TARO SUZUKI / MARY HEILMANN / FRIENDS

December 21, 2017

Taro Suzuki’s compositions mesmerize with the seduction of reverberant color; complimentary neons seek dominance over the allure of an opalescent base. Though applied and overlaid to be utterly flat, these designs intersect like patterns of sound. In waves of amplification and cancellation, the surfaces of these panels seem to shudder and ripple with light and motion. 

Suzuki came of age in the midst of the charged and explosive beginnings of New York’s 1960s performance scene, first learning to mix color for liquid projections that illuminated concerts by the Grateful Dead and Sly & the Family Stone. Following art school, Suzuki pursued these early interests both in his work and by singing lead for the punk band “Youthinasia”. 

In conjunction with Taro Suzuki / Charlotte Hallberg at C R U S H C U R A T O R I A L, Suzuki joins in a discussion with Mary Heilmann and a group of friends including Jill Levine, Bill Komoski, Mary Clark, Elizabeth Cannon, Jenny Hankwitz, Steve Keister, and Gregory Botts.  The conversation is moderated by CRUSH’s Karen Hesse Flatow, Nicole Kaack, and Hannah Schutzengel. 

Nicole Kaack

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS:

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Did we talk about the Zen and the rage? What was that? 

Taro Suzuki:    Well, in my paintings, right? When I was on this panel about No Wave, I basically said that getting into my performance was about raging against the end of Modernism, the death of Modernism. That still holds true. I think these paintings are about that. 

Installation view of Taro Suzuki / Charlotte Hallberg. 

Installation view of Taro Suzuki / Charlotte Hallberg. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Were you doing the light works at the same time you were in the band? 

Taro Suzuki:  I was. The light works were thinking about, “How do I get beyond zero?” The death of Modernism ended with Minimalism at zero. The painting becomes an object then. Right? It goes beyond zero, it starts to expand from that single point. 

Mary Heilmann:    It’s not a picture. 

Taro Suzuki:    Right! It’s not a picture. It’s an object, and beyond that, it’s physics. It’s light. 

Nicole Kaack:    Or something that you’re responding to. The location of the image is almost in the viewer, because it’s your eye responding to it in a very particular way. 

Taro Suzuki:    Exactly. 

Mary Heilmann:    You know, you guys, you should be sitting here. They’re just wiggling around. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    As you move around the room, they move with you. 

Mary Clark:    It’s vibration. Like quantum physics, before that was popular.

Elizabeth Cannon:    When I first saw this group of paintings that you did for this show particularly, what struck me was the fact that you had two centers. You made a decision to have two centers to the paintings. Very conscious decision. And through that decision, you’ve created a third entity, which doesn’t exist anywhere except in the eye’s perception. The warping of the picture plane. It looks like a radiation. It’s the warp that you get when you look at them from a distance. Not close up. I don’t even really see it now, but if you look at it in certain lights, you see a radiation out. 

Mary Heilmann:    If you sit and stare at it. 

Taro Suzuki. Wall Wash. 1980.

Taro Suzuki. Wall Wash. 1980.

Karen Hesse Flatow:    An undulation. It’s almost a wave. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    But it’s not from two centers. You managed to get it to radiate in one piece not two. You created a third thing from two.

Steve Keister:    The third thing being the moiré pattern. My contention is that the optical effect is squared. It’s exponential. Because you have both the color vibration at the edge, the optical color vibration, combined with the moiré pattern, which is its own vibration. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah, I was going for maximum impact. I hadn’t used fluorescent colors in a long, long time. And Gregory’s actually responsible for that. A couple of summers ago, up at your place, Greg was just musing, “You know, you don’t use fluorescent colors anymore.” I said, “No, I don’t.” And he was, “Maybe you should go back to that.” Just like that. I thought about it. And I thought about it. And you know, then I started playing with it. 

Gregory Botts:    Well, I thought that was kind of your trademark back in the early days. I didn’t know Taro that well, back then. But I knew you, in my mind you were that fluorescent guy. 

Steve Keister:    I think it especially works well because it doesn’t depend on the fluorescents. Fluorescents, non-fluorescents, it’s all working together. I have another idea, where it’s a combination of Duchamp and Warhol. You have the Duchampian hypnotic. 

Taro Suzuki:    Like the roto pieces? 

Steve Keister:    And with Warhol, you’ve got the missed registration. It’s kind of like a printing technique. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah! I was working with that in the back of my head for a long time. For years and years. Bill came over to my studio, I don't know, in 1990-something. And I just started using printer’s palette. And you were like, “Yeah, that’s the way to go.” And he said, “What are you using for the blue?” And I said, “I don't know, cyan?” And he goes, “Cerulean!” [laughter] Right, do you remember that? 

