The Wayne Thiebaud and Allan Stone Interview
On January 10, 2002, Wayne Thiebaud and Allan were interviewed by Jeremy Stone, as part of the Artists-in-Conversation Lecture Series at City Arts and Lectures and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association at The Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, California. The event was a fundraiser for the 1st Annual SFADA Art Grant which benefits nonprofit arts spaces and organizations in San Francisco.
Good evening. On behalf of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association, the Four Seasons Hotel, and City Arts and Lectures, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to our inaugural event of what we anticipate to be the first of many such cooperative events celebrating artists while we’re raising funds for San Francisco’s many worthy nonprofit organizations and worthy artists in need. My name is Cheryle Wicker, and I’m the president of the Art Dealers Association. As many of you know, the San Francisco Art Dealers Association, also known as SFADA, is composed of 32 member galleries from the Bay Area. Our association was founded in 1972 for the purpose of increasing awareness of the arts in our community. SFADA sponsors such events as First Thursdays, Introductions, which presents first time exhibitions for emerging artists, and forum discussions supporting the international art fair as well as lectures and gifts to Bay Area artists, art schools, and museums. To open our Artists in Conversation series, we’re especially fortunate to have the beloved and internally recognized Wayne Thiebaud and long time respected art dealer, Allan Stone.
[A. Stone] Not beloved? [laughter]
[Wicker] You’re beloved now. And Jeremy Stone, founder of Business Matters in the Visual Arts. Jeremy advises individuals and organizations on the professional practices of the art world. She’s also one of Allan’s six daughters, three of whom are here tonight. And Jeremy will interview these two old friends about their very unique relationship. Before we start, I’d like to thank Stan Bromley of the Four Seasons Hotel for his generosity in helping us launch this series, Sydney Goldstein of City Arts and Lectures [applause], and our hard working committee, Paule Anglim, Ruth Braunstein, Karen Jenkins Johnson, George Krevsky, Alex Meyerovich, and Marcel Sitcoske And now please join me in welcoming Wayne Thiebaud, Allan Stone, and Jeremy Stone. [applause]
[J. Stone] I want to thank Ruth Braunstein and Cheryle Wicker for giving me the unique opportunity to-and pleasure to introduce two of the most fascinating and charismatic men in the art world. [laughter] [A. Stone] That’s more like it. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Wayne Thiebaud is famous not only for his luscious and seductive paintings, drawings, and prints, but also as a dedicated and inspiring teacher. A professor emeritus of art at UC Davis, that he continues to teach, even though he is supposed to be retired speaks about his process. His grandfather, Rudolph, was a superintendent of schools in Indiana. Education is in his blood. Wayne’s real first name is Morton after his father who was an inventor and engineer. Wayne first took up drawing while recuperating from a major sports injury during high school. He broke his back. Wayne continues to push and take risks in his work on a daily basis. He is not content to rest on his laurels. He is a philosopher, a joke teller, a diplomat, and one of the kindest men to walk the planet. He is the ambassador of color, and Wayne is a great tennis player. Allan Stone was an attorney briefly before he founded his gallery in New York City 41 years ago. [laughter] Don’t worry. Allan is not just a dealer, but an avid collector beyond your wildest nightmare. [laughter] A passionate gardener, environmentalist, film lover, practices medicine without a license, advises on alternative treatment for cancer, and Allan is a great tennis player.
[Thiebaud] A greater tennis player! [laughter]
[J. Stone] Wayne Thiebaud and Allan Stone are superficially quite different. One is an artist dedicated to the art of making the work. The other a dealer, immersed in the process of building collections, curating, and selling work. Forty years ago, these men met and forged a connection, a relationship which continues to this day. I have a few questions for the two of you for everyone. There are many misperceptions and stereotypes about artists, dealers, and their galleries. However, the two of you have shared a very unique, mutually supportive relationship for-I’m going to say it again-40 years. Longer than most marriages today. [laughter]
[Thiebaud] Watch out, you’re going to jinx us! [laughter]
[J. Stone] I have observed much respect and affection between the two of you.
Wayne, could you explain the chemistry that has made your relationship work?
[Thiebaud] I flunked chemistry. [laughter] Chemistry.
[J. Stone] Allan? [laughter]
[A. Stone] I think the secret of our relationship is that we 1) never talk much about art. We don’t talk much about business. We talk about eating and tennis most of the time. [laughter] We have a community of interest. [laughter]
[J. Stone] You’ve answered my next question. Culturally, you couldn’t be from more different backgrounds. Wayne, you were raised by conservative, religious Mormon parents. Allan, you were raised in New York by Baroque Jewish parents [laughter] during fairly anti-Semitic times.
[A. Stone] Bizarre would be a better word. [laughter]
[J. Stone] What is the common ground that you’ve discovered over the years between the two of you besides food and tennis? Either of you?.
