Several years ago I had a chance to meet David Deutsch. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time with him and his work. I recall the first time I had the opportunity to visit him at his studio in downtown Manhattan. The action, energy and unrelenting ambition consumed every inch of the room and as I looked at the works I began to realize what he was really after*. As we discussed his work, I couldn’t help but notice the uniqueness of his veteran hands and how they handled the work in such a profound and youthful manner, as if control were merely a source rather than an action.
Sam Trioli: How much has the art scene changed in New York during the time that you’ve been here?
David Deutsch: It was an incredibly small art world in 1971 compared to now. There were very few dealers, but the competition was still there. The atmosphere was much different too--many felt the burden of modernism: the pressure to solve certain aesthetic problems in order to make progress.
Trioli: Which is so different than today.
Deutsch: Yes, everybody had their own formal territory staked out. If you were making sculpture on the floor you had to answer to Carl Andre. It seemed painting wasn’t even part of the conversation. When I came to New York there was something called “Lyrical Abstraction”-- painters who were sort of out there on their own. But their importance was diminished by the “serious business” of formal sculpture and painting. The history of art was very much a part of what you were doing--- you were following Cézanne and ignored Picasso. It was in the early 80’s when things completely changed. The 80’s were much more like today. People started doing different things, painting became preeminent. People stopped going to bars to have discussions about problem solving.
Trioli: Do you think that money had a particular effect on things?
Deutsch: The whole downtown scene changed, and the art world really changed for the better. We entered a new age where people were free of the constraints of formalism. It’s hard to say why the demand for painting in particular increased, was it because there was more money or more art, I don’t know.
Trioli: It’s interesting to compare that difference. Today, artists establishing connections to previously made work comes so frequently, and in such a way that almost “revisits” previous conversations.
Deutsch: The appearance is that artists are freely borrowing from other work. Unlike in the early 70’s when you tried not to look like anyone else. You had to make progress, make something formally new. People don’t struggle with formal concerns today like they used to. Today, art is continually revitalizing itself. It’s also repeating itself to some extent. Some work I see today has already been made. Younger artists have the freedom to experiment, though not always successfully. Maybe some are oblivious – you know, not aware of what came before. But surprisingly, others are doing beautiful and original work.
Trioli: Early in the recent film the Iron Lady, Meryl Streep who plays Margaret Thatcher says, ”No one is trying to do something anymore, everyone is just trying to be somebody.” It caused me to really think about where we are historically and in some ways how that applies to us today. Expanding on what you were saying regarding younger artists, it appears that the propeller of art has created a wider path for us to walk down.
Deutsch: Are you being critical?
Trioli: Not necessarily, I think it is a result of competition which I like. But, it seems that it takes a delicate balance of being a sort of celebrity and making a compelling contribution. I constantly think about what I’m creating and what that could possibly mean 50 or 100 years from now.
Deutsch: Certainly people just want to be in galleries and “be somebody” and if they get there through imitating other artists and not contributing, it probably will be apparent.
Trioli: Over the span of your career there has been a lot of evolution. How have you brought about that change within your own work? As an artist I’ve always felt like I’m constantly reaching for what I really want to be doing. It’s a strange balance of being satisfied with what I am doing, but never fully.
Deutsch: I’ve made several bodies of work since 1969. I had a little success early on in Los Angeles then I moved to New York, went through a period where I didn’t show my work to people. In the late 70’s and early 80’s I started showing landscape drawings. As it turns out, the paintings I’m working on now are very similar to those drawings in style. I think I can agree with you, I’m never fully satisfied.
Trioli: How does the figure come into play in your work?
Deutsch: The drawings I described that I made in the late 70’s and early 80’s had figures in them. They’ve become a little more charged sexually in my more recent work. Although I don’t think the paintings are about sex per say, they may depict sexual anxiety.
Trioli: There is one thing that I’m really attracted to in your paintings; both of our work seems to share this very real but abstract nature. We have a similar sense of placement of the viewer in this idea that the viewer is an extension of the composition. That they are there but their observation and viewing is the fulfillment of the work.
Deutsch: I think this is true of most art. The viewer is always part of the equation. I like that you refer to my work as abstract. I think of my work as being about the handling of paint and gesture given to a certain subject matter. But calling my work abstract I take as a compliment.
Trioli: That’s interesting because although my work in many ways is quite different I consider myself an abstract painter.
Deutsch: Yeah, you’ve said that and I see that in your work.
Trioli: I think that is an interesting way to enter into art-making.
Deutsch: I think of your work and I think of Gerhard Richter. He makes abstract paintings and realistic paintings and everything in between. I believe he considers it all the same.
Trioli: You as well have a rather different body of work of photographs. Do you think of your paintings and photographs as two separate series?
Deutsch: I think that they are two separate entities. I was taking photographs from airplanes in the early 90’s and was using them as reference material to make paintings. After a while I thought they had merit on their own. They started as daylight images and evolved into nighttime photographs using a spotlight. The paintings share a voyeuristic aspect with the photos. I no longer use them as reference material.
Trioli: How does the idea of control come into your process if at all?
Deutsch: Its an interesting question. You have to have some kind of control.
Trioli: Like, establishing parameters?
Deutsch: Exactly, what are you going to control and what are you going to allow to just happen. For me it changes from painting to painting and I work for less and less control. Who knows where un-control comes from? Just think of the abstract expressionists. I guess the process is always a balance of control and accident—even in your paintings, which are very tight and objective.
Trioli: For me, I know exactly how I want to create something or construct a painting, but the elements of not having control are fought within photographing my references. I typically have an idea of what I want to photograph but the process of capturing that idea is always left just slightly open. I can create the circumstances but beyond that I simply have to be ready.
Deutsch: In other words the spontaneity is within the photo process.
Trioli: Exactly, momentary freedom. WM
Born in 1943 in Los Angeles, David Deutsch studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and the California Institute of Arts, Chouinard. In 1970, he moved to New York City where he currently lives and works and is represented by Feature Inc. Since 1969, he has exhibited nationally and internationally in numerous solo and group shows. His work is in the collections of many museums including Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Deutsch’s work has been reviewed in Art in America, Artnews, Art Forum, Bomb, Interview, The New York Times and The New Yorker, among others. In 2004, Twin Palms Press published David Deutsch: Paintings/Photographs.
Sam Trioli is an artist and writer living and working in New York City.view all articles from this author