In this episode, Mark finishes his talk with friend and artist Ronnie Landfield.
Mark Golden: [Music Plays] Hi everyone, and welcome to my podcast I call Paint Stories. I am Mark Golden, Co-founder of Golden Artist Colors with my father and mother, Sam and Adele Golden, and my wife, Barbara. Once again, I'm joined by my good friend, Ronnie Landfield. It was simply impossible to capture all of Ronnie's over 50 years of making art and his many connections in the art world. So thank you, Ronnie, for allowing me to continue with your paint stories. When we last spoke, we were talking about the tragedy of losing your paint studio and having to begin again in Manhattan. Do you remember what year was that?
Ronnie Landfield: That was in February of 1966. I went to the movies, came back, and discovered that the entire building had burned down pretty much.
Mark: Were you able to save any of the artwork or was everything –
Ronnie: [Crosstalk] Well, I probably was able to save many works on paper, but my important paintings were-were destroyed. They were all gone. I had just started a series of 15 paintings, nine feet high, six feet wide with acrylic paint. I had learned how and what it was that I wanted to do. I had done a few big paintings. I did two of the first series paintings. What they were going to be was an homage – what I had learned in California, what I had learned by listening to Odetta, and The Beatles, and Dylan, and all these insights I had. And they were going to be blank. And I wanted the acrylic paint to really function in ways that I had never been able to-to use it before. I wanted to make large, big areas. They were going to be like the open void.
So it was going to be these four colors, black to symbolize the unknown, pale blue-green to symbolize an endless space, surrounded by a pale tan to represent the earth, and bright yellow to represent light. I was working at these sketches, at these works on paper to make this entire series of paintings. And the building burned down. As I mentioned, my friend, Dan Christensen and Dave Wagner, and other artists, both of whom I knew in Kansas City, offered to save and store whatever it was that Michael Steiner and I could rescue from the loft. I was living on East 11th Street with Jenny, and I was able to get a lot of my papers, a lot of my poetry, and writing to the apartment on 11th Street.
Mark: What-where did you finally set up a studio?
Ronnie: I didn't have the wherewithal at that moment in time. My money was gone. I really was stuck. After about two weeks after the fire, I had by that time made probably 100 drawings. I was going like a maniac. I was doing these drawings on vellum paper, drawing after drawing. That's what I was doing all day long, I was making these works on paper. Jenny thought I was crazy. She would go to work and come back and I'd still be drawing. And one day I was thinking about this book that was one of my favorite books called Conversations With Artists by Selden Rodman.
In that book, there is a kind of dialogue between Frank Lloyd Wright and Phillip Johnson. Now all I knew about Phillip Johnson was what I was learning in the book and the fact that I used to see his name on the wall at The Museum of Modern Art. Reading in the book, I learned that Phillip Johnson was an art collector. And so I looked Phillip Johnson up in the phonebook, he was listed, and I called him. A woman answered the phone and said, who are you? And I told her, I'm Ronnie Landfield, a 19-year-old artist, I'm sure he doesn't know me but my building burned down and I need help. And she said, well, why don't you write him a letter. So I thought to myself, okay, and I wrote a letter.
Mark: A lot of nerve, Ronnie, to do this as a 19-year-old.
Ronnie: I-I didn't know what would happen and I mailed it. A couple days later, I get a call from Phillip Johnson's office saying Mr. Johnson will meet you Thursday at 10:00 o'clock. Woah. Now, I put all my drawings in a book and put on the only suit that I owned, and I went to the meeting. I get to the Seagram's Building, I walked in, I said I have a meeting with Mr. Phillip Johnson. And he said, top floor. So I went up to the top floor. It was like higher in New York City than I had ever been. I get there and the receptionist says, what can I do for you? And I said, I have a meeting with Mr. Johnson. And they escorted me into a board room and I sat down at the end of a table. And there were these Giacometti sculptures made out of tin foil, and I was like, woah.
Phillip Johnson came in and he sat down at the other end of the table. And he said, "So young man, what can I do for you?" He said, "What do you have?" And I said, these are my drawings, and I showed him my drawings. And he said, "Well, what do you want from me?" He said, "I'm not going to support you." And I told him the story, I told him I had traveled and I went to California, I went to school, I was doing these paintings and I was really into this series of paintings, and studio burned down. And Johnson said, now look, I'm not going to support you. Do you have a job? I said, no. He said, why aren't you in school? I said, school sucks, I just went to make art. And Johnson said, "Well, it's great that you want to make art, but you've got to support yourself." He said, "I'll tell you what, when you make some of this art, you come back and show them to me. Good luck."
Mark: That was pretty generous. What made you think that this was going to be connection that was going to work, Ronnie?
