… You have to go down with it. You have to work on it. You have to hate it. That’s what I feel, you just have to hate it, because it’s your self.
[ … ]
Elizabeth Murray: … This is where I get tongue-tied, because I don’t want to say about the cup, “Well, you know, it’s male, female, and blah blah blah,” because I just think that’s stupid. Underneath it all, these are very sexy images, but you can’t define sexuality in that way, and I don’t intend to. I just want the whole thing to feel alive and vibrant. but if I told myself that, I wouldn’t even be able to paint. You just have to paint it.
I used to say, “I don’t have ideas.” I know that’s not true; I have lots of ideas. But the substance of paint is so. … You’ve squeezed it out onto your paper plate, or into your tin, and you’re dealing with another kind of life form. And I guess when I say “liquid,” I think that life form then makes the image. It’s all part and parcel of how you make the stroke go around, and you do it many, many times, and finally the image starts to form, and then it all becomes one.
[ … ]
EM: … you have to see it. That’s the hard part about painting: you can’t do it on the computer in advance, you have to actually see the relationships. Then you start playing the game of shifting things, arranging them so that nobody can figure out how the painting got that way but they can see that it did. Because that’s what I want: a kind of arrangement that people sense but can’t quite grasp. So they can’t say, “Well, those colors relate to each other because they’re purple, green, and blue.” It’s all about arrangement into something you can sense but not say. I can sense when it’s right, when it feels satisfying, although it can at the same time be very conflicting; it’s also a matter of looking for surprises.
[ … ]
Robert Storr: De Kooning drew like an angel and had all kinds of muscle memory that allowed him to do the same thing over and over and do it gorgeously. But he also knew that was a danger, so he would sometimes make a tracing of what he had just done and then flip it and throw it right into the composition in order to bust up something that was flowing too easily. Do you have graphic strategies of that kind, or do you use color that way sometimes?
[line break added] Occasionally I’ve seen a painting here in the studio and then come back later to find that you’ve redone it with startlingly different colors. That has made me wonder whether the impetus behind the later version was not so much assigning a new local color to a particular image as a desire to shake up the painting by injecting color into it in such a way that everything has to change as a consequence.
EM: Right, that happens. I hate doing it; it takes me days to say, “Okay, I’ve got to do that.” But it works every time. It completely destroys all my plans for the painting. If I’m not happy with what’s going on, that’s when I do something like that. But I don’t have the skills that de Kooning had; I don’t have to worry about my hand, because I don’t draw like an angel, I’m much clumsier — and not on purpose. I would love to draw like a de Kooning, but I have to have other strategies to bust things up.
[line break added] You’re exactly right, though, you do have to bust it up. People look at the painting I’m working on, The Sun and the Moon, and say, “It’s almost finished.” It’s nowhere near finished. Not too many people really understand that if something doesn’t feel right, you just haven’t gone down with it yet. You have to go down with it. You have to work on it. You have to hate it. That’s what I feel, you just have to hate it, because it’s your self. You have to hate yourself in the painting. Does this seem crazy?
EM: And then when you hate it enough, then you go in and use fuchsia or vermillion with chartreuse green or something, and you just throw up, but you can do something there. You have to get it and then you can go on. But you have to fix it because you can’t stand looking at it.