Bill Komoski:    No! In fact, that was probably about the time I was starting to play with that. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    From one studio to the next. 

Nicole Kaack:    [to Bill] The printing technique specifically? 

Bill Komoski:    No, but that three-color separation. I think I was definitely trying to figure out what would be the best blue. Because cerulean is actually a little bit, it seems like it should be right, but I found—

Taro Suzuki:    It’s a little green. 

Bill Komoski:    Yeah. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Then there’s that pearlescent color you use on the base. I just started thinking about that pearlescent because I find these paintings have this push and pull. That pearl color is like inside of a shell, it’s like a mystery. Where are the depths? You are also putting the gels inside the painting rather than on the top, so there’s depth inside of the paintings. It used to be like his surfaces had like 100 layers… he’d come home at night and he’d say, “Well, I’ve just put on the 59th layer of gel.” It’d be day after day after day after day. It was this practice of putting on the gel, so laborious. 

Mary Heilmann:    Is that about these paintings? 

Elizabeth Cannon:    No! Now, these paintings don’t have gel on top. Correct me if I’m wrong? 

Taro Suzuki. Helio Trope, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas on Panel. 30 x 30 in.

Taro Suzuki. Helio Trope, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas on Panel. 30 x 30 in.

Taro Suzuki:    They have half as much gel — only have 30 coats. Over the pearl gets gel so that everything is really flat. Say this one, gets the red layer. And then there’s some texture there, because the red has some actual physical depth. So that has to be made flat again, by putting on coats and coats of gel over it. It also has a sort of lensing effect, magnifying the pearlescent and settling the color, like the red. It kind of evens it out. Because it’s being magnified a little bit. That pearlescent comes from… the East Village, around the corner from me, back when I was in school, there was a sign painting supply store. M. Horowitz. It was like this magic shop out of The Twilight Zone. That store was there since 1890 or something, and he was selling supplies that were antique. He sold a lot of glittery kind of materials. I discovered glass beads there, reflective beads. 

Jill Levine:    Diamond dust and glass beads and aluminum powder. All that really toxic, crappy stuff. 

Steve Keister:    Barbara Gladstone was really on the case with this kind of new wave kind of looking art. Especially with the fluorescents, angular fluorescent. So she had a group show in ’79. The original Canal Street show. Taro and I were in it. 

Taro Suzuki:    Nancy was in. Tom Rankin was in it. 

Steve Keister:    Judy Pfaff was in it. 

Taro Suzuki:    Frank Shroeder was in it. 

Steve Keister:    I think that’s probably it. If I think of the photograph that Richard Prince took of us, sitting in front of Dave's Corner for the announcement for that show, I think we’ve named all the people. That was ’79, and then how many years ago? Five years ago, Mitchell Algus restaged the Canal Street show in his gallery in Chelsea on 25th Street. He republished the Richard Prince announcement of the original. He put Dike Blair in the re-staging. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Was it the same work? 

Taro Suzuki:    It actually wasn’t. I had some much more saleable pieces. They were metal wall pieces that cast shadows, and adjacent to the shadow was paint on the wall. What I did for Mitchell were mirrored light pieces, where a single pin spot gets bounced from element to element around the room, from different mirrors. 

Taro Suzuki. Constructivist Mirage. 1979. Mized Media. Stefanotti Gallery. 

Taro Suzuki. Constructivist Mirage. 1979. Mized Media. Stefanotti Gallery. 

Steve Keister:    I remember you showed those in Cincinnati at a group show called “Dynamix” that was an expanded roster of “energist” artists. 

Gregory Botts:    So then there’s the Dan Newberg gallery. Where did you show at between the two things? 

Taro Suzuki:    Stefanotti. On 57th Street. He had a hallway, and it was pretty narrow and long. I did a lot of installations in that hallway. I could just bounce light back and forth down this corridor. I changed all the fluorescents to black light tubes. It was fun. 

Steve Keister:    So you remember Ronny Cohen? 

Taro Suzuki:    I do remember Ronny Cohen. I didn’t want to participate in her final Energist thing. 

Steve Keister:    The article? That’s one of my really distinct memories, is that she was going around to our friends’ studios, and everybody was really excited to talk to her. And then the issue comes out, and all of a sudden it’s called Energism? 

Taro Suzuki:    I know, right! So embarrassing. It’s on the cover. 

Steve Keister:    Jonathan Borofsky was on the cover. 

Taro Suzuki:    Right, yes. But he was part of the article. She got the cover story. 

Steve Keister:    And Jeff Koons was considered an Energist at that time. 

Nicole Kaack:     With what work? 

Taro Suzuki:    The vacuum cleaners. It was Plexiglass. That’s an industrial material. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    So Taro, what’s next? 

