcript by NyeKye

CR: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight a conversation with David Bowie. About a multifaceted career in music, in art, in film, and now in publishing., and a conversation about modern art with David Bowie and his partners in the publishing venture "21". David Bowie and the world of modern art when we continue..

CR: For more than 30 years David Bowie has been challenging the limits of artistic expression. He first made his mark in the 1970's with the flamboyant surreal stage personae "Ziggy Stardust". In the 80's he ascended to superstardom with the enormously successful commercial albums, particularly 1983's "Let's Dance". He's known as an innovator, a creative artist blending the worlds of music and film and art. Last year he ventured into publishing with the launch of "21", an independent art publishing house. I am pleased to have him here to talk about a life in music, in film and now, in publishing and art. Welcome. Great to see you. It's nice to have you back.

DB: Good Evening, Charlie. I can't... I can't follow that.

CR: Can we do this without Julian, I suspect we can, can't we.

DB (laughs) We're never doing it without Julian. Julian will always be there in spirit.

CR: all right.. Let me go all the way back, because I want to move sort of where you, where you have come to. Being what you are doing today...South London, Yes?

DB: Yes?

CR: Well, just tell me about where you wanted to be and what it was that influenced you and what it was that got you started.

DB: I think, when I was at school I was in a an art stream. And I guess everything was geared for me to be an artist, a visual artist, and a painter. And/or a commercial artist, and I think for about the first six months when I left school, I was a commercial artist, making money that way. But I was playing saxophone in the evenings with a rhythm and blues bands. and I found I didn't like doing designer work for sorta raincoats and slimming biscuits. A now defunct slimming biscuit, actually, that we worked on called Aids, funnily.

CR: called what?

DB: It was called Aids. That was the slimming biscuit that we were working on, that is no more, of course. Uh, and I found that I was earning as much money playing saxophone in the evening and it was giving me a lot more pleasure, because I was my own master of that. And so I gave up the commercial art and stayed with the saxophone. and one thing lead to another.

CR: Well, yeah, over a period of time there in the 60s, but Presley influenced you, Little Richard influenced you..

DB: Little Richard, very much so. Presley because he was just such an indomitable spirit of music, in his early days, and it was reckless, and it was really quite a rebellion that he cast on America, and the whole of western society really, single handedly. The white west anyway. Little Richard and Fats Domino, of course, the early rockers (nods). And then into things like John Lee Hooker and also by the 60s I fell in love with a band called the Velvet Underground and I think they sorta sorted me out, the kind of music I wanted to right about. Not really like them, but I took the tip from them, anyway.

CR: You were going from one band to another, I mean, I have never seen such a list of bands that you were associated with.

DB Yeah, a week-a-band (laughs)

CR: all going to do what, I mean, just to be a musician? And to..

DB: Yeah, I wasn't very resolute about being a singer. I played saxophone. I wanted really to do that, but a singer was beaten up one night, so I took over the vocals. And it went down on OK, and so I stayed on as singer, and then I got disenchanted with the songs that we were doing, I wanted us to write our own and they didn't want to write songs. So I got thrown out of the band, you know, it was all those kinds of changes. It's fairly, that is pretty stereotypical beginnings for any person out of England, I think. But the interesting thing, I think is, is the percentage of people in rock music that in fact have some kind of art background. Compared to American bands. A lot of American bands often come from a different kind of background. It's very often a blue-collar kind of background. and they're probably brought up in more industrial towns.

CR: Like Springsteen in New Jersey.

DB: is the typical example. I think in Britain, there was really a (push?) for anybody; you went to art school to learn to play the guitar better. It seems to me, and so many of us ended up in rock bands. And I think that gave English rock it's kind of character. It gave it the strange quirkiness that it had. I mean, for sure, mine draws on, not just rock, but vaudeville, and avant garde. It can wear a red nose, and take its clothes off at the same time.

CR: This notion of you as an Iconoclast, this sense of always striking out to push the edges of the envelope. Where does that come from.

DB: I'm not sure if it's iconoclastic. I think my ideal more, is a synthesis, rather than anything else. I have always liked the idea of the cybernetics of our culture. The way you can draw several strands together and create a new thing. I hope, and believe, that what I do is more of a creative thing. In that way. That I think it's find to draw from opera or the visual arts, from the underground, from mainstream and produce a new blend which is probably a more complete way of describing the way that we live. And a creating a sense of the cultural spin by amalgamating all these different threads. (with accent) That's wha' I felt anyway , Charlie. That's it isn't it? (singing) "That's what it's all about"

CR: One of the things that people have always said about you is that you keep an eye on what's going on with what is new.

DB: I can't take my eyes off them. I've got an incredible appetite for what we do. And how we do it, and how we express it, and ever since I was a kid, I a, I always want to know what's out there. I Always want to know what's happening.

CR: Do you think of yourself, first as a musician?

DB: Ah, No, no, actually, I fell that I think of the idea of having to say I'm a musician, in any way is an embarrassment to me because I don't really believe that. I've always felt that what I do, is I use music for my way of expression. I don't believe I'm very accomplished at it. I give a little sigh of relief every time that I come up with something which sound whole and complete and sorta functions as a piece of music. And fortunately it does seem to be there all the time, I'm never, I never seem to run dry when it comes to writing music , but I don't FEEL like a musician, at all.

CR: Because you don't feel that you have that talent?

