ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH CLINTON ADAMS
AT HIS RESIDENCE IN ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
AUGUST 2, 1995
INTERVIEWER: PAUL J. KARLSTROM
CA: CLINTON ADAMS
PK: PAUL J. KARLSTROM
PK: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, an interview with Clinton Adams at his office, in his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The date is August 2, 1995. This is a first session. The interviewer is Paul Karlstrom. This is tape one, side A. Well, we may as well go right into it here, because we have a lot of ground to cover. We were earlier talking, Clinton, about, well, trying to figure out just how to get into this, because you've actually had, it seems to me, in a way, several different careers. They all seem to be related, but you're a scholar, you've published important books in lithography and printmaking, exhibition catalogs about other artists, then you've been an educator, a teacher, and art administrator. I'm certainly going to leave something out. You are an artist yourself, that's another part of your story, exhibit, an exhibiting artist, and not just with graphic arts, but you're a painter as well. So by way of introduction you're, of course, retired now from the University of New Mexico, but we have all sorts of directions that we could go. In a moment what I'm going to ask you to do is, in a broad-brushed way, kind of reiterate how you see yourself, not in detail, but try to lay in the structure, the framework, and then we can move into a more focused way. The main thing that I hope we're able to really get into and revisit is that period, your experience in Southern California. Of course, there's the Tamarind story, much of which you've told or written about, but there's really more to it than that, and I think it would be marvelous if we could get back to that. You were actually born in Southern California. You're a native Southern Californian.
CA: Yes, I was born in Glendale, in 1918.
PK: As I understand it, you then spent several decades in Southern California before you struck out then to jobs elsewhere on the East Coast.
CA: Yes, my family lived in Glendale. My mother was a Scot, who had come here, part of a large family from Inverness, Scotland, and all of my aunts and uncles and, later on, my mother, all worked in the industry, as it was known in Hollywood at that time, cameramen, technicians. My grandfather was one of the inventors of one of the early color film processes, and was brought to Hollywood. His research and subsequent research by one of my uncles was very important in the development of Technicolor. One of my other uncles was the cameraman on Liz Taylor's "National Velvet," her first film. So there were a lot of connections into the film industry. My father's mother and stepfather were a concert pianist and concert violinist who played in the L.A. Philharmonic back in the Walter Damrosch days.
PK: What were their names?
CA: Clara and Adolph Lowinsky, L-O-W-I-N-S-K-Y. My grandmother had remarried. I spent a lot of time with them and with others in Glendale, and was very fortunate to meet a number of people, in other words, who were interested in the arts, and became interested in the arts myself early on. My grandmother hired a terribly bad painter, as I look back--I can't imagine what his paintings looked like, but they must have been genuinely appalling, because even as an eleven- or twelve-year-old, I think I was appalled by them--who taught me oil painting on little canvas panels, and fortunately, none of those objects has survived. But in the public schools in Glendale at that time, circumstances were very different from what they are now. At Hoover High School, which was one of Glendale's two high schools at that time--I think there are still just the two high schools--there were three art teachers and a photography teacher, and at least one of the art teachers, whose name, unfortunately, have escaped my memory. It's the kind of thing that I regret with the passage of years. But one of the art teachers was not only a very warm and encouraging woman, but she was also very aware of modern art. I remember hearing about and seeing reproductions of Matisse and Picasso in the classes as a student in high school in 1932 to '36 in Glendale. I then went to Glendale College, which at that time was Glendale Junior College, now Glendale Community College. There was a quite remarkable man there that I would love to do some research on, name of O. Howard Caya, C-A-Y-A. He was an abstract painter, post-cubist painter. That's pretty remarkable, too, it seems to me in 1936, on a junior college. I don't know a thing about him, except that he had a kind of enthusiasm for modern art and took us to see exhibitions, and the enthusiasm was something that was communicated. It was almost like a virus that made you really feel you wanted to do this. Well, I had originally been thinking of majoring in mathematics, which I had some skill at, and my parents, of course, thought that was a fine idea. It was somewhat of a blow, I think, to my father, who was a banker, when I decided that I was going to go to UCLA and major in art, which I did in 1938. But I had an excellent background by the time I got to UCLA. At that time the UCLA Art Department, which has a history rooted in art education and the crafts, it grew up, after all, in the old state Normal School, and the present identity of UCLA--which was first the University of California southern branch, and then UCLA--was still very young. When the new campus was occupied in 1929, as I remember it, there were just relatively few buildings, and the College of Education Building, which was up above Kirchhoff, had the Art Department in its upper floors, and there was a very small art gallery, which was sort of tucked under the eaves, and a small faculty, most of whom had, as Clara Humphrey loved to put it--she was one of the art education teachers--we had all studied under Arthur Wesley Dow, which somehow was a faintly obscene reference. But Dow was God, and I think I heard so much about Dow at that time that I was almost prejudiced against him, in spite of the fact that I now have high regard for his work.
PK: Did you hear about Dow even at the junior college?
CA: No, no, this was at UCLA. This was the center of, Dow, literally, the Dow Society. The Arthur Wesley Dow Society was founded at UCLA in 1922, and a journal was published. Again, not much is known about this, and UCLA had at that time a large collection of Dow's paintings, and I don't know where they went, but they were in all of the offices, etc., etc. The Dow background was the good part of it. The rest of it was the legacy of Columbia Teachers College and the idea that somehow art should be in daily living, and "fine arts" was a heretical term. Anybody who used it was dispatched to the attic.
PK: Did you relate this at all to Bauhaus notions?
CA: No, they weren't that--
PK: Not that elevated.
CA: They weren't that elevated. Gregory Ain, for example, was a close friend of mine, and there was a great different between what the UCLA Art Department was doing and what Gregory was doing, and what he thought of what the UCLA Art Department was doing. But there were a lot of crafts teachers, only one of whom was of any distinction, Laura Andresen.
CA: There had been earlier people on the faculty of stature. Barbara Morgan, after all, had taught there for a while before going on to become Barbara Morgan. Annita Delano, who I think is greatly underestimated, of course, had studied at the Barnes Foundation. Helen Clark Chandler, who was a painter, and from her vitae of some distinction, was teaching advanced painting. George Cox, who was chair of the department, and who also was from Columbia, as almost everybody was except Annita, was teaching life drawing. Cox was an Englishman, a very sophisticated, well-educated man.
PK: Again, this was the mid-thirties we're talking about.
CA: This is mid-thirties, when I went to UCLA as a student. But I think I got a good education there between all of them. Probably most influential would be Annita, because of her passion that art should be taught by looking at original objects of art, in the Barnes Foundation tradition. So she trotted us off to Arensberg's repeatedly. Arensberg must have liked Annita, because he was willing to let us come so often, and Arensberg wasn't an easy man to do that. And Edward [G.] Robinson was also very friendly and very available, and sometimes would talk about the paintings that he had, and others, and, of course, the museum and other exhibitions.
PK: Let me ask you, if we can pause just a moment, about that. It came to mind earlier, when you mentioned that Howard Caya back at Glendale College, where they felt it was important to take the students out to see works, and then again at UCLA. So the obvious question, then, is, in this culturally deprived region, the way it's described, where did you go? Arensbergs, you mentioned, Robinson. The museum, was there really much to see at the museum then?
CA: No, there wasn't a lot to see at the museum. There were the old collections that had been there for quite a while, of course, down still in Exposition Park at that time. But despite the fact that Caya was certainly interested in modern art, he didn't feel that was the only kind of art one should look at, and I remember we went to the Huntington Library and other places as well.
PK: Were any of the galleries showing work of any real merit?
CA: There weren't many galleries, of course, in Los Angeles at that time. The Cowie Gallery downtown, and the [Dalzell] Hatfield Gallery in the Ambassador Hotel, and one or two others, and that was about it in the thirties.
PK: Earl Stendahl.
CA: Earl Stendahl. Yes, I remember vividly going to Stendahl's--can't remember what year, but easy enough to trace down by the facts of things--to hear a lecture by Fernand Leger, who spoke in French and Man Ray translated. [Laughter]
PK: That was worth going to. Boy, oh boy. I wonder if the translation was accurate, or if Man Ray said anything--
CA: That's not known. Leger had been teaching, I guess, at Mills College. I heard Lyonel Feininger talk one night similarly there. There was quite a lot going on. Stendahl's, of course, was one of the places where it was going on. I don't remember whether I met Lorser [Feitelson] before the war or not. I think I would have. I took my B.A., actually, a B.E.D., in 1940, because that was the only degree UCLA would offer at that time with a major in art, because it was in College of Education. Then I stayed on to do a master's degree.
PK: Was the master's then in education?
CA: No, it was a Master of Arts at that time. I think I was in the first group to study when they had the Master of Arts. They had just appointed a professor, Helmut Hungerland, who was a German.
PK: How do you spell that?
CA: H-U-N-G-E-R-L-A-N-D. Hungerland was a refugee from Hitler who had come to this country. I'm not sure just how he got hired at UCLA, but he came speaking very, very little English. The first art history seminar that I took with him was probably the most difficult studying I have ever done in my life, because the first thing he said he wanted us to do was to read Heinrich Wölfflin's Principles of Art History, which at that time was not available in English.
PK: It's worse than [Oho Karl] Werkmeister.
CA: [Laughter] But I learned a tremendous amount from Hungerland as his English rapidly improved, and as we had a rather lively seminar, with a group of excellent students. Hungerland was an interesting painter as well. He was sort of a darker, more Sturm und Drang version of Paul Klee--little, small watercolors, absolutely delightful and fine painting.
PK: Did he know or ever hook up with Galka Schyer? I wonder.
CA: I don't know. Hungerland stayed at UCLA only a couple of years, and then took a position at Berkeley, and he became, I think, president of the American Society for Aesthetics, and had a quite distinguished career in Berkeley. I corresponded with him a little bit after I left UCLA, but no longer have those letters.
PK: That's amazing.
CA: But between Hungerland in art history, and Chandler and Delano, and some occasional criticism that I would get from my confrères, I think I used it in two years rather well, in '40, '42. I was then offered an appointment on the UCLA faculty, which I held for all of about a month, and then joined the service after Pearl Harbor.
PK: What were you hired as, a painting instructor?
CA: No, to teach a basic art education course. That's what the job was available. When I came back to UCLA after the war--and I'll need to digress and fill in here a little bit, because during the war there were some things of consequence. When I came back to UCLA after the war, Helen Chandler was just in the process of retiring, and she really led to my continuing appointment, and, in essence, turned over her classes to me, which was, I think, rather remarkable, because I was very young and very inexperienced, replacing the senior professor in the painting area as a junior instructor. I was then on the faculty at UCLA from '46 until '54, and there's a lot to say about that.
PK: Which I hope you will say.
CA: But filling in the wartime years, I was fortunate in that I did not go overseas, was in this country. If I had just not been given one transfer that happened out of chance, I wouldn't be in this country now or anyplace else, because the Engineer Camouflage Battalion that I was assigned to landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus One, and took about 85 percent casualties. But there were several other artists, as you might imagine, in Engineer Camouflage Battalion, because they recruited artists for utterly irrelevant reasons. They had a notion that camouflage had something to do with the visual arts. It was an interesting unit. I wound up in Colorado Springs [Colorado], stationed at Peterson Field, and was able to begin to do a little bit of painting on the side, and was able to go over to the school and meet a couple of the faculty there and see some work at the rather good little museum in Colorado Springs. So I was able to start work. Then in '45 when the war was edging down, I was transferred, very fortunately for me, to Mitchell Field, Long Island, and there wasn't an awful lot to do. In the first place, I was the adjutant of the new group, and Mary was the colonel's secretary. So we had that organization pretty well under control. The colonel was delighted to let us run it, and please don't bother him.
PK: Now, wait a minute. Is this where you met Mary?
CA: No, no. Mary was a student at UCLA. We married before the war at UCLA.
PK: But you ended up at the same--
CA: Well, we were married and going together in it--
PK: Oh, I see. Of course.
CA: We wound up eventually at that point with both of us having the job in the same unit.
PK: That's extraordinary.
CA: And there wasn't much to do, so I was painting, and we would go into the city and see the exhibitions at the Modern [Museum of Modern Art], and had a very nice time there for somewhat more than a half of a year. Very consequential to my development at that time was the Stuart Davis show at the Museum of Modern Art, which had a tremendous impact on me.
PK: I can see that after looking at some of your work.
CA: It greatly, greatly influenced my work in the post-war years. So I came back to UCLA rather better educated in a way than I had been when I left. Well, where do you want to go from there?
PK: I want to ask you a couple of questions, if I may. You mentioned other artists in the Engineer Camouflage group. Any that would be of special interest to us?
CA: Two of significance. Jesse Reichek, who became my closest friend, and certainly you know Jesse and you know Jesse's work. Jesse was in the unit from early on. Jesse's a very, very willful character, shall we say. Jesse was not willing to put up with regulations quietly, and one of my jobs as assistant adjutant was to keep Jesse from being court-martialed at one point. But we've had a close, close friendship over now, what, fifty years. When we get together, we argue about art and the discussion picks up just where it left off the time before. And Marshall Fredricks, who was a member of the National Academy, rather conservative traditional sculpture, was one of the company commanders. There were several fine theater people. George Izenour, the theater designer, a very prominent theater designer who did a lot of the design of Lincoln Center, etc., etc., was in the unit, and there were a number of others. Karl Bruder, who was a professor of theater in Kansas. A great number of people who eventually wound up one place or another in the arts. The only one I've kept up closely with is Jesse Reichek and Henry Klopot, K-L-O-P-O-T, who lives in Hollywood, and was one of the chief lighting designers for the studios over a period of years.
PK: I'm trying to remember where Millard Sheets was during those years. It seems to me I vaguely remember from my interviewing him that he also, like many other artists, was involved in the same kind of work.
CA: Millard did a lot of wartime illustration. He would be sent traveling around to do paintings to bring back, etc. Millard was very good at that. I had a close association with Millard later on, but not at the point of the story that we've been talking about.
PK: Let me ask you this. I'm very interested in your description of what it was like growing up in Southern California, becoming interested in art. Obviously around you in one form or another there was enough to stimulate that interest, and also in the direction of fine art, it certainly is easy to grow up in Southern California and be interested in popular art and culture, and then eventually in animation and commercial. But I gather from what you say, at a very fairly early stage you made some kind of a distinction here.
CA: Yes, I did. I took several courses in commercial art, but I always had a rather low esteem for the field, perhaps a bias beyond what is reasonable. I never had any thought that I wanted to go into commercial art. I don't know that any one exhibition before the war sticks out clearly in my memory as a stimulating factor. I would think it was more rather the values that were communicated to me first by Caya, and then very much so by Annita Delano, that would be most important, and by Hungerland.
PK: So, in fact, contrary to some popular opinion, it was entirely possible to get a solid arts education in Southern California during those years.
CA: I think so. I think so. I think it was obviously a little bit more difficult than later on when there was a much richer component of original art visible. For example, I remember after the war, I don't remember the exact date, several very, very fine exhibitions that were put on at the County, particularly after Dr. [William R.] Valentiner took over as director. Valentiner and Jim [James B.] Byrnes, who was then senior curator of painting, and they put on some remarkable shows. I remember, among others, a huge and wonderful Edvard Munch show. I remember vividly a wonder Max Beckmann show. I remember a show that Jimmy did early on. I don't know just exactly the date, but I would think possibly the late forties, maybe as late as '50, of the Abstract Expressionist group from New York, [Robert] Motherwell, [Willem] de Kooning, etc., for which he got all kinds of criticism, of course, from the [Society for] Sanity in Art crew.
PK: Which we must talk about at some point.
CA: All right.
PK: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you.
CA: No, but I mean those are examples of the fact that after the war, beginning in '46 and accelerating into the early fifties, the amount of good art that was visible and could be seen rapidly increased beyond what it had been before the war. These were, of course, exhibitions held principally at the County Museum, then still in Exposition Park.
PK: Of course, there were some very sophisticated people that came through and were working in some of these places at different times.