Taro Suzuki:    After Energism?

[laughter] 

Mary Clark:    I’ve been wondering about that phrase you used earlier, “the rage against modernism.” Keeps bouncing in my head. Like is that something that’s in your head all these years? 

Taro Suzuki:    I think so. Bill — at my birthday — described postmodernism as this lack of an overarching narrative that united Western art. Is that fair? 

Bill Komoski:    Yeah. Or rejection of any kind of grand narrative. 

Taro Suzuki:    Greg also invoked a weird thing about religion and put it with modernism. But I think I got what you were saying. I think what I equate with modernism is the idea of social progress. 

Steve Keister:    That’s been part of it, historically. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Belief in the future. Moon landing. 

Taro Suzuki:    Exactly! So I guess when I got out of school and saw that it was all gone, I was pretty pissed off. [laughter]

 Mary Clark:    You were here to start it up again. Redefined. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Circles. Sisyphus. 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Brochure for Taro Suzuki at White Columns, 1990. 

Brochure for Taro Suzuki at White Columns, 1990. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    I just wanted to welcome all of you here, and thank you so much for coming. I had been wanting to do this in this space for a long time, and it’s the first time I’m doing it. I’ve had dinner parties out in Amagansett for some of our shows, and just the conversations we’ve had around the dinner table have been so wonderful — building community, and having a different way of looking at art with food and good friends. I’m very happy for you all to be here. I’ve been so pleased to have Taro in our show, and to work with you to make this happen. Thank you very much. 

Taro Suzuki:    Thank you, Karen. It’s a beautiful show and really curatorial genius putting us together. The optics here are terrific. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    I’ve tried to have for each of the shows a conversation around the work, and I’m so lucky to have met Nicole a couple of months ago, who is very interested in being involved with these conversations and recording them and documenting them. So this is the third or fourth that we’ve done, and the first as a dinner party. 

Nicole Kaack:    In my first conversation with Karen, we spoke about the fact that too often it’s so difficult to find written resources on artists and really have their words be the ones defining the way that the work is described and talked about. So that was the motivating factor in designing and curating this conversation series, and having it be something where it’s really about hearing your words.

Taro Suzuki:    I hope you hear some. 

Nicole Kaack:    We’ll definitely hear something! All of these will be transcribed and available on the website so that they can continue to be useful to people. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    A couple of times a year, we’d like to actually produce something that would document these conversations and the shows. That’s to be determined, but I think it’d be a great idea to have a physical book. 

Nicole Kaack:    A resource.

Karen Hesse Flatow:    So, to launch in, you and Mary spoke the other day! 

Mary Heilmann:    He’s a good talker! I really got a lot more ideas, first from looking at the work with Taro, and then hearing his whole story. They’re like movies, these things. And actually, that’s why I was thinking a book or even a movie that had these as part of the story. And including music, too because they really feel songful. It turns out that Taro is a music guy, as well. Couple of different bands. One is Youth in Asia—which starts with a Y, not an E-U. However, whenever you hear a word like that, then you feel a little edgy backstory. When the band performed, there was a kind of a scary edge to it, a lot of the time; I’ve seen video, I never saw a real show. Oh, and then Japanese American. Whenever you have a title like that, you start thinking about the meaning. There’s a cool backstory to that, too. 

Before Taro was born was when the war happened, all the people in the US were scared and hated “the Japs.” A lot of them had to go to these different camps to be isolated away from possible warlike stuff. The energy of all that, and thinking about that backstory is intense. 

The other thing about these is that back in the hippie days when he was a kid—no, a teenager—he was doing the light show for… Fillmore East? 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah, for Pablo Lights. 

Mary Heilmann:    Pablo Lights. Where did the shows happen?

Taro Suzuki:    They happened at the Electric Circus and the Village Theater, before it was the Fillmore East. 

Mary Heilmann:    Because that was a theater, right? With seats in there. 

Taro Suzuki:     Like a movie theater, but with a stage. 

Mary Clark:     Did anyone here go to any of those shows? 

Jill Levine:    I definitely did. Came in from Queens on the subway. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    I think I came in once or twice. 

Mary Heilmann:    Those were good days. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Where did your parents think you were going? 

[laughter]

Jill Levine:    They had no idea what I was doing. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    A little shopping trip. 

Gregory Botts:    Do you remember who the bands were that were playing? 

Mary Heilmann:    Grateful Dead. 

Taro Suzuki:    Well, the Grateful Dead was the very first time… I was at Dalton, and they had a film class for 8th graders. Grey Henry taught it — she was a hippie, and she lived in a commune on 3rd Street and Bowery that occupied the entire building. They were called the Third World Commune, and over on Bleeker Street and Bowery, there was Pablo’s Dispensaria of Joy, and they were good friends. It was kind of like a head shop, but it was like this always-changing happening there. 