Quicktime movie (1.7MB fast-start)

DB: Ah, because I probably don't really take myself seriously enough as a musician at all. I'm far too interested, probably, "too interested fer me own good!" But I'm far more interested in the blending of different things. I have the attention span of a grasshopper, which means it's far too difficult for me to become a craftsman. I suppose that I'm quite promiscuous and ah, a jack of all trades. Artistically speaking of course. (both laugh) you know "Monogamy and me are like this, you've got to understand this, Charlie. Life's changed. It's moved along. We've reached a plateau of maturity.. I've Ch-ch-ch-changed"

CR: We behave, don't we?(still laughing)

DB: Oh, yeah. We do - we know a good thing when we see one.

CR: (still laughing) Oh yeah, we certainly do.

DB: Funny, How life changes.

CR: Yes it is. We are synthesizers though aren't we?

DB: or were...Boy, have I synthesized in my time...

CR: Yes you certainly did, but you don't regret anything do you.

DB: It doesn't bear reflecting upon. I don't actually, but I don't regret a thing, your honor.

CR: One lives one's life.

DB: several times...

CR: so that one can become, whatever one is destined to be.

DB: One wakes up at night sweating sometimes...

CR: and one has to travel the road and has to stop wherever life leads him.

DB: Many of mine were cul-de-sacs, but (changing subject) I understand you got a suit like this, Charlie.

CR: Yes I do. Do you have one like this?

DB: Exactly like that, Charlie. Yeah.

CR: When you go and see your banker.

DB: Yeah, I wore it in "The Hunger".

CR: Did I see something the other day, where you were worth like 800 million dollars?

DB: 900 million

CR: 900 million. Is That true?

DB: I'm waiting for the check.

CR: Everybody that knows you is digging up in your backyard, saying, "Where is he keeping it?"

DB: It's ludicrous. I've had sooo many new friendships since that article appeared. I can't tell you. I feel so beloved everywhere I go. It's absolute garbage. Complete and utter crap.

CR: OK- 800 million.

DB: Absolutely nowhere near that. I have no idea where they pulled that figure from. It's just incredible.

CB: OK, but have you been good at taking money that you..

DB: Oh, I'm very good, but I'm not good enough to earn nine hundred million.

CR: Movies. A long series of movies.

DB: Yes, I've enjoyed doing the movies.

CR: But you don't think of yourself as an actor either.

DB: Not really. In fact not at all. And I guess it's with vanity that when you are offered a part, if it's with a director that you have a real interest in, or you feel has a new spin on things, it's very tempting to accept the role. And a, this year, I just did another piece , with an independent company, a new director, brand new director, it's his first film. Nearly everyone involved with the thing is brand new, and the star of it is a new musician in England that I've got a lot of respect for called Goldie. And he's sort of, really the godfather of a new kind of music that has come out of England over the last ten years called drum & bass. And this is his first role. And it really tells the story of ganglife in Liverpool. In particular the mixed race gangs and the Triad, as there's some kind of conflict there. And it's an extraordinary venture, and so far, it looks to be a really great film. I'm , it's gonna make a great bit of noise when it comes out. It's an excellent piece of work. I had no idea, Goldie asked me to do it with him, and I had no idea what to expect. So, I just wanted to do it, and with all the guys that he was sort of with. And it's just turned out to be such a treat. It's called "Everybody Loves Sunshine".

CR: But, you have in fact said, that the only kinds of movies that you want to do are ones where you like the director and you

DB: there's got to be something in there that I really feel a strong empathy with, you know..and you know about me and SK's(?) and you know. Men at the military, and all that.

CR: What is it that you think that you do best?

DB: Um, You know what I think what I would of liked, actually, I would have loved to have been like Sting, and been a teacher. I really would've liked to have done that. What really gets me off is to be able to introduce people to new things. I love the feeling of introducing a new subject or something, especially to younger people, that maybe excites them, and gets them going on something, and it influences them to do something, you know opening up some kind of world. I love taking people to art galleries and really corny things like that. I love taking them to museums as well. And it's a joy that I've always had, with my son especially, it's just been terrific to do that, take him to the theater, one week maybe, then take him to a dance club or a rock show, and then an art museum, and all these different things. And it's just been great to see how somebody else takes these same influences, and puts them together their own way, cause I remember when people did that for me. I always felt it was a gift when anybody ever took me anywhere, or showed me a new way of doing things. I always felt that that was the greatest gift that they could give to me. And I love doing that back, I love showing people things like that. I've got a website called "bowieart.com" and at the moment it's quite a vanity box, because it's all my stuff, but we do have quite a lot of information about the books with the publishing company.

CR: All right, we'll get to that in a moment, but let me just..

DB: but also, my point is, is that in about two or three weeks we're going to start putting on new artists, artists, that I believe are really good, and have something to say. And we're also opening it up a bit more as sort of an e-zine with a lot more articles, and I'm going to encourage the people that are using the sight to contribute their ideas , and maybe, galleries or artists and work that they've seen and have them write in and tell us about it. I also want to get to a place where they can download work by artists from this sight, and interfere with it, and manipulate it and put it back up again, which I think is a really nice interactive thing to do, is to mess with an artist's work, is I think, great.

CR: I have a magazine here. One of the things that you do for "Modern Artists" is you interview painters.

DB: I enjoy that tremendously. I try to make it a deal for myself not to interview anybody that I really don't feel, a, is somebody who doesn't have some place or position, in my heart, as being a pretty good a..

CR: if it's not somebody you like...

DB: Yeah, because I'm a so-called celebrity interviewer I kind of take advantage of that and just go for the people that I really want to interview. It's not a job in that way, you know, " Go and interview him", or, whatever. I kind of suggest the people.

