Interview: Studio Secrets Revealed: work by Bruce Adams & Richard Huntington, Posted 2008

On View: November 1 through December 13
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 1, 7-9pm

One of the worst kept secrets within the WNY arts community is that artists, Bruce Adams and Richard Huntington, have shared a studio space for many years. The idea of showing their works together has been discussed over recent years by various arts venues, but this pairing has not materialized to date. This situation will be remedied with just such an exhibition at the Carnegie Art Center.

There are many reasons why artists share creative spaces – not the least of which are economic. But if two artists share a creative space over a long period of time – surely, they must also share similar ideas and philosophies about arts practices. Perhaps – perhaps not.

All artists are single mindedly driven by their own creative notions. Strong opinions are the rule, not the exception – and are never, ever, in short supply. So what enables creative individuals to produce series of works while sharing studio space – over years – without bouts of fisticuffs or homicidal considerations? Perhaps this exhibit will help explain this – perhaps it will not.

These two individuals deserve our consideration, not only because they are accomplished artists, but because of their notable individual contributions to the WNY arts community over a number of years.

Therefore it is with great pleasure that we, at the Carnegie Art Center, will exhibit their works together – something that has been long overdue.

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams was originally trained in art education, but has since bridged the fine art and art education worlds as a painter, installation artist, teacher, arts advocate, and more recently, critical and creative writer. Although Adams is known primarily as a painter of figurative works, he avoids adopting a single personal painting style. Rather, he assumes different styles – often historical ones – as a strategy for exploring contemporary issues through contextually redefined art conventions.

Adams has extensively exhibited his work, examples of which are included in numerous museum and private collections. He considers his true education as an artist to have resulted from his involvement with the arts community beginning in the early 1980s as the director of peopleart bflo, a small regional alternative space. Since then he worked in various capacities with Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, including as a board member, and board president from 2003 – 05. In 2000 the National Art Education Association named him New York State Art Educator of the Year.

Richard Huntington

Richard Huntington is a painter, printmaker and Critic Emeritus at the Buffalo News. He holds a BFA from Syracuse University and an MA from the University at Buffalo, where he studied under Seymour Drumlevitch.  He taught studio and art history courses at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill; lived and worked in New York City, where he showed at the Fulton Street Gallery and other venues. In 1982 he became the Visual Art Director at Artpark, where he facilitated major outdoor sculptures by such artists as Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, Chris Burden, and many others.

In 1985, he took the post of art critic at the Buffalo News, where he remained until 2007. As critic, he covered local and regional venues, as well as in museums and galleries in Toronto, New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and Venice. His articles have appeared in such art periodicals as ArtNews, High Performance Magazine, and Art New England. He is the author of a number of catalog essays, including “Seymour Drumlevitch” (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1988) and “Tyrone Georgiou: Uneasy Architecture” (Burchfield-Penney Art Center, 1989).

Recent exhibitions include a solo show in Linkoping, Sweden, at the JR Konstallen (2007); “Drawing Conclusions,” a group show at New York Gallery in Manhattan (2004); “Stories Without Words,” a group exhibition in Fredonia (2003); and “Beauty Rules,” a solo exhibition, at Mercer Gallery in Rochester (1999).

The following are excerpts from a videotaped conversation between artists, Bruce Adams and Richard Huntington, with Ellen Ryan, Director of the Carnegie Art Center, at their shared studio space in Buffalo, NY, witnessed by Betty, the dog.   

Studio Secrets Revealed pt. 1
Studio Secrets Revealed pt. 2: Richard Huntington
Studio Secrets Revealed pt. 3: Bruce Adams

Begin Transcript

When did you meet?

Richard:  I don’t even really remember.  Do you?

Bruce:  No.  I don’t really know.  It was probably at some kind of party.   I don’t know, maybe the second maybe the third time it may have been at Hallwalls but I think I know the third time was ..I think was at Elizabeth Licata’s wedding.  That was the first time I talked to him for any extended period of time.

Richard:  He was nervous because he was talking to a famous guy.

Bruce:  Well, I mean you know I mean I told him this being the critic of the Buffalo News – the guy that can make or break you in this town –   I, I sort of  resisted talking to him because I thought he was pestered constantly by the people, you know, that wanted to suck up to him.