These 8th graders were all kind of recruited to work on light shows. We would go down there, and we would make slides with liquid crystal material and dyes. There was the first Grateful Dead concert and I got recruited to work the liquid projection on that show. It was in Tompkins Square Park, in the band shell there, and they just had one of those overhead school projectors with these two glass clock crystals. One was twelve inches and one was nine inches. We put mineral oil and food color and water. I can’t remember the guy’s name… Marvin. Marvin told me, “Just grab the little clock crystal, and just move it up and down to the beat.” [laughter] 

I think that whole kind of pop culture, really had a huge impact on me. Also, The Cheetah. Do you remember that club? I was there just moving slide projectors around. Sly and the Family Stone, at The Electric Circus. 

Gregory Botts:    What year was The Grateful Dead? 

Taro Suzuki:     ’67, I think. Or ’68, maybe. 

Steve Keister:    In ’67 you would be in junior high school. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah. I was in 8th grade. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    I guess that’s growing up in New York. Going to Dalton. 

Taro Suzuki:    It was, yeah. My parents would leave me in the apartment and go to the country or go visit friends or something for the weekend. And I’d have a couple of Swanson dinners in the freezer. The Upper West Side kids would be hanging out at the park, right? At the fountain. 

Mary Clark:    Then you’d go to Stark’s, afterwards, sometimes. The East Side kids went. 

Taro Suzuki:    I didn’t go to Stark’s, no. But we went to Ungano’s. That was a nightclub. I was like 14 years old and hanging out in a nightclub at 3:00 in the morning. What’s his name? Junior Wells! Junior Wells says, “Okay, kid. You can come up here and play with the band.” 

Mary Clark:    What instrument? 

Taro Suzuki:    Harmonica. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Mary and Taro went to school together, back in these days. 

Mary Clark:    I’ve known Taro longer than anyone at this table. I was thinking maybe you might want to talk about some of our art teachers at Dalton. Before the light shows, there was Mr. [Lahoten]. 

Taro Suzuki:    There was also Aaron [Kurzen]. 

Mary Clark:    I think he wore a beret. Did he not? 

Taro Suzuki:    He did! He wore a beret, and had goatee. [laughter] He was the real thing. When I was also in 8th grade, he showed me his Duchamp Valise. He brought it to school to show me. That was a huge influence. 

 Mary Clark:    Taro, did you see The Responsive Eye at MoMA when you were a teenager? The Op Art show? 

Nicole Kaack:    Yes, I wondered. I thought of Seitz immediately when I saw your work. 

Taro Suzuki:    You know, I don’t recall seeing it. I bet I did, too. I wasn’t so interested in Op Art, though. 

Mary Heilmann:    That was ’65. The Responsive Eye. I was here that summer. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah, I was 12. What I remember is The Machine show. At MoMA. Because the catalog was this stamped out metal. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Taro, when did you decide to go to art school? 

Taro Suzuki:    You know, my parents were artists. They were graphic artists. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    But not just artists. Your mother was friends with Warhol. 

Taro Suzuki:    My mother gave Warhol his start as an illustrator. I guess in the late ‘40s, he came to her with his book, and she got him doing shoes. 

Bill Komoski:    All those Bergdorf Goodman shoe illustrations. 

Taro Suzuki:    Exactly. My mother did a lot of shoes, too. They co-illustrated Amy Vanderbilt’s book of etiquette. It’s just got little pictures. Like The New Yorker has those spots, I think. Just things like that. 

Mary Clark:    Was your mother an art director and an illustrator? 

Taro Suzuki:    No, she was just an illustrator. My father was an art director. 

Mary Clark:    Didn’t she do things in Seventeen magazine? 

Taro Suzuki:    A lot, yeah. That was her big account, Seventeen

Gregory Botts:    You said they knew Milton Glaser, too. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah. That was a big part of my growing up. Because they were so cool, the Glasers. They had parties with models. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Carmen Dell’Orefice? 

Taro Suzuki:    No, that was a Dalton connection. But Penelope Tree had me sitting on her lap at a Milton Glaser party. I was like 11 years old or something. About 11, I think.

Nicole Kaack:    When did you start performing musically? 

Taro Suzuki:    That was after college. After art school. We all got out of art school and we were schooled in Minimalism. We were looking at Tuttle and we were looking at Blinky Palermo. But it was like the end of Modernism. The only things that were really new, that we were seeing, that were in the magazines were like Pattern and Decoration and superrealism. 

Steve Keister:    New Image?