Ronnie: He inspired me. I was enormously inspired. He made me feel – I love my parents, I love my friends – he made me feel, uh, the idea that I wanted to be an artist, that I wanted to actually paint and make art. He made me feel like that was okay. Everyone else I'd ever met – like, you know, I love my mother, she would help me. But she would say to me, you going to get a job? Or my friends, we were always competitive. Oh, you're doing that? Well, look at what I'm doing. Here was this person, who was obviously at the top of the world, he was making me feel as though it was terrific that I was-that I was an artist.
I left feeling terrific, feeling like wow, I was just on the top floor of the Seagram's Building talking to the guy that designed the building with Mies van der Rohe. Yes, this world-famous guy and it's okay. I knew in the Fuller Building on 57th Street, I heard that they were looking for somebody to work in their advertising agency. So from the Seagram's Building on Park and 52nd, I walked up to 57th and Madison, I went into the building.
Mark: It's good that you had your suit on still.
Ronnie: I did. I had my suit on. I got to the Diener Hauser Greenthal Agency, I walked in. The receptionist said, can I help you? I said, well, I have an appointment with the Vice President, which I didn't have. She ushered me into his office, he wasn't there yet. I had my book of drawings with me. And he came in and I had noticed behind his desk, he had these little postcards of Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and Nathan Oliveira. And as soon as he came in, I said I know those guys, which was true. I had – I had actually banged on the door of Nathan Oliveira's studio and I introduced myself to him. I told him how much I admired his work. I did the same with Elmer Bischoff. At the end of the year in '65, I was doing these hard-edge paintings because they gave me a show in the lobby of the school.
This is May, I'm about to quit the school, go back to New York. I'm sitting by the fountain in the entrance to the San Francisco Art Institute, and Richard Diebenkorn walks by. I gave him a big smile, he smiled back. I think I extended my hand; he shook my hand. He said, I'm Richard Diebenkorn. And I certainly knew that, and I said, hi, I'm Ronnie Landfield and it's my show of paintings around the lobby. And so he went and looked at all of my paintings. He came back and he said – he complimented me. He said, terrific. I said to him – pardon my English – why in the fuck are you a figure painter? I actually said that to him and he looked at me, and he smiled. And he said, you're right, kid. Now that was 1960 – I've told people this story. It's true. This is 1965 and Richard continued doing figurative paintings one more year. I mean he had to wind it up. 1966, last year Richard's figure paintings. 1967, he starts the Ocean Park paintings.
Mark: Right, it's funny, as you say these stories, it must've been a very disarming way that you shared that kind of statement with folks for them not to want to swing at you.
Ronnie: Yeah well, maybe they should've, but they didn't. And in fact, it worked. I don't think he had any animosity towards me because I think-I think we were right on the same track. If you look at the Ocean Park paintings which are amongst, I think, the greatest paintings produced certainly in twentieth century art – Diebenkorn was underrated by the New York critics.
Mark: All of these meetings, Ronnie, knocking on artists doors, so to knock on Phillip Johnson's door was not particularly unique to you in terms of your willingness to –
Ronnie: [Crosstalk] I guess so. In retrospect, yes.
Mark: I'm sorry that I took you on this other path, but I am really grateful that we did. That was a great story.
Ronnie: Uh-huh, yeah I mean, you know – so the Vice President of this advertising agency, Ed-Ed Brodkin I think his name was, and he gives me a job. And now I meet Phillip Johnson an hour later – an hour and half later, I got a job – I got a fulltime job working at an advertising agency, 57th Street.
Mark: Your mom would be very proud of you.
Ronnie: She was, I told her. I get home, Jenny is happy I got a job. Man, now all I need is a place to paint. I can maybe begin to save up some money. A week or so later, I get a call from Dan Christensen. Sadly, Dave Wagner's dad died. He had to help his family and Dan needed somebody to pay the rent. He had – this great place on – Great Jones Street, you know it. And Dan asked me if I needed a place. I said, absolutely, man. So yes, I had a job, I could now help with the rent, and I moved. I hired my carpenter to make me 15 – he made me 18 nine-foot by six-foot stretchers. I got the canvas. Now I had a new studio, I'm going to do the 15 paintings. I learned how to thin out the acrylic paint.
Mark: You were using Liquitex.
Ronnie: I'm using Liquitex. I'm getting a lot of mad media. And so I had coffee cans filled, I got a lot of gesso, and I was working fulltime on 57th Street and fulltime on Great Jones Street kind of going like crazy. I was 19 years old. I didn't have any studio assistance. So I had stretch canvas, gesso it, wake up in the morning, go to work late, come back late, and I kind of got into a rhythm. The key to the series was I didn't want any brushstrokes. I wanted them to be perfect, and these were big. And I finished the series of 15 paintings. It was probably early summer of 1966 and I made three more. Now Dan said to me, Ronnie, when you finish that series, what did you expect to happen, that it would be like the world would end? Because in a weird way, yeah, I didn't know.