Richard:  I was just waiting for someone to talk to.

Richard:  I’d go to an art opening and everyone would (spreads his arms denoting people moving away from him).

Ellen: I think that is what everyone felt though.  Most people felt that – if they didn’t know you a little…

Bruce: Yeah, and I remember saying to my wife. “You know I think he wants to talk to me because every time I talk he keeps going and I just walk away so I said okay next time I’m going to keep talking.”

Richard:  Desperate for company…..

Bruce:  And, we had a long conversation.

Richard:  He’d walk away in the middle of a sentence, that was the amazing… I mean when I was talking!

Bruce:  Well, your sentences go on (laughs) so…

Ellen:  …So when did you start sharing a studio space?   How did that happen?

Richard:  1994

 

Sharing space, making art, dog biscuits and sugar plums

Ellen:   So, I mean, you guys have been sharing a studio for almost fifteen years…fourteen years?

Richard:   That’s my arithmetic

Ellen:    But you’ve become friends over the years sharing the space…did you ever get a chance to even talk to each other while you were here?

Richard:   We ruined many a painting night by talking, yeah….I’d say some innocent thing and Bruce would take off on a dissertation for twelve hours or something along that line.

Bruce:    Yeah, that’s so true, I’m sure…Yeah, you had nothing to say.

Richard:    Yeah   (Both laugh)

Ellen:    So, what kind of things would you talk about?

Bruce:    Well, the ongoing thing.  Well, I would describe the ongoing thing as our differing views of the nature of making art, I guess in a way…I tend to approach it from sort of an intellectual, rational point of view.  (to Richard) And you can describe your….

Richard:    Me, not being rational.  As I said yesterday at my talk at the Castellani, that you know those diagrams of dogs’ brains where they have the huge amounts devoted to dog biscuits?  So, that’s like my brain, that much is devoted to art making.  But then there’s a little tiny sliver, a little pie slice, for rational stuff…Yeah, my writing, it’s all squeezed into that space.  Conversation, rational conversation like this is only in that little spot.  And, like the simple recognition that human life is made up of hours and minutes and not some vague eternity where I can have coffee for three hours in the morning and waste my time.  So, my approach is much more emotionally based.

Bruce:    Here’s the difference and kind of illustrates the difference between us.  One of the reasons why I get a lot accomplished , and I would say I would actually have over the period of time we’ve been here –  well, you have a lot of small pieces – but in terms of larger pieces, I have quite a few.  And, I can think about what I want to do – I have so many, as you know, so many irons in the fire and I’m doing so many things – so when I get here, I’ve thought it through and I’m ready to get to work.  And I will crank…I will say this is the painting I want to do and I will do it. Now, I’ll watch Richard paint something and there under every painting – there’s ten other good paintings that he’s painted over.  I’ll watch him paint over and over because….he’s never satisfied.  I go, “That looks great.”  “Yeah, no I don’t like it I’m going to do it over.”   And, there’s layer over layer of what I think is… ten times what I think is a good painting.  I say I like that and he’s says it’s not time yet.

Richard:    See, I call that the “sugar plum” stage where you think you’re going to do it the first time through.  You know you have these visions of a great painting dancing in your head and then the reality, at least for me, cuts in at a certain point and I have to start making stabs in the dark, trial and error, endless revisions…

Ellen:  Doesn’t live up to the vision

Richard:  Yeah, so these things keep…pretty soon rationality is thrown out the window.

Bruce:   And, I’ll just do it the first time through.

 

Art History, mutual influence and Never share a studio with an artist who knows what he’s doing

Richard:    My motto is “Never trust an artist who knows what he’s doing.”   (All laugh.)

Bruce:    My motto is “Never share a studio with an artist who knows what he’s doing.” Just kidding. It’s a little joke.   (All laugh.)

Richard:    I’m really…it’s an age difference too because I came out of de Kooning and Pollack and all the Abstract Expressionists and grew up with that and basically (to Bruce) you were still a little kid.  And you didn’t hit your stride until Pop Art which is…

Bruce:    I didn’t even hit my stride then…It was considerably later, yeah, that I actually got active …well, as a person interested in art, you know, Pop Art would be about right.  Just about right, but as a person actively participating, it was somewhat later.