CR: You go where your curiosity takes you.

DB: Yeah, well if you got it, use it, you know.

CR: Your painting. We're going to see a few here. How long have you been painting?

DB: OK. Probably again, around, I guess it all started bubbling up to play music, and sing, and paint all around the same time. About eight, about eight years old I started taking it seriously, when I was around eighteen or nineteen, I took it more seriously. And it's gone through some ups and downs. Funnily enough when music starts to decline, in my interest, when there are moments when you really feel that you haven't got it, that you've got nothing really to express, that it's going wrong, you've lost the plot, at those times I found that painting has really seem to taken over and I've done , I've produced an awful lot during that time. But they keep balancing each other out. I used to find that they would balance each other very well.

CR: So when one's down, one is up.

DB: Yeah, Well, I had a way of working through musically problems by painting them out at one time. And that seems to have disappeared over the years, but a..

CR: You've lost that ability?

DB: Yeah, yeah, for one reason or another that seems to have changed now.

CR: All right, let's take a look at some of them, and then we'll come back. These are the kinds of images that have been downloaded. These have been, in fact downloaded by our group here from your website. www.bowieart.com. OK, the first thing, let's take a look at that. Could this be Iggy Pop?

DB: It certainly could be Iggy Pop. That's Iggy Pop in 1976 as I saw him, when we were living in Berlin. We both had fairly severe drug problems. So to rectify that we both moved to Berlin, the heroin capital of the world. Which I guess in retrospect doesn't sound like a very sensible thing..

CR: No, it doesn't sound very smart to me..

DB: And, a, that's a picture of Jim turning blue, in his apartment, in Berlin. (next picture shown) That's a portrait of me, turning into the Lion King.

CR: It is, this is 1995 though..

DB: I was quite prescient with this, because I knew that was going to be a musical.

CR: Yeah, who influences you and your painting?

DB: A lot of people influence me into not painting.

CR: But we want to spare them the credit, don't we?

DB: You Know what, again. I have no loyalty to style whatsoever. I mean, one day I can be a complete minimalist and just paint a stick of wood white. And the next day I want to be quite florid and painterly, and do something like the Iggy Pop painting.

CR: Tell me the satisfaction of completing a painting that, where your on, that you like a lot.

DB: For me, to be quite frank, it's finishing it so that I can get on to something else. It's getting through it, it's the process , there's something in it, that it just turns, it just turns me to jelly, my heart, my mind just become, I can't explain it . It's a very strange feeling. It's not particularly pleasant, either. I can't really say that I enjoy music or painting in quite that... I mean it's not like sex or something , which you can kind of really enjoy!

CR: I knew you'd get back to sex.

DB: Well, it's important. There's something volatile motive in, something that makes me quite angry about going through the process of both making music and doing the visual arts. But you know, I guess that's my problem.

CR: No, but let's deal with your problem..

DB: Oh-oh. But if you deal with my problem I might not be able to do these things again. You see, I'm wary of analysis.

CR: Yes, sir, but let me point out to you..

DB: yes?

CR: Knowing your history and knowing your family, and knowing your background, you have always, always, resisted any suggestion ... I want you to look over this way when I'm talking to you...

DB: Ha! I'm getting deeply into those eyes.

CR: Yes, I know you are. You have always, always resisted any notion that this creativity that you have has come from any sort of, dysfunctional, or.. madness stem.

DB: You know, I have often wondered of, that being an artist in any way, any nature, is a kind of a sign of a certain, a social dysfunctionalism anyway. It's an extraordinary thing to want to do. To express yourself in such rarefied terms. I think it's a loony kind of thing to want to do. I think the more saner and rational approach to life is to survive steadfastly, and to create a protective home, and to create a warm, loving environment for ones family, and get food for them. That's about it. Anything else is extra. All culture is extra. Culture is a, I guess it's a freebie. It's something that we, we don't , we only need to eat. We don't need a particular color plates , or particular high chairs. Or anything, I mean, anything will do, but we insist on making 1000 different kinds of chairs. And 15 different kinds of plates. It's unnecessary, and it's a sign of the irrational part of man, I think. We should just be content with picking nuts.. not mine, I might add.

CR: You are so on. Let me see the next slide. The next thing is an acrylic and computer collage on canvas. This is 1997, now, isn't it.

DB: Yes, we're very recent now, and this is what it looks like, this is what I do. It's not so expressionist, now is it. I think I'm probably getting influenced by what is called bad painting, which is en vogue, if you want to know about bad painting ask Charles Saatchi cause he bought every one in England.

CR: He did?

DB: Every single bad painting in England, I believe. Except that one, he hasn't bought that one.

CR: Did he put them in storage somewhere?

DB: He's probably sold them by now. (laughing) You know Charles.

CR: All right. Next slide.

DB: Yes. Bad painting meets expressionism. You see I can do them all in combinations. You just tell me who you want..and you'll get it.. what that is, yeah, these are a series of painting of people that come in and out of my life. And I just do very quick sketches, and take photographs and Polaroids, and produce very fast and and in a way, I might think fairly accurate portraits of these people.

CR: and who might this be?

DB: This is Chester. This is a trucker. There are not too many truckers in my life, Charlie. But obviously, this one made a mark. With an underhang. Would you call that an underhang. It's not an overhang. Is it?

CR: Well, I guess it could be an underhang. Next slide.

DB: that ones a

CR: another self portrait.

DB: Yeah, these come from a series of five paintings that I did as a potential cover for an album called "Outside" and this, in fact, was the one that I chose as the cover.