The last painting is just The Void. I said to Dan, you're right, man, it's like obviously I've got to keep going. And I made some 50 by 60-inch paintings, I made some two by three-foot paintings. I got all these photographs together, I contact Phillip Johnson, and he gave me another appointment. I went up to the top floor of the Seagram's Building with pictures of the paintings.
Mark: At this point, you're very familiar with the top floor of the Seagram Building.
Ronnie: Yeah. He looked at the stuff and he says prolific little bastard, aren't you? And I told him I had a job.
Mark: So you went with the photographs of the work.
Ronnie: And he says, I'll take that one.
Mark: And which one was this?
Ronnie: This was one of the three. I suggested that the yellow one was the best one. He said, I'll take it and he gave me a check for $300. Rent was $100 a month and I was ecstatic. I went to work, they did a photo stat of the check, which I have in the studio. When I got down to Great Jones Street, Dan and Jenny were hanging out the windows and I was waving the check at them.
Ronnie: I said, it worked.
Mark: You know everybody now is writing letters to Phillip Johnson hoping that they –
Ronnie: Oh, they should obviously because it worked and now it's in the collection of Phillip Johnson. I went uptown and I had my drawings with me, God only knows why, I went in the Castelli Gallery to see a show – might've been a Stella show or it might've been a Warhol show. And Ivan Karp, said to me, "Hey kid, what do you got under your arm?" And I said, my drawings. He said, well show them to me. So I showed him the drawings and they were very Judd-like. And Ivan says, hey Donald, and Donald Judd came over. I turned red. He looked at my drawings, they laughed. And Ivan said to me, here's a phone number, I want you to call her. She's working at the Bianchini Gallery.
Her name is Dorothy Herzka and she's looking for some young artists. So, I went outside to 77th Street to the phone booth, called the number, Dorothy Herzka answered the phone. I said, I just got your number from Ivan Karp. And she said, well, I'm in the Bianchini Gallery on 57th Street. I knew it was across from the Green Gallery. She said, why don't you come over? So, I went down to 57th Street, I met Dorothy Herzka, it might've been Ryman show up as I remember, but nobody had ever heard of Ryman at that point. She said to me, can I come to your studio and see your paintings? I said sure, and Dorothy came and she saw my series paintings and she saw these other paintings I had done. I'd done one for Phillip. And she said, how about, Ronnie, if you curate a show for Bianchini Gallery of you and your friends, and we'll do it like in March of '67.
Mark: Wow, what an exciting opportunity.
Mark: So who did you invite?
Ronnie: Well, so I invited Ken Showell and I invited Dan Christensen, Peter Young and myself. Dorothy added Peter Gourfain to the show and we curated the show. In the meantime, I left Great Jones Street. My friend Peter Reginato had come to New York. I had talked him into quitting school. Peter came and –
Mark: You're a really bad influence, Ronnie. [Laughs]
Ronnie: Absolutely awful and Peter Reginato had come with another classmate of ours, this guy Michael Heizer. They found 60 Green Street. There's a huge loft and Peter is still living there. At the end of the year in January 1967, I moved all of my stuff to Peter's place. He sort of said to me you can paint in the studio. He was very generous. And Heizer had already left. He was living out in New Mexico or Nevada doing earth works. And I started painting again, this time the series was behind me. What I wanted to do was make these big open void paintings and I made this 9 by 12-foot painting with rollers. So now I'm pushing the acrylic paint in a new direction. I'm using it thicker and I'm still cutting it with matte medium.
Ronnie: I guess I'm still gessoing and I'm painting stretched, but I'm making these big stretchers, 9 by 12 feet. Again, I don't want brush strokes. So now I'm 20 years old, we did the show. I had no idea what would come of it and we all got letters inviting us to be in the Whitney Annual.
Mark: What a great outcome from the show.
Ronnie: So that was – to me, that was the outcome. I was now going to be in a Whitney Museum, so was Peter Gourfain, so was – Peter Young got an invite as well – and so was Dan, and so was Ken Showell. We were all invited to be in the 1967 Whitney Annual. My problem though was I had nowhere to paint. So I-I mean I was at Reginato's, but I didn't want to be there anymore. I was imposing on my friend. I had sold the painting to Robert Scull. The yellow painting that I wanted to give to Phillip Johnson – interesting story with that. Before I left Great Jones Street, I realized that the tan painting was better and I went and saw him again. And I told him, I think that the yellow painting is good, but the tan painting is the one. And he said, okay, I'll take it and he gave me a check for $400. I said, but you already gave me – you gave me $300 – he said, Ronnie, you have to learn you have to be well paid for your work. And the tan painting is at the Sheldon Museum in Nebraska.
