Minimal Period (1968-1975)
THE MINIMALIST LINE: My interest in anatomy was focused in drawing full scale nudes which later I would abstract to their essential lines. Henri Matisse was influential in this process with his series of four “Backs” relievos (1909-1930). In my case, I took the front of the female and I wanted to go beyond Matisse’s 4th female back and do a fifth and a sixth, etc. These lines eventually became more and more basic, horizontal, and straight, giving way to my minimal work.
My Mankind Symbol series also had a tendency to become minimal towards the end, especially in drawings.
INSTALLATION ART: At one point the lines which were either drawn or painted became lines made out of graphic color tape on paper. Then I started to use ribbon, felt, foam, and other materials on the wall, floor, and ceiling of the exhibition area which became the backdrop for these pieces. It was here that I first recognized the significance of the gallery room. The room environment became the “pedestal” for the “sculptural” artwork. These pieces were instant art orientated, some became involved with process, light, and shadows. Basically these were my first installations.
The delineated volumes in space became volumes which were suspended within the space of the room from wall to wall. The white elastic chord pieces were literally entered into the walls, floor, and ceilings. I had to actually drill holes to get them installed.
CONCEPTUAL ART: Eventually I drilled two holes opposite each other on facing walls and just left them like that and titled it "Negative Line". This was the climax piece for my “less is more” odyssey. My work had also become conceptual in nature and was also involved with primal notions related to the primitivism and Arte Povera influences that were prevalent during that period.
Thus I came to chisel the wall which became the essence (object and subject) of my work. The wall which for centuries had been the backdrop for paintings, all of the sudden became the most important element of the work. At first the carved lines were raw and crude and later they became more rectilinear. In both instances the objective was to deal with the discarded chiseled material from the wall as part of the totality of the piece. Good examples of these are the “X” displacements, where I took the discarded material from one wall and placed it below the carved line on the opposite wall and vice versa. This was the period of the subtractive linear displacements. These were a form of high art graffiti while at the same time incorporating conceptual art into them.
This work evolved into burials in the wall. I felt these were closely related to my everlasting themes of life and death. The semen burials were directly related to the Mexican holy day of the Day of the Dead. This semen burial piece was very controversial and it was censored by the Cal Arts Administration. It was even mentioned in Art News magazine.
PERFORMANCE ART: Across from the semen burial was another piece which was a symbolic burial of me. I shaved off all of my body hair, which I considered a physical aura, and entered it into 20 slots in the wall. I did a performance piece with this work. At that time, I felt that this piece signaled the death of my involvement with the avant-garde of the seventies. But I continued doing “new art” pieces through 1975.
BODY ART: Another “happening” piece was involved with the shaving of a line from the body hair on my chest and ritualistically gathering people to "watch" it grow back to see the line disappear. This was documented as a silkscreen in 1969, but it was never performed. The following year, I performed a “how to shave “ piece with Allan Kaprow and Paul Brach at the EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) Conference at USC in Los Angeles.
MINIMAL ART: I started to do installations and process art when I was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968 and continued this very important period in my work through 1974. Even though this work was minimalist it still retained a Mexican influence in the fact that some of the tape and ribbon pieces were very colorful and that the burial pieces dealing with matter passing into another space, made reference to The Day of the Dead
SHADOW PIECES: The use of actual shadows in my work resulted from my interest in doing still life paintings which had a strong emphasis on shadows. The shadows became a totally integrated part of the whole composition, bringing with them double meaning and at times transforming the realistic work into an almost surreal piece. Pearlstein was influential in getting me to pay attention to shadows.
Eventually my installations also played-up shadows, making them a significant part of the work. I became intrigued with how such an ephemeral thing as a shadow can give validity to what we see as reality or the illusion of it (as in Realism). But I became more interested on how, as an artist one can make shadows disappear (as in an installation where they are skillfully painted out) or appear (by painting them in), when there are actually no real shadows there.
INSTANT ART: I was very much influenced by Marcel Duchamp and his instantaneous art pieces; his famous ready-mades. So I took this idea of doing installations that would last for a certain amount of time, recognizing that nothing lasts forever and if something that lasts for a few minutes to a few hours or days can leave a lasting impression on someone it accomplishes the same thing as a work which lasts longer. I liked the idea of walking into a gallery space with a small paper bag (with rolls of tape in it) and quickly putting up a piece that could fill up the whole room in a short period of time. At times I would use other commercial materials. These were my Instant Art pieces which in essence were installations.
PROCESS ART: These pieces deal with the passage of time and how it affects and changes things:
1. Folded up canvas collecting dust to document time in its soiled creases.
2. The markings of colored water on materials such as Plexiglas as it evaporated through time.
3. There are other "Life Activity" pieces related to performance art in which process is an important factor.
An example is when I shook the hand of Paul McCarthy (the visual artist) around 1970 and did not let go for 15 minutes. He simply was very gracious, but nervous, not knowing what to do, and finally just went along with it. At the end I explained that he had just experienced one of my art pieces. My friends who were with me (Darold Roach and Joel King) were also caught off guard and became agitated about my actions and they just stood by nervously laughing at times while I was dead silent through the whole piece.
CAGE and RILEY MINIMALISM: Early in 1968 I fell under the influence of musique concrète and the revolutionary work of John Cage. I have sound recordings of bus rides and walking down streets. I was impressed with the idea that one could use the element of chance and make musical pieces with noise. Later, I transposed these ideas into visual pieces dealing with chance in film and photographic imagery.
One of my very first sound compositions was used in the opening of a student film festival at the main auditorium of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1969. This piece makes use of the sounds of a toilet flushing combined with a guitar being played by the oscillating motion of a fork woven through the strings. It was at SAIC where, after these concrete music experiments, I started to explore the potential of animated soundtrack music.
Later when I listened to Terry Riley’s “In C” and “Rainbow in Curved Air”, I knew where I wanted to go with my animated soundtracks. Riley’s minimalist approach to music captured my imagination, because of his capability to induce meditative and trance like experiences with repetitive harmonic sounds. His rich patterns achieved with sequencers gave me the idea to use film loops to simulate a similar feeling. In this way I created the first animated soundtrack piece for my first film. Actually I have played “Rainbow in Curved Air” with this film and it is perfect for it.