[A. Stone] Well, basically, I became an art junkie very early in my life. My father was a lawyer who represented Vladimir Horowitz, the concert pianist. He represented the Three Stooges until they walked through a plate glass door in his office. And he represented a cartoonist by the name of Gus Edson who did a strip called “The Gumps.” And Gus Edson used to visit us when we lived in Stamford. And he was showing me how to draw and how to do cartooning. And I for some reason found that really fascinating. And he said, “Look, kid, if you want to really take the high road, copy Prince Valiant, because that’s the best art.” You know? And I started-I mean, that’s how I started out. My interest in art started way back then. And it just never abated. It was always-I would always go see art. And then I went away to prep school. I was lucky enough to go to Andover where they had the Addison Museum. They had wonderful works by Bellows. They had great Winslow Homers. And I’ll never forget, they had a traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Federation of Arts of Abstract Expressionists. That was what it was called. And there was a Pollock that had bottle caps pushed into it and cigarette butts and bits of broken glass. It was the most irreverent thing I’d ever seen. I just couldn’t-I went every day to see this exhibition. It was not just Pollock, but there was a DeKooning in it and a Gorky and a Kline. And I thought-and I was then-I was taking studio painting. And I was very interested in painting, although I felt very limited. And I tried to see as much as I could. When I saw DeKooning’s work, it actually lifted me off the ground. I got I guess the nearest thing I’ll ever have to a religious experience. It was really a whole sense of uplift. And so I then started seeking out DeKooning’s work whenever I could find it. And through college, I just kept going to more and more exhibitions. So, it just continued. It was a continuation-of course, when I got near graduation time, my father said, “Well, what do you want to do, Son?” I said, “Gee, Dad, I’d like to go to architectural school.” “That’s wonderful,” he said. “The only graduate school I’d pay for is law school.” [laughter] So, being of firm character, I went to law school. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Now, Wayne, cartooning had a big influence on you as well. You worked for Walt Disney. And I understand when you were in the Army, you drew caricatures and cartoons on airplanes.
[Thiebaud] I think a lot of critics still think I’m just painting cartoons. [laughter] They may not realize that that’s a compliment to me, that I love cartoonists, and I love cartoons. We collect original cartoons. And I think they’re in many ways undercelebrated as some of the great graphic artists of our century. But the other thing that you don’t hear about Allan is that he has an art name [laughter] called Abraham Stein. And he-I know someday he’s going to do his own one man exhibition, because he’s actually a very good painter. And a lot of people don’t know that.
[A. Stone] Abraham Stein is a name that I wrote under, remember? [laughter]
[Thiebaud] That’s the best review I ever had. [laughter]
[A. Stone] In the early days, when we were having trouble getting reviews, I wrote a review of Wayne’s show under the name of Abraham Stein, and it got published. [laughter]
[Thiebaud] Well, that will be all over tonight. [laughter]
[J. Stone] You two are similar in that you both derive such joy from being in the studio-the immersion and the process of making art. Allan, as a witness, and Wayne as a participant. How much time do you spend in the studio now, Wayne? Can you describe a day for us?
[Thiebaud] It’s pretty consistently early morning and then-
[J. Stone] How early is early for you?
[Thiebaud] Well, it varies, but I prefer to get up fairly early and work until about 10 o’clock. That’s when I go and try to play tennis. If I can get four hours in the morning-
[J. Stone] So, you’re in your studio at 6 o’clock.
[Thiebaud] Yeah. And then come back and work in the afternoon. And I have a terrific indulgent family that lets me paint on Christmas afternoons or Thanksgiving. And that’s-I’m really blessed with that, because they’ll put up with the greatest nonsense in the world. I’ll say, “I’m sorry. I have to go paint.” And they-they indulge me in that. But I-it’s sort of a steady painting process. Since I didn’t have a chance ever to go to art school, I just realized the way you get work done is to start and keep doing and doing it. And you-by that process, of course, you do 12 paintings, and you’re lucky if you get one or none. But the process is usually pretty boring and day by day, hour by hour over a long period of time. I should be able to give you some good answer, but I don’t have any. [laughter]
[J. Stone] The scale of your new paintings-the large landscapes that were in your traveling retrospective-is quite impressive. How do you-do you lay them on the floor? Do you actually have step stools or ladders in your studio?
[Thiebaud] The larger paintings?
[J. Stone] Yes, the really monumental ones.
[Thiebaud] Yeah, a large painting for me is probably 6 feet, 5 feet. And I can still reach that pretty much. [laughter] So, I don’t paint on the floor. Most of them are upright. I work pretty directly. [J. Stone] Maybe they were just hung high. [laughter] [Thiebaud] It might help to put them on the floor, and- [J. Stone] Allan, you have often said that everything you do is basically instinctive or intuitive, that art is about feelings and trusting your feelings. How do you balance the intellectual and aesthetic pursuit of the art business with the economic realities?