Taro Suzuki:    Well, okay. There was New Image, but it didn’t really last that long. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    What about conceptual art at that time? Did that influence you?

Taro Suzuki:    You know, conceptual art was always kind of like… Vito Acconci, it was kind of skeevy. It was like Vito Acconci and Seed Bed. Like these derelict hippies. It was almost like the Manson Family being… But conceptual art, Duchamp started it. I mean, there was Beuys. And there was a lot of work — Chris Burden — that I respected. But I didn’t want to… 

Nicole Kaack:    They weren’t your influences, per se. 

Taro Suzuki:    Performing was really about the fact that nothing was happening in the art world. I was living in the East Village. It was bombed out. It was a huge recession. Everybody was really depressed. But there was something going on, right down the street, at this place called CBGB’s. Everybody was getting into that scene. Starting bands. Making films. 

Mary Clark:    I don’t know if this was true at Cooper, but at RISD—we were kind of all in art school at the same time. I can remember a RISD teacher saying, “Oh, nothing’s going.” Young artists did not have success. He was like, “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” 

Elizabeth Cannon:    The art world wasn’t monetized yet. And artists were not art stars. At that time, when you started performing, you were wearing those black suits and skinny ties. And then Robert Longo did the Men in Cities. That look came out of that punk rock, music, art nexus. Robert and Metro Pictures and that group was the first time that I think artists became stars. Like Cindy, they started getting a lot of money. The whole thing, Metro Pictures. 

Bill Komoski:    Frank Stella became a star. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    There became a market where there hadn’t been a market. Artists became stars in the ‘80s. 

Gregory Botts:    The stock market just shot up in 1980. In ’79, New York was still dark. 1980 it just all changed, and everybody started coming to New York. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    You all were talking about Brian Eno the other day and the cover of the album. 

Taro Suzuki:    Steve! Steve did the cover for No New York

Steve Keister:     Eno, he was important in the London punk scene. Then he came over and he wanted to see what kind of equivalent was happening here. There were the four bands that were mostly former art students. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, The Contortions, and Varis. 

Mary Heilmann:    Was Brian here already? Did he know about them before he came? 

Mary Clark:    He went everywhere. I mean, I knew him at that time. 

Mary Heilmann:    He didn’t hear about it over in England?

Elizabeth Cannon:    It was a really exciting scene at that time. Any night, you could go out and you didn’t know what you would hear. See or hear. It was so exciting. A lot of energy. It was just explosive with energy. 

Taro Suzuki:    Nobody had any money. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Nope. But everyone was doing stuff. All this performance. 

Steve Keister:    Yeah, a lot of performances. I can’t understand how we found out where they were, without… 

Elizabeth Cannon:    I know! 

Taro Suzuki:    There were listings in the Village Voice

Steve Keister:    SoHo Weekly News! 

Gregory Botts:    What year did your band start? 

Taro Suzuki:    It was ’77 to ’80. 

Gregory Botts:    Where did you play first? What places did you play? 

Taro Suzuki:    You know, Steve Harvey used to book us. He also used to do the graphics.

Elizabeth Cannon:    Club 57? 

Taro Suzuki:     No, we never played Club 57. Mudd Club might have been one of the first places. We played Max’s a lot. And we played Tier 3 a lot. 

Mary Heilmann:    Upstairs at Max’s?

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah. The performance was raging… 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Did we talk about the Zen and the rage? What was that? 

Taro Suzuki:    Well, in my paintings, right? When I was on this panel about no wave, I basically said that getting into my performance was about raging against the end of Modernism, the death of Modernism. That still holds true. I think these paintings are about that. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Were you doing the light works at the same time you were in the band? 

Taro Suzuki:     I was. The light works were thinking about, “How do I get beyond zero?” The death of Modernism ended with Minimalism at zero. The painting becomes an object then. Right? It goes beyond zero, it starts to expand from that single point. 

Mary Heilmann:    It’s not a picture. 

Taro Suzuki:     Right! It’s not a picture. It’s an object, and beyond that, it’s physics. It’s light. 

Nicole Kaack:    Or something that you’re responding to. The location of the image is almost in the viewer, because it’s your eye responding to it in a very particular way. 

Taro Suzuki:    Exactly. 

Mary Heilmann:    You know, you guys, you should be sitting here. They’re just wiggling around. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    As you move around the room, they move with you. 

Mary Clark:    It’s vibration. Like quantum physics, before that was popular.

Elizabeth Cannon:    When I first saw this group of paintings that you did for this show particularly, what struck me was the fact that you had two centers. You made a decision to have two centers to the paintings. Very conscious decision. And through that decision, you’ve created a third entity, which doesn’t exist anywhere except in the eye’s perception. The warping of the picture plane. It looks like a radiation. It’s the warp that you get when you look at them from a distance. Not close up. I don’t even really see it now, but if you look at it in certain lights, you see a radiation out. 