CR: What happened to the album?

DB: Not very much. It did come out, and I think it was quite interesting, in fact I'm supposed to be doing it as a theater piece with Robert Wilson. That's something that we're supposed to be doing if either of us can find some kind of place where we're both in the same country at the same time.

CR: Well, that would be right now, because he's in New York City.

DB: Is he?

CR: Next slide

DB: Robert, wherever you are, contact me. That's called "Ancestor Figure". Um,

CR: This was inspired by a trip you went to South Africa in 1995 with Iman.

DB: Yeah, we went over there just after freedom called. And one of the stories prevalent in Africa is that the ghost of ones ancestors are white and often when white man was first seen he was thought of being one of the ancestor of the tribe, and so I just took that and did a series of ancestor figures with kind of Ziggy Stardust haircuts.

CR: Here's the picture I get. None of it ever goes away, it's all still there so you can reach back, and push it forward, and push back , and step forward.

DB: Ah, can I show you this (picking up the star-shaped ashtray) this is , Charlie has this. This is an original piece of merchandise from my Ziggy Stardust tour..

CR: Stole it..

DB: We pressed seven of these and this is one of them.

CR: Discovered. All right, next slide, we got two more, and then I think we're gonna move on.

DB: Yeah, I think we'd better. Well, that's obviously the female to the series.

CR: remember, America. If you want these you can pick them up on the website.

DB: Be my guest.

CR: All right, next slide. This is Bill T. Jones, this is interesting.

DB: Yeah, Bill T. Jones, wanted a, well asked me if I would contribute to a benefit that he's throwing for dance. And this is one of three pieces, three lithographs that I did for him. Voila!

CR: Um, A couple of things about the music, do you.. how do you feel about "Let's Dance"?

DB: I think, it became an incredible, I mean it was an extraordinary acceptance that I had. There. I never had anything quite like that before. Up until that time, I was quite happy being, a sort of a major cult figure. You know, in a way, it, it was a nice place to be. It gave me a lot of freedom. I knew I could depend on an audience that would virtually follow my whims, you know. And I could do sort of what I wanted, but the Let's Dance thing almost became a hindrance and an obstacle, in fact it did, because suddenly my poles changed. My, suddenly, my focus was on, "Well, what are the audience's expectations of me?" now and I started writing for an audience which I've never ever done before. And when I learned that that was a for me, a stupid thing to do, I got back into the way of writing for myself again and I think that an equilibrium is being arrived at now. I'm very very happy now with the way things are. Both musically and the kind of simpatico that I have with my audience.

CR: Earthling got lot of very good reviews.

DB: It did indeed I was so pleased about that, because it was an album that had no compromises on it whatsoever. It was very hard nosed. I was just so pleased about the way it was accepted. It was great. It was lovely. That's very nice when that happens.

CR: You, when did you celebrate your fiftieth birthday?

DB: Yeah. Fifty-one now, Charlie.

CR: Yeah, but you're not unhappy about that. You seem to be, to have arrived at some acceptance. It might not have been as hard as forty was for you.

DB: No, forty was pretty difficult.

CR: Because you didn't want to let go of the idea that you were still twenty.

DB: Everything was wrong. No, it was also more about the fact that it was my nadir as a musician. I was writing crap and a it a, nothing was going right, artistically for me, I thought I'd just write. I was trying to write for audiences. It was right in the middle of that period, 1987. And it was just astonishingly awful time for me. Uh, and I think that I might have just had to, it's almost about pulling yourself together and saying "Hey, I've got maybe this finite amount of time left. I'd really like to enjoy it, so, stop self pity, and stop all these kinds of things, and just pull yourself together, and maybe make some decisions about what it is you really want out of life"and the first thing I wanted was for each day to be really good, so I had to go about changing everything in my life. And I've arrived at a place, that I hope that I'm not self satisfied but I'm certainly a fulfilled man. Fulfilled romantically, musically, artistically,. I love my family, we're so close now. I have a terrific relationship with my son, I just, I can't tell you how great. And so, it's something I just want to keep on the front burner, everyday. I want it to be just like that until death strikes. And that would be cool.

CR: Good for you. All right, let me take a break, and we'll come back and talk about publishing, and this latest venture. "21".

DB: Please!

CR: We'll be right back, stay with us. (cue: I'm Afraid Of Americans)

CR: As I noted, in the earlier segment, David Bowie’s involved in a publishing venture. It is called "21". It’s an independent art publishing house launched last year in the U. K. David Bowie founded it with three friends. It aims to reach a wide audience by producing assessable books on the visual arts. Its first title "Blimey" is an irreverent account of the London contemporary art scene. Joining me now, with David Bowie to continue talking about art, one of its first authors, Matthew Collins, and three of its four partners. Karen Wright is editor of the art journal, "Modern Painters", London gallery owner, Bernard Jacobson is here, and of course, David Bowie continues with me. You introduced these people, and tell me about this, how did this all come together? Who wants to do this?

DB: oh, lord.

CR: You want to have a go at it Karen? Who should do it...

BJ: I think I’ll...

CR: OK, have a go at it.

BJ: Karen, I’ve known for 25 years. Sorry, but it’s true, and she had a go, she came from America. Opened a gallery in Cambridge. I thought she was miscast and I thought she should be in publishing, so eventually she got involved with Modern Painters with sadly at first we launched it for, Peter Fuller(?) who was tragically killed. David came in much later, about 5 years ago because, basically, I mean, I love for his company, I love for his mind, I love for, we’re on the same wavelength, basically. So he was brought in as well.