[A. Stone] Let’s say that up until the time I went into the art gallery, I was practicing law, and I was being very logical. And I felt like a duck out of water. I could arrive at answers intuitively that I would then have to reconstruct going backwards to buoy up in terms of the logic. But then when I went into the art field, I could-you know, I could feel things. And I trusted my feelings, and I still so. That’s the only thing I ever trust. Don’t trust words. Don’t trust-just reactions. And it’s not just seeing, because it’s really what you perceive. There are any number of levels of communication going on between two people when they talk. There’s-on one level, you’re having a conversation, but you’re sizing each other up. There are all kinds of other levels of communication. I think the same thing is true with paintings. I mean, there’s on the one hand, the relationship if it’s a literary painting, a storytelling picture, but that picture is also reaching out to you in other ways in terms of its-the power of its color. So, you’re in an area that’s really decidedly nonverbal and very intuitive, instinctual. And so I-and I feel very comfortable in that area. That’s the way I’ve run my life, really. I trust it, and I go with it.
[J. Stone] How about you, Wayne?
[Thiebaud] Well, I think the word “intuitive” is a fascinating word, because it’s another one of those terms that we all use. And to try and figure out somewhat precisely what it is-particularly in teaching, because the students will often-you’ll ask them why they did something, and they’ll say, “Well, I just did it intuitively.” But if you look beyond that and try to figure out in order to help the student to examine more closely perhaps what factors led into that, I usually tell them about something like tennis or golf where you go to a pro, and he tells you, “Now, logically, this is the way you hit the ball. You make sure you get your arm back far enough. You be sure you go-when the racquet comes to the ball, it wants to be at a certain level, and be sure that when you go through the ball, that you keep on going through the ball.” You’re thinking of all these things. And the pro hits the ball to you and you-the ball comes, and you figure out, “Let’s see. I have to get the racquet back, and I have to then”–[laughter] and of course, then you don’t hit the ball. So, he puts you through this process where you go-oh, you hit a whole basket-a basket of balls over and over and over again. And finally one time you swing your arm through it, and “How did I learn that? How did I get there?” And in painting, there’s some things like that where if students pay too much attention to the hope that intuition alone may help them, that can be dangerous, because then they think they don’t have to go back and go to the building blocks or very basic things about what it takes to build a painting with some degree of authenticity or some sense of rightness. So, it’s a fascinating question, and it’s argued endlessly as people know-the argument, for instance, “Was Cezanne an intuitive or an intellectual painter?” “Well, no one knows, and it doesn’t finally matter, but it’s a fascinating question. [pause] Did I stop the whole thing? [laughter]
[J. Stone] No, that’s good.
[Thiebaud] You have to be careful with these damn professors. They talk more and more about less and less all the time. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Wayne, was there a moment when you felt like you had arrived as an artist?
[J. Stone] Arrived. [laughter] [Thiebaud] No. I don’t even use the word “artist.”
[J. Stone] I know. You consider yourself a painter. What is the distinction for you between being called a painter and being called an artist?
[Thiebaud] Oh, monumental. Endless. You can’t make art on purpose. It would be wonderful if you could. My students are always saying-I say, “Where are you going?” “Oh, I’m going to go do my art.” “Not so fast. That’s not gonna happen. [laughter] Someone else is gonna decide whether you’re doing art or not. You mean, you’re going to do a painting?” But I think it’s also a really terrific help to make a distinction between art and something like painting. Art is something I really-frankly, I don’t know what art is. I think it’s one of the dirtiest words in the English language. [laughter] Everything’s art or can be art or might be art or should be art. And it also-when you think of it, it’s essentially a discourse. When we talk about art, that’s a new idea essentially in terms of our civilization. Most of the world’s art was done-what we think of as art not being thought of as art at all as you know. But art is also very, very abstract as an idea. You can’t touch it. You can’t find it. Art is also always changing, which is terrific, because that’s what the importance of art is. It’s made to surprise us, to make us different than we are. And we all hope-I mean, that’s a great hopeful notion. But painting, by comparison, is just an old flat piece of something with some stuff smeared on it. And it doesn’t move, it doesn’t talk. It doesn’t do anything unless we do something to it. Unless we get at it with our bodies, and feel it with the same responses that the painter had. That’s what they want you to do. That’s why when you-the wonderful thing-I just love going to museums, and to try and be intimately connected and do the painting with them. I mean, I could never do the painting with them, but I like to think that I’m in that world suddenly in terms of my physical presence. And that’s how you bring a painting alive. Otherwise, people are right when they say painting is dead. But you have to bring it up like Lazarus, you know.
