Glaser: So even your efforts, Don, to get away from European art and its traditional compositional effects, is somewhat limited because you’re still going to be using the same basic elements that they used.
Judd: No, I don’t think so. I’m totally uninterested in European art and I think it’s over with. It’s not so much the elements that we use that are new as their context. For example, they might have used a diagonal, but no one there ever used as direct a diagonal as Morris Louis did.
Stella: Look at all the Kandinskys, even the mechanical ones. They’re sort of awful, but they have some pretty radical diagonals and stuff. Of course, they’re always balanced.
Judd: When you make a diagonal clear across the whole surface, it’s a very different thing.
Stella: But none the less, the idea of the diagonal has been around for a long time.
Judd: That’s true; there’s always going to be something in one’s work that’s been around for a long time, but the fact that compositional arrangement isn’t important is rather new. Composition is obviously very important to Vasarely, but all I’m interested in is having a work interesting to me as a whole. I don’t think there’s any way you can juggle a composition that would make it more interesting in terms of parts.
Glaser: You obviously have an awareness of the Constructivist work, like Gabo and Pevsner. What about the Bauhaus? You keep talking about spareness and austerity. Is that only in relation to the idea that you want your work “whole,” or do you think there was something in Mies’s Bauhaus dictum that “less is more”?
Judd: Not necessarily. In the first place, I’m more interested in Neo-Plasticism and Constructivism than I was before, perhaps, but I was never influenced by it, and I’m certainly influenced by what happens in the United States rather than by anything like that. So my admiration for someone like Pevsner or Gabo is in retrospect. I consider the Bauhaus too long ago to think about, and I never thought about it much.
Glaser: What makes the space you use different from Neo-Plastic sculpture? What are you after in the way of a new space?
Judd: In the first place, I don’t know a heck of a lot about Neo-Plastic sculpture, outside of vaguely liking it. I’m using the actual space because when I was doing paintings I couldn’t see any way out of having a certain amount of illusionism in the paintings. I thought that also was a quality of the Western tradition and I didn’t want it.
Glaser: When you did the horizontal with the five verticals coming down it, you said you thought of it as a whole; you weren’t being compositional in any way or opposing the elements. But, after all, you are opposing them because vertical and horizontal are opposed by nature; and the perpendicular is an opposition. And if you have space in between each one, then it makes them parts.
Judd: Yes, it does, somewhat. You see, the big problem is that anything that is not absolutely plain begins to have parts in some way. The thing is to be able to work and do different things and yet not break up the wholeness that a piece has. To me the piece with the brass and the five verticals is above all that shape. I don’t think of the brass being opposed to the five things, as Gabo and Pevsner might have an angle and then another one support it, so they’re caught there. I didn’t think they came loose as independent parts. If they were longer and the brass obviously sat on them, then I wouldn’t like it.
Glaser: You’ve written about the predominance of chance in Robert Morris’ work. Is this element in your pieces too?
Judd: Yes. Pollock and those people represent actual chance; by now it’s better to make that a forgone conclusion—you don’t have to mimic chance. You use a simple form that doesn’t look like either order or disorder. We recognize that this world is 90 per cent chance and accident. Earlier painting was saying that there’s more order in the scheme of things than we admit now, like Poussin saying order underlies nature. Poussin’s order is anthropomorphic. Now there are no preconceived notions. Take a simple form—say a box—and it does have an order, but it’s not so ordered that it’s the dominant quality. The more parts a thing has, the more important order becomes, and finally order becomes more important than anything else.
Glaser: There are several other characteristics that accompany the prevalence of symmetry and simplicity in the new work. There’s a very finished look to it, a complete negation of the painterly approach. Twentieth-century painting has been concerned mainly with emphasizing the artist’s presence in the work, often with an unfinished quality by which one can participate in the experience of the artist, the process of painting the picture. You deny all this, too; your work has an industrial look, a non-man-made look.
Stella: The artist’s tools or the traditional artist’s brush and maybe even oil paint are all disappearing very quickly. We use mostly commercial paint, and we generally tend toward larger brushes. In a way, Abstract-Expressionism started all this. De Kooning used house painters’ brushes and house painters’ techniques.
Glaser: Pollock used commercial paint.
Stella: Yes, the aluminum paint. What happened, at least for me, is that when I first started painting I would see Pollock, de Kooning, and the one thing they all had that I didn’t have was an art school background. They were brought up on drawing and they all ended up painting or drawing with the brush. They got away from the smaller brushes and, in an attempt to free themselves, they got involved in commercial paint and house-painting brushes. Still it was basically drawing with paint, which has characterized almost all twentieth-century painting. The way my own painting was going, drawing was less and less necessary. It was the one thing I wasn’t going to do. I wasn’t going to draw with the brush.
Glaser: What induced this conclusion that drawing wasn’t necessary any more?
Stella: Well, you have a brush and you’ve got paint on the brush, and you ask yourself why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, what inflection you’re actually going to make with the brush and with the paint that’s on the end of the brush. It’s like handwriting. And I found out that I just didn’t have anything to say in those terms. I didn’t want to make variations; I didn’t want to record a path. I wanted to get the paint out of the can and onto the canvas. I knew a wise guy who used to make fun of my painting, but he didn’t like the Abstract-Expressionists either. He said they would be good painters if they could only keep the paint as good as it is in the can. And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to keep the paint as good as it was in the can.
