This is part two of a conversation that took place in Tom’s faculty office in the Fine Arts 4 building (FA4) at CSULB on September 2, 2015. Read part one here.
Tom Krumpak has exhibited internationally since 1976. He earned a Master of Fine Arts Degree from California State University Long Beach and a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the San Francisco Art institute. He has been a professor of drawing and painting at California State University, Long Beach since 1983.
All images courtesy Tom Krumpak and Jan Simonovic.
Glenn Bach: Going back to San Francisco…I’m sure we’ve talked about this before, that you have very strong ties to Mar Vista, and a house with your mom, and that neighborhood…if the position here at Cal State Long Beach did not happen, might you have settled in San Francisco rather than in Los Angeles?
Tom Krumpak: I don’t think so, no. Because I didn’t come here for this job. I left San Francisco because of a love affair gone bad, you know, a long-time love affair. So, the city is a weird place. It’s changed now, but it’s not a big place, physically, right? And, people have their ruts that they’ve grooved through the city, if you’re a lawyer or a doctor or an artist. So, the city wasn’t big enough for the two of us. Basically, that’s why I left.
Literally, every day that you get on a bus or public transportation, you see, within the mass of the public, similar faces over and over and over again. I just knew that city, which I loved deeply at that time…I loved the cracks on the sidewalks, I loved this house on this corner…as we talked about, you know, my place for coffee, my place for drinking at night. I loved the music in the jukebox at this place, you know, only opera on this jukebox in this bar on a particular night. I loved living in the Italian neighborhood. I loved living in the Haight, in the post Haight-Ashbury time, by the park. I loved that city. For me, that city was another body. I really loved it.
I was educated there at the Art Institute, too. I matured…I guess you would say ‘mature.’ I lived in a commune. In our Victorian flat, there were nine people paying rent, and at least another nine or ten people who were hanging on. There were terrible moments and great moments, but, man, it was in the moment. Some of us were musicians, and we played in one part of the flat, even with all those people in it, and we painted in another room in the flat, and we lived in between them. We threw wild parties, and it was all good. I really loved that place.
But, when my personal life fell apart, it was time to leave. I don’t think I would have stayed in San Francisco. Matter of fact, I did try to go back after living in L.A. for a while, and tried to think about doing it again, and I stayed two days, and that was it. I knew I had been changed. My life had been altered. I was living in L.A. now.
The other place would have been New York, of course. It would have been New York. I think I could stop mourning for San Francisco, and all the intimate things that I loved there, the places and the stuff, when I went to New York. I saw that New York magnified San Francisco at that time, maybe six or seven times, and I felt like there was a big world of other stuff. I love sitting there. I could live there. So, I contemplated that for a while, which led to going there a couple times a year for the last thirty years.
Coming to L.A. was kind of the default. I could come here, and I could scrounge off my family and my friends until I got my act together. And then, down the line, I came to Cal State Long Beach, because John de Heras saw a show of mine in Hollywood, and he came to where I was working, my day job, and said, “You should be teaching at Cal State Long Beach.” I didn’t have my MFA degree, and he said, “Well, I’ll just be the chair of your committee; you should come here.” And I did. Then, after that, I started getting teaching positions, and here I am. Academia…I was thrown out of high school. Academia was not, for political reasons, in my purview. I was as surprised as anybody.
Bach: We live the life that we end up living, right? You can have these relationships with these cities, these deep, connected relationships with these places, but you don’t have to actually live there. San Francisco is part of who you are. You will always have this passion for the city, but you don’t have to actually live there. Go visit a couple times of year.
Krumpak: Have good friends there.
Bach: Good friends there, and you get your fill, and you see all the things that you want to do, and visit your people, and go to the places and drink the coffee, you know. Then you leave and you come back, and then it’s like, “OK, now I need to get my New York fix, so, I’m going to plan a trip and plan a week or week-and-a-half there,” and, then, down the road, “I think it’s time to get overseas again,” or whatever.
Krumpak: Sure, back to London.