It went from the collection of Phillip Johnson to the Sheldon Museum. I'm in this collection. I'm in a museum. Peter Young called me up – this is in the summer of 1967 – and he told me there's an opening at his building at 94 Bowery. The top floor was empty. I moved. Now I've got a place to work and I've got to do a painting for the Whitney, deadline is coming up, November. And I start making these eight-foot square paintings, but I want to get away from minimalism. I've come to the conclusion that painting's not dead, that those of us who are now painters, it's in our hands. We have to make them real. We have to make them matter. We have to make them not abstract expressionist. We have to find our own voice. So I start doing this dark blue painting. It's eight-feet square, I'm working stretched, I'm using rollers, and it's dark.
I'm getting surface, but it's very subtle. And now I'm going to put some borders on it, and I cut them so that they don't go all across. And then I put some borders on the bottom, only I just take paint, smear it right out of the tube. So they're painterly, but they're hard-edge. They were expressive. They were sort of understanding of minimalism, but they were expressionistic.
Ronnie: And I called this one painting which came right out of this long poem I had written in Berkeley called The Myth, The Howl of Terror. And I showed it at the Whitney. I'm thinking that those of us who are painting, we have to figure out a way to-to change history, to change painting. And because there's all these guys going before us and Judd is saying painting is dead and it's all this minimal stuff. And the more minimal you get, you get the blank. And I wanted painters to paint. I wanted to find and invent a new kind of painterly painting. At the Whitney, I looked across the room and there was this green painting with big ellipses on it, and I realized that's a Larry Poons? I knew Poons' dot paintings. I knew his dot circle paintings. I had seen his shows at Green Gallery and this was a painterly Poons.
This was a painting that was actually expressive to me in the same way as I was trying to say about paint. About a week or two later after the opening, I went into Longview Country Club. Longview Country Club was across the street from Max's, 19th Street and Park Avenue South. Also owned by Mickey Ruskin. Mickey was trying to get all of us artists across the street so he can get all the musicians into Max’s. So he opened up this second bar across the street. He had a big Peter Reginato sculpture and a Frosty Myers and a lot of us artists would go and hang out. I walked in there one day and it was empty except for a couple of people sitting at the bar, and Larry Poons was sitting. Larry looks at me, smiles, and says, hi, I'm Larry Poons. And I said, hi, I'm Ronnie Landfield. I'm the guy that's got the painting opposite yours at the Whitney. And Larry sort of says, why don't you come to my studio? So I said, okay, let's go.
We might've left or I might've gone the next day to Poons' studio. He was living on Church Street. So we go up and we see these paintings, and I think it was the ground floor studio or the second – one flight up. And they were unbelievably gorgeous paintings. They were just gorgeous. There was this like 18-foot orange paintings with these big ellipses on them. There was, uh, a yellow – I think it was a yellow one. But they were just like, wow, and it was obviously – he was working out of the one at the Whitney. I was a little bit like blown away because at that time, for me to make a painting like The Howl of Terror and the other ones that I did like The Howl of Terror, it was an event. I didn't have that much money. I didn't have that much support. I didn't have a dealer and I wasn't selling anything really. It was, uh, a real difficult event. I used to have to go to Neti's and buy the quarts of paint that- that I knew I was going to do a blue painting. And, man, here's Larry, he's got all these gallons of paint in his studio. And he's working on this dark purple painting against the painting wall, it's 17 feet.
And I say to Larry – God only knows – the trouble with you, Poons, is you always do the same painting over and over again. And he said, what – like what? I said, you just – you do the same painting over and over again. You do one color and then you put your dots on them or in this case now, you're doing your ellipses. That's what you do. You do the same painting over and over only different colors. And he looks at me like – he walks over, he grabs a big can of green paint. He walks over to this, like I said, stunning purple painting and he takes the green paint and slams it all over this purple painting. I was like, what? And he looks at me and – this paint is dribbling down and he says, you're onto something kid. And Larry never looked back. That was the beginning.
Mark: But again, it's another story of I can't imagine that you share these things without it being particularly disarming in the way that you do it. Otherwise –
Ronnie: [Laughs] You should shoot me, right? No, don't shoot me. This is what happened. Now Larry was preparing – which turned out to be his last show at Castelli. And one of the paintings in the show was one of these new paintings with kind of like a solid color Poons with the ellipses and clouds splashed on top. And that was his last show at Castelli.
Mark: Mm-hmm. That's a great story.
