Paint Stories with Mark Golden

Interview With Ronnie Landfield - Part 1

Episode Summary

In today’s podcast, Mark Golden is joined by a long-time friend and paint collaborator, Ronnie Landfield.

Episode Transcription

Mark Golden: [Music playing] Hi, everyone and welcome to my podcast I call Paint Stories. I'm Mark Golden, Co-Founder of Golden Artist Colors with my father and my mother, Sam and Adele Golden and my wife, Barbara. My family has had the delight and privilege to working with some of the most amazing artists since my great-uncle Leonard Bocour began hand-grinding oil colors in Manhattan in 1933. Today, I'm joined by a long-time friend and paint collaborate, Ronnie Landfield. Welcome, Ronnie.


Ronnie Landfield: Hi, Mark. It's great to be here. It's nice to finally see you. It's been a long time, especially now during this horrible pandemic.


Mark: Well, thank you, Ronnie.


Ronnie: Luckily, I don't have to go into the city these days I'm able to spend time and stay isolated. Although, I do miss my kids and my grandkids.


Mark: Right. Ronnie, I'm going to do just a brief bio to get started. Ronnie Landfield began exhibiting work at the age of 15 in 1962 in Manhattan. And although he had brief interludes in colleges studying at the Kansas City Art Institute, UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute at several points in his career also studying at the Art Students League – at which he now teaches. His grounding was really in the friendships and acquaintances he met in New York. At 16 years old, he rented his first loft on Bleecker Street with a friend and another young artist, Michael Steiner, who he also went to high school with at the School of Art and Design. After a short stint out in California, he came back to New York permanently. Ronnie's career has now spanned more than 50 years. Ronnie, that's a long time.


Ronnie: Yeah.


Mark: With numerous solo and group shows here in New York and around the US as well as overseas, his cavasses are in major institutions including the Whitney, MoMA, the National Gallery and literally dozens of others. Ronnie is currently represented by the Findlay Galleries in Manhattan and Palm Beach. Ronnie, when I began these series of podcasts, I tried to paint the picture in New York in the '30s through the war years with Sam and Leonard and into the '50s. You were actually there in the city in – early-on in the '60s as a young artist beginning a career at 16. Do you think you can help us kind of paint that picture to understand the scene you were privy to in Manhattan?


Ronnie: Well, New York City in those days was really and truly incredible. When I think back, I began to get very serious about becoming a painter and giving it a real try when I was 15 years old. Michael and I were friends. Earlier during the school year, we used to paint in Central Park. We used to do water colors. We used to go to the botanical gardens in the Bronx. During the summer of 1962, when I was 15, every summer my parents would take me to this hotel in the Catskill Mountains in Woodridge, New York. And that summer, I was old enough for them to give me a job. 

I was the lifeguard at the pool. I was like the lifeguard. It was great. I used to love going swimming, and I was living in this kind of beat-up, old building that they used for the casino. And they would have shows there. So it was kind of funky, and I liked it. I loved it. You see, 15 years old, what could go wrong? Right? It was great. One day, my friend Michael Steiner came to visit me in late-July, and he was with this beautiful girl. And this other friend of ours, this guy name Gary Moore – who could drive, 'cause New York City kids couldn’t drive. 

And we're walking around in this hotel where I worked. And Michael kind of whispers to me, "What are you doing here? Don't you know? If you come to Woodstock, you see that pretty girl we’re with. She's our model. Ronnie, come on." He was going to the Art Students League Summer School in Woodstock. So I said, "No, Michael. I'm sorry. I have a job. Let me show you my paintings." And I was painting in my room in the casino. I was doing these oil paintings, these small paintings that looked very much like Paul Klee. I had, for the first time, started painting with a sponge. I was having a good time, and they were interesting. They left. I forgot about them. I did my thing at the swimming pool. 

And one Sunday morning, I opened the pool and these kids came in. And this one kid – he's about my age. He's laugh – he's laughing. And I said, "What's so funny?" And he said, "Oh. Marilyn Monroe died." I adored Marilyn Monroe. I – I was in shock. I blew my whistle,  I said, "Everybody out of the pool," I went into the casino, I packed all of my stuff, I walked into the office and I quit my job. I went back to the casino determined to get all of my stuff and go from Woodridge, New York to Woodstock. And I took a bus to Woodstock. Michael met me. I enrolled at the Arts Students League, and I started painting these big, abstract paintings.


Mark: Who was teaching at the Woodstock facility?