Glaser: Are you implying that you are trying to destroy painting?
Stella: It’s just that you can’t go back. It’s not quite a question of destroying anything. If something’s used up, something’s done, something’s over with, what’s the point of getting involved with it?
Judd: Root, hog, or die.
Glaser: Are you suggesting that there are no more solutions to, or no more problems that exist in painting?
Stella: Well, it seems to me we have problems. When Morris Louis showed in 1958, everybody (ARTnews, Tom Hess) dismissed his work as thin, merely decorative. They still do. Louis is the really interesting case. In every sense, his instincts were Abstract-Expressionist, and he was terribly involved with all of that, but he felt he had to move, too. I always get into arguments with people who want to retain the old values in painting—the humanistic values that they always find on the canvas. If you pin them down, they always end up asserting that there is something there besides the paint on the canvas. My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. It really is an object. Any painting is an object and anyone who gets involved in this finally has to face up to the objectness of whatever it is that he’s doing. He is making a thing. All that should be for granted. If the painting were lean enough, accurate enough or right enough, you would just be able to look at it. All I want anyone to get out of my paintings is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any conclusion . . . What you see is what you see.
Glaser: That doesn’t leave too much afterwards, does it?
Stella: I don’t know what else there is. It’s really something if you can get a visual sensation that is pleasurable, or worth looking at, or enjoyable, if you can just make something worth looking at.
Glaser: But some would claim that the visual effect is minimal, that you’re just giving us one color or a symmetrical painting of lines. A nineteenth-century landscape painting would offer more pleasure, simple because it’s more complicated.
Judd: I don’t think it’s more complicated.
Stella: No, because what you’re saying essentially is that a nineteenth-century landscape is more complicated because there are two things working—deep space and the way it’s painted. You can see how it’s done and read the figures in the space. Then take Ken Noland’s painting, for example, which is just a few stains on the ground. If you want to look at the depths, there are just as many problematic spaces. And some of them are extremely complicated technically; you can worry and wonder how he painted the way he did.
Judd: Old master painting has a reputation for being profound, universal and all that, and it isn’t necessarily.
Stella: But I don’t know how to get around the part that they just wanted to make something pleasurable to look at, because even if that’s what I want, I also want my painting to be so you can’t avoid the fact that it’s supposed to be entirely visual.
Glaser: You’ve been quoted, Frank, as saying that you want to get sentimentality out of painting.
Stella: I hope I didn’t say that. I think what I said is sentiment wasn’t necessary. I didn’t think then, and I don’t now, that it’s necessary to make paintings that will interest people in the sense that they can keep going back to explore painterly detail. One could stand in front of any Abstract-Expressionist work for a long time, and walk back and forth, and inspect the depths of the pigment and the inflection and all the painterly brushwork for hours. But I wouldn’t particularly want to do that and also I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that in front of my paintings. To go further, I would like to prohibit them from doing that in front of my painting. That’s why I make the paintings the way they are, more or less.
Glaser: Why would you like to prohibit someone from doing such a thing?
Stella: I feel that you should know after a while that you’re just sort of mutilating the paint. If you have some feeling about either color or direction of line or something, I think you can state it. You don’t have knead the material and grind it up. That seems destructive to me; it makes me very nervous. I want to find an attitude basically constructive rather than destructive.
Glaser: You seem to be after an economy of means, rather than trying to avoid sentimentality. Is that nearer it?
Stella: Yes, but there’s something awful about that “economy of means.” I don’t know why, but I resent that immediately. I don’t go out of my way to be economical. It’s hard to explain what exactly it is I’m motivated by, but I don’t think people are motivated by reduction. It would be nice if we were, but actually, I’m motivated by the desire to make something, and I go about it in the way that seems best.
Judd: You’re getting rid of the things that people used to think were essential to art. But that reduction is only incidental. I object to the whole reduction idea, because it’s only reduction of those things someone doesn’t want. If my work is reductionist it’s because it doesn’t have the elements that people thought should be there. But if has other elements that I like. Take Noland again. You can think of the things he doesn’t have in his paintings, but there’s a whole list of the things that he does have that painting didn’t have before. Why is it necessarily a reduction?
Stella: You want to get rid of things that get you into trouble. As you keep painting you find things are getting in your way a lot and those are the things that you try to get out of the way. You might be spilling a lot of blue paint and because there’s something wrong with that particular paint, you don’t use it any more, or you find a better thinner or better nails. There’s a lot of striving for better materials, I’m afraid. I don’t know how good that is.
Judd: There’s nothing sacrosanct about materials.
Stella: I lose sight of the fact that my paintings are on canvas, even though I know I’m painting on canvas, and I just see my paintings. I don’t get terribly hung up over the canvas itself. If the visual act taking place on the canvas is strong enough, I don’t get a very strong sense of the material quality of the canvas. It sort of disappears. I don’t like things that stress the material qualities. I get so I don’t even like Ken Noland’s paintings (even though I like them a lot). Sometimes all the bare canvas gets me down, just because there’s so much of it; the physical quality of the cotton duck gets in the way.