Ronnie: And it was also the beginning of Larry making these elephant skin paintings. Now at that point, we were friends and we Larry got me to teach his class at Bennington. So I used to go up – I'm like 21-years-old teaching at Bennington. But at any rate, Larry would come to my studio and I showed him my paintings. And Larry says to me, the trouble with you, Landfield, is you try to do a-a masterpiece whenever you paint. He says to me – I'm a musician and Larry used to play his-his guitar. He says to me, you're not spontaneous. Your paintings are not in the moment. You have to plan it and then you-you've got to go back to your old idea. You're not in the moment. You're not working from the instant you want to work.
And I realized that it probably took maybe the year of '68 to realize he was right. And the way that I changed, I radically changed, when I was influenced by Larry because at that point, he was doing his thick stuff on the floor. I put a big piece of canvas on the floor and I took paint that I had and I started mixing it with water, and I started making stain paintings on the floor. I knew it came out of Pollock. And at that point, I needed the paint to function better. I mean I could roll it out, I couldn't really get it to do anything. I didn't know how. I might've talked to Ken Noland and I knew Ken and Jules because I would go up to Bennington.
Ronnie: Sometimes, if I needed a place to stay, Ken was very generous, he always had an extra room and I would stay there. And I-I knew his studio, I would go over to his studio. He had this incredible place; it was Robert Frost's house.
Ronnie: Ken told me about this stuff called water tension break that he used that he'd mix with the paint and would go into the surface of the canvas. And it just made a lot of sense to me. The more I tried getting this water paint to work, and the more I realized I-I couldn't really do very much with it. And I mentioned this – probably mentioned this to Larry and Larry said, call Lenny. And Larry gave me the number of Lenny Bocour.
Mark: That's fabulous. Did you –
Ronnie: And now I want to make better acrylic paints and AquaTec was this thick-bodied paint. Now Larry was using it, but I was sort of like afraid of it because I would have to break it down, break it down, break it down. And for all the border paintings I had done, and Howl of Terror and all those paintings, I was using Liquitex, um, you know surface coat after coat after coat. Now I wanted something else. I wanted something different. I called Lenny and as I remember, I was invited up to 52nd Street and I went. And I met your dad, I met Sam Golden, and I met Lenny Bocour. And they were incredibly generous.
You pick out the colors you want and we want you to try the acrylic paint. And I gave them little paintings, in exchange, they gave me gallons and gallons and gallons of AquaTec. And we talked and I told them what I was needing to do, and I learned a bit about the history of water tension breaker from Sam. And Sam clearly had invented this stuff that would enable this paint to enter into the fabric of the canvas.
Mark: Right, I think one of the real joys of Leonard and Sam were to have artists come and visit their shop, and that conversation. It was – you know they had a business, but it was more so being connected to the community of artists. So you being there was just as much of a pleasure for them as-as it might've been for you. So did you visit the shop often?
Ronnie: I remember having a meeting with Lenny in his office and then I remember going with Sam down to see the paint on 52nd Street. It was always I was learning stuff about the paint that I didn't know before. And I would see like one room after the next filled with paint and paint and paint. Around that time, Poons and I became really good friends. We would talk probably almost every day. My friend Peter Young at that point, was beginning to get more and more successful. He was in a lot of good shows. And Peter got invited to have a show in Los Angeles at the Nick Wilder Gallery. Nick Wilder Gallery was like the hip, slick, cool gallery. Not only did Ron Davis show there, but all the color field people showed there, all the pop artists showed there. It was like the best gallery for painting in LA and my friend Peter Young was having a show there.
Mark: Where did you meet Ron Davis?
Ronnie: Ron Davis was graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute the year I joined and he was like the best hard-edge painter I'd ever met. And his paintings were so far beyond technically. I mean I was doing hard-edge painting, but I was 17-18 years old. Ron was ten years older than me and his work was extremely accomplished, and by '66 he had gone down to LA and he was showing at Castelli. He was doing these, uh, very sophisticated polyurethane works.
Mark: These like surfboard pieces.
Ronnie: Yeah. I mean they were really kind of out there, uh, way beyond me technically. So Peter Young comes back from his show in Los Angeles. He said, Ronnie, I met this guy in-in LA, he's showing with Nick Wilder and you ought to meet him. His work is – reminded me of your work. And he was a guy named Bill Pettet. And I actually knew some of Bill's work. He was showing at Elkon, this gallery uptown. So in January of 1969, I flew out to Los Angeles. Now I had just sold a couple of paintings to David Whitney. David Whitney was living with Phillip Johnson and David came to my studio, bought two huge paintings of mine. So I went to LA. I was staying with an old friend and I called Bill Pettet. He invited me to come to his studio and I saw these big stain paintings – acrylic stain paintings.
