AF: Do you set up a disciplined schedule for yourself?
LB: I do if I have employees. If I have assistants it's nice to work with people you trust. And a lot of busy work is sort of boring stuff, so I like to have material prepared, glass cleaned, before I get into the actual coating technique. I like to have everything all ready to go and then I go after it and get it as fast as possible. After I've harvested what's useable, then, depending on the type of work I'm doing, I either make collage or sculptures.
If I'm doing the glass pieces, the glue takes a certain amount of time to dry. The cleaning of the surfaces before we coat it does, too. And then, after we've assembled it, it takes a certain amount of time to rest . . . all that kind of stuff. I like to flow on the creative edge, rather than on the detail of it.
AF: Do you seek the opinion of the people you've hired to work with you ever? I mean, do you ask them any aesthetic questions at all?
AF: Have you pretty much worked with the same assistants for many, many years?
AF: So they have a sense of your mindset already?
LB: Every once in a while, one will say something that is meaningful to me like, when I started doing these paper things and tearing stuff up and combining stuff up, a fellow who worked with me said, "This is really a great painted world." Just that little comment, you know, very encouraging and it meant a lot to me.
AF: Does politics influence your work and imagery at all?
LB: Just about everything outside of my studio is unacceptable and that includes politics.
AF: I'm sorry; did you say "unacceptable"?
LB: "Unacceptable," yeah.
AF: In terms of your process, in terms of what you create as an artist?
LB: In terms of, of everything that's meaningful to me, in the studio. Everything outside is politics . . . because in the studio, I am the tyrant. I am the boss. This is my scene. My ass is on the line here with what I do. I have no way to litigate the thought and debate. I don't live in the world of words. Plus, I'm very hard of hearing. I wear hearing aids. I hear things weird, too. I don't hear things that people say.
LB: I hear things that I think they said.
AF: Oh, I see.
LB: Example: I ran into a friend of mine some years ago, hadn't seen in a long, long time. The normal questions, "How're you doing? Where are you living, blah blah blah. How's your wife?"
He said, "She left me."
I heard, "She joined the Navy."
You know, the conversation went on after that. "Where is she now," and it kept getting more and more oblique, until I asked him what her rank was? And he looked at me and he said, "What the fuck are you talking about?"
AF: (Laughter) Do you think the artist has any social responsibility? I mean to the culture that they live in or the civilization in general?
LB: Yes, I suppose so.
AF: But it's not something that you concern yourself with?
LB: Well, I think that I only concern myself with it by trying to be who I am here. In other words, if I have any influence or any importance whatsoever, it's the depth of my work, my investigations with surfaces. Nothing else.
AF: You said that the art world had changed in the sense that there are so many more people involved in it now. Did you mean that there are many more artists creating artwork than before? Or because of the significant increase in curatorial staffing at the museums? Also, the worldwide expansion of private galleries and dealers today is overwhelming. All these elements together, is that what you mean?
LB: It's an industry. I never even thought of it as a business. The art world is an industry. The studio is not an industry. It's not even a business for me, but something else. It has nothing to do with any of that stuff.
AF: Did you ever experience what writers refer to as "writer's block," or anything similar?
LB: Sure, sure.
AF: And you just pushed through it?
LB: I sit around, play the guitar, smoke dope, smoke cigars, drink beer and wait 'til my muse kicks my fucking Jewish ass out of my chair and it could go on for months. And at some point, I just get up out of the chair and go to work. And whatever the time of waiting, it almost always picks up exactly where it left off.
LB: So I don't worry about these periods of low activity. They were almost always a by-product of being broke. I didn't have the money to buy materials. Or that nobody wanted to show the stuff; that nobody wanted to buy it; that nobody even wanted to come over and say hello. You know. That's cyclical. It happens.
AF: Its interesting because of course today, a lot of younger artists would not understand or recognize that maybe you had these kinds of really thin periods in your career.
LB: Why should they? It's none of their business. It is my reality.
AF: Right. And yet that's obviously a great challenge for any artist when they're financially challenged; how they cope and find a way to survive, to keep their faith in being an artist, to keep going.
LB: Look, the cube projects were very successful. I sold just about everything I ever made. But this had nothing to do with the "selling of things." That was always great. At the same time, however, I didn't make the things with the intent of selling them. I made them because that's all I knew how to do. And when I changed my interests from three-dimensional work to two-dimensional work, the interest in the things I was doing, which I was passionately in love with, fell off completely. There wasn't any interest in it. And, and so, that's the ebb and the flow. But what you have to do is trust yourself to do your thing. That's all that really counts.
AF: What are your feelings about the role of history and art history? Do you feel that as an artist, they were significant in your growth?
LB: I think there was a book I read once about the history of scientific revolution.
AF: The history of the scientific revolution?
LB: Yes, and I can't remember the writer's name. But he made a statement in the beginning, that the history of science actually really represents the history of the selection of scientific activity. And I have no reason to believe that the history of art is any different than that.
AF: Do you mean in terms of what art historians selected to be considered fine pieces of art and that other things weren't? But they could be equally worthy in your mind?
