Philip Sultz, The Per Contra Interview with Miriam N. Kotzin
PC: How long have you been working in the visual arts?
PS: In1949, I went to the Albright Art School in Buffalo. Along with a handful of other fine art schools in the country, it was considered one of the best. It was a perfect fit. Almost from the start, it was drawing and painting for me, and nothing else.
PC: When did your interest in the visual arts begin?
PS: It’s hard to pin down. As a boy during the Second World War, I was either drawing faces or fighter planes. You could buy a flat sheet of bubble gum for pennies. It came with an illustrated war card. They were fascinating. Boys and girls would pitch them against a wall to see who came closest to get the other’s card.
18 1/2" x 25" 2002
acrylic painting on board
PC: Whose work do you admire?
PS: So much depends on one’s appetite on a given day. I admire works, most of all, by artists who taught me something. Early on, it was the composition from the illustrated biography of George Grosz, “A Little Yes and a Big No”. His electrified contour line, and the sarcasm stood for a kind of freedom of expression.
The reproductions and instructions in Nicolaides’, “The Natural Way to Draw” was the best introduction into figure drawing, and probably still is. There are abstract Rembrandt and Picasso gesture drawings in it, of a woman, that capture posture and volume in the same way, with the same intelligence and fervor.
The school was next to the Albright Art Gallery, and so we had access to the real thing. As you entered, to the side, there was a relatively small Matisse reclining female nude on her side, with arm and hand on hip that was pure magic. It was alive, not because of surface detail, but because of everything else. Soutine’s “Bellhop” and Gauguin's “Yellow Christ”, and then one day, the billiard room painting by Van Gogh would pull me into that somber room. I began to feel the need for self expression. And of course, other encounters in other places would become part of the appetite for significant forms as time went by.
PC: When do you choose to paint, when to collage?
PS: My studio has hundreds of paintings and collages relating to various categories.
So much of the work is open-ended, or complete in an incomplete fashion. I think most of my work has a way of getting out of its space if it feels hemmed in. There’s always something staring at me, waiting for some personal attention, whether painting or collage.
PC: Did you begin by painting?
PS: No, drawing came first. You could always find a pencil and paper. Paint and canvas were costly. And, of course, drawing is the basis for everything you do eventually. Even a potter on a wheel, pulling up a clay form, is drawing at the same time.
14 3/4" x 20 1/2" 2001
acrylic painting on board
PC: What materials do you use in your collage?
PS: Mostly paper, cardboard, cloth, or wood.
PC: Where do you find inspiration for your artwork?
PS: If I waited to be inspired, I’d never get anything done. I just go to work everyday.
PC: How do you find your titles?
PS: Eventually you run out of titles. There were too many still-life number twos. I recall a conversation with another abstract painter in an exhibit we were going to be in, when both our canvases were so-called, non representational. We talked about the necessity of titles. We decided that it called for a bit of Dada, and so I titled my painting, “Disorder at the Border”, and he chose “Birds in Heat.” There was a short period when I used numbers, but it doesn’t say anything. I finally began making up short words that sounded nice. The bottom line is to keep track of everything at home and away.
PC: When did you start to write?
PS: After the army in 1953, I lived in New York. I painted days and worked nights at the Astor Hotel in Times Square. I bought a book for a dollar entitled, 101 Famous Poems, an anthology compiled by Roy J. Cook. I still go to page one hundred and sixty-four from time to time to read Byron’s “Apostrophe to the Ocean”. I didn’t know much about poetry or grammar then, but I knew my writing was off the track. My Dad was a definite influence in my development. He was a marvelous story teller.
PC: You were poetry editor of Green Revolution magazine for some time. What was the magazine? Did your work as an editor affect your writing?
PS: The School of Living, and its magazine, Green Revolution, are in York, Pennsylvania. It was started by Ralph Borsadi, an economist, back to the land exponent, and author in 1934-35, of his best known books, “The Ugly Civilization” and “Flight from the City’. J.I. Rodale, who founded Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, and the Keene family, founders of Walnut Acres, in Pennsylvania , both got their introduction at Borsadi’s Homestead on the west side of the Hudson River in Duchess County. In 1979, I received a phone call from a woman named Snowbird. At that time, Four Arrows, a Mohawk Nation group, was residing there, and preparing the editions of Green Revolution. At their request, I agreed to be poetry editor, and select work from the many submissions they received. Weeks later their printing house was burned down and the operation ceased. There was speculation that a right wing group was responsible, but nothing came of it.
16 1/2"x15 1/4" 2000
collage, acrylic, paper on board
PC: What role do you think the artist should have in creating social change?
PS: I think most people working to make life better for others, come from all walks of life, including some from the arts, but like any profession, there are some folks in the arts, who probably don’t qualify.
PC: How did you come to found Americans for Indian Self Determination, in St. Louis?
PS: In 1973, life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, was at a low point. In their attempt to run Wounded Knee the Indian way, and free themselves from South Dakota’s duel system of justice, 300 Indian children, women and men were held siege by the federal government for 71 days. Many arrests followed. Americans for Indian Self Determination was organized in St. Louis, Missouri to raise awareness and money for legal fees. We eventually became a Midwest office for the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee.
PC: What are you working on now?
PS: Mostly, hauling and boiling down maple tree sap. We have a short window, maybe four or five weeks in north coastal Maine, when the temperature is below freezing at night and climbs into the upper forties and low fifties. It's a little like the studio. Sap looks and tastes like water, but if you work at it, you can start with something ordinary, and end the day with something beautiful.
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