CA: And the Los Angeles Art Association became sort of a meeting ground. That's where I first met Lorser. I had a one-person show in Hollywood in 1942 before I left for the service, and Lorser remembers, and I remember sort of vaguely, that he came to the show and that we had some conversation. He knows he saw the show, but he thinks we had some conversation. I remember some of the others who came, and probably the most baroque memory would be of John Barrymore coming in. I don't know whether John Barrymore saw the paintings or not.
PK: But isn't it great to be able to say he was there. Boy. Part of the mythology, or sort of received wisdom, on the cultural environment of Southern California, again, and artists themselves say this, that there were very few opportunities to see actual works of art, to see modern art, there was very little. Sometimes it's almost as if there was nothing there to see, and that it was only in reproductions and in magazines and so forth that anybody could see these works. I gather from what you say that that was not entirely the case.
CA: Well, that's true, there wasn't a lot. If you compare what was available in Los Angeles then to what was available, leave New York out of it, to what was available in Chicago or St. Louis or Boston, Los Angeles was pretty weak at the time, and that was a handicap. But in spite of that, I think it was possible for things to happen, as indeed they did. A lot of good painting was produced.
PK: I think it's important to try to get a more balanced view. That's why I'm asking these questions, because there seems to be already now really a kind of mythology about this, in a way, culturally deprived area that was redeemed then by certain artists who appeared in the fifties. You know what I'm talking about.
CA: This kind of quotation is all over the place. I just this morning was looking at something which quoted Carl Zigrosser as saying that he could couldn't ever expect anything to come out of a paradise like Southern California.
PK: Continuing the interview with Clinton Adams, session one, tape 1, side B. We turned over the tape at the point where, again, you were reviewing the situation during the earlier years, let's say not pre-war, but during the war and post-war in Southern California, and what were the opportunities and, I suppose, also disadvantages in developing as an artist. You then went to New York. Obviously, this must have had--well, being able to go to the Museum of Modern Art must have had a terrific impact on you.
CA: Not only the Modern, but every other museum in town.
PK: All those places. Do you remember what your reaction was? Here you were an educated person already in the arts, admittedly limited opportunities to see great art. What was your response, and how did it make you feel about your own background, where you had been and what you had seen?
CA: I don't think it caused me to feel that I had previously been deprived, but it was certainly a feeling of great discovery, that here are these things, and they are so splendid, and to see the Cézannes in the Modern. I had, of course, been familiar with many of the paintings through color reproductions which had been used in teaching, etc., but there's no comparison between a reproduction and a painting, and it was just as if all of a sudden you had been looking at the world through slightly dirty glasses and somebody cleaned them for you. It's a sense of great discovery. I, of course, with the war winding down, and the fact that I knew that I'd be able to go back to California fairly early on, I was all revved up to do some work, and, indeed, did do a series of paintings in our little apartment on Long Island before we left to go back to California.
PK: So you really saw yourself primarily as an artist, as a painter?
CA: Oh, yes, entirely so.
PK: And this other art education was--
CA: No. No, no. No, I had a rather negative attitude toward art education. Still do. I think American schools would probably be better off if there were no Departments of Art Education. No, I saw myself as a painter. That's what I was doing. I was interested in past art, but not in a scholarly sense as an art historian, but I was interested in the history of art, as a painter ought to be interested in the history of art.
PK: You returned then when you were discharged. You returned from Long Island, is that right?
PK: To UCLA.
CA: Yes, I was technically on leave of absence from the university, of course, because I had been appointed to the faculty before the war.
PK: So you were returning to a job. But you also saw yourself primarily as a painter, and certainly in New York at that time, I don't know if you had any opportunity to meet other artists in New York--
CA: Not at that time, no. But my friend Reichek, who took the different route of going on the G.I. Bill to Paris, which was for him a wonderful experience, first of all for the opportunity to marry his wonderful wife, Laura, who's French, Parisian. Jesse went to Paris, wound up having a very fine exhibition at Christian Zervos Gallery, no less, and we visited Jesse in Paris. Jess thought I made a mistake to go back to California, and possibly I did, but one has these alternatives, and you choose the one that seems right at the time, and it would have been a very different path if I had chosen the other one, and I don't know where it would have wound up.
PK: Can you expand a little bit on that choice? I hinted at it by saying you were returning to a job more than to an environment where you could pursue your art and develop a career as an artist. Is that right? Besides the fact that you were from there.
CA: I was also a Californian, and somehow Californians in the East after a certain period of time feel out of water. So I think possibly it was the lure of getting back "home" and to the fact that the position at UCLA was certainly an attractive one as positions go.
PK: That's right, you were the senior painting instructor.
CA: Yes, I had that opportunity, you see. Didn't have the money with it. It was $1,800 a year at the time. [Laughter]
PK: Wow, how generous.
CA: I don't know. I had these thoughts otherwise, leaving UCLA early on and taking a little time off on the G.I. Bill, but I didn't.
PK: But you weren't tempted to? I mean, because you were eligible for it.
PK: Maybe to go to Europe. You had your friend Jesse over there. They have even greater art even than New York.
CA: Right. I can't really analyze that at this distance. I will say I considered the alternatives and made a choice, and did go back to UCLA, which in many ways was a very up-and-down experience. There were a lot of good things about it, and a lot that were very, very unpleasant.
PK: Well, let's pursue that, if we may. What do you mean? What specifically?
CA: The UCLA Art Department at that time was not a comfortable place for people who were interested in developing the fine arts, and particularly with a commitment to modern art, because the senior professors in the department--there was no middle. There were a bunch of young people and the older faculty. Because the faculty expanded very rapidly with the G.I. boom after the war, and a number of us were hired, and we were all in our late twenties or early thirties, and then there were senior faculty, most of whom were out of the Columbia Teachers background in fields of design and crafts, and who were very antagonistic to what we were doing, and we were very antagonistic to what they were doing. It was a difficult time. I think I learned more from some of my colleagues. I advanced in my work. I made a good gallery association early on. I was the first person to have a show at Felix Landau Gallery.
PK: You were?
CA: And also, I might add, by coincidence, the last. [Laughter] And Felix became a good friend. No, there were many good things. I've formed a good friendship with Lorser, and later on when I began working at [Lynton R.] Kistler with a number of the other artists that I met at Kistler's, Stanton Macdonald-Wright was very helpful to me. He gave me some wonderful criticisms on my painting, talked with me in very constructive and helpful ways.
PK: Could you be a little specific on that? Do you remember some of the things he might have said?
CA: Yes, I remember somehow very soon it must have been after I came back to the faculty on some occasion, and I don't know why, I had two or three of the New York paintings that I had finished on Long Island up in my office in the old education building. I don't know whether Stussy invited Wright to come in, or whether Wright just wandered in on his own, I don't remember it. But he said, "Let me see these." So I put them up around the room, and Wright looked at them long and seriously, and he says, "May I say something about them?" And he went into a quite good critical discussion of pointing out things that he praised, which I liked very much, of course, because one of the paintings he particularly said something to the effect, and he wrote that down somewhere, which I have in my files and won't let go of, that he thought it was one of the finest modernists paintings he'd seen in California. Then he pointed out some things that he thought I was doing that weren't as effective and could be strengthened. He obviously liked the fact that I was using, unconsciously, without having studied it, a kind of variant of his synchronist color theory. I learned a great deal from his discussion of that, and later from reading his essays and others. So I had a high regard for Wright. He didn't get into the UCLA battles at all; he stayed away from them.
PK: Was he on faculty at that time?
CA: Yes, he was a full professor of art history.
PK: Let's talk a moment, since we have started on this subject of Stanton Macdonald-Wright, certainly one of America's best known early modernists, with an interesting career in many ways, but it is probably the most famous, one of the most famous names--
CA: Wright thought I should have quit and gone off to Paris. He said, "An artists should go to Paris and he should fight battles for modern art." If I'd lived by that, I would have gone and try to relive the cafe life of [Ernest] Hemingway, etc.
PK: There are a number of questions that come to my mind about Macdonald-Wright. You were actually colleagues on the faculty at UCLA. What was his career there? You said that he didn't get involved with some of these departmental things, which maybe you'll go into a little more. How would you describe his career there, and what finally happened? I'm not clear on that, why he left, and so forth and so on.
CA: Well, I don't know all of that either, because, of course, I left. Let's say was invited to leave before he left. I don't think he had much use for--certainly didn't have any use at all for the design faculty and the crafts faculty, and paid no attention to them, and had very little to do with them. My impression is that he didn't always even show up at faculty meetings. He stayed pretty much to his own area teaching the art history classes, and had a modest social relationship with the fine arts faculty, which he, I think, felt in sympathy with and wanted to encourage, but I think the only one that he became really close to was Jan Stussy, to some degree Gordon Nunes.
PK: Was Jan a student at that point?
CA: Jan was my student when I first went back there. So was Gordon. So was Sam Amato.
PK: Really. Those are mainstays of the--
CA: They were all my students in the early years.
PK: What do you think of UCLA? This is actually extraordinary and unusual, hiring so many of its own, which isn't done now.
CA: No. You see, first, they hired all the Columbia Teachers College people, and then because they were so worried that somebody might bring an outside idea and infect the department like a computer virus, that they wanted to be sure that that would not happen. Unfortunately, they didn't recognize that I was probably just as subversive as anybody they could have gotten from a foreign shop. [Laughter]
PK: But Stussy, Nunes, Amato, I mean, from my days of UCLA, these were among the main people, and they were all your students. They were all products of--
CA: Well, we were all about the same age, of course, because a lot of people came back from military service. There was another very fine painter who was never on the UCLA faculty, but was a student at the same time, Charles Hess, who later was head of the Art Department at San Francisco State. He was a very fine abstract painter, who was doing completely geometric, non-figurative paintings even then. He had studied with Moholy Nagy at Chicago Institute of Design before he came to UCLA. And Charlie was quite important in the group, even though he was not on the faculty.
PK: So what you're describing, then, is really a particular group or community within a broad area of Los Angeles [unclear].
CA: Yes. The other two that should be mentioned in this context are William Bowne, who was slightly older than I, Bill Bowne, B-O-W-N-E, was a painter, a good painter, and also the principle designer for the Lester Horton Dance Company. Bill left UCLA for about the same reasons I did, wound up in San Diego. And then Dorothy Brown, who had been a student in the department and who eventually joined the faculty.
PK: But Annita, maybe by this time, the one that was so influential on you, perhaps was retired already?
CA: No, no, Annita continued to teach through the forties, and was still teaching when I left in '54, and, I think, still quite effectively. Students after the war probably were more difficult for Annita. She had sort of a fussy way of presenting things, and sort of a rambling, disorganized surface layer, and I think that many of the students failed to get the substance of what she was saying, because they were put off by the surface qualities, which is too bad, because Annita was probably the best resource that they had available to them at that time.
PK: What was so good about her?
CA: Her love of art, what she thought could be gained from study of original works of art, and her enthusiasm for that. Some very interesting and highly personal developments in her own work which was out of impressionism and post-impressionism. She was a hard person for a lot of people to get close to, and she and I ultimately had a lot of disagreements, which was too bad, but I have tremendous respect for her. I think she needs to be restored to a position in Southern California history a bit higher than she now occupies.
PK: You'll be happy to know there's going to be a photo of her painting in the book that I've edited.
PK: So at any rate, this process is perhaps under way. I'm trying to get a feeling, as a UCLA graduate, myself, of art history but at a later time, although some of these same people were there, trying to get a feeling for the dynamic. You described a situation there during these years which suggests a kind of tension, like two camps.
CA: There were two camps, and then they were aggravated by political developments. First of all, UCLA was in a period of transition. It was changing from a normal school to a university. In parts of the university, that change had been marked. For example, I sat in on Bertrand Russell's philosophy class. The movement in the College of Letters and Science had already been to a university, and most of my friendships that I formed at the university were in the College of Letters and Science, particularly in the Philosophy Department, where Abraham Kaplan was then on the faculty and became one of my close friends. We played chess a couple of times a week.
PK: Very famous man.
CA: Yes. And there were a number of really fine people. I was the first person in the Art Department invited to join a kind of faculty group, which consisted of one or two people from each of the various departments to get together and listen to a paper and talk about things, and so on and so forth. I think that the art faculty really resented that. I mean, the old-guard art faculty really resented that. We were also in a period in which the Letters and Science people didn't think much of the College of Education, and there was a reorganization which wound up in the organization of something called a College of Applied Arts. A man by the name of David Jackey, J-A-C-K-E-Y--which you can imagine was probably turned into a word that's sort of a cognate for that--was appointed dean. This was about at the time that [Senator Joseph] McCarthy was riding high, and the Tenney Commission in California was riding high, and the Society for Sanity in Art was looking for a Communist in the back of every bush. Life magazine and Time were pouring out propaganda to the effect that modern art was somehow Communistic. It was a very difficult time. Then along came the University of California Loyalty Oath. I was one of those who refused to sign the oath.
PK: When was that actually implemented?
CA: I warned you that you shouldn't push me for exact dates. It's very early fifties, but I could easily [unclear].
PK: It's easily enough looked up. Towards the end of your tenure at UCLA.
CA: Yes, and I became very outspoken on the subject. Of course, Jackey, as is recorded in that book, The Year of the Oath, that was published subsequently about this whole thing, was one of the most reactionary forces on the faculty, and the College of Fine Arts was still further split along rather the same lines, but now with the split was not entirely on the matter of art, but also on the matter of politics, and between a group of people who were right-wing Republicans and some of us who did have friends who were indeed Communists, and we didn't think there was anything particular to worry about in that respect. My mother and a number of others in my family were also in trouble at the studios, because they didn't go along with the blacklisting, etc., etc. I actually am one of the few people who's had to bail both his mother and his father out of Lincoln Heights jail on different occasions.
PK: What were they, Marxists?
CA: No, no. Ronald Reagan was head of the union, for Christ's sake. But that still was regarded as dangerous.
PK: So it was by association.
CA: She was arrested for picketing. But the political climate at UCLA was terribly bad. I eventually did give in and sign the oath, because it was a matter of losing your job or signing the damn thing, but I'm awfully pleased that a lot of my good friends did not, particularly that Dave [David] Saxon did not, and, with wonderfully irony, was later to be appointed president of the university.
PK: Did you know a woman, a teacher up at Berkeley, Margaret O'Hagen?
PK: Because she actually didn't sign and left.
CA: That's right. Lots of good people did leave. I was simply denied tenure, but they had a number of reasons by that time for a decision of that sort. Gib [Gibson] Danes, too, was by that time chair and very embarrassed by the whole thing, which he couldn't do anything about, because it was fait accompli to complete by the time Gib arrived. He and Fred [Frederick] Wight were largely responsible for my being offered the chairmanship of the Art Department at the University of Kentucky at that point. Millard had already attempted to bail me out earlier on, which I appreciated in that Millard had offered me a position at Otis, which I took for very briefly.
PK: Let me be clear on this. Let the researchers be clear on the sequence of events. This was in the early fifties.
CA: Early fifties. I prefer to be vague about dates rather than give you a wrong one, because it's easy enough to track them down.
PK: Anyway, you were at UCLA apparently to 19--
CA: I left in the summer of '54.
PK: Then you went off to be head of Department of Art, and you were director of the art gallery at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. But there was a year or so previously where you were not held in high esteem, or you were out of favor--
CA: Oh, I think for at least three or four years.
PK: Three or four years.
CA: It just took them that long to sharpen the axe. [Laughter]
PK: What was the problem, other than you wouldn't sign the oath?
CA: The two problems were that I was outspoken in the sense that the UCLA Art Department needed to change some of its policies, and I felt that the fine arts were being handicapped by the insistence of the design faculty, that any student that wanted to major in art had to take all the design courses, because obviously if they changed that rule, the students wouldn't have taken the courses. Therefore, they would not all have had their jobs. The two strongest voices were two highly skilled political professors, skilled in politics beyond their skill in art, I'm afraid, Louise P. Sooy and Archine Fetty.
PK: Archine, I think I remember her.
CA: Laura Andresen would have a different perspective of this. I always admired Laura for her work, but Laura was on the other side of the fence on that.