Bach: Back to Italy or back to London. You accumulate these place relationships over the years that shift in importance in your life, or sometimes you have a falling-out with a place, like when I moved to New York, I thought New York was it. I’d experienced major cities…Rome was my first major city. New York was its own thing. At that time, I didn’t think very highly of San Francisco. I mean, I enjoyed San Francisco, but I thought, “Why would you want to spend time in San Francisco when you could be in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there’s so much there?” It wasn’t until much later—actually, with Sharon, when I spent more time going up there—that it kind of shifted. I don’t think less of New York now, but San Francisco became something different for me, and I soon had different ways of accessing the city. Headquarters, I called them, the Tenderloin, that became these centers of intimacy and good memories for me. For you, there’s a wide variety of these places that function as extensions of who you are.
Krumpak: Right. I think that the idea of teaching and exhibiting in different places is really important, because it means that you’re doing something real there, not just ‘tourist-ing’ it or even sensitively walking around, which is fine too. But, you’re actually doing a job with other people who are doing a job. I think that’s really important.
And the people…if you’re lucky enough to meet some really great people in all these places…I’ve always valued the people in these different places. Maintaining those relationships, going back to ‘water’ them, you know, and to find out what’s happening with their lives, and to just slip into their lives a little bit for dinner or an evening of chatting and drinking or whatever. Or, seeing their show, flying back for an opening in New York for Josh [Dorman]’s show, or whatever. That’s really, super important. I really count on those people. Psychically, they’re in my head. They’re in the locations, and that charges all that stuff you’re talking about.
When I need to know something and I don’t know it, I call them, and I say, “Hey, I need to understand the pricing of my artwork, and I’ve been in this business for a long time. I don’t get it. Give me your advice. Just give it to me straight. Tell it to me the way you want. I’m listening.”
I just called Chris [Cook] in England, and I said, “I haven’t seen you in a long time. I need your poetry.” So, I just got a new book hot off the press. I wish I could see them in body more often, but at least we are still creatively and psychically in touch with each other. So, yeah. It’s like those places and their population of friends and creative people are super, super important. They humanize the whole thing.
Bach: Yes. So, Mar Vista.
Krumpak: [laughs] OK. The little burg.
Bach: You’ve been in that house…
Krumpak: Yep, over thirty years.
Bach: Your studio has been associated with that house for just…
Krumpak: Fifteen years.
Bach: That has an effect on, obviously, who you are and where you live. Having your studio in the place where you live, ten steps away, or twenty steps away. And, having your practice on the West Side, in Los Angeles…it’s a construct, right? Los Angeles is a construct. You’re part of this Southern California thing, but you’re also part of a neighborhood. There’s Los Angeles as a whole, then there’s the West Side as a smaller subset, and within that there’s Culver City, Marina del Rey, and within that there are these smaller neighborhoods like Mar Vista and Del Rey and Palms. There’s this sort of neighborhood reality that is different than in other neighborhoods. Maybe you could talk about what it is about Mar Vista that keeps you going and that keeps you frustrated and inspired and…
Krumpak: I grew up there. I came here from Ohio when I was ten, and we lived near the Santa Monica airport with my grandmother for a little while. My parents bought a house. I grew up from the age of 10 through 19, or whatever, in Mar Vista. That house, where my mother still lives, is five minutes away from where I live right now. She’s 90 years old. It’s a very unassuming neighborhood. It was a working-class neighborhood. Now, it’s an increasingly wealthy neighborhood up on the hill. It was always very regular. By that, I mean that people kept to themselves, and it was clean, and it worked.
My father built a business three minutes away from where he lived, and he would walk to work. He built his hardware store from scratch. He had somebody build the building for him, then he opened the business. He had been in business in a hardware store in Ohio before that, for many years, partnering with my mother’s sister’s husband.
We were really close and tight. The property that I live on now was the eccentric uncle’s house, who worked for the film studios. When he passed away, the sisters inherited it. It was rented for three years by a man who was a curator for The Getty, and then we purchased it. 1950s modernist house, slab-on-grade, glass at the back, kind of Japonisme on modern, which is a current interest in my work. So, you can see, there’s a lot of crossover going on here.