Richard:  Yeah, people like Warhol would use a pretty direct conceptual approach but he was always a painter…..But he would know pretty much what he was going to try to do and then he’d let his materials screw it up in some interesting way, you know like letting the silk screen fall off register or some other kind of thing.  So, that’s a good example of someone who sort of follows the way you (to Bruce) work.

Bruce:  Yeah, Warhol follows my way of working.

Richard:    Nice of you to help him out.

Ellen:    So when you guys meet here and occasionally have conversations, is it always about your approach to stuff because you’re so different that way?

Richard:    It does lead to big arguments…Because of approach.  Like one time I mentioned Giotto and he said, “Oh well, he’s just a thing of the past.”

Bruce:    He’s paraphrasing heavily…

Richard:    “He has no relevance to today” but that’s what you said.

Bruce:    That’s what you remember I said.

Richard:    That’s what you said.

Bruce:    Here’s what I had to say.  We do have these extended conversations and they’re totally civil and we have, you know, we really seriously disagree about things but they’re entirely civil.  We go back and forth and back and forth and there’s never a raised voice or anything it’s all very, you know, calm and collected.

Ellen:   Does it ever result in you looking at your work and going “Oh, okay, maybe I’ll do this instead because of the conversation I just had?”

Richard:   No, I don’t think so.

Bruce:   I knew he would say “no”.  And, see my belief is you can’t really interact with another person and not somehow be affected.  Everything you interact with, you know all day, you interact with a TV show… may in some way give you a thought.  Certainly another person avidly discussing art could conceivably give you a thought.  But I knew you would say “no”.

 

Art criticism and writing reviews

Bruce:     There came a point that, Richard, we’d have these discussions and he’d say, you know you should write a review.  And, I would just say, what a ridiculous thought, I can’t write.  And he would say that periodically and, you know, maybe every six months to a year he would just… and it was a toss off comment and I actually didn’t even know if he meant it, you know.

Richard:     So now he does it.

Bruce:  Then he finally talked me into it and giving it a try which I did sort of conditionally.

Ellen:  And this was for the Buffalo News?

Bruce:  Yeah, but this is great, this is great when I used to submit things if he had concerns about it he would call me and we would talk it over line by line.  And, he would explain why he thought I should write it differently and that was really a learning experience for me.  Really helpful.  And to this day, I hear his incessant comments in my head while I’m writing.  I get to the end of a paragraph – I just can’t start out with that paragraph, I have to refer to the previous thing, you know.

 

Whereabouts Unknown works by Richard Huntington

Ellen:   So, let’s talk about the series that you’re going to be exhibiting at the Carnegie for this exhibition.  Give us the title and the whole concept behind why you did it

Richard:   Sure.  It’s called Whereabouts Unknown and it deals with paintings that were destroyed during World War II by the Nazis.  So, these paintings don’t exist anymore other than a little black and white reproduction.  So what I’ve done is taken these paintings and redone them re-interpreted them in my way and then used them in some cases with letters signifying the artist and the title.  So, it’s a recreation of a painting that no longer exists.  For example, this is a painting by Max Hechstein called De Rauscher, which means the smoker, and you can see him depicted in this painting.  The painting itself, as it once existed, was quite different than this painting.  So this is kind of an expressionistic combination that I went back to the past – this painting was painted in the earlier part of the twentieth century- and I combined it with things that happened since then. So, there’s a merger of styles going on here.  And usually, these have other paintings or drawings that lead up to them.  In some cases many variations on the same theme.  So here you have the same theme done as a drawing so you can see the different treatment here, an entirely new treatment….So here I incorporated the letters showing more obviously this painting that no longer exists. 1911 is the date there.

