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I still have nightmares about once a year. Once was once Picasso saw my work and it didn't go down too well, and the other was Gopas. So it's a father figure image if you like.
If a lot of your inspiration came from New York, was there ever a pull to go over and try to make it there as an artist?
I got married and had kids (Martin and Hanna) so it's an unanswered question really. I've been over four times now, and I'd probably like to live there if I had an income around $US100,000. But I wouldn't like to live in New York as a struggling artist.
I think if I lived there they would be different paintings. Probably not a lot different, but they'd be different. I asked Marshall Siefert why he hadn't bought any of my works years ago, and he said it was because I don't paint like a New Zealander. Well I don't think that's quite true, so it's interesting how the history rubs off on you and how people see you.
Do you try and keep up with the New Zealand art scene?
I believe that an artist doesn't belong anywhere, you should paint what affects you. But having said that, it doesn't really matter what you paint. If you paint if for yourself, you knock the New Zealand art scene for a six.
I didn't know what to paint in my early 30's, so I went to New York, to one of those
Volvo Tennis Tournaments. Distance gives you insight, and I though then that when
I come back to New Zealand I'll paint what I like. And that's what I've done ever
since. So I would say to an artist, pick your parentage, and than ask yourself 'what
do I want?' Just that one questions -
A lot of the talk we have today is far too negative. When I saw my first Barnett Newman it really annoyed me. It triggered something in me, and I'd have flattened him if he'd seen him. But the funny thing is that I was trying to paint like him ten years later. But when I first saw his work I just wanted to paint. The major artists generate this spirit. So you are talking about a positive force.
There seems to be a sense that painting has run its course, and installation is now where it's at. What are your views on that?
There's a bit of deja vu there. I've seen quite a lot of installations. A lot get done in New York. But I'd have to say that I don't think painting will ever die completely.
In my late 30's I wasn't really painting, and it was all installation. I stopped
because painting was too hard. Sometimes the journey is too hard, and it's difficult
to resolve. What I was doing up to 1979 was telling the painting what to do. The
paintings got to tell you what to do. So what I do to exorcise myself if paint everyday
on a stream, and the dialogue builds up from painting to painting. And I try to paint
the same painting -
I would say that the psyche, like it was in the 1970's where painting was dead, has
got to be honest and say that you stop painting because you've got nothing further
to say. It means that you are dead for that time. So I would say that installations
are fun, but they are easier than painting. Painting's hard -
If you put my work up against Mondrian, you'd probably say "where has Phil gone?' I'm a good sergeant, but Mondrian is the general. I don't mind being acquainted with that."
The original interview was published in CoCa, June 1997 ISSN:1174-