We raised both of our boys in the house with practically no heat, because we couldn’t afford it. We had one wall furnace that barely worked. When it rained, water came down the walls on the inside and we mopped it up. It became a clubhouse, because their friends, as they got a little bit older, grade school or whatever…all the stuff they couldn’t do at their house, they could do at our house, because it was completely indestructible, because it was all messed up. They could ride their bike in the front door and go straight through the living room and right out the back door, and nobody cared.
Bach: [laughs] Right.
Krumpak: They could run laps through the house and through the back yard and around the yard. It housed a lot of great memories. My wife Jan’s family also lived five minutes away, so, our children never had babysitters. They had the care of their grandparents. In that way, Mar Vista takes on a very personal geographic importance. It’s more than the place. It’s this proximity of family that is very important. When I left to move to San Francisco, I never thought in a million years I’d ever come back to L.A. Literally, never come back. I was as surprised by circumstances as anybody, especially that I’m this close.
Jan grew up five minutes away from where we live now. She never thought she’d live in L.A., either, let alone five minutes away from where she grew up. She was born in Long Beach, at the hospital there, and then moved to Venice, where she was brought up in what was a very working-class, post-war, small-house neighborhood that was very integrated. There were people…it was an international enclave. Up on the hill, where my parents were, is mostly white.
Where we live now, we live four blocks from a housing project. The street adjacent to us has become restaurant row for the new hipster overflow from Venice. We have literally four new bakeries. We have ten new restaurants within a five-minute walk. We have a place to have a beer, and everything else you can imagine. It doesn’t mean that my particular neighborhood up close is gorgeous, but it’s certainly not awful. Actually, it’s becoming very, very desirable for young people in the tech field now, because Playa Vista is, again, five minutes away. It brings thousands of techie people, for the good or the bad, to our neighborhood.
About ten years ago, L.A. did a survey of arts concentrations to figure out what kinds of arts resources should be allocated for the future needs of different neighborhoods. Ten years ago, Mar Vista had the densest concentration of artists of any place in the city. Who knows now. Because it doesn’t look like that, like Venice used to…which is, you know, way gone now. But, there are screenwriters and composers and musicians, like professional touring musicians…the guy who plays with the Kinks lives at the edge of my street. And painters, and people who go to work in all the movie studios in Culver City, and a lot of them are ten minutes away. So, it looks like Iowa, in a sense, but, in fact, is just chock full of intellectual, visual types, and musical types. It’s a camouflaged zone, in a sense.
Krumpak: It’s changed. It’s taken twenty years—more than twenty—for it to kind of wake up. When I moved in, there were people across the driveway selling drugs on their back patio every night. There was a pool hall down at the corner that was another dealing spot, every day and every night.
That’s all gone now. When I moved in, we were the youngest people in the neighborhood. Youngest white people in the neighborhood; it was very Hispanic at that time. It still is, largely, but it has a whole other element now as well. Good or bad. Now, it’s flooded with young people jogging, walking their dogs, hanging out in the cafes. It has definitely flipped over from one way to the other.
It isn’t so much that I have an allegiance to the geographic place, although I have to say, being ten minutes’ bike ride from the beach—we ride bikes a lot—is really important to me. I could never live any farther. Not ever. I would never want to live any farther than ten minutes’ bike ride away from the beach. I grew up on Santa Monica Beach, Venice Beach, my teenage years were there. I have fond memories of it. Both my boys are surfers and musicians; you know them. They grew up on that beach, so that’s another generational thing passed on, the beach that Jan was born next to. We have lots of memory banks of that particular geographic location that go back through both of our families, and through the lives of our children. They continue to use that history. As I said, they just…both of them could not live far from the beach. They just need it. It’s in their DNA. If they’re not in the water, both of them, they’re unbearable [laughs].