And Ron Davis came over, they were good friends, and David Whitney showed up, and Nick Wilder showed up. We all wound up talking and talking and talking. We went out to Chinatown. David wound up buying 13 paintings of Bill's. And Ron invited me to his studio. I went the next day and I saw these-these masterpieces. I mean what Ron Davis did in 1969 was – it was the embodiment of everything I was trying to do and everything I was trying to say, only they weren't paint. They were, like you said, surfboards. I mean they were-they were spatial, they were expressive, but they were perfect. You know it was amazing. I was trying to make painterly new again and Ron was doing it, Bill was doing it in his way, I was trying to find my way.
So I was really happy I was there and I said to Bill, what are you doing in LA? You've got to come to New York, man. What are you kidding? They don't like you here in LA. I – you know Bruce Nauman was about to be discovered by Nick Wilder and everything was kind of like LA art. And I said to Bill, come to New York, man. In the meantime, Rosa Esman who was a dealer, had invited Bill, me, Brice Marden, David Diao, and six or seven other guys – Ken Showell – to be in a Portfolio called the New York Ten. And we were all in the process of making a print for Rosa for her portfolio. And Bill decided to do it in New York. Probably January-February of '69, Bill comes to New York and we started hanging out.
He would come to my loft and work on his print. I was telling him, man, you should move to New York City. I introduced him to my downstairs neighbors, Peter Young and at that point, Larry Stafford. And Larry Stafford was this guy from Texas whose father got really angry at him because Larry was you know – he was living on the Bowery and raising his son, his father’s grandson on the Bowery. And his dad got really mad at him. So Stafford drove up to Norwich, New York, bought a house and a bunch of acres of land, and did move out of New York City up to Norwich. I went to visit Stafford because Stafford used to like to play electric guitar. I went up there with Poons, John Chamberlain, and Neil Williams. We all drove up and Poons, Chamberlain, and Stafford played music for hours and hours. They had a great time.
Ronnie: What a group. Bill would hang out with me. When he first came to New York, he met your dad, he met Lenny.
Mark: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Ronnie: You know it was one of the great places to go especially if you were a painter. And I introduced him to Stafford. At that time, Stafford hadn't left yet, told him about it – Norwich. And finally, Bill and Jere – I guess Jere must've come to New York, drove up to see Larry Stafford's place and they bought a house, and they bought 100 acres of land. Now Bill has this place. He's really proud of it because after all, David Whitney had bought 13 paintings and Bill had some capital. So he bought like 100 acres of land and a house. And-and he was into fishing. Larry is into fishing. And Larry, and Bill, and your dad went on a fishing trip up to Canada. Bill told your dad about this house that he'd just bought.
Mark: So they wound up with a real-estate agent looking for property and, uh, wound up buying 100-something acres in an old farmhouse. And, uh, that's been the-the birthplace of Golden Artist Colors.
Ronnie: And we-we knew that your dad was going to retire. And my understanding was he was going to Florida and he was going to retire.
Mark: Mm-hmm, he bought a place in, uh, Fort Lauderdale.
Ronnie: Yeah, and-and so I was surprised that he bought the house upstate. We understood that your dad was retired and I was getting stuff from Lenny. I was using AquaTec. That was the way everybody was functioning. Bill eventually says to me, hey, you got me to move to New York, Ronnie, I found this building on Desbrosses Street that's empty. It's a six-story building. Why don't you move out of the Bowery and move to this building? We'll each have two lofts a piece. I'm going to take the two top floors. I said, great, I'll take the two ground floors. And I talked Ken Showell into taking the two middle floors. And we rented this building, the one below Canal Street, six-story building in what's now called Tribeca, $750 a month for the whole building. So Bill's beautiful two lofts where he had a great view of the Hudson River. My huge two lofts, which had high ceilings – 14-foot ceilings – $250 a month. And I-I was there for 43 years.
Ronnie: By 1979, inflation went through the roof and real-estate prices went through the roof. We signed another ten-year lease. We went from $750 a month for the whole building, to $900 a month each of us.
Ronnie: Every year, it would go up.
Mark: So when I first met you, Ronnie, it was 1980 and visiting the loft –
Ronnie: [Crosstalk] Right after we signed that lease. You-you and your dad came to visit. What I was hearing was, if we make paint, would you guys be interested in using it? And I had complete absolute faith in your father.
Mark: I'm not sure what brought him to do this thing. He's 66 years old. He had the money from the sale of his business, so there was no reason for him to actually do this other than he loved the idea of being connected to you folks. I didn't realize that was the generative thing for-for dad, being part of this art world and vicariously being able to paint with you guys.
Ronnie: [Crosstalk] The only part of it, Mark, is as we get older, we realize that work keeps us young. Can you imagine a life where you reach a point like 65-66, no more work?
Mark: Mm-hmm, I – my mom really recognized that he was getting old and he had nothing that was really getting him up every day and getting him charged and excited. And the day that –
Ronnie: [Crosstalk] And he was brilliant at it.
