09. Daniel Kopel Interviews Gustavo Bonevardi

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING WITH LANGUAGE AND LETTERS?
I grew up speaking Spanish and English; my family is from Argentina. As often happens or sometimes happens in those conditions, I had some reading problems and writing problems. Spelling’s always been a nightmare and writing papers is just a disaster. I really had a lot of difficulty with language growing up. And this is in a way my writing; there’s a certain degree of revenge. Of getting letters in now and making them conform to my rules. Three years is the answer to your question, by the way.

HOW DID YOU START ON THIS PROJECT? WHY WERE YOU COMPELLED TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON THIS PARTICULAR IDEA?
The truth of it is I was in a relatively crowded situation. I decided to write a letter to someone because I needed to get something off my chest, but I realized people could read over my shoulder, so I just started scattering the letters. It was a paper napkin. I just folded it up, put it in my pocket. It was years before I actually turned to doing this.

My father was an artist. In fact, this was his studio. He died in 1994 and I produced, together with John Bennett, a book on my father’s work that University of Texas published. Finishing that book was finally burying my father. I felt liberated to be able to do my own work. Also at that point I took all of my father’s art out of the space. I love my father’s work. I’m fascinated by it, but it is so antithetical to what I do.

CHUCK CLOSE SAID, “INSPIRATION IS FOR AMATEURS, THE REST OF US JUST SHOW UP AND GET TO WORK.” WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE STUDIO?
My dad had the studio since the mid-60s. This building was the first commercial building taken over by artists, for a work-live situation. This predated Westbeth. The first artists, which included Robert Smithson, who was right upstairs… The legal stuff that happened to get this building to work the way it did is what allowed SoHo to happen.

I really have no real family, in a way. This city and this place, they are the stable things in my life. I’ve been here since I was a little kid.

I’ve made this space mine. It was five years since my dad died and I moved in. But there was still clothing of my dad’s around; I was living in his apartment. One night, late at night — I’m an architect, I know a little bit about what I’m doing — I started tearing down all the walls and by morning… I didn’t sleep that night. It’s amazing, you can do this very quietly. Slowly over time, I’ve been renovating it and changing it, and really making it mine. This space really is mine. It’s really me. There’s a bedroom area in the back, which is small because it’s not so important to me, and I work up front. This works perfectly for my life.

DESCRIBE A DAY IN THE STUDIO. WHAT IS YOUR ROUTINE? ANY RITUALS?
I love waking up in the morning and working very early. It’s always been my most productive hours. Getting up at six or six-thirty and working before the phone rings. Not turning on the radio and not playing music. Just having the quiet, the cars not making a lot of noise. Sort of like now, because the rain is keeping people quiet. Sort of a peacefulness and clarity of mind. As much as I am a morning person, I seem to be a bit of an evening person as well. I don’t sleep a lot. Six hours a night.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT YOU DO AND, SAY, A SURREALIST CALLIGRAM OR THE CONCRETE POETRY OF EE CUMMINGS?
My work has a relationship to text and a relationship to writing, but there are no words. I write words and I scatter the letters. The letters that I’m putting down have meaning in a way, but in scattering them, the meaning is lost. They’re leftovers of things that once meant something, but I don’t care what it meant, whereas in concrete poetry, the meaning is an integral part of it.

YOU HAVE A MASTER’S IN ARCHITECTURE. IS THERE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR WORK AS AN ARCHITECT AND YOUR WORK AS AN ARTIST? TO WHAT EXTENT ARE THESE SEPARATE DISCIPLINES?
I would say the disciplines are separate but I’m the same. The relation is the obvious one: I make them both. But I don’t think you could ever deduce my architecture from my artwork, or vice-versa. It’s not like you can see one in the other. Or that might be for someone else to figure out. I don’t think about it that way, but I do know that the exhilaration that I get, the passion, and the flow of work is the same no matter what I’m doing. I feel like it taps into the same well of energy; wanting to do something.

