GR: I never really thought that I would have a job in this field, painting murals or as a public artist; I did not think it was anything serious. I was most afraid of being placed in a company. That was the usual treatment.
RS: What kind of role models were there then for being an independent artist? Who could one look to as an example of somebody who had shown that it was possible?
GR: No one.
RS: So it was a question of something that had to be invented.
GR: Yes. There certainly was an underground, but I did not like it. Then there were freelance, self-employed artists. But there were no good painters among them. The independent artists, some of them, were overproud of their independence; they made a cult out of their status. I always had a bad feeling about that, their pride, their self-importance.
RS: What kind of art could one see at that time in East Germany?
GR: We looked very seriously at group exhibitions. At least twice a year there was a big show of work from artists' societies. In the museums it was classical art. I think the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden was still closed, because only much later did the Russians come with this "present"-they gave everything back that had been taken during the war. But there were other smaller museums, such as Pillnitz, a bit outside of Dresden, in a castle on the river. At that time there was a museum there, with Caspar David Friedrich and other good painters of the 18th and 19th centuries, Rococo paintings and pastels.
RS: You mentioned that things stopped more or less with Adolph Menzel and Impressionism?
GR: Yes. The Russian painters like Ilya Repin and Alexander Gerasimov we could not see in the original, or very seldom; we knew them only in reproduction. Of course every year we went twice to Berlin and visited the Dahlem. It was a big thing, to go to Berlin, to see a movie, go to the theaters and the museum. It was forbidden at that time to go to West Berlin, but it was easy. There was no Wall.
RS: So what kind of modern art could you see?
GR: In West Berlin, I accidentally stumbled into a gallery once, and I can't remember anything of what I saw. [Laughter]
RS: Was it because you were not prepared to look at contemporary art, or was it just not very good?
GR: It was too strange. It was completely alien. In one gallery, Galerie Gerd Rosen, there was contemporary painting, and it was very decorative.
RS: Would this be work of the '20s and '30s or from the postwar time?
GR: Postwar. Recent abstraction, recent work. I don't know the names, except for Bernhard Heiliger. Ernst Wilhelm Nay I learned of later. We were oriented to the French artists, to Impressionism, Matisse, Picasso and Léger.
RS: Did you like Léger?
GR: Yes. But I saw a painting of his last week, and I asked myself why I had liked Léger so much. It was the first time I had the feeling that this was a very stupid painting. [Laughter]
RS: And so what other sources of information did you have then? Were there Picassos in Dresden? Did any come to Dresden in exhibitions?
GR: No, never. But I got books and catalogues, newspapers. I had an aunt who sent me every month a West German photo magazine, Magnum. That was very good.
RS: Did you use images from the magazine in your own work?
GR: No, but it was good to look at; it was so modern.
RS: Did you have other sources of information? Could you get Life, Look, Paris Match?
GR: Unless you had a connection to an aunt, you couldn't buy them.
RS: And what kind of work were you making then?
GR: In school, the exercises were as realistic as possible, in the spirit of 19th-century artists like Menzel and Wilhelm Leibl, but not so detailed as Ferdinand Waldmüller. And then at home, it was very good, we tried to be very fresh, relaxed.
RS: But it was still figurative?
GR: Yes, always.
RS: Did you work from drawings or models, or go out in the landscape?
GR: I always painted in front of reality, never from reproductions.
RS: So you never "cheated" by using photographs a little bit?
GR: No, except for one drawing, the year before I left, of bathers.
RS: And nobody noticed?
GR: I did not show it.
RS: When you, Konrad Lueg and Sigmar Polke first identified yourselves as German artists, what kind of situation were you in? What were you up against? What was it like to be a young artist in Germany in 1962 or 1963?
GR: We swam in a pool of hope. We thought, "We'll just do it." It was not a problem that the others, first the French and then American artists, were selling so well and at such high prices. It was not a topic. We were young, and the older German artists like Nay and Georg Meistermann were not very famous and not much liked. Their works were less expensive, and we felt that was only right because they were stupid.
RS: Particularly in the late '60s and early '70s, the pressure not to paint was even greater in Germany than in the U.S. How did you manage at that time, when so many people were saying that painting was dead?
GR: I didn't believe this. But in a sense it was familiar to me, because I knew that culture was at an end, that painting couldn't do very much anymore. And as a German, I was familiar with the idea of not being worth anything. So painting wasn't worth anything, I wasn't worth anything, and then there were several other things that weren't worth anything. But nevertheless I didn't believe that. I believed in painting.
RS: In the academy, you were surrounded by people who were primarily doing performance, installation or conceptual work of one kind or the other, weren't you?
GR: Not so many. Blinky Palermo, Polke and Lueg were there. And we painted, although Lueg not so much. Most people who were doing performance were very stupid. There were only a few exceptions-like Joseph Beuys. But all the others were just fashion. So that wasn't such a problem.
RS: What was your relation with Beuys in terms of his ideas about art as a social mechanism?
GR: I always distrusted him.
RS: In terms of his ideas about art or in general?
GR: The social ideas were absolutely stupid. And the art was half fake, a fraud almost. But he was very interesting to us at the time. He was very engaging, the only one who was a rival to be taken seriously. He was really something to be dealt with.
RS: And so how did you deal with him?
GR: We observed him, the way we observed each other later.
RS: You've said you were always attracted to madness. Was Beuys's approach a kind of madness?
GR: Yes, I always saw a danger in him. Too much danger, the dangerous ability to fascinate other people, that was really amazing. Then to make all these claims, to fake something, to do something shabbily, to defraud‑.‑.‑.‑that's why I fled from him. So that when I saw him at a party, for instance, if he was on one side of the room, I'd be on the other.
RS: Did it also connect to his desire to create an ideology of art? Was that part of it?