Ronnie: I was studying with Arnold Blanch, who I had never heard of. I didn't even think he could understand how this little kid could be painting like Franz Kline. So he got very angry at my paintings. He said, "I know him. You can't paint like that." He would scribble on my drawings. But I felt suddenly free. It was an experience that really connected me to who I really wanted to be. Now, I'm painting. And some of the people in the class would have like picnic lunch. One of the people that was in the class, who we would have lunch together was this guy named Gahan Wilson. 

This guy was a cartoonist who used to do these crazy cartoons for Playboy Magazine. He was in my class? You know? It was sort of an amazing experience. I'm 15. Here's this guy. He gets published in Playboy Magazine every month. He's well-known and famous. But we're just sitting around. There's lots of other people, some older. I was the youngest person in the class. My friend Michael was the star at that moment in time. Arnold Blanch gave him a scholarship. He was doing great. One day, I'm sitting there at the table, and I'm painting. And then, I got bored and I went outside. And I saw this really pretty girl over across the lawn. So I went over to say hello. And she smiled at me, and I introduced myself. And she introduced herself. She said, "Hi. My name is Eva Hesse." 

And she offered me a cigarette. And we became friends, and we stayed friends from that point on. Now, this guy came over – big, tall guy. She introduced me as, "This is my husband, Tom Doyle." So here I am, 15 years old. Now I'm friends with Eva Hesse. And this was, to me, the beginning of connecting to the universe of the art world. Now, why was Eva sitting on the lawn? What was she doing? Well, everybody was aware that this guy was coming to Woodstock named Allan Kaprow. And he was going to do a Happening. And everybody said, "What is a Happening? We've never heard of this before." And, yeah, sure enough Eva was working, creating costumes for Kaprow's happening. And there were all these New York artists. And they did the Happening right behind the League school in the woods. And so, we were all suddenly exposed to what a Happening was.


Mark: Ronnie at 15 years old – what part of your personality that gave you the confidence to go to Woodstock?


Ronnie: It's hard to explain. But maybe Michael gave me some confidence. The other part of it, you know...I had already, at that point – now that you ask me that question, Mark, it's interesting. When I started at Art and Design, I was 13 years old. I was younger than everybody. I was kind of like being laughed at by all these older kids until one day I did this project, and I handed it in. It was a big head of a British palace guard. And the teacher was absent. We had all placed our things around the room. And this substitute teacher points at my piece, and all the older kids start laughing, "Oh. It's going to be, you know"-


Mark: You're going to be in trouble.


Ronnie: And I raised my hand. And the guy said, "It's fantastic. Do you know the work of Ben Shahn?" And I said, "Huh?" And he sent me to the library. And when I came back, I realized I was a painter. And I didn't care what these kids said. It was an amazing experience for me. And you asked about my boldness. I mean, the whole world was there, and it was opening. Every – I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday night during the school year. So I had a friend up in the Bronx. Sometimes with him, sometimes by myself, I'd get on the subway. My mother was always worried about me, but I'd go down to Bleecker Street and McDougal. I'd go to The Bitter End. They had hootenannies. 

Yeah. I do my homework early, and I'd be at The Bitter End for hours and hours and hours listening to all this incredible folk music. And stuff like that. I'm gaining confidence. Initially when I started at the school, I had friends. It was Michael. It was my friend Richie Collins. Richie taught me more about making art than I think anybody I even ever met. We used to meet at 3:00 o'clock, and we used to walk over to 60th Street to this place called the Bodley Gallery. And the Bodley Gallery used to show these little lesser-known surrealist artists. But the director of the gallery used to really enjoy when those five or six of us would go there. He would show us some work, and we would talk. 

And one day – I think I mentioned this. He said, "Kid, let me show you this artist. We showed him. We gave him his first show. And one of these days, you're going to hear about him." And he showed me these drawings of shoes. These line drawings of shoes. And I didn't think much of it. They were, you know...looked like drawings of shoes. And he said, "Remember his name. His name is Andy Warhol." Yeah. From 60th Street, and Serendipity’s was across the street. And from there, we would kind of traipse back to 57th Street – 'cause the school was 57th and 2nd – and we would walk up 57th Street. On the right side of 57th street heading West, you had the Sidney Janis Gallery, the Green Gallery, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, the Fischbach was like, "Whoa." Anything and everything was there on 57th Street. 