LB: Yeah . . . We all know great artists that are on their ass, that can't get any action, that are depressed because they can't participate for some reason or another, and they know in their hearts that their statements are as honest and as inventive as anything else that's going on out in the world - but they can't get the time of day. So uh, why? Who knows why? Something was selected to be a commodity and some things weren't.
AF: The process that you engage in with curators at museums - do you find that process challenging, or difficult? Have you learned anything by working with curators?
LB: I did a show recently in France and the curator's position on the show was to support an idea she had, which was that my work was as much related to the writing of science fiction as it was to minimalism. In other words, my work was influenced by science fiction as much as it was minimalism, maybe more. And she made a good case for it. I mean, I never thought of it before.
AF: Are you someone who avidly reads science fiction novels?
LB: I used to. I started off with H.G. Wells and I found him a fascinating writer. That led to reading other people. But Wells was the key guy for me. An anthology of his correspondence that I read, he had been a journalist in his younger days . . . A young journalist interviewing him after he had written the Time Machine and the Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, heavy duty stuff . . .
LB: . . . how he made the transition from being a journalist to being a successful novelist. And what he said to the guy was so meaningful to me. He said that he thought it wiser, to write a series of striking, if unfinished books, and so escape from journalism, rather than be forgotten while he elaborated on a masterpiece.
That meant to me that he was just going to work a lot. The good work would come and the bad work would come. But the main thing was that a lot of stuff was going to come and he was going to get his energy from the mass of stuff he was going through. And that's exactly how I felt about my stuff. Exactly.
That nothing that I did was going to be so great that it would make me immortal. And nothing that I did was going to be so bad that it was going to take me out of the scene. The main thing was to work.
Wells published about 138 novels while he was alive. I think 12 or 13 were published after he died. That's science books, history books . . . and he wrote a series of articles that were published around 1920. It was called or referred to as "the Outline of History," and it was published monthly. And that compendium of articles, I can't remember how many volumes there were to it, but they were done in a Life magazine style.
Science books and history books and, uh, his, uh, a series of articles that were published, I don't know, around 1920, in the '20's, I think, it was called, the Outline of History, published monthly, and that compendium of these things, I can't remember how many volumes there were to it, but they were sort of like a Life Magazine, and it became the normal history book used in high schools until it was outdated.
AF: Do you feel limited with the technology you apply, to create and finalize your works of art? In terms of what you perceive in your imagination, or what you desire to literally accomplish, that you are prevented from designing or inventing a new work of art - because the way to create it doesn't exist, technologically?
LB: No. But physically there's been a problem obtaining laminate film. I used to buy a dozen rolls of it every couple of years and when we got down to one roll of it, I asked my assistant in Taos to order some more. None of our distributors carried it anymore. And we couldn't find it and it was like, it had just disappeared in the year or so since we had ordered it last, it had just disappeared in the year or so since we had ordered it the last time. We finally located a company in Germany someplace that carried it. Except that the difference was I paid 180 bucks a roll for the stuff, plus UPS to get it to me.
AF: Right . . .
LB: Now I'm paying 500 Euros a roll, plus the shipping to get it from Germany. You know, that's a significant difference in cost.
AF: I understand . . . I mean, it's happened to me in my own work as a photographer. The papers have gotten ridiculously expensive.
LB: Yeah, yeah.
AF: Paper, just a single box of paper 16 x 20 inch black & white paper is close to two hundred dollars now.
LB: Do you shoot with film or digital?
AF: As an artist, I mostly work in film. But I mean, when I work for the website its better for me to shoot digitally because the web designer works with digital files. But I still love grain. Grain, to me, is like a metaphor for life . . .
LB: Well, for me, layering is a metaphor for life.
AF: Has the digital world influenced your artwork at all? I mean, do you use computers in any way?
LB: Only email.
AF: Email? Do you use the computer as a component in your creative process at all?
LB: Yes. I have.
AF: So, you do use it?
LB: Yes, I have.
AF: Did you embrace it?
LB: Oh I loved it! I tripped over it completely. Frank Gehry asked me to take a look at some models of a house that he was doing and I wanted to do some kind of collaboration at the time. So I took some images and scanned them into my little 165C Mac. I had a program that allowed me to draw on top of the scanned-in images.
LB: And so, to illustrate the concept that I had, the program was very complicated. To me it was . . .
AF: You mean the software? Learning how to use it?
LB: Yeah, learning how to use the tools. I mean, I didn't know how to use it.
AF: Yeah, you mean, one of those (sketch) pads, or whatever?
LB: No, I was just working with the cursor bar and the side of my thumb. And looking at the screen, to see what a certain width of brush stroke would look like, I would turn my cursor ball fast or slow and watch on the screen what the evidence of my synergy was.
And then, because the thing didn't have much memory, I printed it out and wrote the settings on the paper; on letter bond paper.
I did the presentation of the light piece that I suggested might work for Frank's project, and showed it to him. He says, "Okay. This looks okay. Lets send it to the client and see what he says."
So I ended up making a proposal for two giant bronzes that were taken from this, from this calligraphy and, uh, there's one here. I'll show it to you.