More Subjects of the Artist
JS: There are some groups of work we haven't talked about yet. About the very larger "Vertical-Horizontal" paintings , you once said, "I get enormous pleasure out of very small contrasts."
HS: Yes, white and off-white—really delicate, but intense contrasts. There are knife-edge contrasts in those pieces. In the meantime, I was involved in all kinds of other things. In the ‘60s I was also involved with the "Lettuces," which were all done rapidly on the floor, in acrylic. They were a very special, interesting period. The "Lettuces" were huge, and I also did them in drawings. They were an interlude, like the heads. I was involved twice in doing tondos. In 1952 I did the movable paintings with machine images that were placed on a lazy Susan structure which you could turn, or stop them where you wanted. I had a show of them. And then later on in the ‘70s, I did a group of round scapes again. If there was a possibility to move them, very, very slowly, it would have been ideal, but they were very large. They could have been ceiling paintings, because they had no up and down. I always turned my paintings. They were worked from all sides. And that's why I got to finally have them round for a while.
JS: The exhibition and catalogue next move to the "Portraits" [1940-67], and also the 1970 "faces" installation, "Everyone."
HS: After I had shown quote abstract art for a number of years, I suddenly, in 1970, had a show of portraits and faces. I had a set of ideas that prompted me to do it. And at the time, it harmed me very, very much. I took faces and organized them as abstract shapes, but this fact practically went unnoticed because people were so involved in the fact that they were faces. The paintings would turn around the wall because they were soft, without frames. It was a beautiful show. Unfortunately, at the time they didn't do videos documenting shows. I should have had a video.
JS: Whose faces were they?
HS: People from the drugstore, in my life, that I saw all the time. And also people in the movies or the theater, people in the news. All real portraits, which I didn't stress, because I didn't want people to get involved in who is who. I wanted them to see what it was. But many people thought I was a traitor. They were scandalized by my doing something like that, instead of "speaking abstract." Others thought I didn't have to be tied down to the same thing all my life—I could do whatever intrigued me. I always painted ideas, I have to say. It was always some set of ideas that set me going.
JS: You said you've painted portraits your whole life.
HS: I've done portraits of all my friends from childhood on. No matter what else I did, I also did portraits. But only for myself. Then I had one or two portrait shows in the ‘60s [1965, 1966]. Faces interest me.
JS: I read that one of the first exhibitions you saw in Paris that moved you was a group of portraits of the actress and Montparnasse artist's model Maria Lani.
HS: I saw the Maria Lani show when I was about 20, and that was an extraordinary show as learning. What was incredible was that Maria Lani was portrayed by all the greatest artists of the time—she was very famous, evidently. When you went to the show it was like a different face on each painting, but you could also see that they all looked like her. It was so interesting to see how many views there can be of one person.
JS: Who were some of the artists who painted her?
HS: Everybody. All the great painters of the time. Anybody you can think of. You cannot go wrong [laughs].
JS: I'll have to search for a list of who they were [Bonnard, Braque, Chagall, de Chirico, Cocteau, Delaunay, Foujita, Matisse, Man Ray, Marval, Pascin, Picabia, Poiret, Rouault, Soutine, Valadon, Van Donge, Zadkine et al.].
JS: Next comes the "Diaries" .
HS: That was interesting. What was it called a book where you keep notes of all the things, quotes, you found in books. It has a special name. Well, the word escapes me now. Auden had one that I enjoyed enormously.
JS: I think it's called a commonplace book.
HS: Yes, I started doing one on my floor. I had a large canvas, and I divided it into days and months, and each day I put in one quote I was particularly fond of that I found in a book. And that was the diary. I did it for a year and a half, and then twice for two and a half months. The one for a year and a half is an enormous affair. I rolled it up because I can't clean it without erasing everything. So now I don't put it on the floor anymore. It was very good looking.
JS: Tell me more about the "Diaries." Did you show them?
HS: I showed them in Queens. And I showed the big one, I think, in Montclair, because the cover of the Montclair retrospective was a reproduction of it. Very nice cover.
JS: Do you still collect these kinds of quotes?
HS: Much, much less, because I don't see anymore.
JS: Do people read to you?
HS: I have a friend who comes once a week, and she is splendid. Aah, it's so good. And I have a machine to help me read. It's like a television screen, magnified. But I can't read more than 15, 20 minutes at a time. Then I have to rest. And afterwards for half an hour I'm totally blind. So I read at great sacrifice.
JS: Because the more you read, the worse the vision is?
HS: I don't know. The doctors say you cannot wear your eyes out. What wears them out are other things. Not the use.
JS: Maybe we should talk a bit about the works called "Patterns of Thought" [1982–83].
HS: In the ‘80s, I got involved in structure—these are the "Patterns of Thought." For instance, this large one [pointing to the long work on the wall in the room where we are sitting]: Pascal says we are built in a symmetrical way—two eyes, two ears, etc., etc., and that's why we see things in terms of symmetry, and that's why there is only horizontal symmetry; he said there is no vertical symmetry. And the I said, excuse me, Mr. Pascal, this is wrong. There is vertical symmetry—in mirrored imagery. You see? Then I made this painting, which is all reflections, refractions, mirror images. I could go on making miles of a painting like that, repeating the same rhythm.