PRINT March 1966

An Interview with Peter Stroud

Q: Would I be correct in assuming that you are a one-image painter?

A: Yes, you could call me a one-image painter.

Q: How do you arrive at the basic structure of your work?

A: I think I use a two stage process. First, my painting is initially conceptualized through drawing. The basic function of drawing––in its widest sense––has to be taken into consideration. In other words, drawing as either exploration or as the concretization of a motif or an emblem, which is going to be the carrier or seminal vehicle for an idea. This idea is going to become the vehicle for color and emotion. The type of motif used is something that is particularly related to one’s situation or the influences that tend to be absorbed into one’s life as an artist and, in addition, the extent to which this motif is an effective vehicle for one’s particular ideas at that stage of one’s development. I feel that my paintings of 1960 and 1962, where the vertical was the dominant element, were very much related to the environmental concept of the color field broken down by intervals and interruptions. The space was essentially segmental, extending and expansive, and, as such, organized the environmental area around the picture. The concept of the painting as an environmental surface was one that was dominating at that time.

Q: It was “all-over” painting?

A: No.

Q: The image extended outside the field?

A: I would say that it was almost a non-image painting, for example, the only image was asymmetry, whereas the later paintings have a specific image.

Q: You mean emblem. Isn’t emblem some kind of a self-contained entity? Particularly as structure?

A: Yes, I think the whole question of emblem is very important; it is also important to define the meaning of it. Dore Ashton made a really specific definition by distinguishing between emblem and device, that is, that emblem is a symbol which becomes a carrier for a particular idea or state of mind. In other words, a vehicle. But when it is repeated then it becomes a device. Do you see what I mean?

Q: No. Can you clarify it further?

A: Well, if I made three paintings, the first of a rectangle, the second a square, and the third a triangle and later used all three of these shapes in a single painting, they would then be used as a formal device or a compositional device. I don’t think emblem can be used in terms of plasticity or visual efficacy. I think you can clearly say when a painting is emblematic. Rothko, for example, is an emblematic painter but Motherwell is not. Motherwell is very much related to the Cubist system of formal organization, that is, to painting that is read sequentially in time. One of the important things about an emblem is that it can clearly and immediately be grasped as a visual unity.

Q: What about scale?

A: Well, scale for me is essentially governed by the imposed limitations of the materials I use. That is, the limits of fabrication. If I could work bigger I would, but I cannot. I use the maximum module upon which masonite is made.

Q: Why are you restricted to masonite?

A: I require a stable surface upon which the striated elements in shallow relief can be firmly mounted. I also require an anonymous surface onto which I can apply my paint. I feel canvas has an identity of its own, mainly of texture––I require a non-textural surface. If I were to use board with canvas stuck on it, the canvas would have a contradictory identity to that of the strips.

Q: What about your use of paint? In what way does it differ from the stain painters?

A: If I could draw a comparison. The actual painterly or textural quality which is used, for example, by de Kooning or Guston, hides the canvas surface, but with the stain painters canvas and color become unified into a single entity. With de Kooning and Guston the canvas and the pigment remain two separate elements; that is, the skin of the paint with an unrevealed canvas below. In a way, my own work is more related––in this sense only––to the second, although paradoxically it probably lies somewhere in between. I would say (and this is not a conscious process at all) that my method of applying color is aimed at denying the sense of surface, or solidity of surface behind the pigment. The particularly dust-like quality or semi-dust-like quality of a lot of my work is aimed at implying the possibility of penetration of the color mist or dust, almost, as it were, as if you could push your hand through the color and find nothing there. This is a particular quality I find especially right for me, this hint of desubstantiation, of the paint not being pigment, but dust or cloud, something which is essentially not a skin. In other words, I paint to destroy both the sense of skin and surface.

Q: Doesn’t the method of structuring or organizing your emblem add to this by being unstable?

A: The emblem is made unstable by the particular structure which I arrived at purely intuitively––I have never consciously considered the emblem. The emblem has always emerged. I think in all painting that feels right the emblem as a vehicle of feeling emerges spontaneously and unconsciously. I mean in the same way that Kline used to take newspaper or a telephone book and continuously paint a large number of paintings. In my own way, the same thing emerges. I draw obsessively and a certain motif or emblem emerges, or re-emerges, or redefines itself and becomes almost aggressive in its demand to be used. It has a particular sense of rightness for use at this moment.

Q: What about the sort of illusionistic bounce of your emblem?

A: Well, this is completely an unconsidered element. I am not interested in it at all. In fact, I have never even conceived of it as a particular form. I have never manipulated the image consciously to give the box-form you now point out. I am not really prepared to discuss how far the structural ambiguity is conscious effort and how far it is not. Agreed, however, it does exist.

Q: It would seem that every type of color used by an artist has certain inherent characteristics that are personal.

A: I would not say that is so entirely. I would say that some colors are used as essential vehicles of identity and the artist experiences these colors as an individual, in relationship to his own existence. Others are used as a plastic challenge. In other words, one gets a bugaboo about making a painting tough and at the same time making it work.

Q: Would you say that to a considerable extent your color range is allied to an American sense of color? That is, one derived from the new American painting?