Mary Heilmann:    If you sit and stare at it. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    An undulation. It’s almost a wave. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    But it’s not from two centers. You managed to get it to radiate in one piece not two. You created a third thing from two.

Steve Keister:    The third thing being the moiré pattern. My contention is that the optical effect is squared. It’s exponential. Because you have both the color vibration at the edge, the optical color vibration, combined with the moiré pattern, which is its own vibration. 

Taro Suzuki:     Yeah, I was going for maximum impact. I hadn’t used fluorescent colors in a long, long time. And Gregory’s actually responsible for that. A couple of summers ago, up at your place, Greg was just musing, “You know, you don’t use fluorescent colors anymore.” I said, “No, I don’t.” And he was, “Maybe you should go back to that.” Just like that. I thought about it. And I thought about it. And you know, then I started playing with it. 

Gregory Botts:    Well, I thought that was kind of your trademark back in the early days. I didn’t know Taro that well, back then. But I knew you, in my mind you were that fluorescent guy. 

Steve Keister:    I think it especially works well because it doesn’t depend on the fluorescents. Fluorescents, non-fluorescents, it’s all working together. I have another idea, where it’s a combination of Duchamp and Warhol. You have the Duchampian hypnotic. 

Taro Suzuki:    Like the roto pieces? 

Steve Keister:    And with Warhol, you’ve got the missed registration. It’s kind of like a printing technique. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah! I was working with that in the back of my head for a long time. For years and years. Bill came over to my studio, I don't know, in 1990-something. And I just started using printer’s palette. And you were like, “Yeah, that’s the way to go.” And he said, “What are you using for the blue?” And I said, “I don't know, cyan?” And he goes, “Cerulean!” [laughter] Right, do you remember that? 

Bill Komoski:    No! In fact, that was probably about the time I was starting to play with that. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    From one studio to the next. 

Nicole Kaack:    [to Bill] The printing technique specifically? 

Bill Komoski:    No, but that three-color separation. I think I was definitely trying to figure out what would be the best blue. Because cerulean is actually a little bit, it seems like it should be right, but I found—

Taro Suzuki:    It’s a little green. 

Bill Komoski:    Yeah. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Then there’s that pearlescent color you use on the base. I just started thinking about that pearlescent because I find these paintings have this push and pull. That pearl color is like inside of a shell, it’s like a mystery. Where are the depths? You are also putting the gels inside the painting rather than on the top, so there’s depth inside of the paintings. It used to be like his surfaces had like 100 layers… he’d come home at night and he’d say, “Well, I’ve just put on the 59th layer of gel.” It’d be day after day after day after day. It was this practice of putting on the gel, so laborious. 

Mary Heilmann:    Is that about these paintings? 

Elizabeth Cannon:    No! Now, these paintings don’t have gel on top. Correct me if I’m wrong? 

Taro Suzuki:    They have half as much gel — only have 30 coats. Over the pearl gets gel so that everything is really flat. Say this one, gets the red layer. And then there’s some texture there, because the red has some actual physical depth. So that has to be made flat again, by putting on coats and coats of gel over it. It also has a sort of lensing effect, magnifying the pearlescent and settling the color, like the red. It kind of evens it out. Because it’s being magnified a little bit. That pearlescent comes from… the East Village, around the corner from me, back when I was in school, there was a sign painting supply store. M. Horowitz. It was like this magic shop out of The Twilight Zone. That store was there since 1890 or something, and he was selling supplies that were antique. He sold a lot of glittery kind of materials. I discovered glass beads there, reflective beads. 

Jill Levine:    Diamond dust and glass beads and aluminum powder. All that really toxic, crappy stuff. 

Steve Keister:    Barbara Gladstone was really on the case with this kind of new wave kind of looking art. Especially with the fluorescents, angular fluorescent. So she had a group show in ’79. The original Canal Street show. Taro and I were in it. 

Taro Suzuki:    Nancy was in. Tom Rankin was in it. 

Steve Keister:    Judy Pfaff was in it. 

Taro Suzuki:    Frank Shroeder was in it. 

Steve Keister:    I think that’s probably it. If I think of the photograph that Richard Prince took of us, sitting in front of Dave's Corner for the announcement for that show, I think we’ve named all the people. That was ’79, and then how many years ago? Five years ago, Mitchell Algus restaged the Canal Street show in his gallery in Chelsea on 25th Street. He republished the Richard Prince announcement of the original. He put Dike Blair in the restaging. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Was it the same work? 