CR: Brought in to do what? To do these interviews for the magazine? Or to do something else..

BJ: Well, to advise, write, everything. I mean it, just across the board.

KW: He formally joined our editorial page.

BJ: And actually he’s on our editorial board along with Lord Gallery, and (?), Richard Vollmer(?), and other..

KW: We had him for a trial dinner, if you remember..

BJ: Yes, yes.

KW: And I had to pass it by my editor...

BJ: And there was the trial of fire, but he survived it.

KW: And it was tough.

DB: I had to argue with Hilton Kramer. That was my baptismal.

CR: That’s a show I’d love to watch.

BJ: I mean it’s a very heavy intellectual team. It was great.

DB: I loved it. I didn’t want him to go. I could have loved it all night.

BJ: Well, there was all these kind of heavy weight people and then David. And they said, "Well, he’s a pop star," you know, and as the evening went on it was, " Oh, he’s read a book or two", "oh, he knows that", slowly came, "Oh, we love him", so eventually he became part of the team, he’s very much a part of the team.

CR: How is this magazine different from any other?

BJ: Well, basically we want to, if I may, we’re trying to get away from art speak. It’s basically meant to be good reading, intelligent reading. So it’s not meant to be the 200 people who care about art in the world, but actually, the thousands of people who care about art.

CR: (begins reading the cover) Listen to this, David Bowie with ......Ashton, David Hockney, TV is dead!

DB: Woah, we don’t deal with anything controversial.

CR: And Rick Moody- Art after Art.

DB: Yeah, Rick Moody, that’s a terrific little article Rick did.

CR: Art after Art?

DB: Rick came through, I mean, he’s a wonderful writer and I was so happy that he came through with such a wonderful article.

BJ: One of the other big things we wanted to do, from the very beginning, was to get real writers involved. You know, novelists, playwrights and there’s been a very heavy emphasis on that. People like Julian Balmes, Jay McInerney, he’s writing on the next issue,.

CR: Who’s he writing about?

BJ: Von Secker. Somebody I wasn’t very familiar with who’s about to have a show here in New York next month.

CR: Oh, I know who he is. So, he’s writing a piece about him.

BJ: Yeah. So, it’s very much a kind of mix of people of com-, you know, who are interested in the arts.

DB: Another thing that we’re trying to do, as you notice, is that there are a lot of writers who are not primarily known for being involved in the visual arts. I think the idea is that an opinion is a very valuable thing and if it’s well put and there’s some kind of brain power behind it , then whatever that opinion is on, is worth having . and I feel that it doesn’t necessarily have to just fall into the laps of the art world to write about art. You know.

CR: Don’t, don’t. well, I think that’s a pretty good idea. Basically that’s what you’re saying is that we don’t just want to leave art to those who traditionally inhabit the art world.

MC: Most art magazines are a kind of house, a kind of trade journals. Like trade journals about cars or houses, or Hugos of something. Most art magazines are so narrow about the way that they talk about art , that it can only be read by the ultra professional

CR: If they put Art In America next to your magazine you would know the difference.

MC: Yes, there’s much more of a range of voices, range of tonal voices.

CR: Much more voices outside of traditional art world.

KW: Outside the traditional art criticism world.

BJ: But also there a lot of art academic heavy weights writing for it as well. Basically it’s a mix.

KW: It’s meant to tempt you in, and then teach you.

CR: How good is Bowie as an interviewer?

BJ: He’s excellent.

MC: He’s pretty excellent. He is. The easy print.

KW: He’s getting better

DB: I’m getting better. I touch the parts that the...

CR: You raise the questions that they don’t want to talk about, Hmm?

BJ: Yes he does.

MC: This is the best interview with Koons that there’s ever been I think.

CR: Why?

MC: Fantastic insight into Koons’ character. Great affection for him. Great sympathy for him. But not letting him sort of get away with anything where, he might say something, you can’t understand what he’s saying, he keeps probing and picking.

DB: I’m quite fan-like in that way, and I’ve learned a lot from my fans, cause I’ve found that the ones that are really into my work, really pull me apart, you know. They really have a go at me. And they’re not kind of fawning at all. they’re not , I felt, well, that’s kind of how I feel. I really want to know about my favorite artist. And what makes them, (in voice) "What makes you tick, Jeff?" I’m sure if I quite got the tick-tock, but I certainly felt that he was very generous with his time and allowed me to maybe get nearer to possibly what he’s all about than maybe others have done, because, he’s really great. He’s a great American artist.

CR: I think the point well taken is, it is this notion that the people, this is a fandom idea. The best critics I know genuinely love the art or the performing art that they write about.

DB: Yeah, and you get off on their passion when you read them. That’s what draws you in.

CR: But you’re brought there by a genuine love and not a cynicism.

MC: They’re crusaders.

KW: It’s easy to be nasty, it’s much harder to be generous.

DB: Cynicism makes a lot more money. That’s why it’s so popular. It’s a real great, it’s a career opportunity. And it’s a lucrative one.

CR: Unfortunately it’s become identified, even in my profession with talent. And it’s not talent.

DB: Cynicism is passé, we’re going back into an age of romanticism. (pointing finger) Watch!

KW: And I think the other thing that we did with the magazine, and it’s in these interviews, is give people space to write. Art magazines always have all these short articles, and we’ve given people length, and the interviews length. And they make them very special by having length to develop.

CR: Take me from this magazine now, to "21" which is publishing. Books like "Blimey!"

