To paint from nature is not to copy an object; it is to represent its sensations. — Paul Cézanne
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CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE Bruce Dorfman, Molly Bloom, 2012. Combined media, 52 x 34 x 4 in. overall.
Ira Goldberg: I have to ask you about these two pieces here: Molly Bloom and Teyjat. These are recent?
Bruce Dorfman: They are very recent.
What I see is a wedding of the old, where you have tonal variations of most of the dominant color and the lack of the specific, hard-edged border, compared with the new stuff that has that same cohesive quality. You have been working for decades on this cohesion of color, and yet you lose the border. Have you found some sort of happy medium?
In my recent works, I wanted to see if they could be taken to the brink of disorganization, without a loss of coherence. There is a kind of an informed intuition that I trust to drive my art.
Did you determine that direction when you did these others?
Yes. I was working with that concept. I really wanted to see if I could create a large image of a fragment and use whatever materials came to hand as needed, as long as the work could be made technically durable. I have been wanting to see how far I could take the uses of any necessary materials, including large, heavy deckled papers, metals and anything else without the whole thing collapsing. I’d done that in small pieces. I wanted to do it in large pieces.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE Bruce Dorfman, Teyjat, 2012. Combined media, 65 x 38 x 4 in. overall.
Do you feel you did that in the three-dimensional, freestanding pieces?
Those works represent an ongoing and underlying issue that has always disturbed me a lot. It strikes me that much of what has happened with modernist painting is that a lot of really great wine has been created by new winemakers with brushes and whatever tools they have. But the bottle itself, the window-related rectangular painting, remains constant, traditional and convenient. I think it must be possible to get a coherent bottle that’s also personal. This is an idea that just doesn’t go away for me. That three-dimensional piece was about that. But I don’t think it fulfilled itself. I don’t think I ever got that. There have been four such pieces. The other three are gone now. I have the remaining one that was on exhibition at the league.
These recent pieces do have a lot to do with that, although there is something about these works that still hasn’t happened. There is something that is needed. I think the problem with this is—and I’ve done a lot of thinking about it lately—that there is sort of a synthesis of not accepting a conventional spatial boundary.
You must have felt that you went beyond your comfort level.
Perhaps. But creation is never ever comfortable. There is something that’s happening, and it’s partly psychological. There are certain very personal things that I have been able to achieve and give expression to. I don’t want those things to disappear, so what I am involved with at this point is an effort to gain a synthesis and to bring all of it together somehow, without compromising any of it. It should be possible to orchestrate my work to get this thing all together.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE Bruce Dorfman, Sung Red, 2012. Combined media, 57 x 48 x 6 in. overall.
What drove you in this direction?
The passage of time. My life to this point.
Your work, one can easily say, is very personal. There is no mistaking a Bruce Dorfman. You can look at the work and, immediately, you know exactly who did it. This is what so many artists strive for: a personal signature. It is not an easy thing to do. One has to release oneself from trying to do it. The moment one tries to, one falls into a pattern. When one wants to create just for the sake of creating, there’s not enough drive behind it to make it function. You have found a harmony of color, a way of expressing yourself that bears an elegance in what you do. And you found it early on and maintained that for a long time. It has sustained you. Yet, in conversations we’ve had, I felt you needed to break out of a pattern, to go into another realm. I think some of the other realm occurred in the three-dimensional piece. Satisfying or not, you had to go back to something that was on a two-dimensional plane, even though it was heavily textural and broke up the normal pattern of color. Is that accurate?
Somewhat, yes. I think a crucial variable that I’ve always been reaching around for, since the 1960s, has been the spatial variable: how to orchestrate the things that I love visually, the things that I need to see at any given time, in relationship to some sort of achievement with respect to created, visual space. The notion of such a space as a necessary aspect of what one does has been crucial to me. To make it as distinctive as the other aspects of what one is doing has caused a lot of changes in the emphases in my work over the years.
I try, to the extent that I can, to reassure my students, fellow artists, and colleagues when I hear them becoming disturbed about the processes that their art involves and about their lives in art. I had the good fortune of being reassured by my family from a very early age that what I had to say, and my perception of beauty, was valuable. My father and mother were very validating in that regard. There was an ongoing reassurance that there was something important about each person, including me. I was led to believe that the things that I loved to see, that I loved to look at, and that I favored, were valuable and important. That was always there and remains there.
In my view, one’s strengths are incredibly important. That’s where people should go, not to their weaknesses, not to the things they have the greatest difficulties with unless, for some reason, they must. So, if they love red, they should look at red. And they should express everything they can about red, and red in relationship to whatever else that is valuable and important because it is a preference. It is a choice. Choice is utterly distinctive. Like a fingerprint. It is what one is close to, what one can relate to. And then it becomes a question of how well one gives expression to that and what can one do with that. It’s not just a matter of throwing it out there, and you know, I love red, so here’s red. It becomes a question of what you have to say about red that is distinctive, that belongs to you, that you love. It is the song you sing and the way you sing it.