And we would go to the galleries all the time. I had mentioned the other day about going to a group show at 7 West 57th Street. And I saw this incredible early Pollock. I saw my first Jasper Johns. I saw Rauschenberg. It was a magnificent explosion of abstract expressionism - everywhere. Sidney Janis represented the De Kooning, Pollock, Kline, Gottlieb, Motherwell Rothko, Guston, was extraordinary. I would go to Sidney Janis Gallery whenever I had the chance and always talked to the people behind the desk. 

And I was shy. I was bold to go there, but I was shy to talk to these people. In Art and Design, we had a teacher who was Tom Wesselmann. And Tom was showing at this place called the Green Gallery. So I would go over with Michael, and Dick Bellamy ran the place. And we would kind of – Michael would say to Bellamy when we got in, "Show us some Tom Wesselmann paintings." [Laughs] I couldn't do that. Michael, on the other hand, was shy around nobody. So Bellamy would pull out these Tom Wesselmann's and plug 'em in. And some of them had TV sets. So I was getting my education right there on 57th Street. And this is 1962, 1963. And then, after I came back from Woodstock in the Fall of 1962, then the art world exploded.


Mark: What do you mean it exploded?


Ronnie: Sidney Janis Gallery was ground zero for American abstract expressionist painting as well as Mondrian. They showed just about everybody. The only people that didn't show at Janis, first-generation American abstract expressionists, were Hans Hofmann – who showed at Kootz; some of the other people like Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler showed elsewhere – and Barney Newman. But Newman was showing across the street at this gallery on 57th at the time called Knoedler Gallery. 

It was showing 19th-century art and a couple of Hofmann's and Barnett Newman's. Sidney Janis, who is like on the 4th floor that he shared with Betty day, the Sidney Janis Gallery rented a storefront on 57th Street close to the gallery. And in the storefront was this show that they put on called New Realism. And in the new realist show were all the nouveau realists from Europe accompanied by George Segal, Andy Warhol – who showed a paint-by-numbers painting I could never forget – Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg...and all these amazing American pop artists. 

But at that moment in time, pop art did not exist. And it was like a return to commercial art; a smack in the face to abstraction. It looked like, "No. We want to have cups of coffee that people can see what they're buying on the walls." And all of a sudden, it was figurative, and it was commercial. And the abstract expressionists, like, freaked out. And ultimately, most of them walked out of the gallery and left. And when I say it was an explosion in the art world, "What is this new realist stuff? The center of the place that shows abstract art is suddenly going to go into Realist art? What's going on?" 

And from my point-of-view, I was amazed. I was shocked. And then, over the next year or so article after article suddenly pop art; pop art becomes part of the vernacular. Marlborough Gallery then came to New York right at that moment in time, they opened up across the street on the other side of 57th Street and eventually they got the Pollock Estate, they got Clyfford Still, they got Mark Rothko, Phillip Guston. They got all of these abstract expressionists that walked out, wound up at Marlborough Gallery. I mean, it was an extraordinary moment for a kid to witness. But for me, I was getting my education on the street and from my teachers. 'Cause they were all aware of what was going on. I'm sure Tom Wesselmann must've been pleased. 

Now, he's got – yeah – a bigger venue. Very difficult to really determine what in the world was happening. I used to love to go – also go to Kootz Gallery, I should say, and Poindexter. At Poindexter, they were showing this younger artist named Al Held. And they were showing this younger artist who I liked a lot called Richard Diebenkorn. At Kootz gallery, they were showing Hofmann. But they were also showing another artist I liked a lot called Ray Parker. I really – really, really liked Parker's work. So for a kid in New York City, you go to school, get out at 3:00 o'clock and then go see Ray Parker's work or go see a show of Diebenkorn and-


Mark: Were you taking classes at – at the League at that time also or no?


Ronnie: Yeah. I was taking, uh, drawing classes on occasion. 3:00 o'clock, we'd go to the League, and we'd kind of do drawing. So it was informal. You can go to a drawing class that cost like $5 bucks. The other thing we would do is, we'd go downtown. And so, we're on 57th Street, we see all this great stuff. And of course, we would walk to the Museum of Modern Art. Now, the Museum of Modern Art – which was my favorite museum – was on 53rd Street. You go into the Museum of Modern Art, and then you'd say, "I want to go into the Whitney Museum." So you go into – I forget where it connected, but you go into the lobby, and you'd walk into 54th Street right into the Whitney Museum. The two museums would connect. And I used to do that a lot.


Mark: So when did you graduate from the high school?


Ronnie: While I was trying out for colleges, 'cause I promised my mother and my father that I would go to college-


Mark: What year is this, Ronnie?