[J. Stone] Allan, was there a moment when you felt like you had arrived as a dealer?
[A. Stone] I’m still waiting. [laughter] I don’t know what that really means, okay. I thought at one point that if there weren’t 50 million people chasing me for money, that you’d reach a certain level, but that’s not it either. [laughter] I don’t know. I think it has to do with some sense of internal satisfaction about your life. I mean, I think-you know, I mean, I’m not really ready to sum up yet, but in terms of your relationship to your family, your kids, your public, the people you deal with professionally, if you’re comfortable in your own skin, acting in all these different arenas, I think that might be considered having arrived. But that has to do with a kind of internal sense of accomplishment.
[Thiebaud] In some way, it’s a sort of dangerous idea, isn’t it? The idea of arriving or being famous or-I mean, someone said it very well when they said it’s-like our attraction to celebrity and names and so on. That in some ways when we do that, aren’t we sort of surrendering ourself in a sense to this thing out there?
[A. Stone] The pursuit of excellence. You don’t want to ever yield to that. You want to continue that, continue the chase. And in a sense, it’s a lifetime pursuit. It’s never a pursuit where you stop. You don’t put down the tools and say, “That’s it. I don’t want to play any more.” That’s something I would never even think about.
[J. Stone] Wayne spoke about the transformative power of paintings-of going to museums and looking at paintings and really jumping into the paintings and feeling what he imagines the artist felt when he painted the painting. Do you ever have those feelings, Allan?
[A. Stone] Basically, art converts the heathen, you know? And I think art has a kind of power-high art, maybe low art-but it has a kind of power, which can change and shape. And in terms of my own experience, all I know is that I like the feelings I get when I see certain paintings. I mean, I’ll go to the Met to the Robert Lehmann collection to look at a Balthus painting, and I never get tired-every time, I see that painting, I just get-you know? I can’t even figure out why that is, you know, or what there is about that. I can start to try and analyze it intellectually, but it’s something that is ineffable. That experience. So, in terms of the power of art, yeah, I think it has a lot of power. At least in terms of my own feeling about it. I have a certain reverence for it that I don’t have for most things. I mean, I’m really an iconoclast. But I think art is really where the temple is.
[J. Stone] Wayne, your subject matter has changed over the years. And the familiar food themes have been revisited. How do you know when you’ve discovered the subject of your next painting? What feelings do you have around that discovery?
[Thiebaud] I think mostly I set problems. And problems come out of the long tradition of something like painting. I mean, they’re just-as Allan indicated, those are heroes of mine. In some ways, it’s audacious to pick up a brush when you have been to museums and seen what Rembrandt or Velasquez or Vermeer might do. But there’s some compelling aspect that lets you become more closely and more intimately connected to other paintings by painting, by drawing, by painting-or by looking a lot. So, the problems are often set having to do with color or having to do with space or light. And to pick subject matters that somehow allow those problems to be worked on, to be-try to figure them out. Try to do with them. I’d like also just to say that-about going to museums. I think those museums represent a kind of exotic wonderland of the best things we’ve done. And we keep them for that reason. They’re touchstones of-if we have a Bureau of Standards, that’s probably what the museum represents for us, our finest things. The other thing is that some of those things we wouldn’t have been able to see the world in the way in which we are able to see it. In other words, there’s such a thing as a Van Gogh world. And where did that come from? Meaning you can trace his developments, his influences. And then at a final point, you say, “No, that’s a-there’s a-it’s a different visual species. It’s a different world.” And we wouldn’t have those worlds without people who took the trouble to make these various worlds. And what those worlds do for us-for me anyway-is to enlarge the time I have on earth to expand time, expand feelings about things, and what the visual enterprise can be. And you test that also by relooking-as Allan says, going back to that Balthus. I feel like that indeed. There’s a very wonderful book that’s coming out by Wendy Lesser who publishes a literary magazine called Three Penny Something–[laughter]-Three Penny Review, I guess. She’s writing a book called-on rereading. In other words, what she read as early in her life and then to go back and read something like Don Quixote after you-it’s been 30 years since you’ve done it. And the same thing is true with painting. I mean, when I go to see a painting, at first, it might have been, “Gee, I love that-I love what’s happening with the story. I love what’s happening with the paint. I love-and I see it in a certain way.” And 30 years later, I might go and-when I was wondering what was happening in the painting then, I have to wonder what’s happened to me, you know. How did I change? Why couldn’t I have seen that earlier? And of course, that scares the hell out of you, because you do that at your own paintings. [laughter] Why can’t I see those mistakes I made 20 years ago like I can see them today? It’s terrible. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Wayne, how do you know when you have finished a painting? [Thiebaud] I don’t. [laughter] The interesting painter-as some of you know, Robert Kulicke came out to do a visiting teaching at Davis where I teach, and he lived with us for a while. And he would say, “Well, let’s-we’re going to work together. We’re going to pastel together.” So, he would take the kitchen chair and put his shoes on it so it wouldn’t slide. That was his easel. And he’d put up a little piece of what he called matte middles, and set up his pastel. And I would-he would fix one for me. So, he would work, and he was working on a nice beautiful little painting of a pear. A pear was sitting there, and he was painting away. And so I started mine, and I was working also. And finally he sort of looked around and started giggling. Finally he says, “Oh, that’s it” and stood up. [laughter] And I looked over and he looked over at mine and he said, “That’s great.” I said, “I have just started.” [laughter] He said, “That’s the trouble with you.” He said, “Every artist should have someone with a hammer in back of them. When you’re up to a certain point like that, hit him on the head so they know to stop.” [laughter] That might be the only way you know you’re finished. But it’s a hard thing to know that, I think.
