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JK: Something else happened, I think. Till the late 60’s the drawings and paintings of figures in a simplified landscape were integral. One did not have to decipher them. They were in attitudes sometimes hieratic, sometimes theatrical, sometimes privately expressive or idiosyncratic, very often tinged with a melancholia or nostalgia: an elegiac emotion. First the landscapes, then the figures are simplified.
WB: And that became an issue. I recognized about 1970 that there was beginning to be a split in the poetic unity of the paintings.
JK: Split?
WB: A separation. The treatment of the environments became increasingly different from the treatment of the figures. I was drawn to what was happening in the environments. I felt that the whole figure in retaining its anatomical logic conveyed a different condition of existence. I remember starting drawings of portions of the figure. Disconnected fragments. And, I had been looking at sculpture of many periods, archaic and primitive. Fragments or defaced parts interested me. I was beginning to see in the fragment of figure a connotation of dismemberment – and certainly we have in this century been – what? Not inundated, but –
JK: Cut to pieces.
WB: Cut to pieces. Images of Buchenwald, images of Vietnam, auto accidents. The dismembered figure of photo-journalism is pervasive.
JK: Also the idea of a whole human being’s disappearance in this century: dismemberment of the psyche, dismemberment of the body politic, of community, dismemberment of the sense of unity or wholeness. This motif may have pervaded you without your consciousness of it.
WB: Perhaps. But certainly in the first half of the century artists dealt with fragments, the simultaneous views of figures.
JK: But bodies didn’t get taken apart in cubism in that sense, did they? Wholes were presented synthetically.
WB: Well, in the world of Guernica, there’s a drama of fragmentation.
JK: Yet the piece of driftwood in a still life is not a dismembered tree, not in the sense we are talking about.
WB: No. Let me put it this way. As I said, when I made the land-sea abstractions I would often change the axis of the painting, even turn it upside down, since there wasn’t an emphasis on ground plane or force of gravity. But once the figure started to emerge and I tried to relate it to that landscape, the ease with which I could turn the axis of the painting was lost. A vertical figure, particularly if it is obscured by branches, implies one thing, the moment it becomes a horizontal figure there’s an entirely different connotation.
JK: And fragments of figures?
WB: My consideration of figure fragments has in part to do with selection of significant incidents. If I found very few drawings that I made directly from the model satisfying, it simply meant I had not come to realize what was most significant to me. It’s only by reworking or making subsequent drawings that I find a motif in the figure, some priority of interest in attitude or expression, or some event of surface, or some proportional relations, etcetera. So the configuration of fragments is a way to deal with the juxtaposition of incidents.
JK: In 1970 you took a trip to the Aegean, the Greek Isles.
WB: The decision to go was made on the basis of what I saw beginning to emerge in the work.
JK: To see what you thought was already yours in the future?
WB: Yes. That was the one occasion of travel that didn’t interrupt a continuity of work. When I’d gone to Europe in the past, there would be months before I could assimilate my experience. But I had started this work, and the trip confirmed the direction in which I was going. It accelerated it. On my return the ways in which I worked were changing, I needed time to leave work in a more vulnerable state, to leave it unfinished longer. To feel that by not closing in on it, by not trying to grasp it too assertively, I could have a better sense of where it was taking me. In the LAICA exhibition of 1978, there were some surfaces I had worked on for four or five years, although the image may have coalesced during the last six months.
JK: You use the word “image”. Most of the work of the last nine years contains an image or a cluster of images that offer a world of their own.
WB: I realized, even in the 60’s, that if landscapes became more tangible, and figures literally credible, I tended to lose my sense of the reality of the painting. So I knew it wasn’t a real figure in a real landscape that I wanted. It took me quite a while to understand that. It impresses me that when we find a significant truth, it seems so transparent by the time we discover it that we feel foolish at not having seen it all along. In the first paintings after Greece, there was a tendency to have if not anatomical logic, an architectonic logic – one form could be believed to rest on another, or interlock with another, or rest on a base. As this logic would become more consistent, again, the work tended to veer away from where I felt the need to go.
JK: Would you say that you see now a way to free yourself from the constraints of architectonic logic and requirements for weight, horizon, etc. That you can put things where you need to have them?
WB: Yes, in that these are mental images whose existence is limited to their presence in a painting.
JK: Mental images that include the element of feeling.
WB: Right.
JK: But we have to ask ourselves what we are seeing. One knows one can decipher their (vestigial) relation to remembered real forms and landscapes. But I myself read them often as highly condensed narrations, not historical ones, but poetic-which would fit your having called them mental images. I think that may be because the images are symbolic; they tell one something about time, space, the artist, the life of the body, the life of the mind, what have you. Do we respond with our entire being because they are synecdoches and metaphors?
WB: Perhaps.
JK: They do lead immediately to sensuous associations, even erotic ones. It seems to me that between 1975 and 1979 you entered a region in which all things, even inanimate things, lived and moved as parts of the body. But more than that: to present the sensual, passional, erotic as warm and lively even in sculptural forms and in ways that go beyond contemplation of painted images by the artist. Something is being said by them.
WB: I don’t know if I can comment on that. I do know that the aspects of sexual differentiation, symbols of the male, of the female, and the androgynous, their combination and their variations occurring, ambiguously or not, in the work, the distance between them, the contrasts and similarities, juxtapositions, joinings and separations, are all part of what is happening.
JK: You don’t intend to say something.
WB: I don’t intend to. When you say the works have implicit narratives, I wonder about that. They are overtly symbolic and associational.
JK: Symbols don’t tell stories?
WB: No.
JK: But symbols condense stories.
WB: Yes.