Ronnie: So now, I am...turned 16. It's 1963. And I tried out for Cooper Union, and everybody wanted to go to Cooper. And I tried out for Pratt, and I tried out as a lark for the Kansas City Art Institute. And I got a call from the President of the Kansas City Art Institute, and he said he was staying at the Biltmore Hotel interviewing prospective students. "Could I come down and meet and bring my portfolio, and he would look it over. And what I was showing him were charcoal drawings. But mostly, my paintings on paper. Which, I mean, I have a lot of them. I actually could erase my signature right to De Kooning, and we could probably sell them. I mean, I was doing the De Kooning's and Kline's and...not Pollock's so much, but I was turned on by Pollock. And I was really into abstract expressionism, and I was pretty good at it. And I showed it to this guy, and he looked at my portfolio. And he said, 'I'm giving you a scholarship. I want you to go." So I said, "Well, I have this friend Michael, I might consider it if Michael can come too." 

So Andrew Morgan, President of the Kansas City Art Institute said, "I guess I gotta meet Michael." So I called Michael up, and I said, "Hey, man. You want to go to college?'" I said, "Look. Just get your portfolio together. Meet me. We'll go to the Biltmore Hotel. I'll introduce you to the President. And don't forget. Thomas Hart Benton was out there, and Pollock used to hang out with him." So Michael came down. He showed Andrew Morgan his portfolio, and Andrew said, "Okay. I will waive all the requirements. I will give Michael a scholarship and Ronnie a scholarship." And in late August 1963 Michael and I got on a bus, and we went to Kansas City.


Mark: Right. What do you think was behind giving you guys the scholarship? Was it the level of work?


Ronnie: Yeah. I think from his conversations with us he understood that we were enormously connected to the New York art world. Not connected necessarily like we knew people.


Mark: Right.


Ronnie: But connected because we knew the places. We knew the 10th Street galleries. That was what I was gonna say. We knew people who were showing there. We knew the artists long before Soho went with the first downtown gallery scene. Most people weren't even aware of it. And also, some of those galleries were co-ops. All of the kind of radical, crazy stuff was being shown there. Claes Oldenburg had one of these stores. And you would go into a store front, he'd have these big hamburgers, and it was pretty wild. Jenny kind of grew up in the East village. We have this great picture of her that's on the Pace Gallery that are retrospective of happenings. And there's this great picture of a Claes Oldenburg happening with people like Claes and Henry Geldzahler and all of these incredible artists, many of whom show at Pace. And there's ten-year-old Jenny standing right in the photograph in costume.


Mark: Right. Jenny was even wilder than you were, at ten-


Ronnie: Completely. Absolutely. We-


Mark: So you went out to Kansas City.


Ronnie: My parents just wanted me to go to college. And I was driving my father crazy with my paintings because he couldn’t stand the smell of turpentine. He would push me out of the house into the hallway. Crazy. We lived in a three-room apartment in the Bronx. I learned about casein. I found that oil painting was strong, but casein didn't make my father crazy. So my parents were probably hoping for the best when I split for Kansas City. We left, we got there a little early in late-August. They gave us dormitory rooms. And I went and saw Andrew Morgan and said, "Give me the keys to the painting building." So he gave me the keys. I opened up the senior painting building, and Michael took one big space and I took another big space. And I started painting this big...De Kooning-esque painting, and Michael started doing his big painting. And then, in early September the seniors arrived.


Mark: And you're working in oil at that time?


Ronnie: Yes. Oil. I was working in anything I could; charcoal, oil, crayons, craypas, mostly oil paint, and casein. And when the seniors arrived, they found these uppity New York City kids. And they were all figure painters. We moved over. We shared the studio with Dan Christensen – who was a senior-


Mark: And was doing figurative work at the time?


Ronnie: Yeah. A figure painter. Larry Stafford and Carl Ponca too; I considered them old guys. I mean, they were 20 years old. And we made friends. And we would talk. Michael and I would certainly talk all the time about New York and in our world. And I made friends with this teacher named Ross Coates and Robert Barnes was a visiting instructor; Hal Bruder was a visiting instructor. We all made friends. Well, we got there in late-August, and we worked through September. At the end of September, Michael said, "What am I doing here? I don't want to be here." And he split. Went back to New York. 