I have my studio there [in the original house], which we are redoing now, and we have the band’s rehearsal space that adjoins my studio, so we have young musicians flowing in and out all the time. They’ve become part of our extended family. They sit around our kitchen table drinking a glass of wine, having a beer, talking. I hear about their escapades. One of them works and travels around the world with Dave Foster, setting the stage for Stevie Wonder, and things like that.
I get to hear all about that stuff. I hear music from them practicing while I’m painting in the studio. I listen to their CDs or their working tapes from recording sessions…that, plus other music. They’re always bringing music to me, loading my iPod. You know, my youngest son, Miles, is a completely esoteric jazzophile, besides being a rock drummer, so, he’s actually playing in that studio six hours a day. On those set of drums, playing.
That house was owned by my eclectic uncle. The house we live in now was designed by Jan. And the new building that we’re building was designed by her as well. How many people, working-class people, can say that they live in a house? That they live in a neighborhood that has personal history, in a building that one of them designed? Next to a room where your son’s band practices?
Bach: It’s pretty remarkable.
Krumpak: Our immediate place is very, very, very important to us. It props up that whole idea of an integrated approach to art-making and teaching. The relationship of being the artist to the making of the product is all propped up by that.
Bach: Sometimes quite literally. I remember…I’m not sure about the paintings that you’re doing now, but there was a series a while back where you were asking architects and painters and creative people, “Let me have access to your studio, let me have the scraps, let me have the little castoffs, the objects that are in your studio. If you’ve done some construction, I want the spare wood.” Those ephemera became the literal shapes that you would put down and trace around, and they became these reoccurring motifs. So you were bringing your connection with…I can’t remember his name, the architect.
Krumpak: Michael Folonis.
Bach: Folonis. Bringing stuff from his studio into the painting.
Krumpak: Yep, his blueprints. Everything.
Bach: Your relationship to not only your immediate place, but your connections to your friends and their places, becomes a direct connection in the work and how you make the work itself.
Krumpak: Absolutely direct. Totally direct. Phil [Mantione] and Alysse [Stepanian], who we both know, composers, videographers…the plans for their house in New York, in upstate Delaware actually, I guess it was. Their whole plot plan, and those all became actual shapes and forms within a work. For a while, you’re right, I would be working with architects who were doing projects, and I would be using the verbatim plans, overlapping them to create geometric forms or compositions based on real architecture. That was really important, that it be a real place and real architecture. Nothing in the show that I have up now, for instance, no matter how many patterns are in them or pieces of geometric juxtaposition of forms, there’s not one single thing in any of the work that is made up. Even in the large painting, little floating teeny inch-high silhouettes are tracings out of a catalog my father used to order hardware for his store. The color, sometimes, is an indigenous palette to a particular place. Sometimes, the color runs free, and is just an expressive choice. But, the actual composition within the work is never made up. I like that concreteness of attachment that you’re talking about.
Bach: For the casual viewer, he or she might see something recognizable, like a familiar shape or interesting juxtapositions of triangles and rectangles in an interesting way, and maybe there’s an architectonic feel to it. But, for the people who know you, and specifically the people whose material you’re drawing upon, it’s like, “Ah. That was interesting how you transformed that…”
Krumpak: Yeah, they have an inside track to it. I ask people who look at the work, “How much do you want to know about the work? Because I can tell you a little, I can tell you medium, or I can tell you a lot. How much time do you have?”
Bach: “And, do you want that kind of relationship to the work, or do you just want to have your own…”
Krumpak: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I don’t impress that or don’t load it on it. Almost always, when they say they do want to understand something beyond the visuality of it, they say, “Ah, that’s great!” Not that I’ve chosen something great or that I’m great, but that it’s so much more fun for them to actually look at the work now that they understand all the different sort of things that have been ciphered down to create that particular work of art. That it’s reaching from all these different places, or a single site. That information really does seem to bump up their enjoyment of looking at the work. I love that.