A: Definitely not. But I would say that with certain American painters, yes. If we take “new American” to mean the catalog of the New American Painting, no. But I would say that I am in profound sympathy with some of the painters, for example, Rothko and Newman.

Q: Are you similarly interested in certain notions of the sublime?

A: Well, I don’t know. I mean I think the sublime has been––particularly for Barney Newman––or may have been, an imposition, or maybe not. I would say that in my best work I am very profoundly concerned with feelings allied to the sublime. These are feelings that emerge in my work, rather than me forcing these feelings into the work. And they don’t necessarily emerge in every work, but they emerge in the best works. There is, however, a consistency in all my work, including my early work. It consists of two things. One is of a certain dye, or sublime quality colors––if you want to call them that––and the other is the vertical format which I haven’t used for some time, but . . .

Q: Don’t all artists adopt or use a personal range of color?

A: That has very much to do with the artist as an individual, his identity as a person, the amount of time he has lived, including his particular age and when he was born. I think the fact, for instance, that as Mark Rothko and Barney Newman are both of Jewish descent, they have a particular sense of color which is related to romanticism. I think particularly with Newman’s work you can see a quality of drama and dialogue. I think you can somehow see the quality of the individual painter as being of this age. Barney is of a particular age and obviously he couldn’t have painted those works unless he was that old.

Q: But you could not have obtained some of the colors you use twenty or thirty years ago.

A: I agree. My paintings are very complex compounds of latex, acrylic, vinyl and caseins. It is only by using them in this way that I can get the particular qualities I want. The very fact that––to go into pure technicalities––latex paint requires a nylon brush to lay it on properly and not the normal bristle or hair brush may be a small thing, but there you are.

Q: Incidentally, would you relate your color to anxiety in any way whatsoever?

A: No, not at all.

Q: Then is it calm?

A: I wouldn’t say that entirely because I tend to work through a lot of ranges. I tend to have a dominant use of my low key colors. I mean, for example, in the red range these tensions emerge, but I do use orange and yellow a lot. Anyhow, I am an anxious person. Most people today are. I really think every person’s color––in that sense––is loaded with anxiety.

Q: Well, let’s go on to the question of low relief. I think you are one of the few painters I know of using what I will call a romantic range of color or nonhierarchical color with low relief.

A: Albers uses non-hierarchical color. Albers is concerned with color contrast which is very much related to post-Bauhaus thinking. And I am not very much concerned with the use of contrast. I am concerned with the use of color vitality, color life, in other words, the activation of an essentially monochromatic surface. By monochromatic I don’t mean the use of a single red or blue, I mean rather the tonality within the range of blues. I will activate these colors by another color within a very close range.

Q: I presume Hofmann’s push-and-pull notion of color is completely outside your vocabulary?

A: Well, I feel that Hofmann––who I admire very much as an artist, particularly because he is a multi-image and a multi-emblem artist––is a man who embodies in many ways the width of realization that many of us would like to obtain. But we cannot move into that area because (1) we have not the technical competence and (2) we are bound by a new tradition of one image, one artist. Apart from this I would like to turn to this whole problem of Hofmann’s color. Hofmann’s color theories are again essentially related to those of Kandinsky, almost to the Theosophic idea of certain colors having certain values, absolute values, and certain feelings, and I am not really concerned with this. If you talk about my use of color it is about the quality of blueness or greenness. Perhaps not even the blueness or greenness––a certain sense of freeing the color. For instance, a certain quality of dark red . . . I am not concerned with contrapuntal colors, of warm against cool which Hofmann uses, or even maybe Noland, but I am not certain about Noland. I am very much concerned, I would say, with the intensity of a hue and the density.

Q: Are you using intensity and density as analogous to saturation?

A: To some degree, yes. But if I am a little uncertain, I am more sure that it is the dark intense colors that mean more to me.

Q: What about the shadows formed in your reliefs?

A: Completely incidental. No consideration of them enters into my working process.

Q: Is the height of your relief completely arbitrary?

A: With regard to the height, it is something I do not want to register as relief or as flat. I want a close projection to the surface so that it can read as part of the surface at one time or as shadow relief another part of the time. Don’t forget this has come out of my particular Constructivist background. In fact, I was working in all-white reliefs, then all white plus primaries and then all white plus tonalities. I was using––even then––a shadow relief of this kind. This is part of my history as an artist and something I don’t want to deny. It is my own area of working and it’s true I moved from a projection of five eighths of an inch down to three eighths or a quarter of an inch and from a width of a quarter down to an eighth. I use it now in a minimal way so as to deny the essential substance of the relief element. When you look at my paintings for any length of time the relief seems to merge in. You get a dimensional flux between two and three dimensions. This is a post-creative observation; I don’t really consider this when I am working. What emerges for me is that when I was using one quarter by three quarters, or one quarter by a half, the relief element was dominant all the time. Now I am using a quarter by an eighth and the relief element is no longer a dominant factor.

Q: Whatever the relief may have meant in the past, do you now think one of its paramount purposes is to provide an easier method of staging your color? In other words, to provide a ready method of color placement and alteration; the relief providing boundaries to work up against without having to consider keeping a straight line, etc.

A: This is very important, I agree, but it never really entered my mind at all.