So I found a huge room in the basement of the Design building, and I moved out all this old furniture and claimed it as my own personal studio. And now, I had the largest personal studio on campus. And I filled it with paintings and works on paper. Kind of looked like, in retrospect, Joan Mitchell-like. I was really into her work. I liked her work, but I wasn't even thinking about her. And I was doing these kinds of De Kooning-esque charcoal drawings in drawing class. And so, after a while I stopped going to class, and I started making constructions. So I was using oil paint and casein and collage. I was using big sheets of paper, taping them on the back so I could have these big paintings. 

And I was having a great time. A lot of the teachers – Robert Barnes, Ross Coates – they would hang out with me in my studio. A lot of the kids would come and hang out in the studio. I was doing a lot of work. I was having a great time until I started realizing that there were a lot of students – after all, this was the height of the Civil Rights Movement. A lot of the kids here were in the Ku Klux Klan. So I went to my studio, I packed up all my materials, I put all my works on paper in a big pile. This is now, like, probably the last week of October 1963. I walked into Andrew Morgan's office, and I said, "I'm out of here. Thank you very much, but I'm going back to New York."


Mark: Did he ask for an explanation?


Ronnie: I gave him an explanation.


Mark: Oh, great. Ronnie. That may have been the shortest college career on record other than Michael's. [Laughs]


Ronnie: We did what we wanted to do, and we were gonna do it. And so, back to New York. And I get a call from Michael. And he said to me, "Ronnie. I think we could sublet this loft." Leland Bell had this loft on Number 6 Bleecker Street, and he sublet his loft to Michael and me. And suddenly now, I'm 16 years old. I left college, and I have a loft. And we didn't have heat. We didn't have hot water. But it was like paradise.


Mark: Did you have to leave all your work in Kansas City?


Ronnie: I left all the big stuff in Kansas City. So now, I'm sharing this loft with Michael. Number Six Bleecker Street, near the Bowery. And then President Kennedy was assassinated, and everything changed. Everybody was stunned. I went to my parent's house. We turned on the TV, and we just watched TV for the next five days. Kennedy was like an inspiration. You know? You asked me, 'How could you be so bold as to go to Kansas City? I mean, this President was inspiring for my generation. It was horrible. I would go downtown, and I'd paint. I had a lot on my mind. And we didn't have any hot water, and it was getting colder and colder and colder. We were taking this drawing class with Stephen Greene at the League. 

We managed to invite Stephen Greene to come down to the studio on Bleecker Street to look at our big works – me and Michael. I expected to blow him away. I showed him these big, abstract expressionist paintings that I had made in Kansas City. The paper works, I put them back together again. And he yawns. And he says, "What are you gonna do? Are you gonna become a 15th generation abstract expressionist? That's all you're gonna do? It's been done. You got to find your own voice." I took him seriously, and I actually began to realize that I'm being derivative. I'm not being original. Yeah, I can do gestural abstraction; just express yourself.


Mark: You had all of these influences in your head from all of the work that you'd seen.


Ronnie: I took that very seriously, and I – soon around that moment in time, and I went to the Kootz Gallery to see a Hans Hofmann show. And Hans Hofmann was there. And we talked. And I was inspired by him and his work. And he was very gentle and kind. He said to me, "Keep working." I went downtown to the loft, I made these Hofmann-esque works on paper using geometry and gesture, and I realized, "Yeah. I could do something different. I got to find my own voice." But in January when I turned 17, I decided to go to California. I decided that it's too damn cold in New York City. And so, I told my parents, "I'm going to LA."


Mark: You have relatives or somebody out in LA? [Computer sounds]


Ronnie: I had a cousin named Robert, who was a year younger than me.


Mark: Mm-hmm.


Ronnie: And he was one of my favorite cousins. But I wanted to see Robert again. So I decided that what I was going to do was go to LA, go to their house and knock on the door. And I'd say, "It's Ronnie. I've come to see you guys. This is my aunt Sylvia," and they'd welcome me in. And I stay with them until Sylvia says, "You're a bad influence on Robert, Ronnie." [Laughs] "Do me a favor, Sylvia." I said, "Just drop me on the UCLA campus. I have a friend who's going there. I'll be fine." I tracked my friend down. He was working in LA. He came over with his girlfriend, and they put me up in their apartment in their house. 

And I hated LA. Couldn't stand it. I wanted out – a New York City kid. And I hitchhiked up to San Francisco. I figured I'd like San Francisco. The things I had in my knapsack were these crayon drawings. That was my search for something new. I was doing it on the road. And I would sing Dylan songs, and I would draw. I had a lot of these drawings, and I was like, I thought, moving forward. And I get to San Francisco and went to the San Francisco Art Institute just to check it out. 