PK: So the major issue, if I understand it correctly, really was the role of the crafts in the program and the education.
CA: And the rejection of the notion of art for art's sake, the notion of fine arts, which then became immensely complicated by the political climate in the period of McCarthyism and the Loyalty Oath, because we also split along the same lines.
PK: So really then it polarized along broader political lines.
PK: This is a very interesting time, of course, because it's not the first time that politics infected art. It's hardly the first time at all, but it certainly is a notable one. Several different topics. You mentioned that Millard Sheets tried to help you out.
CA: A lot of people rallied around when word got out that I was leaving UCLA, and Orcer, and Wright, and Abraham Kaplan, and a number of the other art faculty, including Carl Sheppard, who was then professor of art history, made a real effort to overturn that decision, which at that time was then done, you know, by secret committees. There was no way of knowing who was on the committee that actually made those decisions.
PK: So it was the denying of tenure that was the signal.
PK: There was no other action.
PK: But that was pretty clear there's no future.
CA: No, no, it was up or out at UCLA at those days. If you were denied tenure, you automatically were given a one-year appointment, and then out the door. So, during that interim, which was about a year and a half to two years, I think Wright and possibly Lorser, I don't know who else. I knew Millard slightly. At any rate, Millard called me up and asked if I was interested in doing some teaching at Otis. I did teach there part time during my last year at UCLA, and probably would have taken a continuing position at Otis if the Kentucky job had not come up.
PK: What were you teaching at Otis?
CA: Painting. Beginning design painting.
PK: Now, was Pete Voulkos there at the time?
CA: Yes, Pete was there.
PK: Tell me about that, because there are so many stories, and they don't always jibe. This is one of the famous stories in California art history is about Millard Sheets and Pete Voulkos. Here you had some opportunity at least to--
CA: Not a lot. Not a lot. See, I was still teaching full time at UCLA, and I was down there at Otis two half days a week, and I would occasionally have lunch with Millard or something like that. I heard all the rumors that you've heard, but I never was able to get through to any of them. I never knew Voulkos well. You know, obviously I knew him and respected his work. I have a beautiful example of one of his early pots, but I didn't know him well. I can't, therefore, verify any of the various stories.
PK: This is part of the mythology. The reason I'm bringing it up is that there's this very, shall we say, simplified, reductive view of this narrative of modern art in California. The reason I bring this up is that Millard Sheets is a somewhat elusive figure in all of this, and, frankly, is vilified by the modernists, who view it as practically evil by some of the most staunch supporters of the avant garde.
CA: Well, Millard has a curious position. If you look just at Millard's early paintings and some of his early lithographs, he was really a very fine artist. He later on became--it's hard to describe just what happened to Millard's work. It became sort of slick, a little bit chi chi. It suffered from the fact that, I think, he had a ready audience for things that weren't quite as good as he had earlier done. Matter of fact, he probably had a better audience for things if they weren't quite as good as he had earlier done. He was a remarkably skilled businessman, and he got into the whole mosaic bit, and all the rest of the sort of design and decoration area, and I think that that influenced people's perception of Millard. My personal dealings with him were always fine. I respected Millard. I thought he was straightforward and well organized, but I didn't have a high regard for his later work.
PK: Continuing an interview with Clinton Adams on August 2, 1995. This is a first session, tape 2, side A. We were talking about politics. Something new. Nobody talks about politics now, do they. But any rate, politics and art, what developed as a very real polarization, I gather, within the Art Department. You were just saying you were reading a little bit of an account that you'd sent to Al [Albert] Boime at UCLA, a letter, where I guess you were asked to describe your experience there at UCLA at that time. You read one part where you said that you were called a Communist, not on the basis of any particular evidence, but it sounds to me as if the usual thing, it was a convenient way to demonize that which you wanted to get rid of.
CA: Yes. Yes, it was used that way. How do you think the Hollywood black list got blacklisted?
PK: I guess that they were strong enough, the right--
CA: Strong enough and devious enough. I later learned that when they had written outside of the university, as they were required to do to get "community opinion" about my work as teacher and department, that they carefully wrote to nobody who was in fact a painter, but only to people who were designers and crafts people, etc., and art educators, who might be expected to give the viewpoint that they did give. I think it was that kind of technique that was commonly used, and because the entire process was secret at that time, and an unknown and secret committee made the decision, it was skillfully done.
PK: You make it sound as if this political bifurcation, if you will, confrontation, was between applied arts and crafts and fine arts, but fine arts with a modernist cast.
CA: I don't think it was the modernism so much that bothered them; I think it was really the rejection of the notion of fine arts. Columbia Teachers College was great on the idea of art in daily life, that the art that would be significant for people would be well-designed tableware and a handsome lamp, and other things that people lived with, fine textiles, and so on and so forth, and that that was much more important than the painting on the wall. There was a kind of trivial good taste about everything in the design thing. As a matter of fact, one of the big things in design classes as they were then taught by the young woman who taught them, was to try to tell the students how they could choose between something that was good design and something that was bad design. Of course, what good design was, was always the conventional design. It was a misapplication entirely of--
PK: That's how they taught aesthetics.
CA: Yes. It was a misapplication entirely of Arthur Wesley Dow's book on composition which was used as a kind of Bible. Dow would have hated what they did in his name.
PK: Was this unique in the country, or was there any other school doing that?
CA: No, but I think UCLA was particularly infected with it because of the fact that the faculty had been so inbred.
PK: What about any kind of relationships--well, first I was going to ask between the UCLA department and Berkeley.
CA: There was such a relationship.
PK: How would you characterize that?
CA: It was at that arm's length. I was appointed one year, probably around 1949 or '50, to be the UCLA chair of an intercampus art exhibition, etc., and I went up to Berkeley, as I fairly often had, and I got to know Earl Loran, and Jack Haley, and Glenn Wessels, and the rest of them. Glen came down as a visiting instructor to UCLA one summer, so I knew Glen a little bit better than the others. Annita had very much tried to get Hans Hoffmann appointed at UCLA before he was given the appointment at Berkeley. I remember meeting Hoffmann in the hall when Annita introduced me to him. I had no idea who Hans Hoffmann was, probably, at the time, but I remember distinctly having met him. She reinforced that to me later that she had tried to get that appointment through. Of course, the design faculty would have nothing to do with that. But Hoffmann, as you know, was appointed at Berkeley and taught there before he went East.
PK: Of course, Worth Ryder, I think, gets the credit for that, as if Worth Ryder discovered [unclear].
CA: Yes, Glen was serving as Hoffmann's translator at that time. So I got to know the Berkeley faculty fairly well, and did work on that joint exhibition, which was a startlingly contrasted exhibition, the much more conservative work from UCLA and the Abstract Expressionism from Berkeley. I know I was greatly criticized again by the design faculty for several of what they thought were just disorganized splashes that were in the exhibition.
PK: Boy. So the Berkeley faculty couldn't then really have thought that much of the colleagues down south.
CA: No, probably not. I think they sympathized with us.
PK: Of course, then the California School of Fine Arts people thought the Berkeley people were reactionary. So it depends on--
CA: Well, I think there's no question about the fact that in the fifties Los Angeles was much the more conservative of the two cities. When I would go up north, I would see a spirit in the work there that was really quite different from what I saw in Southern California. Jim [James] Byrnes had great difficulty on account of his Abstract Expressionist show at the County Museum, whereas it would have been greeted with open arms at San Francisco.
PK: What about other institutions? We were talking earlier about this. What was the situation? What were the opportunities for studying art in Southern California over these years, maybe starting as early as your experience, of course, would be the thirties.
CA: Most of my memories of any clarity would be after the war, because I don't think I paid much more attention to the other schools. My choice of UCLA over any other college in Southern California was based on the fact that the total cost for a student at UCLA when I was there as a student was $29 a semester. I didn't have any money, so I certainly wasn't going to go to USC [University of Southern California].
PK: Right. Exactly. What about, though, Chouinard? What about some of the other, the Jepson school? What about some of these other schools?
CA: Chouinard, I don't think had any great distinction before the war. If it did, I wasn't aware of it. Jepson School, of course, really comes along late after the war. I think most of those schools got their first vigor after the war, immediately after the war, when all of the schools, of course, not just in Southern California, but all over the country, were blessed by a sudden influx of students coming back on the G.I. Bill, who were more mature than the average student had been, of course, before the war, who were serious in their endeavors, and a number of them went into the arts. I think it made an entirely different climate in American art schools and universities than had existed before the war.
PK: Of course, Millard Sheets had set up, I guess, already at Scripps [College].
CA: Yes. I think the schools that existed in the late forties that were of some consequence would have been, in no necessary order, UCLA, USC, Chouinard, Jepson, and Scripps. They each had their own flavor. UCLA's was probably less of a single mold. Francis De Erdely and Edgar Ewing and the others who were on the USC faculty worked in the kind of congenial direction. Their work related more or less to one another, a kind of style which has been attacked sometimes calling it "college art cubism." But it's an interesting style that I think somebody should sometime try to analyze that appeared in the United States at that time. Certainly Edgar and Dick [Richard] Haines and a number of others, Sueo Serisawa, were all very skilled painters within a certain kind of work which has lost a lot of popularity now, but which needs to be re-examined. Some of them were really quite good painters. Phil Dike and a couple of the others of the California Watercolor Society moved in that direction as well, a number of them were quite good painters. Mike Frary was over at USTU for a while, and Mike was quite a good painter. Jules Heller came in there right after the war and began the printmaking program at SC. Of course, Millard had the old gang of the California Watercolor Society at Scripps. Phil Dike and, I guess, Barse Miller was out there at some time or another, and probably Phil Paradise. I don't remember just exactly. Emil Kosa was teaching. Don't remember just exactly when or where Emil was one place or another, but he was perhaps the most solid of the painters in that group.
PK: Were you aware at the time of these artists now called, conveniently for dealers, I guess, the California School, or referred to as the California School circling around, well, Millard Sheets mainly being the most illustrious member, but were you aware of them as a phenomenon, as a special group, or was that sort of a construct?
CA: No, I think that's somewhat of an art historical construct later on, although I think it's a perfect fair one. I think the strongest painter at Claremont, however, by far, was not really a member of that group, but Henry Lee McFee, who was an extremely influential teacher and a very, very fine solid painter, a very fine solid teacher. McFee, who, after all, had a substantial background as a modernist artist.
PK: How in the heck did he get there, anyway? It seems odd. I've always thought it was odd. It seemed like they're a fish, again, a fish out of water.
CA: I don't know the circumstance on that. He left Woodstock, of course, under rather a cloud, having run off with another friend's wife.
PK: I see. Sex rears its ugly head.
CA: Actually ran off with the niece of his first wife.
PK: What a guy. So he was persona non grata in certain quarters. I think he was a friend of Millard's. I'm trying to [unclear]. My memory's [unclear].
CA: I would have to look that up to get that exact history on that Woodstock thing. I'm reluctant to put that--but I dug into that when I was doing the Bolton Brown book, because there's a connection there between the ladies and Brown.
PK: Well, it wouldn't be the first time. How did you view those artists at that time? I realize this is hard to do, because you look back from this perspective, with the benefit of all of the subsequent developments and so forth, but there was this group that very early on thought of itself, or certainly Sheets, according to his account to me, did not think in terms of a disjunction between modernists and then the traditionalists, the realists, abstractionists, although finally this is the way it began to break. I get the impression that at one point the artists themselves didn't make the same kinds of distinctions that we do now or that were make later.
CA: Oh, yes, very much so. I thoroughly agree with Millard in that. I think the whole idea of trying to separate artists as modern, conservative, is a really foolish and stupid notion. There was a time when the exhibitions were organized that way, which you had to submit your work either to a modern or a conservative jury. I always hated that. It went on quite commonly in the forties and fifties.
PK: So it would be an abstraction versus realism, basically?
CA: Well, who knows what it means, because a painter like McFee, who, after all, had painted abstract paintings earlier on, or Andrew Dasberg, somebody of this sort, is that a modernist or not? It's a silly distinction, and I never have had those views. To me, a good painting is a good painting.
PK: What about you?
CA: I think the best realist paintings of the twentieth century have clearly been painted by painters who have a firm background and understanding of modernism. For example, Edward Hopper, who's very much in the news at the moment. Hopper's paintings are clearly post-modernist realist painting. Not post-modernist in the sense of the terms used now, but they are realist paintings done after modernism. That would also be the case of McFee and Dasberg, and a number of other good realist painters. The realist painter who--you know the [Society for] Sanity in Art crew, who reject modernism, not only reject modernism at their peril, but they also are handicapping their own work, and they paint pedestrian, dull paintings as a consequence, paintings of really no import whatsoever, because you can't reject the ideas that are central to modernism. But no, Millard didn't make that kind of distinction, although many other people did. I think that there is an identifiable sort of California school. It's not the California school, but you could call it the sort of California Watercolor Society school if you wanted to, of that rather lush, direct, colorful interpretation, rather fluid and rather spontaneous of the California landscape, which at its best produced some very fine work, usually best in watercolor rather than in oil. I think probably Emil Kosa managed to give the oil paintings much real substance.
PK: Yes, I think he's a rather wonderful artist.
CA: Yes, Kosa was a good painter. He was an academic painter, and Emil didn't know a lot about modernism. He wasn't antagonistic to it, but he didn't know a lot about modernism. But he was a good, academic painter.
PK: So you would use terms like that to describe some of these artists rather than, let's say, reactionary.
CA: Well, there were reactionaries, God knows, but not these people. Now, I don't know in every case what all of their personal views were. I knew some of them. I served on juries with some of them. I juried California Watercolor Society, so you learn about an artist by being on a jury. In other words, can a representational painter vote for a good abstract painting? Can an abstract painter vote for a good representational painting? That's what I call an intelligent approach to art.
PK: And you think people like Millard, who's been now by history cast very much in the certainly conservative side, that he was capable of these kinds of judgments?
CA: I know he was capable of respecting a good abstract painting. But I don't know a lot about other aspects of Millard's work. I don't know, for example, all about the politics that went on in the Scripps College, and so on and so forth, and I have no knowledge of that. My association with Millard was as an artist and as a colleague during the short time that I was teaching at Otis.
PK: Do you think these artists would be responsive to your work? You'd have to be more specific, of course, in time, but when you were doing, for instance, works not derived from Stuart Davis, but recalling his--
CA: Yes. My work was fairly abstract, and sometimes became nonfigurative in the period between 1945 and the very early fifties, about five years. I then moved back toward a more representational vein, which continued for about three or four years, which I think was profoundly influenced by a trip to Europe in 1951, my first trip to Europe in which we were there for three months, and I acquired a new feeling for the works of the Italian Renaissance, and it tilted me in that direction. That was also brought about by the fact that one of my jobs at UCLA was to teach the course in egg tempera painting, and egg tempera leads you in that direction in a way. So at the time I began to work in lithography, which was 1948, with [Lynton R.] Kistler, and '48 also teaching a course in egg tempera painting, I found that the technical processes were leading me in the direction that was a little bit more representational. I don't regret that particularly. I think that those few years in which I went back to realism allowed me then later to discover an abstract vein which was more my own, and not so directly an heir to Davis and Picasso.
PK: Sheets--and I keep using him, poor Millard, as a point of contact on this. It seems to me again from what you've said, that although he had a certain resistance, I think, and maybe later on it became more so to non-objective art--
CA: I think Millard became a little bit more rigid in later years than earlier. Of course, I don't think I ever saw Millard after 1954. I don't think I ever met him again in any context. Last clear memory I had, Vincent Price and Millard and I went to lunch at some restaurant across the street from Otis one day, and I remember that, but that would have been in '54 before I left to go East. Vincent was a good friend.
PK: Of yours?
PK: Did you know that I interviewed him shortly before he died?
PK: Yes. It was, as you can imagine, a wonderful experience.
CA: We haven't talked about a lot of the reasons that I got involved there, the activities of the old Beverly Hills Museum of Modern Art, and people who supported that.
PK: I would love to talk it.