Taro Suzuki:    It actually wasn’t. I had some much more saleable pieces. They were metal wall pieces that cast shadows, and adjacent to the shadow was paint on the wall. What I did for Mitchell were mirrored light pieces, where a single pin spot gets bounced from element to element around the room, from different mirrors. 

Steve Keister:    I remember you showed those in Cincinnati at a group show called “Dynamix” that was an expanded roster of “energist” artists. 

Gregory Botts:    So then there’s the Dan Newberg gallery. Where did you show at between the two things? 

Taro Suzuki:    Stefanotti. On 57th Street. He had a hallway, and it was pretty narrow and long. I did a lot of installations in that hallway. I could just bounce light back and forth down this corridor. I changed all the fluorescents to black light tubes. It was fun. 

Steve Keister:    So you remember Ronny Cohen? 

Taro Suzuki:    I do remember Ronny Cohen. I didn’t want to participate in her final Energist thing. 

Steve Keister:    The article? That’s one of my really distinct memories, is that she was going around to our friends’ studios, and everybody was really excited to talk to her. And then the issue comes out, and all of a sudden it’s called Energism? 

Taro Suzuki:    I know, right! So embarrassing. It’s on the cover. 

Steve Keister:    Jonathan Borofsky was on the cover. 

Taro Suzuki:    Right, yes. But he was part of the article. She got the cover story. 

Steve Keister:    And Jeff Koons was considered an Energist at that time. 

Nicole Kaack:    With what work? 

Taro Suzuki:    The vacuum cleaners. It was Plexiglass. That’s an industrial material. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    So Taro, what’s next? 

Taro Suzuki:    After Energism?

Mary Clark:    I’ve been wondering about that phrase you used earlier, “the rage against modernism.” Keeps bouncing in my head. Like is that something that’s in your head all these years? 

Taro Suzuki:    I think so. Bill — at my birthday — described postmodernism as this lack of an overarching narrative that united Western art. Is that fair? 

Bill Komoski:    Yeah. Or rejection of any kind of grand narrative. 

Taro Suzuki:    Greg also invoked a weird thing about religion and put it with modernism. But I think I got what you were saying. I think what I equate with modernism is the idea of social progress. 

Steve Keister:    That’s been part of it, historically. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Belief in the future. Moon landing. 

Taro Suzuki:    Exactly! So I guess when I got out of school and saw that it was all gone, I was pretty pissed off.

 Mary Clark:    You were here to start it up again. Redefined. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Circles. Sisyphus. 

Taro Suzuki:    What I did do with it was just take black paint and make a set of those rings. So once I had one set of rings on the canvas, I laid that piece of Plexiglass on it and moved it around. I pretty much ended up with the exact same configuration in all of them. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    But you hit something there. 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah, I know. I know. I was like, that’s working. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    They started out as straight lines. The rings. Up and down. His previous paintings, they weren’t like this. 

Gregory Botts:    Yeah, I was reintroduced to your work there at that Heidi Cho gallery and they were all straight stripes, right?

Taro Suzuki:    Pretty straight, yeah. I started out doing wavy when I first got started using the rakes. I had been doing decorative painting, and it’s a decorative painting technique to make moiré patterns with combs.

Elizabeth Cannon:    Does anyone else see the Japanese raking of gardens? 

Taro Suzuki:    I think of that, too. It’s very physical, doing these things. I built these big rakes, with handles, and I paint them on the floor. It’s very like raking a Zen garden. One thing I noticed doing that was, because I have scoliosis all my straight rakes curve to the left. I have to fight that. But with these, the squeegee is pinned to a compass point. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    But the body is still in it. 

Taro Suzuki:    The body is still very much in it, yeah. 

Nicole Kaack:    Part of my curiosity earlier about, for example, your performance background is thinking about the ways that these paintings are to some extent representative sound. Waves and pattern as a kind of emanation, both in terms of the way that the waves are fighting each other but also in each individual movement. As Elizabeth was saying: two things becoming a third. 

Taro Suzuki:    When I started these paintings, it wasn’t so much sound but particle waves that I was interested in. I discovered something called the double slit experiment. Heisenberg and that kind of stuff. They’re changed by the viewer, too. 

Mary Clark:    But Taro, these also do have a feeling of a microphone. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Or a siren! 

Taro Suzuki:    No, they do. 

Bill Komoski:    You know, Taro, you were talking about Carl [Ossendorf.] Carl’s paintings that go, what do they say? They go, “Yeah!” And I was thinking, I was trying to describe your paintings to somebody. I was really at a loss. I hesitate to say this, but I was kind of thinking that on Facebook, you are really politically involved in this kind of rage. I was thinking that you could kind of see the paintings just as this, “Pow!” 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Really assault you. 

Nicole Kaack:    Oh, totally. 