And my parents wanted me to go to school. Now, I had a cousin named Phil. And Phil was living in Berkeley. Took a bus to Berkeley. Phil met me, and he said, "Ronnie, "Why don't you please stay here, share the place with Richard and his Japanese girlfriend, Hiro Imamura"? And so, that became my new home. Richard Bozelich and Hiro Imamura – the two of them – they were brilliant pianists. And every morning, they would play, and I'd hear that, and I'd paint. Now I'm in California, I'm doing these crayon drawings trying to make some paintings. I went into a store that sold acrylic paint, and I knew I didn't want oil paint. It was too messy. I didn't want to smell up the house.


Mark: Right.


Ronnie: And it was water-soluble. And I started making new hard-edge paintings with acrylic paint. And I was really getting into it, and it was fun and I was using tape. Some of these first paintings, when I had met Hofmann and I started doing those paintings with geometry, I was using masking tape.


Mark: Right. That's a good choice. Acrylic really lends itself to hard-edge work.


Ronnie: Yeah. And so, I was learning and learning and learning and doing that. So I'd walk to the campus. We were three blocks from the Berkeley campus. I would hang out at the Mediterranean, or I would hang out at the Forum. These were two coffee houses on Telegraph Avenue. My parents were kind of pressuring me to go back to school. So I went back to the San Francisco Art Institute, and I applied for a scholarship. And I was interviewed, and I showed them some new stuff I was doing. And they gave me a full scholarship. First day of school, I go into the lobby of the San Francisco Art Institute where they have this big fountain. And I see this guy standing there. 

And I said to him, "What are you doing here?" And he says to me, "What are you doing here?" And he was working at the coffee house in Berkeley at the Forum. And I'd go in there every day, and I'd get like cappuccino. And all of a sudden, first day of school San Francisco Art Institute, he says, "I'm an artist." And I said, "I'm an artist." And, "What's your name?' And he says, "Peter Reginato." And according to Peter, what I then said was, "Hey. Do you have a car?" [Laughs] He said, "Yeah." I said, "Can you give me a ride back to Berkeley?" That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between me and Reginato.


Mark: That's fabulous.


Ronnie: I started painting these big, hard-edge paintings at the art institute. And amazing, the supermarket next to the Forum closed. The guy who owned the Forum owned the supermarket, and he closed it. And they gave it to Peter and I as a studio. So now, I was living on Dwight Way, and I could walk about a block, and I had half of a supermarket as my painting studio. I stopped going to class, and I started making these big paintings. Teachers would come out sometimes to see our work. Peter was doing his paintings. I was doing mine. It couldn’t last forever. And so, eventually we had to leave. 

And the two of us got a loft at 711 Tehama Street in San Francisco. And suddenly, we had this amazing loft. Well, Peter tells me it was on the second floor that I used to jump down to the first floor secretly at night and use the owner's phone to call my parents. And eventually, he found out, and they threw him out of the loft. This is after I went back to New York. I had totally forgotten that story. We made a movie. You can find it on YouTube. ‘’Ronnie Landfield, Peter Reginato, 711 to Tehama Street.’’ This is an animated painting. Let's say if I was 17, Peter was 19. So it was great. I did a year. I met Marshall Efron in LA and Frank Cook, and I met a lot of different kinds of interesting people in California.


Mark: During that year, right?


Ronnie: Yeah. And I now turned 18. It was 1965 – July. I packed all my stuff and said, "I'm out of here. Going back to New York." I'm 18 years old. Now I can deal with the New York art world. I said goodbye to everybody in California. I left all my big, hard-edge paintings with Peter, and my father got mad at me for that.


Mark: Again.


Ronnie: Yeah. In those days, I didn't – I mean, if I could go back I wouldn't have done that. I would've rolled them all up and taken home those paintings.


Mark: Why do you think you left them, Ronnie? You just thought, "I can do it again"?


Ronnie: Yeah. "I can do it again." Exactly. Same thing with my series. I mean, it's like I didn't understand that you move on; your life changes. Your work changes. Everything changes.


Mark: Right. So you can't do it-


Ronnie: Can't go back.


Mark: Right.


Ronnie: I had to learn that the hard way. And it's something I'm still learning. So I went back to New York. I was listening to ‘’Like a Rolling Stone’’ on the radio and it was that moment in time I bought that ‘’Highway 61’’ Dylan album, at my parents house. And Michael calls me up, and he says, "What are you into?" I said, "Color." He says, "I'm into Louis Kahn. I'm into gray." He said, "Ronnie, come down to 500 Broadway, man. You should see my work." So I took the subway. I'm walking down Broadway from Houston Street, downtown, and I ran into Jenny in the street. And I hadn't seen her in at least two years. And I got her phone number, so we decided to hook up.