CA: And some of the groups that were organized on the early Ford Foundation projects that Jules Langsner and I worked with, and Vince was involved in some of that. And, of course, Vince was involved, he and Lew Ayres and a number of others, in giving support to the artists who were attacked by the right-wingers.
PK: I'm trying to get a feeling for these different groups, and although I realize it's invidious to put them in boxes, to try to get some sense of it. My sense is that the political does not fall automatically along stylistic lines.
CA: No, I don't think so.
PK: And so, Millard, or somebody like Millard just using him as an example, politics don't follow from his interest in realism.
CA: Not necessarily. Macdonald-Wright was an abstract painter, and certainly a political conservative. You could find somebody else who was a realist painter and perhaps a good left-winger.
PK: Back to Macdonald-Wright, I understood that he was still supportive of you and your problems in the department.
CA: Yes. Yes.
PK: So even there it becomes more specific things that--
CA: Wright was concerned that he felt something was being done that was wrong in terms of the art department.
PK: Let's talk, as we were earlier before we started taping, about Stan Macdonald-Wright. Everybody, of course, has ideas about Macdonald-Wright, and there's certainly created interest in him as, I guess, preeminent modernist in the early days in California. As I was mentioning to you, he has been, certainly in recent years with the appearance of journals and correspondence, vilified as--I want to choose my terms carefully--but certainly extremely conservative, right wing, and intolerant in certain ways. This, unfortunately, it seems to me, becomes then in our times the whole story. So his politics and his views, his anti-Semitism, which is known, and views about blacks, his racial prejudice, comes to the fore, and then defines him. I was interested, just for the record, in setting that aside, your own actual experience of the man, and a sense of fairness.
CA: I'm well aware, of course, of Wright's views, but one has to put him in the context of a whole generation, many of whom were friends of his, and with respect to whom many of those same things could be said. Henry Mencken journals have raised a similar stir, and so have Edmund Wilson's. Mencken, after all, was--Wright made one of his early trips to Paris in company with Mencken and [George Jean] Nathan and his brother--Wright's brother. No, Wright was very outspoken in such matters, and certainly one could say he was not politically correct. But I don't think that that was a result of a basic flaw of character, and I don't think it was a real nastiness in a way that I ever saw. He would make those remarks, and they would be pretty blunt, and sometimes, I'm sure, offensive to many, but they were not done out of hatred. He, in fundamental matters, as I saw him, was a very fair man. If a black artist had painted a good painting, I think Wright would be quite willing to say, "That's a good painting. The nigger can paint." [Laughter]
PK: Fair enough. You also said that he would fulminate, I guess, on issues like how the Jews were ruining the art world. You said something to that effect.
CA: Yes, he made a lot of anti-Semitic remarks. Some of them were just plain traditional anti-Semitism along all the stereotypical lines. He also, in a very serious way, though, had a critique of a number of artists who happened to be both Jewish and painters. For example, he loathed the work of [Chaim] Soutine, and I think perhaps unreasonably he blamed Soutine's painting, which he thought was miserable painting, on Soutine's Jewishness. You've heard the old W.C. Field's story, I'm sure, of Fields, another beautiful anti-Semite, in which the set was not going well. The lighting wasn't right, and he was finally pointing up to the man in the loft that was doing the lighting, and he was swearing at that "Goddamned Jew up there who's handling the lights," and somebody said, "It's not a Jew, Mr. Fields, that's O'Grady who's handling the lights." He says, "The worst kind of Jew!" [Laughter] So this was certainly not to be desired, but I don't think that it necessarily is a fundamental flaw. I would not want to see it go down as Wright's role in history. Wright was a good painter, a very, very complex man, who had had a very curious career of outstanding early success, remarkable early success, and then a period during the time in which the United States became more conservative, in which his work no longer received that same acclaim. He became very bitter, he sort of turned his back on painting, turned his back on his early work, painted some really, in my judgment, rather miserable paintings during his Orientalist period in mid years, and really didn't return to doing fine work again until after he got loose of the UCLA Art Department, and retired and went back to painting full time.
PK: Would you draw that connection, that his experience at UCLA perhaps--
CA: I'm not the best judge of that. Probably Lorser Feitelson would have been. But my judgment would be, yes, I think everybody who stayed at UCLA did less well than they would have done if they'd left. I think the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me is that I was more or less forced to leave UCLA.
PK: Because what would have happened if you had remained?
CA: I really don't know, but I think it was fortunate for me that I didn't. You know, you can never tell what would happen if you take a different road.
PK: Sure. But do you think it would have made you more careerist, shall we say, and playing to the security of making decisions based on, again, how it would affect your position within the university, the job, and--
CA: I just can't even speculate as to that, but I think if I had stayed under the conditions that existed, I would have become somehow embittered, and I think that that would inevitably have had some kind of negative effect upon my work.
PK: Do you think that happened to other faculty, to people you know?
CA: To a degree. To a degree. If you see the fact that Nunes and Stussy, both of whom were very talented painters, both kind of withdrew from the exhibition scene, both withdrew from the Los Angeles art world, although they both continued to paint, and paint rather well.
PK: Yes, that's true. Let's switch the tape over.
PK: Tape two, side B. That's exactly right. That's where we are now. We've been talking about a number of things at the same time, all related, especially using UCLA as a kind of armature, I guess, for this discussion, and then looking at some very interesting people with whom you had contact, had a chance to observe, Millard Sheets, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, and the whole political environment of the time. I'd like to talk about one very dramatic or institutional aspect of that, the Society of Sanity in Art. But before we move to that, I'd like to ask you when and how the situation changed at UCLA, because you've described a situation where there was one powerful group that seemed to really fight to maintain their position and their control, and they were antagonistic towards the fine arts, but nonetheless, that situation did change over time. How did that come about?
CA: Well, they were on the inevitable losing side in the university. I mean, the outcome was inevitable from the beginning. It just simply took a long, long time to happen. I think the first clear break was with the appointment of Gib Danes as chair in 1953-54, and Fred Wight as gallery director.
PK: How do you spell Danes?
CA: D-A-N-E-S. Gib was a Ph.D. Yale.
PK: He's an art historian, yes.
CA: Art historian, but very interested in contemporary art, with a lot of connections among artists, etc. That was the first break, but Gib still was faced with the structure of a College of Applied Arts. I don't think the thing was ultimately resolved until just a few years back when, I understand, under the leadership of Andrea Rich the college was finally taken apart and put back together again. I'm not sure that they've solved their problems, but I think that wiped out the last vestige of the old program. Indeed, the whole design program was simply collapsed and moved into the College of Architecture, where it will sensibly disappear.
PK: This is in my memory, in about 1964-65, two things happened. One is that Richard Diebenkorn was hired. That was, I guess, '65, and at about the same time, David Hockney made his first visit--maybe a little bit later--as a teacher at UCLA.
CA: Much upsetting the old guard, again.
PK: Well, right, but it seems clear to me that that's a kind of statement.
CA: Oh, yes. Yes, yes.
PK: Who hired them, anyway?
CA: I don't know all of the details on that. I was pretty remote from the situation by that time. I followed it at some distance. You should ask those questions of somebody who has a closer connection. You mentioned the old Institute of Modern Art in Beverly Hills, and of course, Vince Prince was very much involved with that. The best person to talk about that, I should think, would be Bill [William] Brice, because Fanny Brice, as you know, was very active in it. Karl With, who was professor of art history at UCLA at that time, and a very able man, of course, had that distinguished career in Germany before coming to this country. Karl was director, and they put on some very fine exhibitions, but did not receive enough community support at that time to make a go of it. I don't know where the money came from. I suspect a lot of it came from Fanny Brice and from just a few others.
PK: I think the Arensbergs [unclear].
CA: The Arensbergs may have put up some. The Arensberg connection with UCLA is still another thing to talk about, and that's been much misrepresented at times, too.
PK: Why don't you just tell me your experience with--you said you were friendly with Vincent Price. What is your recollection? What were your contacts and experiences with the Institute, exhibitions that were put on?
CA: I went down and did panel discussions and things of that sort, and give talks and things of that sort. It was mostly that kind of a connection.
PK: Was there a feeling that it was something vital, or at least had the potential?
CA: We all hoped it would. Some of the exhibitions were splendid, but it never quite took off. I think it was just a little bit too early in Los Angeles.
PK: I'm not too sure about this, but I'm trying to remember if Marsha Weissmann was around yet. No, I don't think so.
CA: No, I don't think so. The major collectors of contemporary art didn't come along until the sixties. Earlier on, aside from Edward [G.] Robinson and Arensberg, there were no other great collections of modern art in Southern California then. Betty Asher was just beginning to be active as a collector. Betty, again, was one of our close friends. Betty was beginning to collect things as early as the late forties and fifties, but she started out in a moderately conservative way with some of the Southern California painters, not the kind of thing that was in her collection later on.
PK: When I interviewed Vincent Price on this very subject, and it was a wonderful interview, well, for one thing, it was so great to hear his voice when I played back the tapes, but I, of course, was very interested in trying to get a notion of what he and others thought modernism was at that time, and there was this Institute of Modern Art, it was called. So I asked Vincent, I said, "What did that mean to you and to others in L.A. at the time?" I didn't get a satisfactory answer. Could you try to answer that?
CA: I think it was a moderately conservative definition of the term. It was more or less the kind of conservative definition of the term that would have been in the minds of the people who founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Institute did an Impressionist and Post-Impressionist show, and they did a Cubist show, and so on and so forth. It was in many cases the first time that some of the very fine paintings by a number of Modernist artists had been seen in number in Los Angeles. I don't think they did anything very avant garde in the sense of what would be avant garde in the 1950s. I think they were doing things that would have been avant garde in the 1920s and thirties. So it was a rather conservative view of modern art, but it was modernism in the sense that it was part of the modern movement, and I think it was very unfortunate--you know, Vince had a moderately conservative taste, too. Vince had a wonderful eye, but his great collection of things, I remember so clearly those wonderful Amedeo drawings and things of that sort. I don't think Vince was ever enamored of far-out tendencies. He wasn't antagonistic to them, but I don't think he was ever enamored of them. I just recently did an essay on the Drum lithography program at the Drum workshop in New York, which introduced a number of the avant garde artists in New York to making lithographs printed by offset right around 1960, and Vince was very much involved in trying to market and distribute those works through his program at Sears [Roebuck]. A number of the prints that he selected, he selected them himself out of the many prints that were there, and many of them were really quite Abstract Expressionist things, [Robert] Goodnough and people of that sort. So he had a pretty broad taste, but not adventurist.
PK: He would cite artists like Bill Brice in response to my question, "Who were the Modernist artists?"
CA: Of course, he knew Billy well as a personal friend.
PK: But this leads me to another issue, or a question, one that puzzles me, but I find it very interesting, and that is the shifting notion of "an avant garde" or being even significant or Modernist, and the Rico Lebrun and Howard Warshaw, especially Rico and what he represented in L.A. My understanding was that he actually came to represent to a somewhat slightly younger generation the academic, the old guard, and it became very simple, and anything like his work or associated with him was [unclear].
CA: You're now talking about the late fifties, early sixties.
PK: I am.
CA: I remember at one time at UCLA before I left, I had both Ed Moses and Craig Kauffman as students in the same class, which was, I might add, shall we say, uncommon punishment for a teacher. [Laughter] But I remember the contempt that a lot of the students at that time, not specifically Ed or Craig, but a lot of the students at that time had for Lebrun and Warshaw and that whole group. That was old-fashioned Modernism. And of course, it's about at the time that the common wisdom would say that art in Los Angeles was invented at the Ferus Gallery.
PK: [unclear] that mess. That's another one of them. Well, what strikes me about that, and what I'm interested in hearing from you--I, first of all, am inclined to believe, I'm one of the believers that there definitely was an art history before Ferus. I start from that premise. And I also think Rico Lebrun can be a very powerful artist.
CA: Yes. No question.
PK: I'm happy we had his papers in the archives. What is distressing about this is that a particular line, I guess, of a younger generation, and then a critical establishment that promoted itself on the backs of these artists, this is my view, anyway, in the late fifties, the early sixties, it was powerful enough, it was noticed enough, to then cast this as the region's art history, and that these young Turks came along and redeemed Southern California from the dark powers of Rico Lebrun.
CA: Several things contributed to that: some very skilled merchandising by some very able dealers; some immense self-promotional skills on the part of some of the artists, and I don't mean that in a negative way. There's nothing wrong with an artist promoting his work well. Many good artists over time have done that. Also, a notion in New York that this is the kind of art that ought to come out of Los Angeles. It looks like Hollywood, it ought to come out of Los Angeles. I think that it was quite a surprise to New York when they eventually woke up to the fact that John McLaughlin and others were doing a different kind of painting. But seeing the rather glitzy things that [Edward] Ruscha--and that's not a negative thing about Ed, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and the others at the Ferus Gallery group were doing was exactly what New York had in mind as what ought to come out of L.A.
PK: Yes, it was most satisfactory in that sense.
CA: Yes. It's Hollywood.
PK: It's also a way to keep it at a distance.
CA: It's a way to put it down, of course.
PK: Put it down and control.
CA: Yes. No question about that. No question about that.
PK: But slightly earlier, you certainly must have had some contact with or certainly been aware of Rico. Did you know Rico?
CA: Yes. I didn't know Rico well then. I got to know Rico fairly well later on, of course, when he was working at Tamarind. Of course, I met him through Jim Byrnes, because Jim had put on the big Lebrun retrospective, and I met him on a couple of occasions then. Then later on, he and Stussy became very good friends, and I met him a couple of times for dinner out at Stussy's house, and we had some fairly long conversations. I never knew Howard Warshaw well. Bill Brice and I, of course, have had a lot of conversations over the years. And I didn't know personally the other members of the group. Most of them showed with Frank Perls, and Frank and I were good friends, and I would drop into the gallery very frequently, and sometimes one or another of the artists would drop in at the same time and there would be some conversation. But that was about the nature of the contacts at that time.
PK: How did you see yourself in relationship to them?
CA: Well, I respected what they did, but I was not interested in it personally. I think color has always been a primary force in my painting, and essentially Rico and his group turned their back on color. At that time I therefore couldn't get too close to it. Let's say I respected the work without liking it very well.
PK: Who was a painter you liked at this time?
CA: As California painters, let's say? You're not asking who I liked all over the world.
PK: No, not all masters or anything like that.
CA: Well, I think I probably thought then and still think that Lorser was doing the finest work in Southern California at the time. John McLaughlin and I were both showing with Felix, and John and I got to know each other fairly well, and I have tremendous respect for John. Nate [Nathan] Oliveira was a good friend, and I have a lot of respect for Nate's work. John Paul Jones was another. I was very fortunate when John Paul Jones joined the UCLA faculty, unfortunately just before I left. Those are some of the people that I thought highly of.
PK: Nate was teaching there at sometime, wasn't he?
CA: No, Nate was teaching at North, but he was showing with Felix and he was [unclear].
PK: He did teach at UCLA briefly.
CA: Not when I was there. And there would be others, but those come to mind particularly.
PK: Is there anything else that you can think of in connection, again, with the effort to establish the Institute?
CA: No, I don't have much information there. I was aware of who was involved, but my involvement was peripheral.
PK: So, finally, it didn't really obviously have the impact that [unclear].
CA: For some reason it did not gain the support that it needed to go on. They may have made a mistake to start it in the heart of Beverly Hills where I think they ran into very, very high costs, as Beverly Hills was becoming Beverly Hills. Rodeo Drive is no longer a place for art galleries.
PK: There are a few nearby, but some of them have left. Can you think of any other efforts by those of you who were sympathetic to advanced art, or to at least established Modernism, to try to stimulate [unclear]?
CA: Well, one of them was the program that was cooked up largely by Jules Langsner, with Ford Foundation backing, to start an equivalent of a kind of Great Books Program in which there would be discussion groups at various places in Southern California, and in which the discussion leader would show a group of slides and then lead an open discussion, not a lecture, but on the model of the Great Books Program, in which the group of, by and large, middle- and upper-class professional-background people would talk about contemporary art, and in that way we hoped, and I think did in many ways, succeed in overcoming some of the antagonism and the political attacks on modern art. I think the program was quite successful. I think the Ford Foundation considered it a success. Principal people involved in that were John Leeper, who was then at the Pasadena Art Museum, and June Wayne, and Jules Langsner, and myself.
