JS: You are one of "The Irascibles" in that famous 1951 photo by Nina Leen.
HS: Well, Irascibles, again, is a bit of a misunderstanding.
JS: The photo accompanied an article in Life magazine about an artists' protest. You were among the 18 painters who wrote a letter to the president of the Metropolitan Museum to express anger at the conservative jury the museum had chosen to organize a show of contemporary American art.
HS: When I was young, if there was a protest letter, I always signed it [laughs]. The only thing I really had in common with the others in the photograph is that half of them were in the same gallery and we all were considered avant-garde artists. I was part of them in that way, you know. A critic called Emily Genauer wrote about our protest, and she branded us "The Irascibles," but kind of trying to make fun. It had to do with the anger shown in the letter. It had nothing to do with the work of any of us.
JS: How was that picture taken?
HS: The photographer organized the architecture of the photo. When we arrived, each chair had a name on it. But there was no chair for me. It wasn't deliberate, though, and they found something for me to stand on, in the back.
JS: So the photographer made the composition with the chairs, and then told all the artists to sit in them?
HS: We sat, and it took about ten minutes. It was not the whole group behind the letter. Many months later, we spent three days discussing problems in a larger group. There is also a photograph [actually, two photos, see below] of the meeting that caused the letter to be written. There are 17 painters, plus me, who signed the letter. At least half of them were with Betty Parsons. [In addition to the painters, 10 sympathetic sculptors also appended their names.]
JS: It's a curious pair of photos of that meeting, one right side up, one upside down, so as to show the whole table.
HS: That's me, with the beret. And there's Reinhardt. Oh, he was an interesting guy. He was an abstract artist in the '30s before everybody else. He was a very good political cartoonist, and a very interesting man. With backbone. I liked him very much.
JS: And the others you felt sympathy with?
HS: Baziots—he was a lovely talker, a storyteller. And a lovely painter.
JS: Pollock's position is so central in the Life photograph.
HS: But actually, nobody's center, and everybody is important. Nobody is neglected. She did the photograph with great intelligence. Everybody has equal attention. People think, "Look, you are on top of it all." But I could say I'm behind them all.
JS: There were two other pictures of you in Life within a short period of time. In one article, you and Saul Steinberg are each seen with your works, one on each page of a spread, and then there's an article devoted to you alone. There is something interesting about seeing two artists in relation to each other. When you married for a second time, it was again to a fellow Romanian. Did you know Saul Steinberg or his family in Romania?
HS: No, we met here, in 1943. He came here from Italy. He is a doctor in architecture. He was.
JS: Your approaches to art are so different.
HS: But not to life. One of the things that pleased me in our life is—you know how people immediately look for influences. We were married together 16 years, but then our names were linked for the rest of our lives, and never did anybody link our work. That is for me a great tribute to both of us. One of those things I can't stand is that every time people talk about you they immediately want to place you in a box—influenced by so and so. But you don't derive directly from anyone. Anyhow, the great influences in my life did not necessarily have to do with painting.
JS: What were some of those influences?
HS: Very often music—music has had a tremendous part of my life. All types, including jazz. Some of the things would sound maybe funny to you. I heard once about a Yiddish poet who lived in utter poverty and misery, a teenager, who never had seen anything beautiful in his life, and he made splendid poems about vegetables jumping into the soup pot. My idea being that for the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you don't have to look far away. You have to know how to see. One of the things I believe in very much is the total presence of the participator. That's how I guaranteed myself. The only guarantee I had was my intensity, my authenticity, my urgency. Your head betrays you.
JS: And what cannot betray you?
HS: Your feelings. When thinking and feelings overlap, that is really the answer. You have to be convinced intellectually, but also with your heart and your entire being. Your taste, your smell—you know? You don't doubt. I mean, emotionally you don't doubt. In between, you may doubt, and think, but when you act, you have to act with total passion and conviction. And then you cannot be far wrong. Or even if you are wrong in terms of the world, it is your truth. Do you agree?
JS: Yes. It's very clear.
HS: Good. I don't want to be obscure.