Mark: I will say, Ronnie, that is a hookup you finally did maintain."


Ronnie: Yeah. That was one that – yeah. It's been a long time. Yeah. It still is. Indeed. My wife. And we were together pretty much from that moment on. And I got to Michael's loft, and he was sharing this loft with this other painter named Peter Young. Michael and Peter had like this 5,000 square-foot loft. And he was doing these huge, monstrous rectangle-rectangle-rectangles on the wall, painted dark-gray and doing these big objects on the wall. And now, he was beginning to put these big, gray objects into the middle of the room. And you could say ala Donald Judd. Ala Robert Morris. It was clear that he was into what was happening. 

And what's happening was minimal art. Peter Young, on the other hand – who was also older. Peter Young was 25, and Peter was working at Pace Gallery, which was the new gallery that just recently opened. Lucas Samaras.  And Peter was doing these very interesting, all-over-type paintings. Very different gesture, but he was into coloring. He was into – they were interesting paintings. They seemed...they reminded me a little bit of Adolph Gottlieb in primitive art. It was good to meet him. 

Now, in the meantime after I left Berkeley. My friend Teddy Bernstein also decided to come back to New York as well. Amongst other things, he wanted me to meet this friend of his that he knew from Boston; Brice Marden. So he introduces me to Brice. I'm 18. Brice is 25, 26. So, you know, it's like you're meeting what becomes the world. You know? Who knew? Around that same time that I met Jenny again, and I went to see Michael, and I met Peter Young. Around that time, I went to the Modern just to kind of catch up with the New York art world. 

And in the lobby in the Modern, I ran into Dan Christensen and Dave Wagner. They had just quit Indiana University where Dan had been doing grad school; decided to come to New York. "What are you up to?" And I said, "I'm looking for a loft." And they said, "So are we." Eventually, they found this great, incredible loft on Great Jones Street. My friend Peter Weinberg – who, ironically enough lived in this apartment building on 57th Street and 7th Avenue, this famous apartment building with his friend Al and I rented a loft on East Broadway painting these big hard-edge paintings on it. 

Again, now, I'm 18 years old. I's 1965. So I'm going to the galleries. I’m doing the best I can. I don't remember how much money, you know, the loft was. Maybe it was like $80 a month or somethin' like that. And Al and I were sharing it. I didn't have a job. But my dad was driving a truck, and he was delivering syrup to candy stores all over New York City. And he needed help. So I became my father's helper on the truck. And one day, I go down to the loft – so I come back, and Al is gone. He's left me a note. "I'm going back to California." So he left me holding the bag on this big loft. Michael shows up, and at that point he was looking for a loft. He finds this loft at 496 Broadway, between Spring and Broome streets, and talks me into sharing it with him. So – but no living. So I moved all my stuff to this loft at 496 Broadway.


Mark: Mm-hmm.


Ronnie: I started my hard-edge series paintings, and I'd paint all night. And I'd listen to music. And I got myself a job working – I think it was Christmas. I was working for Macy's. I'm living with Jenny now in the East Village. She has her own apartment, and I'm – we're sharing the apartment. I've met this carpenter, and he's making me objects that I'm painting for sculpture. And he's making me some stretchers. My mother is lending me a few-hundred bucks so I could pay for the stretchers. And I get a call from Dan, and Dan says, "Hey, Ronnie, man, wanna go to a party? I heard there's this cool party that's opening." He says, "It's on Park Avenue South, I think they call it Max's." And so, I went up to the party. And it was the opening of Max's Kansas City.


Mark: And what year was that?


Ronnie: December 1965. And, you know, it was Larry Zox and John Chamberlain, and Donald Judd. And it was Max's. It was the opening; opening. And it was like, "Holy shit." The entire art world was there. And it was packed. And it was anybody you ever – well, at least you heard about was over in the corner. And, "Did you meet him?" And, "No. I – I got to go back." And Max's was Max's.


Mark: Mm-hmm.


Ronnie: And now was the beginning. And it was very difficult not to go there all the time. The only good thing about it for me was, I never – I'm a Jewish kid from the Bronx. I never drank that much.


Mark: [Laughs] You were there weekly or daily?


Ronnie: Daily. Let's say two or three times a week.