PK: Interesting. So you were very much a part of that group, and it was sort of a strategy, I guess.
CA: The strategy that if you're going to improve the audience for modern art, you have to educate the audience for modern art.
PK: Did you feel that, at least to some degree, you enjoyed success?
CA: I think we did. I think some of the people that were in that group became very firm supporters of arts in Southern California.
PK: Would the same people come like on a monthly basis?
CA: Yes, the same people. They'd sign up for a group of I forget how many evenings, eight or ten. The group I led was usually at the Santa Monica Public Library, because I was chairman also of the board for the Santa Monica Art Gallery over a period of several years.
PK: Now we're getting to some of the other things you were involved with. You've been holding back.
CA: I was also writing a column of art criticism for a small New York magazine, so I would go around and review the shows at the art galleries. This was in the late forties, early fifties. I remember I reviewed Diebenkorn's first show there at Paul Kantor's Gallery, and things of that--David Park, and so on and so forth. I don't know that I even have a complete set of those reviews.
PK: What was the publication?
CA: I'm trying to remember that. I'll have to look that up and plug that into you later.
PK: That's interesting. Obviously there weren't that many galleries around, but--
CA: Well, by the late forties and early fifties, there were enough. There were enough to cover. There were four or five on LaCienega, and Kantor had a gallery on Beverly, I think, and there was Frank Perl's gallery, and a couple more. There were six or seven gallery showing quite substantial modern work. On LaCienega there was Dave Stuart, and then Felix, and Esther [Robles], and several group galleries.
PK: Already at that time.
CA: Yes. Felix moved into the LaCienega Building, I think, as early as '49 or '50. I could check those exact dates, but I warned you I'm not accurate on dates.
PK: No, that's okay. But at that time there were at least a half dozen or more, I guess, galleries that you would say were showing serious, significant--
CA: Oh, serious modern work, yes. Not all from California.
PK: No, that's all right.
CA: And Virginia Dwan opened in the Village in the early fifties.
PK: Wow, that early?
CA: That may be wrong.
PK: I think it was more the sixties, early sixties. But surely you must have--well, it's not a matter of what you must have done. Let me ask you. What galleries could you count on to have regularly the most interesting shows, that could be counted on to do so?
CA: Well, I think the three principal ones very early there would be Perls and Kantor and then Landau. A little bit later, David Stuart began to show more modernist work, but I think that almost around 1960, because first David was dealing almost exclusively with pre-Colombian material.
PK: Did you know Esthella Katzenellenbogen? She had a gallery, the name of which eludes me [International Art (Gallery, Hollywood, CA)]. We actually have some of her records. It was on Sunset, I think. Do you recall that at all? I have a feeling she showed some German Expressionism.
CA: No, I don't know. Earlier on, Barbara Byrnes had run a gallery on Hollywood Boulevard, the American Contemporary Gallery, and Barbara showed a lot of German material.
PK: We'll get the name of the publication, because that's interesting. That adds another dimension to your career. So you were a practicing art critic and show reviewer as well. Do you want to deal with one more subject, or do you want to break?
CA: I really would like to take a break if we could at this point.
PK: No problem. We'll pick up later.
PK: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, continuing an interview with Clinton Adams at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is session two, conducted on August 3, 1995. The interviewer is Paul Karlstrom. This is tape one, side A. Clinton, we did almost two hours yesterday, which isn't bad for an afternoon, and focused pretty much, concentrated on your experience in Southern California talking about the art world in and around Los Angeles. We got into the early sixties, but I think it was pretty much, well, even the thirties but then the war year, post-war, and into the fifties. You were in an interesting position, and you're a good observer to pay attention to what was going on, and you then can provide your own perspective on that period. What I would like to do starting out today is revisit a topic that came up, but maybe there's more to say about it, and this is there's an important political dimension to the art community, not just in L.A., but in the country, that is that [Society for] Sanity in Art business, and I know if affected you directly, and presumably was a real factor, became a factor, in the art world during the time. I wondered if there is more you could tell about that.
CA: It certainly wasn't local to Los Angeles, but I think Los Angeles had to contend with it in a very confrontational way because of the people that were involved in the group, shall we say right-wing group which was antagonistic to any aspect of what it considered modernistic Communistic art, which is somewhat of a conflict in terms. If you look at the groups that existed, there was the art community, the serious art community, which consisted, of course, of a lot of fluid subgroups. There was the group that, to a degree, revolved around the Los Angeles Art Association. Helen Wurderman was its director, but Lorser was by far the guiding force. It was a very broad group, it was very catholic in terms of encompassing different artistic directions from quite conservative to abstract. Lorser was extremely diverse in his taste. He was, of course, a superb draftsman as well as an abstract painter. There was a subgroup that revolved around the Hatfield Gallery, the people who showed there, [Edgar] Ewing and Richard Haines, and some of the others. There was a subgroup of the people that were more associated with the California Watercolor Society, some of whom were also involved with the Hatfield group or with the Los Angeles Art Association. And there was no hostility in these groups. To some degree there was a geographic separation. Pomona was then a separate town, and it was a long drive out there, there wasn't a freeway. So there was a little bit of a subgroup there. There was some degree of involvement from the faculty at USC and UCLA in these groups, although not as much as perhaps would have been healthy, but it was one large and fairly flexible art community, and practically all of the artists whose names you included in Turning the Tide, etc., and others who are influential in Los Angeles art who are not included there, and who should have been, were involved in this group in one way or another. Obviously, one had good friends and saw more of the good friends than of others, but this wasn't a matter of any internal hostility between subgroup and subgroup. I think there was mutual respect among most of the artists, for other artists, even though they may have a different direction. When one or another of the members of this large art community came under attack from the [Society for] Sanity in Art crew, everybody rallied around pretty much. For example, Barse Miller, who's a conservative painter and a member of the so-called California school of watercolorists, was under attack at one time for a painting which the [Society for] Sanity in Art people thought they discerned a Communist hammer and sickle, which was actually the symbol of the Island Clipper class of sailboat. At another time, Bernard Rosenthal, who was a more abstract artist and who would not have been a part of that same group, was under attack for this by the [Society for] Sanitary in Art group, because he had designed a sculpture for one of the civic buildings in which they saw that the sculpture, the women family group was faceless, and therefore they were faceless Communists undermining American individualism, and so on and so forth. In both cases, Feitelson, and June Wayne, John Leeper, Jules Langsner, Lew Ayres, and others, rallied around in support of the artist who was under attack.
PK: What form did these attacks take? In other words, how was [Society for] Sanity in Art organized to take action?
CA: They would do lobbying. They had several members of the Los Angeles City Council at that time that were very firmly in their camp. They had several of the County Board of Supervisors who would threaten the museum with loss of funds if they didn't tow the line.
PK: So it was a lobbying group.
CA: They picketed the Los Angeles [County] Museum whenever it showed anything that they didn't like. They conducted broad attacks in the press. I cover some of that in that article, "Art Among the Letter Writers," which I gave you yesterday. There were extensive attacks in the [Los Angeles] Times, and particularly in the [Los Angeles] Herald Examiner, because the Hearst papers had a sort of a national campaign against modern art.
PK: I actually know more about this up in the Bay Area than in Southern California, because of certain work I've been doing. There are a good number of actually prominent artists who belonged to the group, and presumably this meant that they paid some dues, they joined up. Is this so?
CA: There were a lot of artists who were members of Sanity in Art, but none of them were artists whose names would now appear in even the broadest net of people who were significant to the development of art in Los Angeles.
PK: Do you think that to a certain degree, then, it was professional maneuvering on the part of these other artists that felt threatened by the--
CA: Yes, they were the same kind of people who felt threatened by the armory show years back. I can't quote the quotation exactly, but as I remember it, one of the leading artists, after all the complaint about the armory show from the academicians, said, "Don't worry about them. One should be sorry for them, because they know they're dying." And essentially it was the last gasp of the old group in Los Angeles which were artists who followed a kind of tradition of nineteenth century Barbizon painting, and etchers who followed the Whistler-Haydn tradition and weren't about to have anybody come along and rock the boat. For example, they had had their shows for years at the Los Angeles [County] Museum, and Byrnes canceled out their shows at the Los Angeles [County] Museum.
PK: James Byrnes was director at that time.
CA: No, he wasn't director.
PK: He was chief curator.
CA: He was chief curator. The director at that time was an art historian. I'm not sure just which and what years, but [James] Henry Breasted, Jr. was director, who was an Egyptologist, and he left the modern art scene very much to Byrnes.
PK: You referred to the book Turning the Tide that I co-authored, and there was an exhibition a few years ago, and I think most of us agree that it's useful because it's one of the first to deal with that subject, which is basically progressive Modernist art in Southern California.
CA: It was a crucially important book at the time because nobody had done anything anywhere near as good, and the exhibition which I saw in Palm Springs at one point was a fine exhibition.
PK: Well, I want to ask you this. This is a good opportunity to get your thoughts. You mentioned that there were a number of artists whom you feel should have been included. This is one way to actually include them, because this is ongoing. This is an opportunity it seems to me, at least for the record, at least to begin to flesh out this listing, because that is almost, what should we say, canonical, if you can use the term in connection with early Southern California Modernism, a canonical list. All of these figures would be, I think, expected to appear in this kind of exhibition, and yet it is only a beginning. So who are some of the people? You were there. Who do you think should have been--starting maybe with the most important ones that you feel, besides yourself. I think I'm going to say that. This is, I think, a bit of a lapse, but we won't dwell on that.
CA: Probably the first two that I'd mention would be Ynez Johnston and Leonard Edmondson. They were both fine painters. In preparation for this interview, I looked back through the catalogs of the "Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity," which was the annual exhibition at the museum. I have those catalogs, and I looked at them for 1948, '49, '50, and '51. I looked at the catalogs of the California Watercolor Society exhibitions from the same years, which I also have. I looked both by name as to people that I thought had over the years made a contribution, and also those who at least moved towards Modernism from a more conservative vein, such as Phil Dike, who perhaps are excluded when one thinks of Modernism, because one would associate Phil's work, most of it, with the California watercolor school, which, however, was a modernist movement of sorts. It certainly wasn't a reactionary movement. Therefore, are these sort of people who were on the edge between what you'd call the Modernism that Turning the Tide dealt with and the Modernism of the California watercolor school. There were several people along that line that I think worthy of more investigation, even if it has a separate group. Such people as Phil Dike and Sueo Serisawa and perhaps one could put Robert Chuey and others in a similar group. Richard Haines, possibly. But coming back to people who clearly should have been in the Turning the Tide show, although he's thought of as right now primarily in connection with art in New Mexico, but during those late forties and early fifties, Emil Bisttram was extremely important in Southern California and was a totally abstract painter at that time, and was a very influential teacher in Southern California at that time, and certainly had more influence on the way art developed in Southern California in Modernist art than some of the people who were in the exhibition. I think the only reason that he was left out, probably, and possibly the same reason in my case, was because we were then no longer in Southern California at the time that that was done. Keith Finch was painting some very fine abstract paintings at that period of time, receiving one award after another for very good work. John Altoon was already active in some very fine work at that time. People tend to think of Altoon as post-Ferus Gallery, etc., but that's not true, actually.
PK: When did he start exhibiting?
CA: Well, he was in those '48, '49, '50 exhibitions.
PK: Well, that's within the period.
CA: Yes. For example, you did include June Wayne, whose influence in California came along much later.
PK: Well, of course, I won't say that this is politically correct. You know the different ways these inclusions are made.
CA: Emerson Woolffer actually was showing there, but Emerson was not yet a resident.
PK: He only came closer to '60.
CA: No, he came '55 or so.
PK: That early?
CA: Yes, but past the end of your date. And I think then one could mention peripherally of interest--did I mention Michael Frary?
CA: Yes, Mike was doing some very fine painting at that time. Again, I think the reason that Mike isn't considered in the California scene, although he was very active at that time, is because he moved to Texas at some point in the 1960s, and therefore sort of dropped out of sight in California. But he was very prominent in the exhibitions of the late forties and 1950s, with thoroughly Modernist paintings, and quite fine paintings. And Joyce Treiman was showing some very fine work that early on.
PK: I can't remember when Joyce arrived.
CA: She exhibited in '49 and '50, and etc.
PK: She did? But she moved out later than that.
CA: Well, I don't know. I only examined these catalogs. Of course, I was familiar with Joyce and her work because I was showing at the Landau Gallery, and she was certainly on the scene and active in the Landau Gallery group before I left California in 1954.
PK: Well, what an omission, since Joyce was a great friend of mine.
CA: And Jerry [Jirayt] Zorthian, who's an artist who's been, I think, somewhat overlooked.
PK: The Zorth! My friend the Zorth. I know him. We're taking his papers, by the way.
CA: He was doing some fine work at that time. And Gordon Nunes and Jan Stussy from UCLA were doing excellent work. Boris Deutsch, who is hardly a Modernist, but he was an artist of some national reputation who deserves some attention, not necessarily in the context of Turning the Tide, but some attention. I think there was also a group of sculptors who deserve some attention at some point, foremost among them probably Bernard Rosenthal and Gabriel Kohn and Pegot Waring, marginally Harold Gebhardt, who I think was not as interesting an artist, but won a number of sculpture awards in the exhibitions back at that time. Those were just a few that struck my eye as I went through it, and it's undoubtedly a very incomplete list of people that merit further attention.
PK: Well, hopefully, this, of course, will come about, and also we won't necessarily continue to think in these categories, which we discussed before as not finally being that useful after a while. And yet thinking in terms of categories, Boris Deutsch, by the way, we have his papers in the archives, so at least he's included that way. Nunes and Stussy, though, again raise that issue of where do these people fall. Here's a book about pioneering Modernists, senior Modernists in L.A. Rightly or wrongly, Nunes and Stussy and that group, students of yours, actually, at UCLA, have ended up in something off to the side. It's like they were left in the dust by this galloping herd of Ferus people, and it's not something that we can determine right now, but if you're thinking about it, advanced art or progressive art, what do you do with Nunes and Stussy? Maybe it's wrong to look back into the fifties, even the late forties, from this sixties' perspective, and take this revisionist view that Modernism has to tie in with--
CA: There is an unfortunate art historical premise that Modernism should move in a straight line from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism to Cubism, etc., etc., and it tends to forget that at the time that Cubism was already a past issue really, [Claude] Monet was still painting water gardens, and it tends to forget that sometimes highly significant art has gone on which is not part of that linear tradition. For example, I think it's generally acknowledged now that Edward Hopper was one of the most important American painters of that period of time. He was working contemporaneously with Jackson Pollock and Bill de Kooning and the rest of the group. Is he less important because he didn't get on the Abstract Expressionist bandwagon? Wouldn't it have been a disaster if he had, you see. So, this kind of linear thinking on the part of art historians is a fundamental flaw in the study of twentieth century art. The notion, in other words, that the Ferus Gallery group made obsolete all of the artists who didn't join that vein is, in my judgment, a very stupid conclusion. But it's easier to write art history if you have such a clear pattern. You simply ignore the parts that don't fit, and that's largely what's happened in Southern California. One of the things that I find ironic is that every little cranny of the history of painting in New Mexico has been explored. The record is full and nearly complete, and yet the record in Southern California by great contrast has almost been untouched.
PK: How do you account for that?
CA: To some degree it's been a problem with the art historians, not a problem with the artists. The history of New Mexico art has engaged the attention of a number of very competent art historians from one place or another. The faculties at USC and UCLA, with the recent exception of Susan Erlich and a couple of others, and yourself, have simply tended to ignore what's happened in their own back yard, because they felt, I think, that maybe there were more Brownie points by exploring something "of national interest."