Bach: There’s a simultaneity and a complexity going on in the work, because there’s this relationship of the shapes having this very real connection and purpose. There’s this connection to your relationship with the people and the place, but at the same time, it’s a painting. The painting takes a long time to make, sometimes a year, maybe longer. There’s the act of labor in the studio, night after night, weekend after weekend, this slow progress, seeing the painting slowly take shape over the course of a long time. A painting is a painting. But, it’s also this relationship to your friends and to these places, and it’s also this conversation that you’re having with the process of painting. So there’s this complexity and simultaneity going on, that you as a painter are making a physical painting. It’s ‘abstract painting,’ but it’s not abstract. It’s this, and it’s also this.
Krumpak: Yes, yes. That’s exactly right.
Bach: And, it’s also the music that’s playing. It’s also the wine that you’ve had that night. It’s all of it.
Krumpak: Yes, right. Thanks for saying that. That’s the idea. The process of making these paintings for the last eight years, these very slow, ‘they take as long as they take’ kind of paintings, is to allow…well, you know this. When you have a real span of time, say a year, a lot of life happens in that year. It invites that intervention in there, right? The process, by its nature, painting slowly and meticulously with very teeny brushes on big, sometimes very big canvases, allows there to be a lot of conditions that can subtly alter the result of the work. Who knows what makes you choose this color or that color. I know that there’s a level of finish that I’m looking for that is needed to house and compress that stuff you were talking about into a viable thing called a painting. Then, there’s the stuff that happens in life, moment to moment, day to day. Circumstances that help you make subconscious choices. Things like the color, or the amount of layers of paint that should be on this part of the painting, or on all of the painting. That’s the decision. You have an aesthetic goal for the quality level in terms of visuality, the way the edges meet, how consistent the surfaces should be so that there’s a democracy across the surface. That speaks to the connectedness of all aspects, because they’re all painted with exactly the same amount of paint. The edges are all the same. Sort of a Cézannesque way of thinking about the democracy of a surface. That applies then, philosophically, to the democracy of the information that goes into making the painting. That’s something I’m very interested in.
But, I had to slow down. A lot of the earlier work was about setting up intentional conflict to increase drama within the work. Whether it was color conflict or source information conflict, geometry versus gestural mark-making, it was all to set up a change of pace, quickened moments and quiet moments. It was an antagonistic situation, a yin and a yang, that I was interested in housing in a work to make a certain kind of ‘rocking’ quality. When I started this work, about seven, eight years ago, I asked, “Can a painting be successful without internal conflict? Can it ride on a multi-layered, complex discourse, a median conversational level, and be successful? Or, does it need those things which are easier to rely on?” Black against white, red against green. Sharp against diffuse. Those are ways that people have always created dynamics. But, what if you let that go? Will it become boring, or will it become more subtle, and perhaps have the ability to house more?
That’s what I’ve been trying to do. That was a big shift in my work. The work is about a connection between Japanese domestic architecture, where intimate things happen, and mid-century modernist architecture, which was post-World War II. I was born in 1949, so, that’s me, and that’s the kind of house I was living in, that I am working in now, soon to be changed.
Again, there’s the multi-level connection that I’m drawn to. How can I take those two aesthetic positions in architecture…what do those pieces of architecture mean? When they’re fused together…because they look ‘Pacific Rim,’ and they’ve somehow influenced each other. You start pushing those philosophies of real architecture and space that is lived in. That’s important to me. It’s not commercial space; it’s lived-in space. When you join those forces together and let them…what does that do? It’s about cadence and rhythm, and about a poetic locking and unlocking, hopefully. It’s about setting up a kinetic thing, which is not about loudness. It’s much more about…there’s this thing in Japanese garden landscape, right, which is to allow things to be what they are, but use them.
That’s what the work has come out of. How do I take these things that come from these components, and then lace in literature and poetry and song lyrics and things like that that are also close to me? How can I make them come together within the work to make distinct, different paintings, so that they don’t all look alike, and let them be what they are but hang out together? That’s what’s run this work. That was a big shift for me.