KW: Matt was typical, a person who was writing for the magazine whose diaries are getting better and better. He had a long association with the magazine, from being a proof reader from day one, to writing. Wonderful proof reader, you didn’t have 70 mistakes in his day.

CR: But why a publishing company?

KW: I’m going into, going into.

BJ: I think it’s a natural extension of the magazine. It’s coming straight out of the magazine. You know, let’s have books, I mean. The magazine’s great when it comes out four times a year. Let’s have books on the same subject. There’s so many books that haven’t been published.

MC: It’s an art publishing company, isn’t it, not just a publishing company. The same aims of the magazine are the aims of the publishing company.

DB: I think that we give fuller reign to the idea that we can widen the spectrum. I think that’s what we found that we could do with a book publishing company. That we may fame, a find that there were certain parameters with the magazine that we, possibly in the future wouldn’t be able to do much about. But I think that the, the few of us got together and thought, "Well, let’s have a book publishing company about dreams, that really, it starts from day one, with nothing, and we can just go and build it, and it will almost build itself with our own, quite diverse interests." And we’re not all in agreement about everything which, the amount of friction that that causes is just the right amount of friction that makes a publishing company something of interest and is vibrant and has a resonance.

CR: But is there an operative idea that there is money to be made in art books.

DB: No!

JB: Well, I think, that maybe it’s possible but, maybe I’m an optimist.

CR: Tell me about this. (holds up book)

MC: "Blimey!"

CR: This is a look at the London art scene.

MC: Yeah.

DB: Pronounced as Dick Van Dyke would pronounce it. (everyone does their DVD impression)

MC: It’s about the current art scene, but allowing the story to go back a bit , to the 1950s and the time of Francis Bacon. So the title is actually, "Blimey-from Bohemia to Britain".

CR: That’s right.

MC: The London art world from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst. So you’re reading it you get a very vivid picture of a living art world. The sights and smells of real people.

CR: It’s a jump from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst.

MC: It’s a jump but they overlap sometimes. And Francis Bacon saw some work by Damien Hirst and thought it was quite good.

CR: Is that right?

MC: It’s not such a leap. So, it’s a leap in time, from you know, painting to objects where you can hardly describe what they are. But maybe an attitude and a mood that maybe quite close.

CR: Do you meet Lucien Freud maybe about halfway through?

MC: You meet Lucien. You go around, through me, you’re walking the streets of London and you meet these artists and you hear about them. And it’s a sort of mixture of my own a, autobiography, and meeting people and chatting to them, and having encounters with them, and through that thinking of the big ideas of our arts and the big moments of our arts as they’ve occurred in London over the past 40 or 50 years or so. So it’s neither wholly anecdotal and chatty, nor wholly theoretical of academic. It’s kind of a mixture of both things.

CR: Is there, when we originally began to plan this program, I was going to come out and do a conversation, and then we were going to bring you two on. Hoping that we were going to, something going on here. Is there some basic disagreement that you two have about art or anything?

MC: I’m sure there’s disagreements about the value of certain artists works. I’m very tolerant of people’s work. and of certain artists work...and

DB: No there isn’t.

MC: You see, now. Now he’s not agreeing. He’s disagreeing by agreeing.

BJ: Well, we’re all having a very different stance here, I mean I would say.

MC: In fact, (pointing at BJ and the book) he hates all the artists in there. I’m very kind to them.

DB: Well, he does have a problem with the majority of those artists in there.

BJ: Well, I basically say, which pisses everybody off, but I basically say that there’s nothing after Cezanne. You know, it’s all show biz after that. I mean, I just do it to annoy people, but basically

DB: He says things like that and you wonder why he’s involved in the same economy as ..

BJ: There is a sort of truth in it, but you can say. OK. Picasso certainly is good. And Mattise is great. OK, yeah. OK, and then there’s Pollock and he’s really amazing. And OK, David is pretty good at convincing me that I should look at these people. And he does it with a great sort of charm and a great conviction. And I do find myself looking at some of them and agreeing with...

CR: Nut is this a game or not, I mean do you actually...

JB: No, no. I think we’re dead serious about art and us.

CR: About the fact that you find nothing redeeming..

BJ: Well, I can’t say I find nothing, I guess I’m old fashioned and I do believe in heroes, I do believe in greatness. Which I don’t think in this kind of television age that it’s quite the same, the rules are different now. CR: So, there is no Cezanne, there’s no Mattise, there’s no Picasso...

BJ: I don’t think so.

CR: There is Pollock.

BJ: I don’t think so. Well, there’s maybe, maybe Frank Stella. Possibly, again I’m biased but maybe Rauschenberg, but there are very few real real greats.

DB: How do you feel now that Frank Stella is having other people do his paintings for him?

BJ: Fine.

DB: Is that OK?

BJ: Absolutely.

DB: You wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t Frank Stella. If I came to you and said, "Do you like this painting..."

MC: Yeah, you don’t mind Jeff Koons having his paintings done for him.

BJ: I don’t mind him having his...

DB: But you only don’t mind because you found out that Frank Stella’s doing the same thing.

BJ: No, No, Frank Stella had people painting his pictures in the 60s.

DB: Oh!

BJ: Which is fine, I mean, I don’t think I mind that.

CR: What do you think about Jeff Koons?

BJ: I think he’s absolutely charming.

CR: As an individual.

BJ: Yeah.

CR: And what about his art?

BJ: Well, it’s definitely interesting.

CR: What about the sculpture that’s over at the Bilbao?

BJ: I’m intrigued. I’m very confused.

MC: That’s good with that puppy.

