PRINT November 2013


Walter De Maria

Walter De Maria, Meteor Crater, Arizona, 1968. Photo: Michael Heizer.

WALTER AND I MET IN NEW YORK CITY in 1966 or 1967 at his Howard Street studio. I was spray-painting industrial warehouses. A few artists called me to paint their lofts in what later was called SoHo. I think I sprayed Billy Copley’s loft, and I think he told Walter about me. Walter got a good job, with minimum varnoline solvent and maximum superwhite alkyd from Harry’s Greenwich Paints. I sprayed Lee Lozano’s and Neil Williams’s lofts and the Fluxus building for George Maciunas along with my usual slumlord work.

Walter and I seemed to have much in common as artists in spite of our ten-year age difference. We began to talk a lot, and he came to my studio and saw my negative North, East, South, West model and drawings of negative sculptures. He showed me his “invisible” drawings barely depicting landscape and earth words like mountain, valley, tree, etc., and his Fluxus treatise proposing to dig a huge hole with earthmoving equipment. He showed me the word drawing of Two Walls in the Desert, or something like that. There was enough to connect our thought right there. He was a sculptor. I was becoming a negative sculptor.

We soon met mostly every night to b.s. endlessly. He was manic when he became self-excited by his brilliant thought and crazy ideas. He went on incessantly. He played me the unedited “drums and ocean” and “drums and crickets” tapes full blast, which were totally unrelated to anything in my experience then and today still. Nobody I had ever known, other than La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, was as extreme. He introduced me to them, and we visited several times. Coincidentally, everyone slept and woke up on an incrementally rotating clock in one-hour steps and only worked at night. There was no place in the world for people like this then, but Heiner Friedrich eventually resolved this isolation for them.

Walter’s studio contained remnants of the show he’d just had at Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery of very tall Mayan-looking pyramidion structures with stainless-steel, shiny vinyl seated chairs on top, accompanied by long horizontal processionals of supplicating floor-borne stainless-steel geometric units. His studio was totally saturated with a strawberry-reminiscent perfume that his recently divorcing wife had left stored in boxes. This mixed with the varnoline solvent and paint that was sprayed two coats thick on his ceiling and walls and was drying slowly. The studio stank for months. Then he painted his floor with gloss white enamel so that the place looked like a church. We sat there talking hour after hour, or went over to my Mercer Street studio, or up to Chinatown for wontons, or to Dave’s Corner on Canal and Broadway for a cheeseburger. We had very little money and always had to pool our change to try to find enough to eat. He had already been collected by Bob Scull, but apparently not enough to leave anything in the bank to pay rent or eat with. Same for me with a wife and baby to feed and house. Actually, we were very optimistic about what was to come. We knew it was inevitable.

If there was ever any question about the pure radicality that was the objective of all life, a visit to La Monte and Marian’s loft with the intense droning, the repetitive and solid reverbed sound, kept the purity of the quest implanted in our minds. Dick Bellamy, Bob Scull, and Sam Wagstaff along with Heiner Friedrich all appeared at that time, no doubt through Walter’s influence since he worked with all of them. He was helping me. Dick became my dealer.

In the winter of 1967, I went to the Sierras to build and install the first large version of North, East, South, West up in the mountains and down in the Carson Valley. When I returned to New York, Walter insisted I take the eight-by-ten-inch prints of the results to a notary to document them. His superior knowledge of the art business, which he talked about constantly (ASCAP contracts in the music business vs. zero protections for static artists like us) persuaded me to do this.

The endless hours of foaming at the mouth, predicting the future of art, the museums, their purpose, the galleries, their value, the value of art, the personalities, the perilous future of the world, resulted in revolutionary ideas that we now intended to visit upon the art world. There was never any personal jealousy, only admiration for the other’s vision and the awe of witnessing all this divergent thought getting mixed together.

It all seemed extremely volatile to us, so in early 1968 with Bellamy’s help and Walter’s car we headed for the Mojave to get some work produced. Dick arranged for us to stop in Saint Louis at Joe and Emily Rauh Pulitzer’s, where they put us up and fed us on the cross-country quest to radicalize our art. We stopped at the Meteor Crater in Arizona to admire its relationship to sculpture found in New York City. We drove into a tornado in the dark, the mission almost terminated by a flying tree that ended up with us in a ditch. The tornado and the near miss reinforced the religiosity and purpose of the quest.

In Los Angeles, Walter had many connections that were his, but I set him up with my own, both young pilots and friends of mine, Hank Lee and John Hamer. After some planning, the three of them took off from Santa Monica in a Cessna for some obscure and now-forgotten playa far to the southeast, complete with a football-field wheeled line marker and three or four bags of lime powder.

The result, I found out later, was to me one of the greatest and most humble artworks to have ever been made: the Mile-Long Drawing. To this day, I still think very few savvy the unprecedented singularity of this achievement—an American art drawing, one mile long, made only of lime powder and clay.

Michael Heizer lives in Nevada.

Walter De Maria died on July 25, at the age of seventy-seven, in Los Angeles.