PK: Or international. I think you're right. Just as a quick anecdote on that subject, it wasn't my responsibility to do this, but Santa Barbara Museum [of Art], that put on Turning the Tide, attempted, without success, to get a venue in Los Angeles. Remember the title was Early Los Angeles Modernists. None of the museums--all, I think, were contacted--were interested in taking the show, including the Wight Gallery, which would be a natural. It may be that it was too late in the planning. Richard Koshalek, at MOCA, when I told him about this show, he acted very surprised. He says, "Paul, I didn't know about this show." I said, "Well, your curator was approached." But it seems to be endemic, couldn't fit it in, so it then gets picked up by Laguna, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and then some other.
CA: I think it's a national situation now that the curators do exhibitions which will give them Brownie points. They want to do something that will be thought "significant," and that means significant by the New York establishment. In California, the museums have suffered from that just as elsewhere, with the notable exception of Oakland and Santa Barbara, which have done [unclear].
PK: And, of course, now Laguna is starting to do this. But it is an interesting thing.
CA: Well, Laguna earlier on didn't, because Laguna was sort of imprisoned by the right-wing conservative artists.
PK: Yes, that's true. Of course, they're not carving out a space for themselves in that way, but it raises the whole issue of regionalism. I'd like to know what you think about this. You actually have built a distinguished career working in "regional" situations. Now, your writing isn't, of course, limited in that way.
CA: No, but I have to some degree explored regions that were not explored. I've done a book on New Mexico. I've done quite a lot about Woodstock. My general book, of course, American Lithographers, it takes in the full country. But I've been interested in that whole topic, and I'm working on some material that deals with it very directly. Traditionally in history, aside from the Renaissance and Baroque period in which the various Italian cities were in a sense independent--there was no Italy at that point--art has tended to have a national center--Paris, London, etc. That was perhaps inevitable that it would occur also in the United States, and that New York would be a single art center. But I think with the nature of the country now, it's no longer a reasonable thing to say that there is a center and that everything else is provincial, that one would speak only of regional art. It would be just as reasonable to say the regional art of New York. For example, if you look back at the American scene period, there were the Regionalists of the Midwest, and there were the Regionalists of California, California Watercolor School and others, and there were some Regionalist painters in Texas, and there were some Regionist painters in New York who painted Union Square--Reginald Marsh and Raphael Soyer, and so on.
PK: But they're not called--
CA: But they're not called Regionalist painters, you see, but they were Regionalist American scene painters. So we have a little semantic problem there that, true, New York is still a magnet, it's still the publication center, it's still the gallery center, and probably will remain this. But it is not necessarily true that an artist who's living in New York is less a Regionalist.
PK: What strikes me as very interesting, your observation that the history of the art of New Mexico is better documented, more has been written, and it's true. There are a number of books, publications. There's even our Southwest Art History Council, which is devoted to try to stimulate a dialogue about the art of the region. There is the sense here in the Southwest that the area is of interest and everything about it is of interest and worthy of study, which, as you point out, has not been the case so much in California, especially in Southern California, but, for that matter, until recently, even in the Bay Area. I'd like to ask you about this. Do you feel that one of the reasons is that California has always considered itself more connected to New York and the East and to the big time, and to acknowledge its own history then, by definition, is limiting? They want to see themselves in these other more international terms?
CA: I think that's precisely the case. Yes.
PK: I answered my own question. [Laughter]
CA: You did.
PK: Sorry about that. [Laughter]
CA: And extremely well. [Laughter]
PK: Dear, dear. It is a fascinating issue, and, I think, of course, all of this is changing partly through the work [unclear] is doing, putting in a little [unclear].
CA: I think what you're doing is absolutely essential if the record is ever to be corrected. But I think it's a normal thing. Let's take Richard Koshalek as an example. Richard comes in, he becomes director of the Los Angeles [County] Museum [of Contemporary Art], he's done a fine job of bringing to Los Angeles a number of very fine shows. I've seen quite a few of them when I visited the city, which I do fairly regularly. The last time we were out, I think, was for the Ad Reinhardt exhibition. Wonderful to see it there, it was beautifully installed, and I was told much more beautifully than in New York, and it's good that Southern California can see shows of that sort. No question about that. But relatively rarely has a Los Angeles artist been given the same kind of staging [John] Baldessari was, and possibly a few others, but there's been no effort on the part of the Los Angeles museums recently to go back and explore the history of art in Los Angeles or Southern California.
PK: No. None. I think they're embarrassed by it, is, again, my observation. Not because of quality, but just--
CA: It's not important in the history books. Well, obviously that's circular, because it can't be important in the history books until it's explored. [Laughter]
PK: Clinton, what do you think, acknowledging that New Mexico, in particular, more so than other areas in the Southwest, has been rather lovingly documented or written about in terms of the arts, especially the Taos school, maybe we're even getting a little tired of hearing about that.
CA: Some of it has been over-explored, yes.
PK: But let me ask you, how do you feel about the quality of the scholarship and treatment of New Mexico art history, let's say the focus, the kind of perspective that's brought to bear? What do you think?
CA: The bulk of the writing has not been very good. The bulk of the writing has been written by non-historians, who are speaking essentially of the romance of the Southwest and the myths of the Southwest, and so on and so forth. But there has been some good solid writing. It's been spotty, as one might expect, but if one takes the best of the literature, there's a good solid record. The bibliography will be so long that I don't think we want to try to put it on tape here. Obviously there's been a lot of attention to some artists, notably Georgia O'Keeffe, and there's been not a proportionate interest in some others, [Andrew] Dasberg, for example, hasn't had as much attention. B.J.O. Norfeldt hasn't had as much attention. Probably one of the reasons that New Mexico profited over California is that a larger number of the "significant" New York artists chose to visit New Mexico and chose to live here for a while, and therefore, there was a visibility of New Mexico in New York that in a way California did not enjoy.
PK: Continuing the interview with Clinton Adams. This is tape 1, side B. We managed to finally get into, I mentioned in the beginning a discussion of New Mexico art and artists, and, of course, you've been here now, how many years?
PK: So this is something that needs some of our attention. We were talking about it in terms of what I call the Regionalist dilemma, and basically contrasting it to the situation in California. I have a couple of questions about the situation here. You made the observation--this is concluding the other side--that New Mexico has benefitted from the presence of these bigger-name American artists coming through and spending time, like Marsden Hartley, for instance.
CA: Yes, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Robert Henri, John Sloan, a variety of others.
PK: Even John Marin.
CA: John Marin.
PK: So that and Georgia O'Keeffe. So this obviously gives a cachet to the area, which is a term that I'd like to pursue, this idea of cachet of image, of romance, of perhaps even the exoticism of the Southwest. It seems to me that these are factors that were very much operative and promoted early, from the teens, with Mabel Dodge and some of the others.
CA: Well, they were deliberately promoted, of course, by the Santa Fe Railroad and others in the early days. Then I think that mythology was used, obviously, to good effect, even later on, and still is being used in turning Santa Fe into a kind of theme park, and Taos, over the years, likewise. And I think that had a positive effect in that it attracted attention and has led to some of the publications that might not have otherwise existed, and is one of the reasons that New Mexico's early art history has been rather well covered in print, although spottily. For example, when I did the book on the history of New Mexico printmaking, which turned out, oddly enough to be the first thing ever published on the topic, there were a number of very significant artists whose work had been largely ignored in the scholarship otherwise. So there still are some holes and crannies that haven't been explored. Then there's the curious reversal of this, if I could speculate on something. For example, there was a group of artists in Albuquerque who were too national to fit into the regional stereotype, so when Diebenkorn and Elaine de Kooning and Bob Mallary and others were here in Albuquerque in those early years, they were largely ignored because they didn't fit into the romantic notion of what art in New Mexico ought to be like. Art in New Mexico now was clearly conceived as the kind of thing that ought to be found in romantic, multicultural Land of Enchantment, and people shouldn't be painting Abstract Expressionist pictures out here.
PK: Indeed not.
CA: No, indeed not. So it's worked both ways. Art in Albuquerque, which actually has been very lively over the years, has largely been ignored by comparison with art in Santa Fe and Taos, largely because it has not been as regional.
PK: Would you say that if you get beyond the idea of appropriate sentiment and appropriate style and subject matter, that in comparing Santa Fe, which gets all the attention, and Albuquerque, that Albuquerque maybe is much closer on the same level or some ways has had--
CA: I think if one looked at the quality of the art that was being produced in Albuquerque in the 1940s, fifties, sixties, and into the seventies, it was so far ahead of Santa Fe that there was no comparison.
PK: See, nobody talks about that.
CA: Yes. Most of the significant artists in the state were living in Albuquerque during the fifties. The University Art Museum did a superb show and a fine catalog a few years back, of art in Albuquerque in the fifties, and I think it should be somewhat of an eye-opener if people pay attention to it. The show was offered to be shown in Santa Fe, but they weren't interested. [Laughter]
PK: I can't imagine why. I can't imagine why. What an interesting double bind, if you will, in this regional situation.
CA: Part of it, again, is social politics. Santa Fe looks on Albuquerque much as Santa Barbara looks on Los Angeles: it's a place to catch airplanes.
PK: How interesting, though, that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, in this whole issue of regionalism, because, as you say, attention is paid to Santa Fe art and artists probably because the New Yorkers and others came and spent time. But it seems to me that it made a difference what kind of art they produced, and others around them. There was a certain look and a certain sentiment that they needed to attain to, what should we say, embody the regional view, and if they didn't do that, then it was like they weren't behaving properly. Not supposed to behave, conduct your art life in a certain way [unclear].
CA: Again you have answered your own question. I agree completely. [Laughter]
PK: I've got to stop doing this. Well, there it is. It's certainly a dilemma, and so Richard Diebenkorn, even though he spent important time here, did important paintings, really is in no way--not in a great way associated with--
CA: No, but he certainly left an effect. Recently, fortunately, there's been some good attention paid at least to the group of the Transcendentalist Abstract painters, which centered around Raymond Jonson. I saw that exhibition, which traveled a number of places. I don't remember just where it was shown first, but it was shown at the Worcester Museum when I was there a year or so ago to give a lecture, and it was a very fine exhibition of art that in every sense was national art, but was regarded as Regionalist because it happened in Albuquerque, by and large. I think it was a more important movement at that time than anything that went on in Santa Fe at that time, but in New Mexico art it was ignored until recently. Then it was explored primarily by people outside of the state. That exhibition was not organized in New Mexico.
PK: Then, of course, there's a wonderful Agnes Pelton exhibition that was done by Michael Zakian in Palm Springs, which really was--
CA: That group is getting good attention.
PK: How do you account for that? That's an interesting phenomenon.
CA: It was, I think, largely Raymond's sort of religious fervor for modernist art that pulled the group together, of people with similar thoughts and similar ideas. The history of that has been fairly solidly written, and it's a very interesting history.
PK: Bill Lumpkins, for instance, participant.
CA: Yes. Of course, Bill's a superb artist, who did very, very significant work. I was simply astounded when I did the printmaking book by how early on Lumpkins had done really superb Abstract Expressionist prints of a character and quality and scale that was far beyond anything that was done in the East, and yet otherwise it had been just totally ignored.
PK: I have to remember to call him up, because I'm going to try to drop in and pay a visit, and you'll be happy to know his papers are committed to the archives.
PK: Is there anything else that comes to mind regarding the New Mexican, especially northern New Mexican, situation?
CA: I've written a good bit about that, but I think we've covered sort of the principal ideas and issues there. The scene now is totally different. First of all, Santa Fe has, of course, attracted a number of other national artists who weren't in this area earlier on: Susan Rothenberg, and [Bruce] Nauman, and so on and so forth, Larry Bell in Taos. Then there is an increasing number of people who are almost on the borderline of kitsch, who are exploiting the Santa Fe image, some of them imitating Fritz Scholder, some of them imitating somebody else, some of them imitating the Taos painters, but usually with a little modernist frosting. Sort of the Leroy Neimans of Santa Fe.
PK: Bob [unclear].
CA: Yes, there are a lot of galleries that make profit off showing that, and I'm not sure whether it's going to be possible for a serious art scene to survive in that condition. What's then happening as a defense mechanism is such things as Site Santa Fe, of trying to get "more international" so that people won't think of it exclusively in those terms, and at the same time they're ignoring the serious work that's being done by artists in the state. There are a number of fine painters in the state, some of them in Albuquerque, a few in Santa Fe, one or two still in Taos, whose work doesn't fit either category, any category. It's not going to be interesting to the people who come in wanting to bring in, as a little while ago, a Roy Lichtenstein show, etc. Fine. People in Santa Fe should see Lichtenstein just as people in Los Angeles should see Ad Reinhardt. But the down side of that is that the museum is doing less and less to show the work of prominent New Mexico artists. Now, they are having a juried show for the first time this year. Luis Jiménez is one of the jurors, and an American Indian artist is another, and a photographer from New York is the third, but it's not a particularly congenial climate for anybody who's doing modernist painting.
PK: There you go. The Albuquerque museums here of the university and the Museum of art, do you think better jobs are being done down with respect--
CA: Oh, yes. Very much so. The Albuquerque Museum has done a fine job of assembling an excellent collection under Jim [James C.] Moore's directorship. This is one of the few cities in the country that has voted bond money for the acquisition of art in the museum.
PK: Oh, boy, that's against a trend.
CA: Yes. And the museum has had substantial funds, and has used them wisely, to build a very good retrospective collection of New Mexico art. Of course, obviously, other things have come to them by gift, and has developed a fine collection which is on view and in rotation. They don't have enough space to show a full survey at any time, but they do rotate works in and out of the gallery. They've done a fine job. They have not, however, with the exception of a big Luis Jiménez retrospective recently, done large single-focus exhibitions. The University Art Museum, which is limited by space, likewise has a fine collection of New Mexico art. It's been harder for them to assemble it because of the absence of the kind of funds that would permit major acquisitions. But they have done some very, very fine temporary exhibitions, such as the "Albuquerque in the Fifties" show that I mentioned a moment ago. The Jonson Gallery, which is well funded from Raymond's estate, has been doing some fine small shows related to the transcendentalist years. It's also, however, been moving off into a direction of a kind of politically correct show, which is in the interest of the current curator, which doesn't interest me much, and I don't think is in line with Raymond's expectations.
PK: I've never been there. I must go pay a visit.
CA: It's a beautiful small facility.
PK: On the campus?
PK: Gee, maybe we could go there after lunch, although you don't like Lausanne. [Laughter]
CA: We can go see the show, that's fine. They're doing a quite interesting show coming up next year. The University Art Museum is closed for a matter of five or six months for a major architectural overhaul of the building, which is about a nine-million-dollar job, largely to provide better access for handicapped people. As a result of the fact that the museum is closed, the Jonson Gallery is going to be the primary exhibition focus for a while. Jonson Gallery is a division of the University Art Museum.
PK: Right. I understood that. Let me ask you about a related issue. It occurs to me it might be useful to be specific here, to have an exemplar. It could our mutual friend, Fritz Scholder, who has still another exhibition opening, I guess it's tomorrow night up in Santa Fe. We were talking last night at dinner about Fritz and his work, and, despite his protests, his identification with Southwestern subjects, he's made a career out of Southwestern subjects primarily, not exclusively, but they always seem to be cast that way, even when he does batwomen and shamanistic things, somehow it seems redolent of the--and then, of course, he is one-quarter Native American. Although he tries to distance himself from that, in fact, the evidence of his work is quite contrary. Without getting into Fritz personally, or his career in any kind of detail, although you have written about him, what interests me is the situation here in the Southwest, where careers seem to be best made, or can be best made by identification with these issues that are associated with--forget landscape, that's obvious. To me this seems complicated and, what shall we say, almost dangerous. It's an easy way to build a career, but you can get stuck, maybe.