Mark: Yes, the day the paint started coming off the mill, the guy – he still had a cigar in his mouth and his eyes lit up. And you could say that was the day the company was successful. We had no sales, no business, nothing, and – but you knew that it was going to be a success because he was so, uh, excited about giving this thing a start. And then it was about going to studios. I don't know – I don't think you realize how exciting it was to go into your studio and the buckets and the buckets of paint that were sitting there.
Mark: Yeah, it was a pretty incredible experience.
Ronnie: But I remember being called by a conservator, who was working at The Museum of Modern Art and this would probably have been in 1989. And the museum owns a painting of mine, 9 by 14 feet. It was in my first one-man show called Diamond Lake. Phillip gave it to The Museum of Modern Art in 1972. I saw it in the lobby of the museum. I mean it made me very proud to have my 9 by 14-foot painting hanging in the lobby of the MOMA. And then I hadn't seen it again for many, many, many years. And here it was 1989, conservator –
Mark: Was it Carol Stringari?
Ronnie: Yeah, there you go. Yeah, it was Carol. Yeah – called me up and she wanted me to come in and look at Diamond Lake and give her my best assessment of whether or not the painting had changed in any way. And it looked to me – it looked the same. To me, it looks like the last time I saw it.
Mark: One of the exciting things about that whole study that Carol was responsible for, it was the first time that someone was comparing acrylic paintings to oil paintings done in a similar period of time.
Ronnie: Yes, yes.
Mark: It was a seminal piece that she was writing saying when we look at the acrylic paintings, these 30-year-old paintings, we're able to say the acrylics are holding up incredibly beautifully well since '87 I think was our first paper that we wrote on the conservation of acrylic materials. Since then we've published in major conservation journals dealing with the conservation and the protection of acrylic. The company is recognized as a contributor the world of information that's out there on how this material will work and last.
Ronnie: But those of us who love the paint, love GOLDEN Paints, we know that it will last. It's made by people who really care about what they're doing.
Mark: We still are sending you new things to take a look at.
Ronnie: You're welcome to come visit in the studio, Mark, when you have time.
Mark: I'd love to see what you're doing. Ronnie, it would be great to visit, also to see your son, Noah's work as well. I know he's a very talented painter.
Ronnie: Uh, Noah lately has been using acrylic again. He's been an oil painter and he's been using acrylic in recent times. His paintings are amazing.
Mark: You want to talk about the move upstate.
Ronnie: Sure. The irony of life, yes? We're talking 2012. Yeah, I got invited – now you know I was teaching at SVA and then I was teaching at the Artist Student's League – me, college dropout. Oh yeah, and I loved it. You know it –
Mark: [Crosstalk] And you never made anything of yourself, right? [Laughs]
Ronnie: Yeah, it's very cool. I got invited out of the blue to have a show – have a solo exhibition at the High School of Art and Design. Huh, what? And this is – we're talking October 2012. I-I probably got the invite around August to have a one-man show. I called them. Why? Huh? Well, you were one of the first people to ever come to the school, Ronnie, we're moving out of the building to a new building on 56th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue.
Ronnie: And as celebratory for the new building, we'd like you to have an exhibition in our gallery. But I agreed to do the show and I wrote a long essay. I called the show Where It All Began, which is all about some of the stuff we've been – we were talking about. And we did an exhibition. Will, my assistant, and-and Noah helped me hang the exhibition. We put it up in October of 2012. We did an opening. Uh, a lot of my friends came. _Steven Haller came, his wife. Jenny's uncle came, the amazing Al Jaffee who retired this year at the age of 99.
Mark: Mm-hmm, incredible.
Ronnie: You know after the opening, there was a-a nearby Italian restaurant and Matthew and Noah, and their family, and Jenny, and me, and some close friends, we all went to the restaurant. And Matthew was about to take a trip. And I told him there's this terrible storm coming, maybe you should cancel your trip. I guess one of my friends, Irene, was staying with Jenny and I on Desbrosses Street, and so that must've been October 28 because the next day on October 29, Hurricane Sandy hit. And so I did a show called Where It All Began and there it was the day it ended, and we got inundated. At 9:00 o'clock that night, my upstairs neighbors all evacuated. And Jenny, Irene, and myself, we stayed in on the ground floor with my cats and my turtle. We lived on the second floor and studio on the ground floor. By 9:00 o'clock that night, there was three feet of water in the studio. So the entire basement was –
Mark: Totally flooded.