YOU’VE TOLD ME THAT THESE PICTURES ARE GENERATED BY A KIND OF AUTOMATIC WRITING EXERCISE. OBVIOUSLY THEN, THERE IS A DEGREE OF IMPROVISATION AND UNCONSCIOUS CREATION BUT HOW MUCH PLANNING, IF ANY, TAKES PLACE?
I do often design the drawings, but they morph in doing them. My work involves as much actually putting pencil to paper as it does looking at it. I stare at my drawings for hours and then decide what to do. Certainly the text of what I’m writing is improvisation, and it is an automatic writing thing where I write whatever comes into my head. Also, often I’ll just write the first part of a word and then go on to the next word if my thoughts are streaming too quickly. That doesn’t matter to me; there was intention in those first few letters.

WHAT PART OF LIFE AS AN ARTIST DO YOU FIND MOST STIMULATING — THE STUDIO, THE GALLERY, THE OPENING, THE ART FAIR?
As much as I’ve been involved in doing artwork, I haven’t done a lot of exhibitions, so the whole opening thing and all that has never been a big part of my life. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy the art fairs. I’m a bit of a hermit. Being such a hermit and doing all my work, and a few of my friends seeing it, I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy showing my work to people and seeing them respond to it, and learning myself from people’s response to my work. I guess if people spend the time to look at it, it’s because they like it. It’s so exciting to see people ‘get it.’

WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF SUCCESS?
At different times in my life, I have had a fair amount of what others would term success. The way I would really term success: when I solve a drawing, when I figure something out, when something gets resolved, when I finish a drawing and it works, that’s the only time I’ve really had the satisfaction of success. The other thing is what society holds out there as this annoying, unattainable carrot that you’re grappling for.

WHAT IS YOUR AGENDA AS AN ARTIST? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO AND ARE YOU SUCCEEDING?
It seems like a very bad thing to say, but I am trying to make a living.

THAT’S VERY VALID.
I can do this, I enjoy it, new ideas come, I’m compelled to follow it. I have an intimate personal relationship with each piece and I hope that people establish their personal relationship, that way it almost bonds us. It’s communicating somehow.

YOU USE THE SIMPLEST MATERIALS — PENCIL AND PAPER. WHAT’S BEHIND THIS?
Because of the nature of my work, I like using stationary supplies. An office clicky pencil, erasers, it’s writing, it’s stationary, not art supplies. I could see myself delving into more complex materials. It’s all very elemental and usually not combining a lot of different things. A certain purity… I feel like I need to dominate well what I’m doing before I start making it complicated. It can get messy, not literally messy, but too many variables, in a way. An economy of being able to do something powerful or beautiful or suggestive by just folding a piece of paper seems to have something magical about it. Doing something that, very simply, is a lot.

ON THE TOPIC OF CULTURAL HISTORY, IS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT YOU ARE NOSTALGIC FOR?
I think it’s when I was three years old. I think I was happy then. Immediately I was thinking the Renaissance, the sixties, but really, really I’m nostalgic for being three.

WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF ART AND THE ART WORLD TODAY?
There was something about studying architecture and all this theory, and the pressure of the vaguely competitive environment at Princeton, that it ended up beating any joy in architecture out of me, that by the time I graduated from architecture school I couldn’t do a line on a piece of paper. Everything was just so tortured. Finally it was seeing Frank Gehry give a lecture. He was fairly early in his career and he was presenting some pretty crazy stuff. I loved the stuff but more than that it suddenly dawned on me: my god this guy’s having fun! I’d completely forgotten about that, that you could actually play in doing architecture. So, since I’m not trained in visual arts, I feel kind of free of what must be a burden to a lot of people. I don’t even know the names of a lot of important contemporary artists and what’s going on. I’m doing what I’m doing cause it’s coming, cause it’s happening.


/// Gustavo Bonevardi lives and works in New York City.