Bach: And, I think it’s probably connected to the work that you’ve done on the house over the years, and living in a place that’s had disruptions. Right? You haven’t had a domestic situation where everything stayed the same, everything was already set. You were always tinkering with the structure, and building the new house, and then changing the new house, and trying to get the city to sign off on the studio and the wall and the…all that stuff has been, for better or for worse, in flux.
Krumpak: Yeah, it has. It has. For a long time.
Bach: The boys, growing up, graduating, moving on.
Krumpak: Coming back.
Bach: Coming back. All that, I think…whether that informed the shift in your work or it coincided with the shift in your work…
Bach: Or the shift in your work influenced the…
Krumpak: It’s in relation to that shifting chaos, or whatever you want to call it. Yeah, that might be. Who knows? That is an interesting notion, too, in another way. I think when I left San Francisco…that whole thing changed when I came to L.A. I never got back to being…in San Francisco, it’s a city of domesticity. It’s an interior city, gets cold a lot, it’s foggy, it’s atmospheric. You sit in places. You read books. Ferlinghetti’s bookstore, City Lights, all that stuff. When I came to L.A., I don’t think my life ever went back to domesticity. We do very domestic things. We raise children, and eat dinner together…but, I never believed in it anymore. I never believed in it anymore. I never desired…I desire some sense of order. I enjoy things being in their place. It just doesn’t happen very often. But, I don’t believe that everything in its place means I’m OK, or it’s a signal that I have…
Krumpak: I’ve matured, or that I understand I’m an intellectual, or that we are a good family. Those things never came back together. I had my dose in San Francisco, and that was over. I think L.A. is like that. It’s shifting, and it’s wide open. Sure, there are a lot of things that are happening that make it about apartheid, economic apartheid, and we all know that. But it’s a horizontal place. Things slide all over the place. San Francisco has a vertical pecking order. You understand your place and you hone it, buddy.
New York is a city of learning rules, right? You learn how to sit on a subway car, how not to look at other people’s faces. You learn how much personal space to take, or not. You learn what pace to walk on the street. You have to learn a lot of rules to just wake up and go to sleep in New York City. And then, you pride yourself in doing them well. That’s what a New Yorker is.
But in L.A., for me, it’s a horizontal, non-domestic situation. I never tried to internalize that in my close-in space. But I do bring that kind of working…I like your analogy. It’s like a ‘working man’ kind of process to making paintings. You go in the studio, and you work. You work for as long as you can, and then you shut off the lights, and you shut off the music, and you leave. The next day, you come back and turn it all on, start the music, drink that coffee, and start again. I think it can feel very genuine and very comforting. At the same time, it feels like a racket and discipline, and it feels like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m going to sit in there and work, stand up for six more hours with a teeny brush in my hand.” But, there’s a love for that, too. You start the painting, you ‘middle’ the painting, and you complete the painting. Go to work. I’ve never shied away from work. Neither did my father or my mother or my wife. We are a working family.
Bach: Right. And now, you have two sculptures in the show. You may have done sculpture before, but I’ve never seen any sculpture from you. The two pieces, in the time that I’ve been able to spend with them at the opening, are very intimate. Very personal and playful and rich and complex, but not fussy. It’s just this celebration of interesting, cool, meaningful stuff. “Here it is, I’ve put it together in this sort of compartment that you have to…”
Krumpak: It’s a place.
Bach: Yeah. It’s like a closet of curiosities that you’re seeing some of it, but there’s other stuff that you can’t see. That has come…
Krumpak: Relatively new. Yeah. When I was in San Francisco—and I was very, very, very young—I made sculpture like what we now call ‘pathetic.’ Provisional. It was very not sculpture. I made it out of birds’ feathers from my own bird, you know, and bead work that an Indian woman showed me how to do, and I would collect. I made sculptures and three-dimensional objects out of rhinestones, and by buying glittery fabric and sewing it and stuffing it like a pillow and putting rhinestones on it and mounting it on the wall by pins. Very not traditional…they were like objects of oddity and seduction, you know, because I didn’t know how to do sculpture. So these are, in a way, related to that. They’re not obvious, traditional sculptures.