[A. Stone] Some of our most important and leading artists had the problem of not really knowing when a painting was over and when he might be working into a new painting. Mr. DeKooning had that problem. If it weren’t for Elaine who would pull him off the painting and say, “That’s finished, stop,” I mean, he was perfectly capable of painting another painting on top of an already finished painting. [laughter] I mean, because emotionally he was never finished painting, you see. So, sometimes, you need a governor or somebody who says, “Enough.”
[Thiebaud] Writers have editors, don’t they? Is that part of the reason for dealers? [laughter]
[J. Stone] Allan, can you describe what it’s been like for you to visit Wayne’s studio over the years?
[A. Stone] Well, it’s always been joyful. It’s always been exciting. You see, I basically am very jealous of him, the truth be known, because I would really like to be him. [laughter]
[Thiebaud] And I’d like to be him on the tennis court! [laughter]
[A. Stone] So, you know, when I go there, and I look at these-some of these nuances, and the way he’s treated-you know, when you look at something, say, across the room, and you move up close to it, and you see that it’s composed of many different colors that suddenly it’s much more complicated than it seems. How the hell do you do that? How do you create that richness up close? You get away, and have it all lock in and become-I just-I just-it’s magic. It really is. And so I-you know, I am-I’m reverential, I would say, okay?
[Thiebaud] That’s why he’s the only dealer I’ve ever had. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Is it like going through a candy store? Do you just want them all?
[A. Stone] It’s not just that. It’s a question of just the amazement of how things are done, and how things-as simple as a little chalk or pastel and basically what you can create. And it’s the magic of birth, which-I mean, art is magical. It’s the ability really-or you separate, say, art from painting-I mean, art is really the ability to create magic, you know? Or someone else would-another one of my favorite definitions of art would be reaching for the angels. Man reaching above himself for the angels. He doesn’t always succeed, but if you can create magic once in a while, you’re way ahead of the game, you know? So, I think that for me is just awesome. And I just-I also love his pastel work and his use of color, which is just incredible, I think. All that stuff.
[J. Stone] All that stuff. Wayne, if you were to write a book, what would the chapter titles be? [laughter] [Thiebaud] Well, let’s see. One would be “Space.” One would be “Blue.” One would be “Orange.” [laughter] One would be “Light.” I wouldn’t use terms like “expression” or “creativity.” Those would be cancelled out. [laughter] No, I think it’s-there are some-now I think wonderful books written about painting. And I’m not a writer, so I wouldn’t presuppose to write about it. But I love reading about it, and I love what other people read and say. It’s even quite wonderful to read critics, because they’ll tell you what you’re doing. [laughter] Actually it can be quite rewarding and helpful, and you learn things. I have a sort of interest in that. I also read a lot of poetry and read poetry to my students, because I think there’s also a wonderful correlation. Someone once said that poetry represents a kind of x-ray of literature. And painting I think is a kind of x-ray of the visual world. It looks under, around, through, develops different species, different configurations. So, it’s a quite wonderful thing to read also about particularly art history and that philosophy of art. We lost a really wonderful, I thought, writer in our-in Ernest-Sir Ernest Gombreth, who has passed away. And his book, Art and Illusion, I think clarified a lot of things. So, I think books are important. I think there are difficulties with drawing books. While there are some very good ones, the biggest mistake anyone makes-like for instance, if I were to do a book on drawing, I’d be very sure not to do what other people who’ve written books on drawing, and that is reproduce their own drawing. [laughter] Students can then say, “If I have to draw like that, I’m not going to read this book.” [laughter]
[J. Stone] Allan, if you were to write a book, what would your chapter titles be?
