Looking back on your work, what do you feel about it? You’ve said many times that you didn’t think of art as a career.
Well, you don’t understand what the real job is when you start, being a young artist. You don’t know how long it’s going to go on, you don’t know what you’re going to do, you don’t really know what it means. And then the variables change radically over the years. But I never painted to have a show; I just painted because that’s what I felt like doing. And one of the things about being a painter is you’re a bit different from being an actor, or working in film, because you’re not waiting for other people to give you a job. So when artists say, “My studio’s not big enough,” or whatever, I just say, “Go outside. Find a spot somewhere.” Because the thing is that you can always paint if you really need to. So that’s been a great luxury and kind of a freedom, to be able to do that. And actually, to be able to survive doing that is a miracle.
You seem to use a lot of purple in your work. Does it have some special significance to you?
Yeah, a lot of purple. Why? I can’t give you an answer to that, but I can say that it’s not a regular color. It seems to transverse and transmute into some other kind of thing, it seems to be sort of a symbol and a color at the same time. So it has a multi-purpose. I have a series of purple paintings that are 11-feet tall, and they look like aerial maps. But they’re photographs I took of the floor of my studio after pouring all that purple ink and white gesso on it. And then I thought they looked like you’re landing God knows where, somewhere up at 20,000 feet. Then I put ink on the floor and walked on the back of them, and the result looked like you’re flying through clouds over mountains.
So when critics try to read significance into your work, parsing it for symbolism and allegory, that’s really beside the point?
My work is about seeing. Ultimately, it’s about a way of looking at the world. I’m just painting what I’m seeing; I’m just trying to connect the dots of my own vision. Every time I stumble across something that’s worth a look, it stops me in my tracks. You know, I was driving down the highway in the Atlas Mountains [in Morocco], and I saw some awnings of these butcher shops. I stopped. I was with my wife and kids at the time, and they had to wait for me to get the guys to take the awnings off because the part that was burnt by the sun was ochre, and the part that was rolled up was red. And they looked like landscapes of New York to me. I put some white on them after—and you can ask me, what does the white mean? But I don’t know. You sort it out. We could start this conversation now and finish in 10 years.