Ellen:   And when you said they were – the only things that existed in terms of some kind of black and white print…

Richard:   Yeah, usually thanks to the Nazis because they carefully documented all these paintings that they confiscated and showed them in the Degenerate show in 1937.  And then subsequently, usually destroyed them or sold them or they were lost for one reason or another.  So, I thought of these as kind of metaphors for the loss in World War II.  You know, the paintings compared to human life were minor things but they can represent now a metaphor for all the horrors of World War II…There are so many lost.  I mean they were seriously going after all this contemporary art of the day.  So this is Karl Hoffer.  He’s not a name you hear too much but he was a big name in the early part of the twentieth century.  So, again this is a take-off on the original image done…but it’s quite different from the original, could have been because it has strokes and treatments and distortions that happened much later.   I’ll show you one more here. This one is Max Beckman, Der Strand, which means “The Beach” as you can see it’s the beach.

 

Title First Series works by Bruce Adams

Ellen:    So, we were talking about how you came about putting this series together.

Bruce:    Right, so it was actually around the time that I was working on The Pictures of People Looking at Paintings and that was very tedious work, very slow and deliberate work.  And honestly, that’s a good example of me sort of subjugating my own desire to the concept.  Ah, it was…you get satisfaction out of it but it’s difficult work and I really like to just paint and have a good time when I paint.  So I wanted to give myself a vacation from that series.  I wanted to do something else and I really didn’t have an idea so I was scrounging around here – probably borrowing a gum eraser from Richard or something – and I found these little three by five cards with all these little phrases on it and they seemed to be cards that were about a lecture of some sort.  Little notes to remind Richard what to say.  And, I looked at them and I thought that they would work like titles like The body is public like the lives of animals.   Some of these may have been quotes, they really…some of them sound like they really could have been quotes from, you know, famous people. And others were just like non-sequitors.

Ellen:    So these were just cards Richard was working on for some writing assignment or public speaking assignment he had.

Bruce:    Well, not just working on – and that’s the interesting thing.  I found them and then I later said, “So what are these cards.”  And he looked at them and he said, “I don’t know.  I made them for something.  I have no idea what they mean.”    So, they had things like Unmediated Expression is Like a Philosophical Impossibility and No Original Self back in There; Unconscious has its Language.  And, I thought this is what I would do.  It’s like what you were saying.  It’s kind of like an assignment for myself .  I tend to collect images because I use a lot of images in my work.  And, so I thought what I would do would be to start out with the titles and then work backwards to the paintings.  And, I would find images that somehow evoked the right spirit in my head and somehow make some kind of sense in my head knowing that people would see them and would create their own meaning and would have a different way of responding to it.  But for myself there’s always some kind of –no matter how obscure – some kind of logic to the pieces.  So, for instance, Unmediated Expression is Like a Philosophical Impossibility, that’s one of the little phrases.  And, this is one that really didn’t take.  Many times I would piece together images.  But in this case I really didn’t have to piece together any images and found that image and took it out of context by creating the background.  The background gave me an opportunity to just paint and play around with paint.  But the figures were in a moment of expression.  And it’s ambiguous what’s going on, it’s maybe somebody’s birthday or it’s a retirement party or it’s an office situation. These are often vintage images so they’re older and back when people typically wore suits for important occasions -and even not so important occasions.  And, you know they were reacting to one another.  I just thought of the idea of …here’s this form of expression in the form of laughter and applause but it’s, ah, some kind of mediation going on.  There is always some kind of mediation going on between people.  You know sometimes you see people sort of over-laughing or over-clapping.  You know I always used to look at the Dean Martin Roasts.  And people would make jokes about somebody and they were mediocre jokes and people would be falling over laughing.  And I thought, that’s a good example of mediated expression, you know.  But it’s all around us so that’s what that kind of evoked for me.  But, by me telling you that, kind of demystifies it in a way.  I like the fact that most people would look at it and they would create their own explanation for that. So a lot of these really are intended to have multiple potential answers, you know.

Ellen:     I also want you to talk about the lettering that’s on here.

Bruce:     (Laughs) Well, my original plan was that  these were going to be on raw wood and they were going to be finished, polished looking wood.  But it was not going to be painted.  And I was going to have the phrases laser-burnt in.  But I had trouble finding somebody who could do laser burning.  And maybe today I would have more success but at the time I couldn’t find it in the phone book and I asked people.  Somebody knew someone but that person turned out to be not that reliable.  So, I finally gave up and actually time past and I would continue to pull these out every now and then and continue to work on them a little bit more.  So, they were actually done over a period of time.  And then it was finally time to actually frame and present them.  And, I just made this decision to change direction and you’d pull a color out and use the color as the frame. And then have it hand lettered like you would, like you know, a sign.  And, so I happened to know somebody who had previously been a sign letterer and we shared a studio.  So I said, “Richard, would you be willing to do these letters?”  What I find is …that lettering is incredibly tedious and difficult to do.  And he just sits there and goes through it, does it ‘cause he had that experience and had that facility for doing it.  So, he said sure and you know I know probably bought some paints and he kept the paints so that was a little trade off.