CA: Again, I think you said what can be said on that subject, Paul. Fritz has been both the beneficiary and the victim of that whole complex of feelings. He profited tremendously and Fritz had an immense market for his work during the seventies. When we moved to Tamarind from Los Angeles to Albuquerque in 1970, one of the changes in the program was that it was intended that we would now support it with a diminishing Ford [Foundation] grant in prospect, through publishing projects which would bring income. The first two publishing projects that I undertook were with Fritz Scholder and Andrew Dasberg. The Scholder project was immensely successfully, and of course, Fritz went on to do a large number of lithographs, many of them which were superb prints, particularly in the early years, and I think the medium sort of invigorated Fritz, as a new medium can frequently stimulate an artist to do things that he hasn't done before, and he did some very, very fine works. But after a little while, it was evident that the more Southwestern it was and the more the Indian subject was visible, the more people were going to crave to buy it. And that can't help but tilt an artist. I remember one time I was talking to a friend in Los Angeles, and he came up with the analogy which I've used over and over again since then. He said, "You know, if an artist paints both black paintings and white paintings, and people are buying the black paintings and they're not buying the white paintings, and the dealer begins to say, 'Can you give me some more black paintings, and not quite so many white paintings?' it takes a strong artist not to paint another black painting or two." And I think Fritz was therefore a victim of success in a way there, and he rebelled against it at one point and said, "No, damn it, no more Indians." And he went through a period in which his sales dropped off. I think he went through a difficult time. It's awfully hard, because the market forces affect art and artists just like they affect anybody else. It takes either a determined artist like Andrew Dasberg, who was never terribly successful in his later years, wasn't getting much for his work, although he's a major figure in the history of American painting, but Andrew was just going to do his thing, and if the people didn't like it, that's too bad. Of course, that has been the character of most of the great artists of the world, is that they go do their thing. Edward Hopper didn't jump on the Abstract Expressionist bandwagon, and Realist artists who did weren't very successful either, you see. So Fritz is a perfect example of someone who's benefitted from the Southwestern myth, but has also carried it as a kind of heavy stone.
PK: Before leaving Fritz, let's see if I can not answer my own question on this one. But I'll tell you a little story, and you see if it brings anything to mind in this connection, having to do with subject matter, the surface of a work of art, and something more profound, maybe the substance, the content in a more meaningful way. I was talking with Nathan Oliveira, who's a good friend.
CA: Of both of us, yes.
PK: Yes. Of course, Nate has actually been spending some time here in New Mexico, but, at any rate, I was talking with him and mentioned that Fritz Scholder was coming to town and actually tried to put something together and it didn't happen. So Nate was talking, he knows Fritz, and he said something that I thought was very interesting, and I don't know if I should put it on tape, but I'm going to anyway. He said, "You know, Fritz has made a better career out of my work than I have." What do you--
CA: Well, that's not really true. Nate is a superb artist and is finally getting the recognition that he has long deserved. Well, he's had a lot of attention over the years. He's a superb painter, his monoprints are without equal in the United States, and his lithographs were very, very important in the early years. And of course, obviously, Fritz would acknowledge a great debt to Nate's work, no problem, no question about that. Fritz, after all, studied out there. He studied with [Wayne] Thiebaud and was very close to that whole scene, and doubtless has been influenced by Nate in many ways over the years. That's a perfectly normal thing, but obviously, also, Fritz has had a market which has probably many times been much in excess of Nate's. You can't measure the quality of American art by how successful the market is.
PK: Of course not. No.
CA: Leroy Neiman has the highest income of any American artist. He's not on the list of the top hundred artists in the country.
PK: Well, what Oliveira meant, or what I guess I meant by telling this story, was that Nate sees something in Fritz's work that is indeed related, which is fine.
CA: Of course. For example, Fritz is an absolute master at paint-handling, just the surface of the paint on the canvas. Any artist would have to envy Fritz's immense sensitivity in handling the paint. I can't begin to equal Fritz in handling the paint on the canvas.
PK: Oliveira, of course, is similar.
CA: Yes. Nate has a similar mastery and in a similar direction, and one admires this. I'm sure that they both mutually admire that aspect of the other artist's work.
PK: But there's another--this just strikes me, anyway, that what I like about Fritz's work has nothing to do--this is just me talking--with the Southwest, with his subject matters. In fact, I find that standing in the way of what I think is important about his work. I guess this is what I'm getting at. And part of it is this mysterious single figure emerging from the materials, like in Nate's work.
CA: Fritz, you see, had some shows in New York, etc. Fritz has never had the attention in the East, because they identify him with the Southwest, and, unfortunately, he even gets lumped in with the work of such appalling artists as R.C. Gorman, and so on and so forth, which are not even to be spoken of in the same sentence.
PK: True, true, true. You've introduced, finally, Tamarind through Fritz, so this worked out nicely, and I think that we need to now turn to Tamarind and pursue that a little bit, because that's such an important part of your career. There were a few things, I believe, that you wanted to clarify from earlier days in Los Angeles working with June, but then, I guess, also point out some of the changes, the differences of Tamarind there and then in New Mexico.
CA: I think at this point I'd really rather go on to some of the changes. I think, you see, again, Tamarind suffers from a kind of stereotype. A major exhibition has just been organized in cooperation with Northwestern University and the Houston Museum and Rutgers [University], the Zimmerly Museum at Rutgers, of the history of the development of printmaking in the United States during those years--collaborative printmaking. The Tamarind prints that are chosen for inclusion are all from the very early years of Tamarind, at Yonkers, Josef Albers, early 1960s. There's nothing from Tamarind after it moved to Albuquerque.
CA: Part of that, you see, is, again, the linear history business. Nobody, no historian in prints would do anything other than to say that Tamarind was extremely important, a significant force, etc., etc., in the early sixties. But then it becomes linear. You go on from Tamarind to the founding of Gemini and eventually [Kenneth Tyler, Tyler Graphics, Ltd.] Ken Tyler, Ltd., and the other workshops, etc. Now, Tamarind was back there just as--well, if you're looking at Cubism, Monet was back there, and you don't bother now to look at what Monet's doing when Picasso painted the Demoiselles d'Avignon, because it doesn't fit in a linear history.
PK: Right. Right.
CA: So I don't think there was anything vicious about the fact that--certainly not given the people that organized the show, there was nothing intentional about leaving Tamarind out, but it didn't fit the linear history. I think that this has affected the perception of what's going on at Tamarind in Albuquerque, which has now been here for twenty-five years, which is much longer than the ten years in Los Angeles.
PK: More than twice.
CA: There's been a large number of highly significant prints produced which have a very limited visibility. Some of the changes, I think, were quite interesting. We, of course, were in a different structure in which the Ford Foundation grant, which supported the transition, came to an end entirely in 1974, and from that point on, Tamarind's publishing activities had to be a large source of its income. Primarily the structure at the university is that the university assumes responsibility for Tamarind's educational function and training the printers, but the artists' program has to be supported by the income from publications. There were a number of changes that were made during the fifteen years that I was director and the subsequent ten that Marjorie Devon has been director. One of the conscious things that I had in mind was to extend invitations to artists that I thought had been unduly overlooked, and who were important in the history of American art, and who had simply hadn't had the attention because they weren't as fashionable. I was free to invite artists pretty much as I wished. June didn't have that luxury during part of the time. And, of course, one of the reasons for affiliating Tamarind with the University is that under changing rules that govern foundations and nonprofit organizations, the old policies could not have been maintained in the 1970s.
PK: Continuing an interview with Clinton Adams. This is session two, on August 3, 1995. This is tape 2, side A. Clinton, we stopped you in mid-thought.
CA: Yes, we were talking about Tamarind and the changes in policies. One of them was that obviously we had to produce prints which would be both significant for their quality, and prints which would find some kind of a market. Fritz's work was of extreme importance to Tamarind. As a matter of fact, perhaps of crucial importance, because during the early 1970s, we published a very large number of editions for Fritz, and he made a good bit of money from their sale, and Tamarind made a good bit of money from their sale, and that was very important to Tamarind's success. We constantly then looked for other publishing projects, but we certainly didn't look at everything on a cost basis; will it pay off. We invited a number of artists that I think should have had attention in the East and didn't: David Hare, who's a truly important figure in the history of American art; Robert De Niro, Jack Tworkov, other artists of that generation, George McNeil, who subsequently have had some attention. And we produced, I think, some remarkable prints which should not be ignored in the way that I mentioned that they sometimes are. So I think Tamarind in Albuquerque has in every way maintained the strength of the Los Angeles program. It's been different, it's been altered. In recent years, Marge Devon has taken advantage of opportunities to collaborate with the USIA, something that I began just shortly before I retired, to undertake projects with printers coming in from other countries, and artists coming in from other countries that supported the USIA. In the beginning, the Rockefeller Foundation made it possible to do a great number of things with Latin American artists and with artists from Eastern Europe. It's been a very fine part of the program that did not exist in the early years in Los Angeles.
PK: Do you feel that Tamarind had achieved its main or initial goals at the time that June closed up shop?
CA: Yes. I think we attained our initial goals sometime along in the mid-sixties. I think we could at that point, with good conscience, have closed down and said, "We've done the job we set out to do. We've increased lithography's visibility, we've strengthened the technical knowledge, we've interested fine artists," etc. But one function, somewhat, I think, to our surprise, had to continue, and that's the rationale, I think, for Tamarind's more or less permanent existence. June and I concluded that there was no way that lithography could maintain its new visibility and its new position without a continuing supply of printers, because the experience that we discovered is that people who are trained as printers and become active as collaborating printers, for the most part have a rather short life span as printers before they burn out. It's a very, very hard job, a very demanding job. There's not an oversupply of printers, even though we have gone on now for a total of thirty-five years training printers. Now a fairly substantial proportion of the printers come from abroad, almost every country on the planet, so that they are also functioning in that way as they return home, but there still is a good market for printers. It's not quite as strong as it was because of the problems that the entire art world is having in terms of financing. But it's still very significant. I think that's the sole reason that we could not, at that time, with good conscience, have told the Ford Foundation, "We've done it, we're through, we'll take a bow, we'll leave." But there's a stereotype which exists among some of the writers that Tamarind has a fundamental purpose of training printers, therefore, we don't have to look at the art. which is, of course, silly. We train printers, but in the process of training printers we invite them to collaborate in their final stages of training with the finest artists we can bring in, and some of the prints that those artists have done have been simply superb.
PK: Everybody knows that Tamarind really did start something very important in terms of introducing to the art world, a broader collecting world, editioned art works, multiples, if you will, and then it seems to me, and there are other factors involved, but it seems to me that there is a real vogue for prints--
CA: Oh, yes. There was a kind of print renaissance. That's the word that's usually used. It's not the right word, because it wasn't a rebirth of something; it was essentially a new event. In the late sixties and early seventies, there was a print boom that the Wall Street Journal took note of in economic terms. Booms lead to busts, and that, of course, was inevitable. But out of that, nonetheless, has come a very fine situation in which any significant American artist who wishes to engage in printmaking today can find the resources to permit him or her to do that. That wasn't possible before. There's no large American city now in which an artist cannot find a good collaborative printmaking facility.
PK: What are some that you would single out as admiring the most?
CA: Well, I think there's no question but what the printer with the most remarkable accomplishments is Ken Tyler. But I would be hesitant to make a list that went all the way down ad lib. There are at least 200 shops in the United States.
PK: Isn't that amazing.
CA: Not all lithography shops, for example, Kathan Brown's Crown Point [Press] in the Bay Area.
PK: She's had to downsize quite a bit.
CA: And it's been tough economic times during the eighties, and is even tougher right now. I think the direction of the arts in the country politically is not a very happy one.
PK: What do you think of Jean Milant and Cirrus [Editions]? He came out of Tamarind.
CA: He was an undergraduate student here at the University of New Mexico who took his training at Tamarind. Morrie [Maurice] Sanchez, who was Derrière l'Etoile, also took his work here from Albuquerque. There have been quite a number of UNM students who've gone into the program, obviously through their proximity here, because even before Tamarind moved to Albuquerque, we were doing the preliminary training of the Tamarind printers here at the university. You see, they would come here first and then go on to Los Angeles.
PK: You said that many of the printers come from abroad for training.
CA: Now that tends to be true. We take about eight people a year for the first-year program, and in recent years that's run around four or five people from abroad and three or four from the United States.
PK: How do you account for that? This sounds to me like a reverse of the past when this kind of--I don't want to call them craftspeople, but a certain skill that you generally had to go to the Old World to find, and now--
CA: Well, no question that is a consequence of Tamarind's work. American lithography developed to a standard that simply wasn't equalled in Europe.
PK: So they had to come over.
CA: We're getting a number of people from--we did for a while get a fair number of printers from Great Britain and Germany, Scotland, and Ireland. Now we're tending to get more from Eastern Europe. We've had a couple of people from Bulgaria, we've had Russians, we had at one point, before everything blew up in their face, Yugoslavs, and we've had a good number of people, also, of course, from Canada and Australia and New Zealand, and a fair number from Japan, a couple from China, and quite a number of Latin Americans now. The Latin Americans are tending to get more numerous because USIA has been providing funds to assist them to come.
PK: I'm interested in pursuing, if we can, the differences. I think you've certainly made the basic point, but you last were interviewed, at least by the archives, some years ago, '74, I think you said it was. The topic was Tamarind, and so there is this great gap in our oral history program regarding Tamarind here. Is there anything else that comes to mind in terms of the subsequent history or in any respect?
CA: There were several changes from Los Angeles. One, of course, is that back in 1974 we began the series of publications, The Tamarind Papers, which was something that we had had in mind from early on, but hadn't been able to develop earlier, and that now is up to volume sixteen, being published this coming year. It is the only continuously published journal on printmaking that's still surviving in the United States, other than Print Collector's Newsletter, and by far the most substantial from an art historical standpoint, so the Tamarind's making contributions quite other than just its printmaking and its publication and its printer training. We've also continued to extend our technical knowledge, because the Tamarind Book of Lithology was published in 1973, and it obviously needs to be supplemented as new material comes to light, and those technical articles have been published in the Tamarind papers as well. So I think Tamarind continues to be a resource for the development of not only the printmaking skills, but also of the knowledge of printmaking, particularly American printmaking, which has not otherwise been recorded as well in art history. The only journal in the United States that publishes really serious historical articles is The Tamarind Papers. Print Collector's Newsletter, by definition of its title, heads more towards the--
PK: The market.
CA: --the market. The only other serious publication is the Print Quarterly in London, which, of course, is a very fine journal.
PK: I almost hesitate to ask this because you've written so much about the subject and you're so knowledgeable about the graphic arts and about prints, but I'm going to ask it anyway. It has to do with the whole notion of, first of all, of multiples, of being able to edition or duplicate images, and I suppose there's something democratic about that, because you can end up with works of art that are less expensive, more accessible, many people can have them. So in a sense that is a kind of--I say with quotes, big quotes--"reproduction." It's duplication. Now, wait a minute. Let me finish my question, because I understand the difference. But you do have more than one. The concept of originality I understand in printmaking and so forth, having worked at the Gruenwald [Gallery], so one aspect of it is that you end up with more than one image. It can be more broadly enjoyed. But there's another, I think, more important idea, to my mind, about printmaking, that it's a specific medium, whichever graphic form you're talking about, and that in the best of all worlds, an artist chooses then in collaboration, I guess, with a printer, the medium that best expresses some idea that that artist has. How do you feel--it's a long question, I'm sorry--about this print boom, and the fact then that all kinds of artists who are working in other media then can come and make prints?
CA: I've been sitting here squirming during that long question.
PK: I know. I watched you squirm. [Laughter]
CA: Because it touches on a number of points that I think are hard to discuss in the limited time we have, but are really very misleading, and some of the postulates are misleading. The importance of printmaking is not its multiple reproductions. The democratic notion is one which I've considered at length, and just have a new article coming out this fall called "Art for All: Was Mencken Right?" which is being published in Print Quarterly, which is an examination of the various efforts to publish prints "for the people." The whole notion of multiplicity leads to an immense misunderstanding of printmaking. Now, to cut to the latter part of that question, which had a whole bevy of ideas buried in it, I'll try just to sort out two of them. The only good reason for an artist to use lithography is because he can express ideas in lithography that he cannot express as well in another medium. Witness Picasso, superb explorer of the medium. The bad reason to make lithographs is because your dealer called you up and said, "Hey, these paintings are going well, perhaps if you had 150 copies of them, we could make some money," and the artist rushes off to a lithography studio and takes in a reproduction of the painting and said, "I'd like to make this as a lithograph," which unfortunately has happened with some artists. We've been disappointed in several cases, in which artists have come to Tamarind with precisely that kind of intention. It always results in a lame, limp print, which has nothing of the real quality about it. But that is a huge topic, and is the area in which probably there is more misconception of the nature of printmaking than any other topic I can imagine.