[A. Stone] Jer, why don’t you just ask what my favorite color is? [laughter]
[Thiebaud] What is it? [laughter]
[A. Stone] Well, it used to be orange, and now it’s purple. [laughter] No, look, I’m having to deal with part of that issue now. And I don’t think I have the inclination or the patience to delve back into my life and write a book about my experiences in the art world. I just-I don’t like digging up the past. I’d rather go forward, you know. And so I-that’s a question which really-I don’t even like reading. [laughter] You know, I hate it. I mean, really, it’s something you do when you want to go to sleep.
[J. Stone] I know you’d rather go to a movie.
[A. Stone] But even the movies are terrible. [laughter] So, you read to go to sleep. And now I go to movies to go to sleep. [laughter] So much for my book. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Well, I have a question that’s for both of you. Allan, you’ve been quoted as saying that art has become so popular that it’s almost becoming a spectator sport. And because of the associated glamour and social acceptance now, you have many more people who want to become artists, that art schools are turning out a proliferation of people who are theoretically artists, but are basically by and large more prepared to appreciate it than to practice it. Wayne, is that bad? And do you have an insight for us on that observation?
[Thiebaud] Gee, I don’t know. [laughter] I guess if I were to try to say something about the present situation in that sense, it might be a kind of warning and something to be careful about, and that’s the idea of the term “excitement.” And I think the art world has gotten, I think, into that with disastrous results for me. I think excitement’s great if you go to football games. It’s terrific to be excited about love, excited about all kinds of things. But in learning, in any kind of reflective appreciation of something, one has to be absorbed, I think. And to be absorbed, you can’t really be excited, because that’s another state. And you go to a museum and the people who I like to see in museums are the ones who sit down someplace and look and keep looking. And you cannot look enough, long enough, carefully enough to see paintings in my judgement. And it isn’t exciting in that sense, I don’t think. And that I think has been the wrong turn to-and you hear often, “This is an exciting new painter. This is an exciting new sculpture. This is an exciting new conceptual artist.” And I don’t find very much excitement in those in the first place, but I’m looking for some sort of work in whatever category to have some sort of meditative character, some richness of visual experience that transcends ordinariness, and really does take up something really quite special. And that’s enough said.
[J. Stone] It’s quite different now from the art world of 1961. or is it the same?
[A. Stone] You talking to me?
[J. Stone] Both of you.
[A. Stone] You talking to me? [laughter] Look, the art world in the early-in the beginning for me was very exciting, because it was new, and I was so-I was in a constant state of excitation. Excitation. [laughter] But it wasn’t much of a business world, but it was a world where people would argue with passion about ideas. It was a world where there was a lot of mutual respect, relatively. And I think what’s happened in the art world in brief is that it’s been sort of corrupted by success and by money, which has increased everybody’s expectations and has made it for me a less interesting world than it used to be. It’s not that you don’t want to be able to pay your bills and things like that. But the issue today-and I think the issues of money have polluted every aspect of our society. It’s ruining athletics. A baseball player will sit out a season, because he’s only getting 13 million instead of 15 million for the season. It’s just-in every aspect in our society, money is doing us in with the kind of preoccupation with money. And I think it’s certainly not been a healthy thing for the art world. So, in that sense, it’s been that kind of a change where the art world is much more bottom line now. Much more business oriented. And before it was-I don’t know. It was almost more-I don’t even know how to describe it. It was definitely a learning experience every day.
[J. Stone] What do you think, Wayne? [Thiebaud] What do I think?
[J. Stone] About the difference in the art world from 1961 to the present for you as a painter.
[Thiebaud] I agree with him. [laughter] I could tell a joke though
[J. Stone] Yes, please. [laughter] [Thiebaud] Well, maybe I’d better not tell it. [laughter] The only one I’ve heard is-I hope you won’t take it wrong, but it’s about an old farmer who had three daughters. How does that sound for a starter? [laughter] And he’s very-they’re very precious to him, and he’s-they’re very beautiful. And he knows how the world is. So he says, “I know what can happen to these daughters of mine.” He lives way out in the country. He says, “They’ve all got dates tonight. So, I’m going to sit on a chair in the front room with my rifle, my shotgun. Any false move out of these guys, if they don’t come up and offer the right kind of approach, I’m-that’s the end of them.” So, he’s sitting and the doorbell rings, and the first fella comes in. “Hi, my name is Freddy. I’ve come for Betty. We’re going out for spaghetti. [laughter] I think she’s ready.” Well, the old guy, the farmer, says, “That guy’s got some imagination. [laughter] He’s all right.” So, then the doorbell rings again. “Hi, my name is Joe. I’ve come for Flo. We’re going to the show. Do you think she’s ready to go?” [laughter] That’s good. He’s very happy. A few minutes later, the doorbell rings. “Hi, my name is Chuck”-bang! [laughter]
[A. Stone] That about sums it up.
