Modulazioni di luce
di Roberta Serpolli
I went to a small art school that is now Cal Arts, but it was then called Chouinard Art Institute. I spent four years there and it was probably one of the best times in my life. Chouinard turned out artists like Ed Ruscha. Joe Goode. Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Douglas Wheeler, Charles Arnoldi, Tom Wudl, and my brother [ed. note: Guy Dill], a well-known sculptor, went there. They were peers. When I graduated from Chouinard I was offered a really sweet deal by Allan Kaprow, one of the founders of Cal Arts. He offered me a teaching position, a master’s degree for during the time I was there, a salary, a place to live. It was a great deal, but I decided not to go.
But then I had to make money, so I applied for a job at Gemini in late IDB7 – early ’68. and actually got the job. I worked under Kenneth Tyler who was master printer and really put Gemini on the map. He was a genius with hand lithography. Gemini was the only reason why artists would come out to California in those days because there was only one museum, the County Museum, and a very conservative group of people were running it and they didn’t have a lot of contemporary art. These guys did prints with Robert Rauschenberg. Jasper Johns, Claes Dldenburg, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly. Joseph Albers, and they were doing some work with Joe Goode here locally, but that calibre of artists! I worked mainly with Johns and Rauschenberg, and I got to know them pretty well. So this was a much better experience than getting a master’s degree!
The job at Gemini was really a turning point in my life, not only were there artists that were working at the print studio, but a lot of people would come out, like Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner.
At the time I had a studio in Downtown L.A. and I started experimenting with the light pieces. Finally, I got down to the essence of what I really was interested in about light pieces – the relationship of the color. Like all of these tubes that you see here, they are all colored in the insides and they’re hollow, it’s the same gas that runs through them. Through my association with Robert Irwin, he turned me on to a guy that I could work with in terms of how to do the coloring inside the tubes and how to weld the tubes together. And so I started working with them but I still had my job at Gemini. I worked out this light and sand pieces in my studio.
R.S. Light Sentences seem to entail a nominal value with the ephemeral physicality of light. Could you explain the meaning of this title?
LJD. In order to make these pieces I had to have a kind of sense of order to them. I would do the color and make 4-foot sections, and then I would lay the color out like a palette – it’s quite a wide-ranging palette. Then I started to lay these things out in drawings, like sketches. I would then color-code the colors, so that it would be like: 35 hundred white, 45 hundred white, clear, yellow, dark-yellow, light-yellow… They were just sentences, so I just liked to call them Light Sentences.
RS. Were you interested in language at that time? You mentioned having met Kosuth, Weiner…
LJD. I was in conversation with them, but this has nothing to do with me calling the works Light Sentences, except that I was in a show recently at La Maison Rouge in Paris with Kosuth and Weiner.
That’s how I get to the Light Sentences – because of the simplicity. You can write your name in neon or argon or whatever, but I didn’t want any connection with that. I wanted just simply color, so straight lines seemed to be the way to go.
RS. How would you position your work in relation to, for instance, Keith Sonnier or Dan Flavin? So the specificity of your work with light…
LJD. I am totally interested in the phenomenology of the light itself. Keith, who I know as well, used straight-neon solid tubes as an element with the glass work and things like that. I am simply interested in the phenomenology of the color, the line and the color, but the line is the simplest relationship I can think of. Just a straight line, so that you have nothing left, but to consider the color and its relationship in line. I made a few of them, and what I noticed was that each of these pieces had a different character, completely. So what really intrigued me was that I could get a mood out of just a line and light. I found also that I relied very heavily on my subconscious to make these decisions. If I analyzed them too hard they looked stagnant to me, so there was a fair amount of attrition to these light pieces. But the ones that make a statement, make a mood, that were the ones that worked.
Dan Flavin told me that his interest in his tubes was what they did architecturally. Obviously the tubes, the way he set them up, the sculptural elements, that was the way they activated the space around them. He was interested in the sand pieces and we talked about his pieces and my pieces.
RS. Can we state that your pieces have a mare painterly quality?
LJD. Yeah, that’s a good paint that you make because I still consider myself, in my awn private world, a painter who uses sculptural materials, but I re these as a painting.
RS. Haw did you became interested in working with artificial light, its energy, and a natural material like sand?