Bach: And I don’t think of them as sculptures. I think of them, in a way, as three-dimensional paintings without a whole lot of paint in them.
Krumpak: Right. That’s right.
Bach: It’s the stuff that normally would be traced and made into a painting, but, now, it’s just the object, and it’s just a different arrangement of it.
Krumpak: Right, yeah. I think that’s right, and I like that, actually. Thank you for saying that. The idea of tracing is that, as you just said, you take the object and you stick it down and you draw around it and then you paint it in. I don’t paint it illusionistically, I leave it flat, with the trace.
Bach: Yeah, the shape.
Krumpak: Yeah. Now, the idea is to just move the object out, take it out of the closet, and just let it be what it is. That gets back to that Japanese landscape idea. Let it be what it is, but, put it in a context that makes it more than what it is, or at least contextualizes it and opens up new possibilities for what it is. Keep moving it around, just like you would with anything, painting or your music or whatever, until it doesn’t want to go anywhere else. Then, that becomes its position in the piece. The damnedest thing in making those sculptures is, when you start making that kind of sculpture, with found objects and handmade things that you make, and you ‘collaborate’ them together…as soon as I start making these three-dimensional things, everything…
Bach: [laughs] Yeah.
Krumpak: …in the world, every single thing that I walked past, I was thinking, “Well, gee, I could use that. I could put that in there.” And, I was doing that in the studio. I put podiums in the studio, and I’d just start throwing stuff on them, pulling stuff off, and screwing things together, and then taking them apart and attaching something else. And I realized, wow, man, anything…you can just do anything.
Bach: I just thought of the way you would make the still lives in the drawing classes and painting classes. You’re describing exactly what you would do when you would build a still life for the first time. You would put stuff on there, and take stuff off, and put it there, and let it sit for a while, and choose something else. It’s that same spirit.
Krumpak: Exactly. It’s training for it. I thought of that when I was making them. I thought, “I don’t know anything about making sculpture.” I honestly had no criteria. “Don’t fake it; I don’t have any.” But, then I thought, “I’ve made still lives for years, and this is like making a still life,” so, I totally agree with you on that. Once I got that, that this is a place, it’s a location, it’s a still life that I’m making, and I’m making it out of stuff that I’ve been saving for God knows why…so, I’m going to put it together.
Bach: And who cares?
Krumpak: And who cares? I’m going to put it on a pedestal, and then people can come and see it, and…great. I don’t have any defense about it. I’m not protecting it at all. I don’t think it about that way. It animates the exhibition it’s in, and it offers another opportunity for a dialogue between the paintings and the three-dimensional objects. The flatness of the painting and the dimensionality of the objects, and that is just a nice conversation to have happening in the room.
I think another thing that, when I was making them, I was thinking about Matisse, and I was thinking about Matisse’s hotel rooms that he would decorate, and the way that he would hang patterned fabric, and have the odalisque sprawl out in front of it or sit in a chair in front of the window, and have pattern on pattern. Just the joy of the Persian harem tent in a hotel room that was cheap, and what a wonderful fakery that was. So I thought, “This is like that. I should just enjoy decorating and that logic.” And, when he says that “decoration is expression,” I thought, “Yes, I am expressing myself creatively here.”
A wonderful assemblage sculptor I know, who’s also a friend through jazz, we’re both jazz fiends. He’s a sculptor, makes wonderful assemblage and one-of-a-kind standalone sculptures, and is a painter. We’d see each other at jazz things, and I’d say, “Oh, God, I don’t know what’s going on! I have no idea what I’m doing!” And he would say, “Tom, yes you do. Just calm down. Just think, ‘I am creative, and whatever I make, therefore, will be OK.'” You know, that’s easier said than done. But, he was really wonderful. He just was so sweet, that it made me think, “OK, I’ll just do this thing.” And, I had a deadline for the first sculpture, so I had to hit that deadline.
Bach: To get it photographed?