Ronnie: – totally flooded. We look at the window and the entire street, cars were underwater. We-we didn't really know what to do. My upstairs neighbor had left their doors open. We took the cats, put them in a carrier and we went up to the top floor. And we saw all the lights come out. Everything went dark. My kids called us in the morning. They – the water actually went out of my studio by a couple hours, when the tide went out. The water was in the basement, but it went out of the studio. But everything had gotten wet. You know to make a long story short; it changed our lives. And Noah drove downtown. Uh, he insisted that we stay with him. Next day, we drove down, I ran into my landlord on the street. And I told him that the third floor in the building was empty. So the guy gave me the keys to the third floor, which was really extraordinary. We began to carry things from the studio on the ground floor up to the third floor to let – they were soaking – to let them dry. And for the next several weeks, we began to –
Mark: Try to mitigate the damage, um, hmm.
Ronnie: Now there's a supply store in Brooklyn that the next day Noah took me to. And we bought all this stuff that would help us with the paper work, but I bought like hundreds of sheets of paper that we could put my drawings in between to try to mitigate the-the mold, and we did that with a lot of my files. I mean, uh, it was incredible that Noah knew what we should do. We began to daily work on the work in the studio and he got the number of this conservator. And he called the guy and he told him about his dad down in Tribeca. And this guy's name was David Goist.
He was from North Carolina – great conservator. And he agreed to meet us at the building and the landlord tried to change the locks and tried to lock us out because the city put a red sticker on the door saying that the basement is dangerous, but we were able to continue our work. And we pressured the landlord to get the electricity turned on. And I think by – probably by early December, they had done that. Now Noah had a studio in Industry City in Sunset Park Brooklyn and he came, and we put thirty paintings – stretched paintings – into his truck and drove them out to Noah's studio because we couldn't move. My studio was so full of stuff.
Ronnie: We had to get some of the stuff even though they were wet, we had to get them out just so we could figure out what to do next. Okay, I had two truckloads we'd put out at Noah's. I was afraid of hurting Noah's work because my wet paintings – we didn't know –
Mark: [Crosstalk] And _____ with the mold and – right.
Ronnie: If they were moldy, if they could hurt his stuff.
Mark: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Ronnie: I went out to Industry City, Noah introduced me to his landlord and I rented a studio that was two doors down from Noah's. Plus, we had all of these big rolled up paintings that we need to roll out. Noah calls this guy, David Goist. He agrees to meet us at the building. At this point, we have a lawyer. The lawyer gets a judge to order them to allow us to bring this conservator into the building. So David Goist came in. He saw what Noah had done and essentially, he said you're doing everything right. Noah and Kate, my monitor at the league, rented a van. They put a van load of my work and brought it out to Brooklyn and carried it upstairs to the third floor.
Ronnie: Then they did it again, and they did it again, and they did it again, night, after night, after night until the entire third floor was emptied of work. And I remember being told these American International Conservators, the headquarters it turned out was the entire second floor in Industry City in Sunset Park, in the same building that Noah's studio was in.
Ronnie: Noah's studio was on the third floor and we were the first person they were willing to look at.
Mark: Oh, wow.
Ronnie: It was a Godsend.
Mark: That's a great story. Right, so when did you start planning the new studio?
Ronnie: Eventually, Jenny convinced me that the building wasn't coming back.
Ronnie: The landlord didn't want it to come back and we were fighting, and fighting, and fighting in the courts. We decided to settle the case with the landlord. I had a show in Santa Fe in 2013. I had a lot of paintings in Santa Fe, and we did a show. Matthew had heard about this place called New Windsor, New York.
Ronnie: And I saw this place, this house, and I needed to find a place that I could build a studio.
Ronnie: If it didn't exist already, I need to build a studio. And people from the town said no problem.
Mark: So tell me, what was it like moving out of the city after being there for over 40 years?
Ronnie: Well, my entire life. I was born and raised in the city.
Mark: Mm-hmm, right.
Ronnie: It was quite-quite traumatic. I mean I really wanted to stay in Tribeca, but I was convinced and Jenny convinced me that it was impossible. We moved to New Windsor – I bought the house in April of 2014. I bought this place only after Bill Pettet said okay.
Ronnie: I had him come up with me and look, and he said okay.
Mark: We-we all need Bill Pettet for us to move any place.
Ronnie: Well – yeah.
Mark: And then when did-when did you finish the studio?
Ronnie: In January of 2015.
Ronnie: Been here ever since.
Mark: Good, well I look forward to being there and toasting with you at the studio, Ronnie.
Ronnie: Please, come.
Mark: [Music Plays] Well, Ronnie, thank you. This has been just great to, uh, have you share a great story, so thank you. Matthew Landfield, Ronnie's son has written a beautiful piece on the family's home and life in Tribeca, so please check out mattlandfield.com. And finally, coming right up this November 14, you can see Ronnie's work in person at the Findlay Gallery at their new location on 32 East 56th Street. I'll be masked, but I'll be there to help celebrate. Come join me.
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