Friday, August 13, 2010

A conversation with sculptor William King

Mama's Boy III, bronze

Bill King has been making art for over sixty years now, and his exhibit of bronzes at Pamela Williams Gallery in Amagansett reveals the sort of sureness of hand, sagacious wit and the deft and economical poetry that only a lifetime of focus can bring. What a pleasure. The sculptures, mostly pedestal size bronzes of figures engaged in a variety of contortions and bon mots, are touching and farcical and they exude a playful tragi-comedy that conjures the likes of Samuel Beckett, Moliere and America's quintessential "everyman," Dagwood Bumpstead. The artist Dennis Oppenheim, whom, it's fair to say is bewitched by satire of another kind, and I talked with Bill last Monday at the home and studio he shares with his wife, the artist Connie Fox.
Mama's Boy II
                                                                              Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:

Janet Goleas: When did you realize you were an artist, or that you could make art?

Bill King: When I was 20. The first day, the first year at Cooper Union. I went there to study architecture -- so before that I thought, "what's an artist? Somebody with an organ and monkey on a string?" One of the instructors took us to the Museum of Modern Art to a show of Elie Nadelman. There were about 15 people in this drawing class and we all went. Anyway, I looked around and thought, "I can do this." The arrogance. Wow. turned out I could.

Bill King at his East Hampton home, summer, 2010

JG: Did you have a gallery back then?

BK: I was with Charlie Allen and a place called Roko Gallery -- Mike Freilich's gallery on Greenwich Avenue. They had just started Skowhegan up in Maine. It wasn't much of anything then, but it's a big deal now. They had a city-wide contest to win a scholarship to Skowhegan -- one prize for painting and one for sculpture. I won the sculpture prize. They showed us in the village -- down on Greenwich Avenue. I sold a couple of pieces, and that was it.

JG: You were still a student?

BK: I was graduating that spring. I had ideas about what I wanted to do. So many things were uncomfortable to me -- like the Cedar Bar, Greenberg. 

Dennis Oppenheim: Did you know De Kooning?

BK: Oh, yes. I liked talking to DeKooning -- that was an education. He was always so smart and so perceptive.

Dennis Oppenheim in King's studio
DO: There was a bit of shyness about him, wasn't there? 

On DeKooning and the Abstract Expressionists, Clement Greenberg and the Tanager Gallery:


JG: Your work stood apart among the abstract expressionists. 

BK: Oh, yeah, I was harassed for that. But, I still considered myself one of them. In the end, you just have to do what you're going to do. I was snotty. Maybe every artist feels superior -- looks down on their fellow creatures.

JG: I'm surprised to hear that. You seem like the antithesis of the ego driven artist.

BK: Don't you believe it.

DO: What were those early sculptures like? 


DO: Pop art emerged in the 60s -- did you find yourself drawn to that sensibility? 

BK: I guess I thought there was something missing in art history and I wanted to fill it up. But I didn't invent anything. Picasso invented it all. We went to Italy one summer and stayed in a friend's flat in Vallauris -- perfume country. It was 1950. To our surprise, Picasso was there working in the property next door. After supper we'd go over and hang on the fence and watch him work. His whole place was surrounded by barbed wire -- he would have been pestered to death, I suppose. He worked at night in a greenhouse with bright fluorescent lights. So there he was. He was a little guy, working on a goat and a monkey mother. We'd just watch him all night. I saw him on the street there  a few times. Once our eyes met. He had eyes just like the ones he painted. They weren't so big, but they were so intense. There was something going on in there that I didn't see at the Cedar Bar.

                                                                        Bill King, Dennis Oppenheim and me, Monday, August 9, 2010 


janetvanfleet said...

Wow, I'm so glad to have run across this. I have admired William King's since the 1970's.
--Janet Van Fleet

Judy R. said...

Wonderful interview, as usual, Janet! Perceptive, sensitive and smart. I love the story about watching Picasso all night.