LJD. Bob Irwin told me to read a chapter of Merleau Ponty’s bank The Phenamenalagy of Perceptian. I was very interested in this idea of starting with this light – that’s what I call twilight light, it’s very granular, net grandiose, so the only thing that comes into sharp focus is light. So I started experiments that and I did pieces with lights running through sand, illuminating the sand. My studio consisted of about 7DD0 pounds nf sand and a mattress in the c where I slept and of course a dog! So I was really intrigued with same of the things I was getting. My studio was solid sand, and that was my palette, so I could experiment with these lights in this sand, and I chase sand because when I ran the light next to it. it would granulate, almost like a movie screen, every picked it up, so they lacked like very huge landscapes lacked at from a distance, almost like aerial perspective.
Also, I grew up in Malibu in the 1950s and it wasn’t the affluent neighborhood it has became. We had fires, horrible fires. The fire lines were miles long. It burn from the Valley all the way dawn to the ocean, taking everything with it. One day the landscape would be a sort of greenish gray of chaparale. the next day would be black. So I started to try and convey that feeling – a nightscape of a huge holocaust fire.
Bob Rauschenberg came by the studio a couple of times, and he came with Rosamund Felsen. who was married to one of the owner’s of Gemini and she very interested in the work of young artists. I was in downtown L.A. at the time, Pico and Olive, and he came in then the next time I saw him he asked me if I would do a collaboration. I was 25 years nld. and Bob was already the top of the heap, this is in 1969. He had this place that the gotten permission to Baldwin Hills that overlooks the city, so what did was I dug holes in the ground, about six feet deep with these professional hale diggers they use to the bedrock to put beams down in it for building, so I dug about 15 holes in the ground, and then I wired up these tubes, hollowed color tubes and put them in ground, you didn’t see the tips of them, but what you saw – when you looked across, you saw these lozenges of color, like pools of color that were perfectly round, but read as in perspective, and they were random, a couple of them close together. And Bob rented two Klieg lights, the old fashioned kind, you’d hi hand turn them, far premieres in Hollywood, he rented them from a Hollywood rental place – they were huge, about 5 feet across, and they looked kind kids would draw a Martian or something, they had like stick legs and almost like stick arms, just metal housing held up the big light, and he turned on the I and he put them about far apart facing each other at full blast and what happened was, it created – it looked like a conversation between two aliens, an had a hell of a sense of humor, he was a really funny guy.
But the intensity of the light – between the two, it’s hard to look at one close up, but having two of them. So it was really successful, and I was like, unknown so. we got together Bob and I. and he said look, we can do another commission if you’d like, I said yeah let’s do that – and he was very honest, he said we more well known that you are – I’m the one reaping all the benefits from this, I’ll do you one better: Andy Warhol’s having a show, at Pasadena Art Museum we’re up to 1970, early 7D, everyone, my gallery, all these galleries that handle Warhol. I’ll make sure that I bring that group over to your studio, to see you’re doing – he was one of those kind of guys. They came over to the studio and I was broke, B bucks maybe, and he came with Leo Castelli, lleana Sonnabend They said we’d like to show your work in New York, we don’t want you tn show your work to anybody, and we don’t want you to sell your work to anybody want you to just do your work, and don’t do anything else, so then the inevitable question came up, they said do you need money? And I said well yeah, am said we’ll put you on a stipend. And in those days was the way they did it. and they said just call Judith at the gallery in New York, so I called the number a c nf days later and Judith answered – and I said Hi, I’m Laddie Dill – and she said Laddie, I was waiting for you to call! Give me your address, we will send check! It was like a Cinderella story…
So I’d never been to New York, but of course that was the thing, I was going to go to New York. Allen Ruppersberg went to Chouinard as well and so I knew pretty well – he was living in New York on Bleeker street, it was pretty rough, he was renting this place that before that was basically this place for junk shoot up. So I went there, but they wanted me to ship some work, which I did, tubes like this, and I remember shipping them to this warehouse on I08t Amsterdam. I got there in February and it was just a blizzard – but I couldn’t believe the energy – the mar of sound and this blizzard going down and the s coming out of the middle of the street, the steam…. I don’t want this to sound like “The Godfather” – Part Two! But it was like that, at least in my 25 ye: head. I went up there with Al, and he helped me put these on the wall, but before that I said to the warehouse guy. where do you want me to hang these? A said oh the crate’s right there, just uncrate them, just hang the work in between what’s hanging there. So I walk into this room, and there’s Johns’s Acco to What a contemporary masterpiece, a big Rauschenberg, a Donald Judd stack, so I’m going, “What? I’m screwed!” I put my light pieces up around them.