 

Studio Secrets Revealed

Bruce:    …But anyway, so you know if you were going to get reviewed, Richard was going to review you.  And I said  to him, “You know if I join you in the studio, can you still review me?”  He said, “Yeah, I think I can. It shouldn’t be any problem.”  We agreed, and this was the big agreement, that he would never discuss my art.  So, he would see me working on stuff but he would never say anything about it.  The first time I would hear what he thought about it would be when he wrote about it.  Then eventually I started to notice that he was farming-out the reviews a little bit, you know.  If I was mentioned in a group show, okay.  But if it was a solo show he’d get someone else… So he really kind of stopped reviewing me.  But we still kept up to that rule until the day he quit at the Buffalo News.   He never talked about my work.  Of course, then after he did, he would have no problem.  He would come in and he would say things like, “That neck looks like there’s a squid around it.”

Richard:    I didn’t say that.

Bruce:    You did too.  He said that, “It looks like she’s got an octopus around her neck.”

Richard:    I said that?

Bruce:    Yeah.  Tentacle.

Richard:     I said that?

Bruce:    You said, “Correct that, fix that, just a little too much in the division there.  It’s got this big rubber thing around her neck.”  Or…he’ll give a backhanded compliment like, “Yeah, you almost got the illusion there.”…. Well, he either likes to paraphrase what I say in the worst possible light or he just makes it up.  He takes things out of context.  And, also sometimes I say things to be glib and then he quotes them like they were sincere.  Even when you’re glib there’s an element of truth but you’re saying it in a way that you don’t want repeated somehow to be considered literal.  But that’s all.   Let me tell you about some other things.   Richard is very sensitive to fumes and I understand that and you have to be polite….But painting makes fumes sometimes.  So sometimes he’ll come in and he’ll say, “I can’t stand the fumes. Your water is too old.”  “My water’s too old?” “Yeah, the water’s just not starting to smell right.”  I’ll get rid of it, no problem.

Richard:    That’s because you put oily rags in the water.

Bruce:    No, but I mean it’s true.  You can’t throw a bunch of oily rags in the corner and pile them up.  They’ll eventually generate heat and explode.  But Richard is convinced that even laid flat out they will potentially burst into flames.  And he makes me a thing of water where I throw my old rags in.  I was thinking like, if I was Jackson Pollack , I would come back and find my paintings in a bucket of water.  ‘Cause he would say, “You had the oil on the canvas there and it was going to explode.”  So, I can’t have a single rag laid out flat with some oil paint on it.  Even though we paint on canvas with oil paint.  But that’s Richard’s idiosyncracy and you’ve got to respect each other’s feelings about those kinds of things.  So, I do my best to make sure my rags go in the water.

Richard:   Well, I actually had a shared studio – I think I told you this, Bruce – in Peoria, Illinois…. you know, we shared a big studio and this guy would just throw the rags all over the place. Heaps, flat out on the easel, anywhere.  And I said, “You know they’re going to burn. The whole studio will go up.”  And, so I would pick up his rags every day and throw them out and he would get furious because those were his rags.  But he continued to do it and continued to do it.  But when I left Peoria and left that studio, six months later the studio burned down….So that’s my point.

Bruce:    See, the rationalist in me says, that’s very circumstantial.  However, that kind of experience certainly would put you off rags for life.

Ellen:    I think this is a great place to stop.

Bruce:    You thought it was a great place to stop a half an hour ago.  (All laugh)

Ellen:     No it’s great.  Thanks so much.  I think people will enjoy this.

Richard:     Betty (the dog) didn’t say a word.

 

Special thanks to Tammy McGovern and Jax DeLuca at Squeaky Wheel for shooting and editing this video piece.