Montréal (from a taped interview, 28 March 1967)
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My work makes a human comment because it would be meaningless to me otherwise. Form is no less a problem for me than it is for the non-figurative artist: the struggle and challenge are no less. Yet because of the way I choose to work, I feel "out of things" today. On the other hand, since the "things" I am "out of" are not my things, I am both lonely and quite unconcerned about it.
I feel a certain affinity with the comic spirit in Eli Nadelmen. But there is a double thing with me, a tragicomic thing; though other people do not usually see my serious side.
In Runners, the figures are split, one set of halves running in one direction, the other set running just as hard in the opposite direction. Which way are they going? Or rather, which way is the worLd going?
This piece is actually very simple, though it looks quite compLicated. At first it struck me that way, as compiicated, and I did not know how to begin. I just had to go at it piece by piece, and then fit it all together.
I always start with a dual concept: a human idea and a formaL idea combined. My problem then is to translate this concept according to my material. I cannot just transfer it literally: I must adapt it to work in wood. Wood suits me: I like the challenge of its restrictions. The beginning was awkward, but now, after eighteen years, I know my material and have mastered my craft. I often consider myself as a sort of carpenter who makes sculpture, whose pieces fit together like well-made tables and chairs.
For a while, I had been keeping a rough finish (or rather, stopping my work before smoothing it down) in order to retain that immediacy of the surface which is sacrificed by polishing. Unpolished wood has a quality of breathing and scitillating, of catching every flicker, like a drawing. There is a certain kind of sensitivity that you find in a drawing but not in a painting: an intimacy between you and the artist and the work. I wanted to make sculpture with this kind of intimacy. But here in Runners (as in my work for Expo) where the vital issue was strong projection of an image out-of-doors, both for weatherability and for visual clarity I went back to the rain-shedding polished surface.
You do not commit yourself to either painting or sculpture: you commit yourself to art. It was not until about 1949 that I finally concentrated on sculpture. Just once, I tried an abstract sculpture. There was too much freedom, I just did it. It seemed easy. There was a void. It was no good. And yet I cannot say that art without human reference is always empty. The work of Brancusi and Bill is so beautiful, so pure, there is a kind of human connection: the spirit comes through. But I need the crutch of the human form: I cannot get that spirit through without it. Somebody told me that I am shackled to my crutch. That's true, I am.
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