CR: Yeah. The puppy.

DB: Fantastic!

MC: It’s amazing yes.

BJ: There’s something, definitely amazing.

MC: Cezanne would have been jealous of that.

CR: Of the puppy?

MC: Yeah.

DB: He would’ve been shocked that he couldn’t do it.

BJ: I don’t know it’s a...

CR: But you are, you are saying that modern art, for the most part is full of show biz.

BJ: I think there’s a lot of that, yeah. Which is , maybe, fine , by the way.

CR: David?

DB: I think that show biz is full of a lot of modern art. I think it’s precisely the other way around. I think show biz is becoming a shelter for the old avant garde.

BJ: You see, Matt and I were discussing this a few minutes ago.

CR: Discussing what? Modern art.

BJ: Yeah, you know, of where it all ends and where show biz...

MC: In a way, we sort of agreed, but have different conclusions. Cause I think , in away Bernie’s right and actually a certain type of art has come to an end. We don’t know when it ended, but the art that really does commit to Cezanne or Van Gogh, or even pre- modern art has ended. The type of art in Blimey and the type of art that Jeff Koons does is in a way a new kind of thing. It’s still art, but not really... one has to admit to a kind of break between old art , even old modern art. This contemporary art is kind of different.

CR: OK. Just let me...

MC: It doesn’t mean it’s worse or bad or that it’s only shades or plastic, or that it’s shallow. It’s about the kind of world that we live in and the cultures change.

KW: And it’s coming from different visual images.

CR: OK. Let me just throw four names out all right? de Kooning.

BJ: Great artist.

MC: He’s a sort of connection to the past. He’s a sort of bridge.

CR: Jasper Johns.

BJ: Very, very good artist.

CR: Very good... Andy Warhol.

BJ: (lets out a breath)

MC: Excellent artist. Very,very good. But certainly of a new type of art. Definite break between him and Cezanne.

KW: And that was probably the first one, isn’t it. In a way.

MC: In a way yeah. The next book that’s a bit like Blimey starts with Warhol. It’s about the New York art world. It goes from Warhol to know.

KW: The one that (Vance?) working on now.

CR: The subtitle that will be called what?

DB: The interesting thing of the three artists so far, I think they had their moments. I don’t think that their output had a continuity. The later work wasn’t anywhere near, it wasn’t a patch on what he was doing initially.

CR: Who?

DB: Warhol.

CR: The later work was not nearly as good.

DB: No. I think it also applies to de Kooning. I think it also applies to Johns.

CR: I think you’d get an agreement on that, don’t you?

MC: No, I think that de Kooning has one or two moments of difference. Where he does a very, you know, in the 60s and 70s he does this sort of sloppy pink heart that people are dismayed by, because his earlier work was so rigorous and grim and hard and slashing and so they think if it’s floppy, it can’t be good, but it’s sort of kind of very good floppy. It’s true about, I think Warhol got a bit decorative and glitzy, and at first there was something kind of harsh. But in fact it’s actually in Warhol’s later life, that people start to notice that the early work had that very black dark side to it. Yeah, when Warhol was doing it at the time, people where seeing it as,"Wow, it’s pop, it’s art, how groovy." You look back on the early work and it seems very dark.

DB: It’s almost focused, the early work, when he did the later.

BJ: But I think these are the great names that are in the century. I mean, if we look at the middle of the century when I arrived, you know as a kid, looking at art, it was, you know Leger, Chagall, Picasso, Miro...

MC: Chagall, everyone’s forgotten about Chagall now.

BJ: Oh, great artist. But you know, I mean these were the great artists in the middle of the century and we’re ending the century with Lichtenstein, Warhol, Stella, Johns...

CR: Lichtenstein, what do you think of Lichtenstein?

BJ: I think he’s a great artist.

CR: But I don’t understand, help me out. Here’s what I don’t get. At the turn of the century there’s Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse..

DB: Isn’t it all so personal, though isn’t really all so personal. If by consensus an artist is great, if by numerically enough people like that artist. That he becomes a great artist? Lichtenstein that way isn’t a great artist. How can he be a great artist if I don’t think he’s a great artist? I mean he had a great gag for the first few years, and then he just did it and did it and did it and then he died. I don’t know if that makes him a great...

MC: Let’s ask (someone) that. His great gag was great.

BJ: I think you might find, and I’m not sure, you might find that these people like Stella, Johns, Rauschenberg, might dwarf the abstract expressionists. You might find in about twenty years time, they will be the great late 20th century artists. And you look back on people like de Kooning and find they will be school of Paris. They’ll be read as something that came out of the great Parisian artists.

MC: Greatness is when an artist is seen to be a foundation stone. If you took them away it would seem that art would fall down.

BJ: And we’re forgetting about people like Jim Rosenquist and Oldenburg. These are two giants. I mean, you being a New Yorker, I’d think that you’d be right on top of this. I mean me, as an outsider, I’m coming into town, and, I mean I know these people very well. I knew Warhol. There’s something absolutely amazing, they’re absolutely amazing. exotic, amazing, original, extraordinary, dynamic, stuff that we hadn’t seen before. and now I know that they’re old, they’re in their 60s and 70s, and some sadly, have now died, but they are the greats, they’re probably the great living artists.

CR: But, let me, I don’t want to lose this idea. What’s happening in London today? I remember when I mentioned at the beginning, David, can we do this with out Julian, because you and I and Julian Schnabel had a program right here at this table in which most of it was a great give and take and back and forth and dialogue and conflict and confrontation between you and Julian of which I remember Julian said that you basically didn’t know what the hell you were talking about when you suggested that there was something interesting happening in art in London. Do I remember well?