[J. Stone] Yes, I think so. [laughter] I think we’re going to open up-we’re going to open up the floor to the audience. If you have any questions for Allan and Wayne, please step up to the microphone, and jump on in.
[Thiebaud] People are running for the exits.
[A. Stone] They’re running for the doors. [laughter] If the art world has been polluted by money, what do you see as the savior, the solution?
[A. Stone] Well, I’m not sure that there is a solution, because it’s not just the art world. It’s the whole of our society. It’s like corrosion of all our institutions. It’s politics. It’s so much-the way this country runs in terms of the influence of some of the bigger corporations on government. I mean, if you really get into it, that could be another evening. But it’s something-it’s sort of-it’s not just one segment of our society. It’s sort of a general issue. It may be part of the maturation of our whole culture, and I’m not sure what can be done about it. I just may be observing a condition that exists.
[Thiebaud] On somewhat of a positive note [laughter], it should be noted that there are an awful lot of people, young and old, who still paint, hoping for the best, but they’re prepared for the worst. And they do it, because they love it, and it’s important to them, and it makes a life so that they’re-and it’s working with students again. They find ways to do it if they love doing it, and the expectancy factor I think can be downplayed with some sort of sensible life thought. For instance, when they’ll talk about, “Well, how-how do you think I can go about this?” I say, “Well, you’d better find a way, if you’re really going to be a painter, find a way to sort of-don’t worry so much about making a living as such by your painting, but make a life with your painting, and find some way to do that, because it’s-that’s probably the way it’s going to be.” And very, very few people still who are painters can really exist by their work alone. But that doesn’t keep them from doing it. No, they’re-and that to me is probably more hopeful than anything. And every place you go-every place I’m asked to go, they’re always a terrific group of young people working and loving it and making a life. And this I think is a very positive aspect.
Sydney Goldstein: Mr. Stone, I’m fascinated by the ingenuity that it took for you to write a review at some point under a pseudonym of someone you represented, I guess.
[A. Stone] I also write under my own name. [laughter]
Sydney Goldstein: I would love to hear of the circumstances of your writing a review of Wayne Thiebaud’s work and who you published it with, and more of that story.
[A. Stone] Well, I felt Wayne wasn’t getting enough attention. Maybe we weren’t getting reviews, although we did get-
Sydney Goldstein: When was it?
[A. Stone] Way back in the beginning.
Sydney Goldstein: What’s the beginning?
[A. Stone] ’61, ’62.
Sydney Goldstein: I wasn’t born.
[A. Stone] Don’t say that. [laughter] I was playing tennis with somebody yesterday. And he was born the year I graduated from Harvard. I said, “My God, I can’t believe that.”
[Thiebaud] I have students who ask me, “Are you still alive?” [laughter]
[A. Stone] But it was an act of desperation.
Sydney Goldstein: What was the name of the publication?
[A. Stone] It was one of the art newspapers, one of these small newspapers that has come and gone, but there were a number of-Art Speak, I think, around the city.
Sydney Goldstein: in San Francisco?
[A. Stone] No, New York. The reviews that we got here when we first had the show-the first show that we had of Wayne’s, and it was successful were something like, “Gee, how come this guy is doing so well who we don’t think so much of.” Do you remember those?
[Thiebaud] And they’re still saying it. [laughter]
Charles Campbell: May I ask a question next?
[A. Stone] Yes, sir. Charles Campbell: A number of years ago, Wayne, you were to retire from teaching at UC Davis, and you chose to stay on in your option. As I remember, you were asked if you wanted to teach postgraduate art students or young ones, and you chose the beginners, to teach them. Why? And question 2, not question, but when you were teaching at Sac State, with your early career in teaching, you had a young art student, and there was an episode where he would not permit you to look at his work until the last day. Without revealing names, would you tell us what happened? Which you well remember.