PK: Playing devil's advocate a little bit here, do you think the activities of Tamarind and then the Tamarind spawn, if you will, as you've mentioned a number of print workshops that have sprung up, that it made it so visible, and, as you said, there was this boom, that many artists became involved in fact for the wrong reason, or not without a full understanding?
CA: Every plant has its parasites, and no question about the fact that the immediate moment printmaking achieved a certain kind of visibility it attracted, just as it earlier had in France, a whole lot of people who saw, "Hey, there's a place to make some money." I think in the United States, which always tends to be aware of commercial opportunities, this certainly happened, and a number of the printers who were trained obviously went out and did that kind of business. That's in the nature of things. That boom has to some degree subsided, but there's still a lot of meretricious prints being published, and, unfortunately, given the level of understanding among the American public, a lot of them have good markets.
PK: Let's think of some of the major American artists who have worked at Tamarind, perhaps Gemini or Kathan Brown or Tyler, any of these. Do you feel for the most part in your experience and observation, are they fully and with real understanding--
CA: Oh, yes. The fine prints produced by the Jasper Johns or [Robert] Rauschenberg or Motherwell, or any one of a number of others, are artists who have become genuinely engaged with lithography--Frank Stella, genuinely engaged with lithography, genuinely engaged with some other print medium. Richard Diebenkorn, for example, who was never very happy with his lithographs, because lithography just didn't seem to fit Dick's working method, found that the intaglio processes that Kathan was able to make available to him were just an eye-opener, and, of course, he created those beautiful, beautiful aquatints that are without parallel. Same thing, Motherwell has moved back and forth from lithography to aquatint, and that wonderful work he did with Tatyana Grosman. So the significant artist, whatever his style, whatever his direction, is going to make use of printmaking as a creative medium. Stella's written that in the first years that he worked with lithography, which was at Gemini in Los Angeles, that he was just simply making sort of versions of his paintings, but he's written very effectively on how later on he found that really printmaking engendered a whole new character to his work. I think Stella's paintings of his later years come out of his prints rather than the other way around. I think he has said that.
PK: What about somebody like [Claes] Oldenburg? You're talking about Gemini, the experimentation that was going on there. What are your observations on that?
CA: Oldenburg's a fine artist, but I've never had much interest in his prints as prints. I don't think I have anything much to say about them.
PK: Well, that's what I was wondering. Sometimes it becomes something other, let's say, although that one vacuum formed [unclear].
CA: Well, that's not a print, that's a multiple object.
CA: That's another field.
PK: What more about Tamarind, getting off of these more provocative topics that may, as you say, need more time? I appreciate having some of your thoughts on them or, for that matter, anything else related that you feel may--
CA: Well, you've been asking good questions.
PK: Well, I may as well work it. [Laughter]
CA: Tamarind, probably originally when it first moved to Southwest, was a fortunate bit of timing. Mac [W. McNeil] Lowry once bristled a little bit when I said that I thought that Tamarind's success in Los Angeles, which was far beyond what I had expected, was partly a degree of luck. Mac didn't want to put it to luck, which I think that's arguable. But I think there was an element of luck in that Tamarind was founded in Los Angeles in 1960, and the 1960s were a very lively area and time in Los Angeles. It was just a fine time to be there. When Tamarind moved to New Mexico in 1970, that was also a fortunate bit of timing, because the 1970s were a very lively period of time during which art in New Mexico got a good bit of attention, and in recent years Los Angeles has undergone some problems. The art market in Los Angeles during the late seventies and early eighties was pretty bad, and has only begun to revive again. So Tamarind had some benefits from coming to New Mexico, but it also, unfortunately, gave the New Yorkers license to ignore "a provincial workshop," which isn't really "in the center of things anymore," as was said in one recent article.
PK: And so you wound up once again marginalized, for the reasons that we've already discussed. We started out by talking about the earlier days in Los Angeles. I guess the main theme of these interviews has been looking at Southern California's art history. We didn't get much into more recent times. We, of course, dipped into the sixties. As everybody knows there was this what appeared to be a big explosion of activity which was to a certain extent, I guess, market-driven. I guess you'd have to say that. You mentioned now that, of course, it's been boom and bust in L.A., but it just seems to continue, because now they're gearing up for a new--despite a failed or hobbling economy which seems to be recovering, despite this, some of these big dealers in the East are investing incredibly, Glimcher being one, PaceWildenstein. Do you have any thoughts about that?
CA: I don't have intimate knowledge of the Los Angeles scene now. I continued to exhibit regularly my paintings in Los Angeles through the sixties, but stopped doing that with any regularity when Felix Landau closed his gallery, which was not for economic reasons, but entirely for personal reasons. I only show, by and large, now prints and older paintings with Tobey Moss. But I think these ups and downs are inevitable. The problem in Los Angeles has not really been the galleries. The problem in Los Angeles has been the small number of really passionate collectors, the people who really are seeking out works of quality. And there have been some, obviously, Betty Asher, [Gifford] Giff and Joanne Phillips, the Weismans, others, Robert Rowan. But the question is, will there be the continuing development of younger collectors who will, in essence, support the galleries. I don't really know accurately what's going on. I see the [Los Angeles] Times from month to month, but not regularly, and I don't get out to Los Angeles more than a couple of times a year on average, not as much as I did when Tamarind was out there and I was going back and forth maybe twelve, fifteen times a year, and when I had a more active gallery association. I do remember the vigor of the sixties. For example, I had a show of abstract paintings at Landau's in 1963 that almost substantially sold out at very good prices, and went into museum collections and elsewhere. It was a very invigorating scene, no question about it.
PK: It does go back and forth. I guess my question, and this, obviously, can only be your opinion, but do you feel that using L.A. as the example, I guess it's a dramatic one in some respects within the broader picture of America--
CA: Well, it's no doubt the second largest art market. I don't think the Chicago or Houston or other city galleries can compare to the action that's going on in Los Angeles.
PK: And it is maintained. This may be almost a rhetorical question, but to have a complete developed art community which was not the situation when you started out in Southern California, so it's going round full circle, do you need to have, as well as good artists, dedicated artists working away making art? Do you really need to have, as we're told, these other components? We're thinking mainly here besides museums which, of course, that situation is changed in L.A. greatly. You can see, especially with Norton Simon, great Old Master paintings as well as other things. But is the market crucial, and, of course, collectors?
CA: I think you need the three things: you need a fine community of artists; you need a direct art support establishment which consists of the museums and the galleries; and critical attention in the press at a high level, which most American cities don't have. Even New York doesn't have it to the level that it once had when there were thirteen newspapers, most of them carrying art criticism. The [Los Angeles] Times does a good job, it's alone in doing a good job in Southern California now. The "national" art magazines are not national; they're New York art magazines. Los Angeles has a little weak leg there. The gallery structure is good, the museums certainly are greatly strengthened over what they were. The country has a national problem with good art criticism. You could make a very short list of fine art critics in the United States.
PK: Starting with Hughes.
CA: Starting with Hughes. The other problem--and I think it's an immense problem--how are people going to understand about art enough to want to acquire fine art? Because that has to come out of a passion and a commitment for it.
PK: Continuing the interview with Clinton Adams, this is session two on August 3. This is tape 2, side B. I was asking the question of how can the audience be developed. Back on our very first tape, I spoke of my own experience as a teenager in Glendale going to a high school that had several art teachers, and to a junior college that had not only a good art teacher, but a remarkable art teacher for that time. What concerns me is that the attention that the serious arts are getting now is so much less than it was. Very, very few American high schools do anything of any quality at all with the visual arts. Very few students who go to college take a serious art course. It's not part of most curricula. It's squeezed out by other demands for engineers and doctors and lawyers and others who might be the people who will have the money to buy art. The arts are under attack not only by the Jesse Helmses of the world, but broadly. American art criticism has, with a few exceptions of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the occasional columns in Time and Newsweek and The New Yorker, it's practically disappeared. Where will the younger people gain the knowledge of art that would cause them to become the supporters of art?. What are we doing for our audience? That's been studied to some degree in the case of the performing arts, and there's been a good bit of writing about the worries that symphony orchestras have as their audiences get older and grayer, and the question is whether the young people will continue to support the orchestras. It's obvious that at the moment the National Endowment [for the Arts] is not going to be given a great increase in funds. It'll be lucky if it survives the Republican Congress.
PK: Sad, sad story.
CA: So this is the weak leg in the stool. Fortunately, museum exhibitions still attract large attendance, and there's a certain degree of educational work that good museum exhibitions do, but the museums are under pressure to become theme parks and Disneylands as well, in order to get the money that they need to survive. The museum budgets, where they're dependent upon tax funds in most cities, have been cut or restricted, and are very much likely to be cut and restricted. As the Republicans cut back on direct support, that gets passed along to the states, but all kinds of other things are getting passed along to the states--the whole criminal justice system, Medicaid, and everything else, and there's going to be a lot of competition for funds, and the arts aren't going to be at the head of the list.
PK: Do you think it's possible, given this situation you describe, that art which through its exhibition, through museum activities, other educational endeavors was, it seemed to be becoming more a natural part of American life and experience, is in fact now being more ghettoized again, and along with that I would suggest a little culpability perhaps on the part of curators and artists, elitist and inaccessible?
CA: Well, the word "elitist," of course, has been a particular problem, because it's used as a kind of epithet. There is an essential character of art that is elitist. If you're dealing with quality, you won't call that elitist. There's going to be less of high quality than there is of low quality so that's by definition.
PK: Or avant garde.
CA: Yes. But that's in the nature of the arts. It's always been true. On the other hand, I think that some museums have done a very fine job of trying to broaden their audience, of making the place more attractive so that people don't feel that they have to show their Harvard, Yale, or Princeton diploma at the door in order to get in.
PK: But do you feel that this inevitably will be the result of current events and developments, the art world turning in further upon itself like a closed entity?
CA: To some degree that's what's happened, and to some degree what's happened has been the attempt to do more show biz. I think it's been rather more the latter than the former, and, of course, most newspapers, if they carry an art section, say "Arts and Entertainment."
PK: Right. Or "Leisure."
CA: Yes. And the line between arts and entertainment isn't very carefully drawn.
PK: Well, welcome to the post-modern world.
CA: Yes, welcome to the post-modern world, Disney and ABC.
PK: Well, that takes you right back to Los Angeles again, because that's the news of the day, and I guess there's a lesson in that. I'm very, very pleased. I don't have any more questions at this moment unless there's something, Clinton, you want to add.
CA: No, I've enjoyed the conversation, Paul.
PK: Thank you very much. [End of interview]
John Thurber, New York Times, March 30, 2002
"He wore many hats and all of them well," said Marjorie Devon, head of the Tamarind Institute, which, along with its forerunner the Tamarind Workshop, is credited with resuscitating fine arts lithography in this country.
Born in Glendale, Adams studied art at UCLA in the early 1940s, earning his bachelor's and master's degrees before serving in the Army during World War II.
He returned to California after the war and began his work in lithography. He also taught at UCLA through the mid-1950s before taking an academic post at the University of Kentucky and later at the University of Florida.
Adams became involved with the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in the early 1960s. Started in Los Angeles by artist and printmaker June Wayne, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop's mission was to develop American artists working in several media into masters of lithography.
Wayne was the institute's first director, and Adams--then the dean of the college of fine arts at the University of New Mexico--was the workshop's associate director. A Ford Foundation grant helped the institute get started.
During its first 10 years, Tamarind printed more than 2,900 lithographs by a diverse collection of artists from around the world.
After its Ford Foundation funding ran out in 1970, Adams--with Wayne's blessing--helped pave the way for the workshop to move to the University of New Mexico, where its name was changed to the Tamarind Institute.
It continued its mission of training master printers and publishing the works of established printmakers and painters.
Adams headed the institute until 1985, when he retired from the institute and from teaching at the University of New Mexico.
As a historian, Adams wrote two of the most influential books on lithography: "American Lithographers 1900-1960: The Artists and Their Printers" and "The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques." The Tamarind book, written with Garo Z. Antreasian and published three decades ago, is still considered a standard work on the subject.
A fine artist in his own right, Adams exhibited his work in more than 60 solo shows.
His paintings and lithographs are included in many public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Painter, printmaker, teacher, author...these are but a few of the many hats CLINTON ADAMS wore. His legacy as one of the primary figures in the California art community of the 20th century is assured through the vast body of work he produced during his lifetime.
Clinton Adams began primarily as a painter and taught in the painting department at UCLA. Here he formed relationships with the great pioneers of California Modernism: Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin and others. His early paintings, prints and drawings are evocative of cubism, with their focus on the architectonic structure of the composition. His later works, including acrylics and watercolors on linen and paper, have similar structural sensibilities, but embrace vibrant and translucent colors, reminiscent of the sparkling California and Mediterranean climes that he loved.
During his time at UCLA, Clinton Adams was introduced to Los Angeles master printer, Lynton Kistler. This led to a collaboration between the two men that began, for Adams, a life-long love of printmaking and lithography. In his early prints, created with Kistler, Adams' architectural sensibilities were translated into the art created on the lithograph stone.
At Kistler's studio, Clinton Adams was introduced to another young artist with a love of lithography, June Wayne. A dozen years later - in 1960 - June Wayne formed the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles and Adams was one of the first artists to work there. Tamarind is credited with bringing renewed respect in the United States to the art on the stone. Tamarind, especially, was concerned not only with encouraging a pool of artists to explore their vision in this medium, but also with training a corps of master lithographers to collaborate in printing the more complex compositions these artists were creating. In 1970, when the Tamarind Lithography Workshop moved to the University of New Mexico to become the Tamarind Institute, Adams became director.
Clinton Adams was even more than a talented artist, he was also a scholar. He contributed numerous articles to journals, such as Print Quarterly. He founded and served as editor for The Tamarind Papers. He authored books, including American Lithographers: 1900-1960: The Artists and their Printers; Crayonstone: The Life and Work of Bolton Brown With a Catalogue of His Lithographs and The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques, all considered to be basic references on the art of lithography.
In our exhibition, the many facets of Clinton Adams' long and significant career are celebrated. Painter, printmaker and author, without Clinton Adams the landscape of contemporary art and art history would have been profoundly diminished.
Born in Glendale, California, Adams studied art at the University of California at Los Angeles (B.Ed, 1940; MA, 1942). After serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, he returned to teach at UCLA and began to study lithography. Adams met June Wayne, the founding director of Tamarind, when they were both making lithographs at Lynton Kistler’s print studio in Los Angeles. During the 1950s, Adams left Los Angeles to chair the art departments of the University of Kentucky at Lexington and the University of Florida at Gainesville.
Adams returned to Los Angeles to serve as Associate Director of Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Inc. when it was founded in 1960. In 1961, Adams became Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. When Tamarind moved to the University of New Mexico in 1970, Adams served as its director until his retirement in 1985. He was actively involved in the University as a professor and administrator while he continued to pursue his research interests in early American lithography. He authored a number of books on the subject, and coauthored, with Garo Antreasian, The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques (Harry N. Abrams, 1971), which was, for many years, considered the authoritative text on the subject.
As a painter and printmaker, Clinton Adams produced a mix of traditional representation and Modernist abstraction. He had more than 30 solo exhibitions, and his work is included in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others.
-The Tamarind Institute
The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques by Garo Z. Antreasian and Clinton Adams (Sep 1970)
American Lithographers, 1900-1960: The Artists and Their Printers by Clinton Adams, University of New Mexico Press, 1983
A Meticulous Serenity: The Prints of Clinton Adams, 1948-1997: A Catalogue Raisonné by Robert Conway, University of New Mexico Art Museum