Q: How did you endure the disappointment of not selling a piece of your work for 30 years?
A: I don't think it was 30 years, but it was a long time. And if I did sell, it probably (was just) a little; it wasn't a sale, you see. What kept me going was there was nothing else, it was either suicide or the work.
Q: Did you contemplate suicide many times in your life?
A: Not many, but (for) a long period, let's put it that way.
Q: You did not have the most easy life.
A: I think my life has been difficult, and is difficult, in spite of everything.
Q: Among the elements in your work that you are noted for are wit and surprise. You include found objects in your work, such as discarded chair legs found on a sidewalk, duck decoys, ten-pins, painted toilet seats.
A: Anything. I don't see them as that. I see it as form. It's round and it tapers down here. It has reflection, you see.
Q: In your life you have divested yourself of all material goods. You've given away your furniture, your personal collections and even your own work. Why?
A: Well, I was beginning to see things from a whole different point of view and I didn't want them around. I wasn't attached to it. Second, you have an expense and rentals to take care of things. And maybe I just didn't want to have it. I just felt I just didn't want to see anything. For a long time.
Q: You have even destroyed your own work. Isn't there a sense of loss?
A: Well, not when you're as rich as I am.
Q: Many artists regard their creations as their children.
A: Even so. When children grow up, they go on their own, unless youre a nut and keep them on a chain.
Q: Most of your major works are monumental, you're prolific. Has anyone ever suggested that you "work like a man?"
A: A lot of people have a preconceived idea of what working like a man means, but actually there's nothing that says that some women are not as strong -- even physically -- as men. I have artist friends that are very well-known and they say art is art. But I say for myself, being a woman, that my work is feminine. And if it's big and monumental, well, so what? When you study metaphysics, you don't make those distinctions.
As I said, I don't know what truth is. I don't care what they call it. I think anyone that is going to search for truth is a nut. I don't care who they are, because if it hasn't been found by the biggest minds on earth, I'm not going to find it. It's a mystery and I've made my peace with that with a question mark. It gives me peace. I'll never answer it, but the question mark is very valid for me.
Q: There are many different definitions of art. What is yours?
A: Art is life. It's the most important thing. It's very important to me, because I live it. And living it means that every second that you put another thing together, that's an addition of awareness. Art is living, an awareness of living. Some people get up in the morning, they have breakfast, take a shower, get breakfast, go to work, come back and go out and see a movie. I'm sorry to say that that wouldn't suit me.
Q: Have the years taken a toll on your physical powers?
A: I think so, but then it gave me something. It's a balance. You pay a price for everything. And you're willing to. Because what I do anyway is I see a world every moment. A world and a world and a world and a world. So it's an addition. Within me I have it all. I've learned to dress and I've learned to take care of things with such economy that I can claim so much of my time. I don't go to beauty parlors. I don't do many things. They take time away from the other more important things in my life. My work.
Q: You've said that when you were a child, you were often frightened by the things that you said because they seemed so automatic. Could you give me an example?
A: Well, yes. I was probably about 9 or 10. There was a little girl I remember in my class. Her name was Blanche. We went to the library to get books. There was a Miss Hitchcock, I remember. The first thing older people asked younger children (is), "And what are you going to do when you grow up?" Miss Hitchcock asked Blanche, and I think she said "I'm going to be a bookkeeper," or whatever. Then she turned to me. There was a plaster statue of Joan of Arc on a table. I said, "I want to be an artist, a painter." Then I looked and I saw this (statue) and I said, "No, I want to be a sculptor because I don't want paint to help me." I went home scared to death, because I thought to myself, "That object said it with me." That object was almost talking.
Q: How did you feel when recognition came?
A: I'll tell you bluntly. I wanted to communicate. Some people want physical love. Some want spiritual love. I wanted to communicate. As a matter of fact I wanted to communicate more then than I do now. So, when it came, I was still angry because it was late and I had struggled so, on all levels. And I'll tell you a secret, I'm still angry.
Q: Are you a saver of memories?
A: Not too much. I don't think that my memories are that exciting that I want to remember! I think I live in the present.
Q: It's been reported that even though you've had and still do have enormous drive and a singleness of purpose, you still found time for dressing with a flair or drinking, swearing and having more than a few romances?
A: Well, that's all true. Creative energy is found out in life.
Q: ou were also on America's Best Dressed list. Do you look at fashion as an art?