Krumpak: No, to go on exhibition in downtown L.A. It toured for a year of locations in downtown L.A., the one with all the stuff and junk on it. Then the other one, my deadline was for this exhibition. I knew there was a finish line, and I knew I had to get them done, and I knew I could mess around for only so long and live in indecision, and then I had to start making some decisions: “OK, this form is basically OK, and I can change these things,” or, “This is staying, and so I’ve got to find something that’s more compatible than what I have.”
Bach: Right. And, you know, the work is never completely ever finished, right? We’ve talked about this in painting classes. It’s like, a painting or drawing or a piece achieves an equilibrium. It achieves a sort of plateau that, OK, I guess if you stop now, you could call it done. If you add something else, then it upsets that equilibrium, and you then have to go in and go further. So, you came to this point where you had to let it rest in equilibrium. It may not be done the way you thought it was going to be when you started it, but who cares? It is what it is, and…
Krumpak: Yeah, and let it be. Let it be. Make sure, like you would with any kind of musical composition that you’re writing…I mean, you have a criteria level that you’re looking for to feel justifiable for somebody to witness it, right? Somebody other than you. So, you have to bring it to that level, where you feel this experience would be at least worth it for somebody to encounter this thing. Then, once you feel that’s OK, you can just let it be.
And, you know how it is. Well, it’s different in music, certainly, than in visual object-making, but things exist in their time. As soon as you finish them, they start disintegrating. They just do. Paintings gets old, the paint gets crusty. Rust stains appear on the back of the canvas. What I liked about these assemblage sculptures is that I had to assemble parts of them on location. Some parts are welded together. But, then I had to open the drawers and stuff the drawers with things, and take stuff out of the drawers if I had to move it to another location, or put it in storage, or whatever. In the meantime, life can happen, and you say, “Oh man, this would be great in the drawer instead of that.”
So, every time this sculpture would travel from one location to another over the year, downtown, and before it went here, I switched things up. It didn’t have any static state, just the basic format stayed the same. Or, I had the box sculpture, and I had to take the drawers out from the utility boxes, put them on the base that I made. Then, I had to open the other boxes. “How much should I open the door? This way or this way?” There’s no right way. Each time I can modify it, or take the scroll out of it and put another one in there. I’m not going to let anybody see them anyhow, so they’ll never know, but I will. That’s part of dealing with the inevitability of…things do reach a peak, and then they start falling apart. But, you can have fun playing with that reality.
Bach: There’s a freedom, and a sort of lightness. Not that I’m saying your paintings are heavy, but that there’s a lightness to that process in the sculptures, whereas in the paintings, you put a shape down, and you paint it, and you put the next shape down. You’re putting these shapes down in these relationships, and once the painting gets to where it’s done, you’re not about to go in and sand all the stuff off and put another…it becomes done and you move on, right? There’s a limited amount of adjustability and flexibility in how the painting can function, right? But with these sculptures, these assemblages, whatever they are, there’s a playfulness to them that could be a whole new…
Krumpak: Yeah. It leaves the circuit open. After Fran [Siegel] went to see the show, she sent me an email, and she said, “Oh, the show looked great, but the sculpture,” she said, “those are the closest thing to your interest in jazz of anything you’ve ever done. Because they are so jazz-like, because there’s a sense of playfulness and immediacy to them, yet there’s structure behind it, and there’s also this thing of creating a kind of poetic juxtaposition of things.”
Bach: That’s different every time.
Krumpak: And it can be different every time, but it’s the same core or spine.
Bach: Which is jazz. Taking a standard or whatever, and the improvisation that happens upon that structure. Any performance is going to be slightly…
Krumpak: Yeah, exactly. I thought that was really interesting. She’s very smart, so for me that was very insightful, like, “OK, I don’t play in a rock and roll group anymore, but I’m still making music” [laughs]. So, maybe this is a way of doing that.
New poetry manuscripts in process. Excerpts forthcoming.
Solo and group improvisations, Open Loop, Chama, New York City, 26 April 2003.