[Thiebaud] [laughter] Well, I teach beginners, because I think it’s always a beginning. I don’t-I just think that’s where everything essentially is. So, I don’t-we all work with the graduates, but I’m very reluctant about it. The incident that Charles Campbell refers to is a painter who-a young painter who was painting. He came in the painting class, and the way I happened to teach is to go around and talk to all of them, and give some sort of-try to figure out how to help them, if I can, and how they might help themselves. And this young painter said-came up to me and said, “I’m taking your class, Thiebaud, but [laughter] I don’t-I rather you didn’t talk about my work. I don’t want any criticism of my work.” “That’s fine. That’s a right you have.” So, as I came around, this painter was painting what I would describe as one of the ugliest paintings I’d ever seen. He had a hand coming out of a sort of Daliesque receding landscape, cracked earth, holding an egg that was cracking, and a sort of awful looking nude woman was emerging out of this egg. And it was all painted in what I would describe as manure green. [laughter] I thought, “Boy, am I glad I don’t have to talk about that one.” Well, I continued the circle and I talked to people. And as I came around a little bit later on, he came over and said, “I guess I’ve changed my mind. I guess I’ll have you talk about my painting anyway.” I thought, “Oh, God.” [laughter] So, I warned him. I said, “Well, you know, when I talk about these things, I’m very direct, and I tell you what I think is really wrong with it” and so on and so on. “No,” he says. “I’m ready for that,” he said. So, I started talking, and talked about several aspects and so on, and what he might do. I could see him sort of tightening up his lips. [laughter] And I talked on for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. And finally I said, “Okay. Is that enough?” He goes, “Yeah, that’s enough.” [laughter] And he-this is a sad story. He walked outside the junior college where I was teaching and fell off the steps and broke his leg, and he never forgave me for that. [laughter] But now he’s a well known painter. [laughter] You’re dying to know who it is, but I’m not going to tell you. [laughter]
Charles Campbell: I talked to that artist. I discussed it with him. He admits every bit of it, and he didn’t mind revealing-his name is Mel Ramos. It happened. [laughter]
[Thiebaud] And he’s still painting women coming out of things. [laughter] Alan Stein: This is a question for Wayne, but it involves Allan. I’m familiar with several other artists that Allan has had long relationships with. And my impression is that they move from representational to more abstract. And I was wondering whether you ever were doing any purely abstract, or whether Allan encouraged you in that direction.
[Thiebaud] No, Allan-blessed, he lets me do whatever mistakes I want to make. He doesn’t-he’s been ideal in terms of letting me do what I can do. About abstraction-yes, I love abstract, nonobjective painting, and I’ve done a whole host of them, and I have students who do them all the time. I think that’s a way of learning about the structure of composition. I recently finally did-I don’t show them, but I finally showed them to my family. And spread out about 40 or 50 of them, and happily they’ve been destroyed. [laughter] But I learned a great deal from them. I mean, it’s one of those other aspects of part of the process. And I admire very much abstract painting.
[J. Stone] Any more questions? Please come up and stand at the microphone so everybody can hear you. Do you think artists today make more of a social political comment than they did in the 60s? Or is it the same?
[A. Stone] Look, basically, I have never been very enthusiastic about what I would call-almost sort of propaganda art or art that has a very heavy message in political or social direction. I think a really mature work of art should combine a lot of different aspects of things-some of those things being woven into it, but never-it’s almost like cooking and using seasoning in cooking. The proper use of seasoning is with a light hand so that it enhances the condition of the whole, rather than standing out on its own and being too pronounced. And there’s a lot of what I would call political art and social commentary going on today which I find a total bore. I’m sorry. I just feel that way about it. I’m much more interested in things that I would say are universal. Or I look for the universal even in statements about the specific. Yes?
[Thiebaud] There is a lot of what she referred to-in answer to her question. A lot of interest in that particular genre. This is for Allan. I was just wondering-picking up on something you said earlier-do you now treat your business with the idea of the bottom line? Or do you still try to maintain that sort of integrity-
[A. Stone] I mean we never have. I’ve shown people for years we don’t sell, because I like their work, and I think it’s deserving of being shown. There aren’t a lot of places that will do that. You know, if you don’t-in the real fast track of the art world, if you’re not selling your pictures, you’re going to have to find other representation. I try to run my business from what I would call the high ground.
[Thiebaud] And that’s why he’s often referred to as a nondealer. [laughter] Someone told me-when they asked me, “Who’s your dealer?” I said, “Allan Stone.” “Oh, he’s a nondealer.” [laughter]
[A. Stone] I have been criticized a lot by even some artists who used to be with me. This guy was one of the most aggressive, thinking every angle-he was definitely not-he should have been running a gallery. He said, “Look, I don’t want a poet for a dealer. [laughter] I don’t want a philosopher for a dealer. I want you to be a whore. [laughter] I want you to go out and sell yourself for me. I want you to go out”-I said, “You definitely have the wrong gallery.” [laughter]
[J. Stone] I want to thank Wayne and Allan for coming and being a part of this benefit. And I want to encourage everybody-there are signed autographed catalogues from Wayne’s recent retrospective for sale at the front desk to benefit this artist grant fund and nonprofit gallery fund at the front desk. And I hope that everyone will-if they don’t already have one-pick up an autographed catalog from Wayne’s retrospective. It’s really a fabulous catalog. And there are also two really beautiful prints that are also available that are both donated. 100% of the proceeds is going to go to the SFADA grant.
[Thiebaud] I would like to thank Jeremy Stone for her helping us out. [applause]
[A. Stone] Good job, Jer.
[Thiebaud] You were terrific.
[A. Stone] Okay. Now unplug us. [laughter]
[J. Stone] Thank you all for coming. [applause] © 2002 Jeremy Stone, San Francisco, CA