A: Yes, I do. I have a floor upstairs full of clothes now. I like throwing them like collages.
Q: Do you think you have ever created a masterpiece?
A: I wasn't hunting for a masterpiece. I was hunting for life. Listen, we have the Michelangelos and this and that. Well, I think it's really a tragedy that the human mind was trapped in these concepts. They would have been just as great. I don't think they were hunting to climb a mountain or for a masterpiece. That's why I don't believe in that and I never did a thing that I didn't work in that direction.
You can move yourself, you can be aware, you can sing, you can dance. I studied.
Q:All the arts? Dance, drama, poetry -- ?
A: You bet your sweet life.
Q: What did you get from a study of all of these?
A: I never would have come to the ultimate of freedom, as I did, without them. Like a flower you unfold. As an example, in 1932 I thought of myself as a nice lady in New York. I was one of Diego Rivera's assistants. We all lived in the same place on 810 West 13th Street. It was a building for artists. In the building was a dance teacher and one of her students was John Flanagan, a noted sculptor at that time and his wife. This dance teacher invited me to her place and they wore leotards and lay on the floor and (pretended) to be frogs or birds or something. I was indignant that I would get in a leotard and lay down on the floor and begin to think I'm a frog. That didn't appeal to me. But I went again and before I knew it I was in leotards leaping around and loving it. That freed me of being a stiff matron. And, of course, your mind goes with it, your consciousness.
Q: Why have there not been more great artists who also happen to be women?
A: Because they were diverted. When I said I was going to leave and study art, I left to go to Europe to study with Hans Hofmann in 1931. Now, if you said you were going to a concert to hear Beethoven or Mozart, you were quite a lady. But if you dared to say that you wanted to be a composer, you were no place. I didn't think like that. I really didn't think, "I'm a woman." I just thought I was an artist (and) I was goddamned sure about myself. I wasn't going to croak until I did what I did.
Q: After an exhibit of yours in 1941, one reviewer wrote, "We found the artist was a woman and we checked our enthusiasm."
A: She went up to see the show and she thought it was from some very modern, probably a French or European sculptor and took (offense) that it was a woman. It was so strong. I don't care about that. I have the energy, so why such an issue?
Q: People see that size in your art and they think it's a contradiction in terms?
A: Yes, but what is the use, where I sit, to give a goddamn what others do or say?
Q: Where do you think your drive comes from?
A: My father was that way. Now, I loved my mother. I don't think you like both parents the same way. You like one for certain things and another for certain things. My mother was my heart and soul. She was beautiful, delicate and just a lovely lady. When I hear kids fighting -- . I can tell you right now I never contradicted my mother. She didn't say anything to contradict. My father weighed what I weigh now all his life, 140 pounds. One day he bought a car, a Ford, and of course he didn't learn to drive the car. He was driving it and he drove into a couple of fences. I was going home from high school, and I see him on the street jumping around, and I said, "What are you in a hurry for?" "Well," he said, "I've got to do this and do that." "Well, why don't you take the car?"I said. He said, "But I'm in a hurry."
Q: What was being a Russian immigrant in Maine like?
A: The tough part is you were a greenhorn. You didn't go to church. Everything was against you. You didn't live as you wished.
Q: Did that early isolation, in a sense, drive you?
A: I thinz it did a lot. It didn't drive me into art, but it made me aware of the price you pay. In early life, I understood that labor, as we understood it, was a slavery. I decided when I was a sophomore or so that I was never going to work. I saw what my father had to pay for his things, and I saw friends of mine graduate and be glad to get jobs at a lawyer's office for six dollars a week. I've made sure that my son doesn't have to work. I don't believe in it, it's slavery.
Q: So what you do is not work? It's intensely physical. Some of your walls are 55 feet high.
A: That doesn't matter. It's still not labor. I like the word labor. See the difference?
Q: Do you have a feeling of gratitude toward a number of people?
A: No. Where were they when I needed them? And not only that, when you don't have anything, they won't give you a cup of coffee. Why should I have gratitude? When they did something for me, it was really, more or less, to their advantage as well as mine. Certainly, I think the weight was on their side. I know people that wouldn't say it the way I say it, but I'll still say it.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I've worked for everything that I have and then some. Every day of my life I have done the best I know how. So what can I say?
Q: What's it like to be in a state of intense creativity?