Dialogues

Pat Lipsky: An Interview

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE | Pat Lipsky, Odalisque, 2005. Oil on canvas, 70 × 47 1⁄2 in.

IRA GOLDBERG: What got you interested in art? 
PAT LIPSKY: I was good at it.

IG  When did you know you were good at it?
PL:
I first got the idea at around seven or eight. My mother was very interested in art. When I was seven, she took me for classes with a refugee from the Second World War. He had a frame shop. I now understand that he was a Holocaust survivor. It was a culturally rich neighborhood then. He took me to a little booth and showed me how to make a sky and a road and trees. I was just intrigued. I also did other things. My mother, you could say, was very ambitious. I had dance classes. I played the piano— total disaster. My father was interested in poetry. My parents had met at a poetry class. So it was a very arty background. I was interested in many things. I seemed to be pretty good at painting.

IG: By the way, where did you grow up?
PL: Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. It’s on the tip of Brooklyn. I grew up right along that waterway. When the Second World War was over, there were these Quonset huts along the water in Manhattan Beach that had been used as lookout posts. It actually was a very rich neighborhood. Around 1951 or 1952 they were taken over as sort of art places. Pete Seeger sang there. I heard Pete Seeger. Woody Guthrie. My dance teacher was Woody Guthrie’s wife, Marjorie Mazia. My mother took me to a painting class there when I was nine or ten. It was called “the base.” Adults and me. I was precocious. I was standing there painting a beach scene, a seascape, and the teacher—you know these teachers were pretty hip—came over to me and he said, “Why are you making the water blue?” I said, “Well it’s blue.” He said, “No, there’s a lot of colors.” That’s interesting for a ten-year-old because ten-year-olds just think categorically. Water, blue; sky, light blue; sun, yellow.

Thinking about it now, or over the last twenty years when I thought about it, I realized that he must have had some impressionist training. What he showed me, which again I thought was shocking, was, “Put a little green, put a little red, put a little yellow.” So he’s talking to me like a Seurat follower. And I did that. The painting was a big hit at school. You could say I was very interested.

IG: Did your parents take you to museums?
PL: Yes, more my father. It started when I was twelve or thirteen. I would go to the Museum of Modern Art. I particularly liked Chagall as a kid. I loved Delaunay. I loved Delaunay’s disk painting. Sometimes, I would go with my friends. That was so great about growing up in Brooklyn. You could just take the subway and be in Manhattan. I would have a “date” and we’d go to the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, unlike now, was incredibly hip and fun.

Pat Lipsky, 1971.

IG: What makes you think it’s not hip and fun right now?
PL: Well, in my class yesterday, we were reading about the most recent insanity, where the woman is sleeping?

IG: Sleeping in the cube, and it’s Tilda Swinton. 
PL:
Whoever she is. I don’t know her.

IG: She’s a very well-known actress. But do you really think she was sleeping the whole time? I wonder about that. But how long can you fake it?
PL: The point is that they are discussing it, that they’ve thought about it. It’s so absurd. I don’t even have the words for it.

IG: By the way, when you were going to MoMA, what did it cost to get in?
PL:
Well, nothing significant. MoMA was my home base by a certain point. I’m moving up to the Brooklyn Museum in a minute.

IG: The school?
PL:
Yes, I went to the art school. It was brilliant. Max Beckmann was teaching. So was Moses Soyer. I was sixteen.

IG: You were in the hippest place in the world.
PL: Yes, I was in the hippest place in the world without knowing it, or even knowing what hip was. The Museum of Modern Art was connected to the Whitney, did you know that? Well, it was just fascinating. You’d go to the Museum of Modern Art, and you’d walk through the Whitney, and you saw everything right there. It was right there. When I was sixteen, I saw an ad in a newspaper and it said there is going to be a class in painting at the Brooklyn Museum for the summer. I said to my father, “Can I go? Could I take it?” I had been going to camp. It was like, “Camp, why go to camp?” So he said, “Yes, if you take typing and sewing.” So I said, “OK, I’ll take typing and sewing but I want to go to the class.” I went every day to the Brooklyn Museum and it was just a very exciting time, and I did a whole group of paintings. It was my first body of work. Then I brought them back to Lincoln High School where I was a student. They had a very good art department. I brought the whole portfolio, and I knew about the Scholastic Art Award. The guy who ran it then was called Leon Friend, who was well known. These high schools then were very interesting places full of talented people. Arthur Miller had gone to the school, which we were told every day. So, I asked Leon Friend if I could apply for the Scholastic Art Award. He said, “Don’t bother. You’ll never get it”

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    I have touched with a sense of art some people – they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist? — Mary Cassatt