DB: Well, yeah, it’s somewhere in there, but I mean, that, we kind of, you know, I , we, I hope we love each other, Julian and I , we get on great.

CR: Then, OK. Then let me say with this idea..

DB: I think it’s hard, and was hard, and not so much net wide, although maybe it is, for an American artist to believe that anything important came out of London. And I think it shocked a lot of people.

MC: Till ten years ago, we all thought London art is rubbish, New York is where it’s at. And you asked what’s happening now, what’s happening now is artist in their early 30s who’ve been working for ten years or so, or mid 30s, who are the Damien Hirst generation, have suddenly emerged as this group making London art now, the recognized top international art spot.

CR: Is it?

DB: Oh, yeah.

CR: Because of Damien Hirst?

DB: Damien dragged it into focus but there was an awful lot of new irresistable talent under his arms.

MC: It was art about contemporary life, it was incredibly vivid. Incredibly strong, there’s got a bit of pop in it.

KW: Very autobiographical.

MC: Bit of film, bit of realism, lots of black humor, lot of sort of drollery

BJ: I think you kind of, you end the middle of the century with these great French artists. I mean, these really kind of amazing French artists. French Modernism, absolutely incredible. And on the heals of them are these incredible people like de Kooning, etc. , but they’re lesser artists, but then you kind of, in my opinion, you’re ending the century with, as I say, Oldenberg, Stella, Johns.. Maybe in 2050, it might well be Jeff Koons, it might well be Damien Hirst, it might well be Tracy Emin, these kind of people. But I think it’s way way too early to start.

DB: But you’re already suggesting that their history is known and carved in stone, that’s not necessarily true. I think that threads of history are so entangled they start to detangle at a certain point for instance Picasso no longer has the ultimate priority that he had say even 15 yrs ago. Duchamp is caught up so much with another generation and that happens continually. The emphasis changes so , the quantifying "great" is almost nonsensical because it periodic. Is the emphasis though of this conversation possibly wrong because it’s all about who’s going to be there at the end of the game and it’s kind of like this Olympics thing. Is it not really, shouldn’t it revolve around, "Is it useful?" Is all this stuff that they do, is it useful? Can we do anything with it?

BJ: But what is art for, now in 1998. I mean, we knew what it was about in the Renaissance, we knew what it was about in the 50s, we knew what it was about in the 60s. I mean, what is art for today? I mean, the corporations have now left it, they don’t , they no longer buy it. Uh, collectors don’t buy it much. I mean, what is art for now? It’s a very interesting important question.

MC: Yeah, and there’s no real solid answer. I mean, everyone has their views and if you didn’t have a view about it then why would you be interested at all? You can say on the one had, well, it’s for money. On the other hand you can say, well, life is mysterious, who’s going to tell us about that mystery. And maybe Schnabel, and Koons, and Damien Hirst in their own ways, that’s their endeavor, as much as it is about getting publicity and making money.

JB: Yes, but I kind of believe that these artists work in a kind of white heat, that they don’t even know what they’re doing. Virtually.

MC: Well, all artists work like that.

JB: Well, no, I mean I think it’s a plus. But I think that’s why I’m saying we have to wait and see, but their energy’s exciting, and that’s what’s pushing to the wall right now. But in time we have to work out, when and if we’re still around in 2050, or 2020 even, and we’ll get some idea, well that’s not interesting because we won’t be living like that anymore, we’ll be living like this. And so that kind of art will become irrelevant and they will not be important. And another kind of art will be important.

DB: I think programmers, and the people who buy programmers and collect programmers who can do extraordinary things with computers, that’s what will come next.

MC: Oh, well, I’m sure you’re correct, but it’s spooky how paint never really goes away. And it keeps coming back. And even now at it’s trendiest white hot moment in art, painting is so big still. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2050 if there’s still lots of sales of canvases and brushes and tubes of paint people going.. (Making a gesture of splashing paint on a canvas)

JB: I would disagree with that, I think there’ll be a problem with selling paints in 2050. I think artists will still paint, but I don’t think they’ll render, I don’t think they’ll be much rendering of kind of a tree and stuff like that. But I think paint will be, it will go on and on.

DB: Long as there’s a Glasgow, Bernard, they’ll always be a painter.

BJ: Can we explain this one David?

DB: Well, I mean it’s what singularly kept paint going in Britain. I mean, I agree that they would be very little painting going on if it hadn’t been instigate...

BJ: But I mean do they look good, do those guys look good?

DB: That’s difficult to say actually, the Glasgow crowd..

CR: I’m out of time unfortunately. "21" is the name of the publishing company.

DB: 21.

BJ: David’s idea.

CR: Modern Painters is the name of the magazine, thank you all. thank you David.

DB: Thank you very much for having us.

CR: Half of it we didn’t cover, so I expect you to be BACK here, at this table, to pick up on some things.

DB: In this suit.

CR: No, we liked it though.

DB: I’ll wear that suit next time.

CR: and I’ll wear that one next time. But you owe me, another 30 minutes, sir! And these people are witnesses. I’ve enjoy it very much, all of it, thank you.

DB: Thank you.

CR: It’s been my pleasure, much success. On the publishing and on the magazine, and on the gallery, and on whatever career wherever you are.

DB: Whatever it is.

MC: Whatever you do next.

CR: I assure you, I will be here. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you tomorrow night.

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This document last updated Saturday, 12-Jun-1999 17:53:43 EDT
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