Mark: So you'd have a full day of painting and then the evenings was max's.


Ronnie: Go to Max's. Yeah.


Mark: And what was the conversation like?


Ronnie: Social conversation; what that person looks like. Was it bad art? Yes. What was it about, art? Well, uh, depends on who you talk to. The conceptionual art is – I mean, again, this is...I used to sit with Poons all the time. I would stand at the bar with Dan and Zox and Tex Ray, my stretcher-maker was there. All my friends in the beginning in the front of the – flirt with the waitresses. Jenny became a waitress. My friend Wendy was a waitress. Helen was a waitress. She married Brice. There was all these painters there; Carl Andre, Pushy – Pushy; the dynamic was, "What part of the place did you sit in?" We sat in the front. Warhol was there with all the people in the back. 

Then, you know, my friend Tiger Morse was back there. And she adopted me in Canada one time. You know, it was that place. It was the world. The conceptualists, Kasuth, Smithson, Dan Graham, Larry Weiner – they would throw chickpeas at us. We'd throw chickpeas back, talk about art; well, Richard Serra was interviewed one time. This is – I read this. And he used to say to people that, "If you sell your paintings, clearly you can't be any good. Because the only really good art is the stuff that doesn't sell because they don't understand. Like mine. Like, mine doesn’t sell, so I'm really good. And if his work was selling, can't be good." 

I mean, that – that – that stuff got marketed by the conceptualists. They used to publish that stuff. So yeah. Max's. There I was. And it was – you'd, like, need to cash a check, Mickey would cash your check. Nowhere else. I mean, if I needed – somebody gave me a check for $20 and I needed to cash it, I'd go to Max's. I mean, that was where you had to go, and that's where you had to be. You could wear anything you want. You could stay as long as you want. And I used to stay late. I was a night person in those days. So I'd be there at 2:00 o'clock in the morning sitting at the bar, and Rauschenberg would come in. And there'd be nobody else. It'd be two or three people there, four people there; the guys behind the bar and Rauschenberg. And he would joke and laugh and buy everybody a beer. It was the amazing universe. 

And the Warhol people in the back. I mean, these were guys I went to high school with that went out beautiful women. Um, my friend Peter Weinberg – slightly nuts, crazy guy. I loved him; good friend. When he came to New York from Berkeley around that time, he came with this guy Lynn House, and they started a newspaper called Innerspace in the East Village. It's all about psychedelics and stuff. And Peter invited me to go with him up to Toronto to a psychedelic conference. And I said, "What the hell? Okay." And we drove up to Toronto to the psychedelic conference. So we met this guy named Richard Alpert who soon turned into Baba Ram Dass. Tiger Morse was there, and she kind of grabbed me and adopted me. 

So I stayed with her for three days. She was this crazy designer from Max's who never stopped talking ever. Tiger and I had a pizza with Allen Ginsberg. The Fugs were playing; Tuli Kupferberg and the Fugs. And it was kind of amazing. Peter and I drove back to New York City. All right. But in February 1966, Grizelda invites me to go to the movies. I opted not to go; she told me Michael couldn't go, he was gonna stay home with the baby. Jenny couldn’t go. So I went to the movies with Grizelda. We saw a Warhol film; typical Warhol film from that time. I think it was called the Kitchen...the Velvet Underground played; Salvatore, Dali came in and sat next to me.


Mark: Mm-hmm.


Ronnie: I had a good time. Grizelda and I took the subway down to Union Square. She walked to their apartment on 17th Street, and I walked down from Union Square to my studio 'cause I was planning to paint. And the building had burnt down. Firemen were coming out of the building.


Mark: Well, this is just tragedy.


Ronnie: Yeah. I called my father. I called Michael. So Michael came down with a photographer, Michael Abrams; took a bunch of black-and-white photographs – many of which I still have – and lost everything.


Mark: So, Ronnie. I'm gonna end our first part here with the cliffhanger of your fire at – at the loft. [Laughs] I also need to invite people to visit your Website where you have some incredible photos, uh, from your earlier painting career as well as a treat to be able to Click on it and see your work. So [Jazz music playing] please go and visit Ronnie, thank you. So we'll pick up the rest of what – for me, it was truly been a fascinating story, Ronnie. Next week on Paint Stories.


Ronnie: Thank you so much, Mark. Yes.


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There will be no podcast next Tuesday as there is nothing more important that we need to do than to vote. We’ll return the following week to share Ronnie Landfield’s continued Paint Stories. Please go vote!



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