Mary Clark:    That’s what I mentioned, the rage against modernism, and now there’s another rage. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Taro says that’s one of the main elements. But then, I think there’s duality. They’re so disciplined.

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Well, to have rage within a very suppressed… It has to find a way out.

Mary Heilmann:    You’ve got power here. 

Hannah Schutzengel:    They’re so enticing, too. It’s not just rage or aggression – that pearlescent and the way that you kind of get close to it and see different layers. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Yeah, that’s like the siren song that drives you in. I was thinking about the metaphor of the siren, because there’s the siren going out, and definitely that pearlescent, and that mystery that’s behind. You wonder what’s behind there. 

Taro Suzuki:    You know, that’s funny. I’ve got to start thinking about sound now. When I do these paintings, I never have music on. It’s NPR. NPR is droning away in my studio, and I’m not really listening, you know? And I’m sort of getting myself centered and breathing, to get ready to do this paint manipulation thing. 

Bill Komoski:    A million years ago, I worked for La Monte Young as the guard at the building that Dia set him up in.This was while Dia was funding his operation, and he had the building that had Sean Turrell, later moved into. But I’d go to his performance, and he would only perform one time a year, The Well-Tuned Piano. That was his performance schedule at that period. It’s an amazing piece — one chord and it just builds on top of itself. 

Taro Suzuki:    Kind of like Branca? 

Bill Komoski:    Yeah, well Branca and all of those guys were complete devotees. That’s exactly where they come from: La Monte. They would do pilgrimages, you know? I was always buzzing these guys in. But that idea of the contrapuntal thing that happens, where you have these patterns that start to build on top of one another and you get the third, and fourth, and fifth. You would get these waves, and it was really a physical experience, listening to that music. It was an amazing thing. And talking about these paintings, they’re so flat. They’re so clean and lean. But there’s this physicality. And there’s even a kind of physicality that’s sort of offsetting it. There’s a dissonance that goes on, as well as a kind of beauty — an interesting kind of complexity going on within a simple structure. Like with La Monte, there’s just, it’s one chord and it was literally like waves. You felt it physically in the room. It starts to build, build, build, build. Part of my job was checking the humidity and temperature of the Bösendorfers in the building — they had two — hourly. 

Steve Keister:    When it really gets going, and all of these overtones, it sounds like an organ. 

Bill Komoski:    It just takes on a whole other… it starts simple and then suddenly you’re getting lost in these clouds of, it feels very physical. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    And there’s Marian Zazeela with the light show. Marian Zazeela. 

Taro Suzuki:    I was in a show with her. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Yeah? Where? 

Taro Suzuki:    In the ‘80s. And La Monte was there. She had a room that was just red light. 

Bill Komoski:    There was another artist who was using light at the same time you were, really. She started doing those things probably around, I don't know when she started doing those light projection pieces. Probably at the same time. 

Taro Suzuki:    This room with red lighting. I think it was in New Jersey somewhere. A museum. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Oh, yes. The Newberg Museum, or something? I remember that show you did. It was the wall watch piece, right? 

Taro Suzuki:    Yeah. Colored, mirrored Plexi on the floor, and theater spots bouncing them onto a huge light mural. 

Bill Komoski:    Do you have pictures of that? 

Taro Suzuki:    Not that very one, but others. 

Bill Komoski:    You have to get those things transcribed soon, because they are just about at the end of their lives. They get these crystals growing on them. It’s important to have that history.

Taro Suzuki:    I know. I know. I have a lot of it digitized. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    But I love your idea of doing the history of the artists from their own words. Because all history is so interpretive and changes. 

Nicole Kaack:    Exactly. I feel that too often, either curators or critics have swooped in—

Taro Suzuki:    And written the story! 

Nicole Kaack:    Exactly. Even with ‘Energism’ as a term that you all immediately questioned. You shouldn’t have to feel that way, as the artist, if the work is based in what your idea is. In my writing, I am always trying to give people the opportunity to see the work in the way that the artist intends. That is what this is, to an even greater extent.

Taro Suzuki:    You mean this format, the dinner?

Nicole Kaack:    Or of having you —in your own terms, on your own terms— be able to answer. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    The artist doesn’t always realize certain things. He’s having revelations. 

Karen Hesse Flatow:    Language does give us that ability. Even though as visual artists sometimes, we feel like we’re very inept at the language part. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    Like David Smith says, “Language has really nothing to do with my art.” But then he uses it anyway. It’s imperfect, but it’s closer than if someone is on the outside. 

Nicole Kaack:    And then what is written on the outside can be a response. The criticism can be built on something that’s real coming from the artist. 

Bill Komoski:    There was this really good obituary in the Times today — this guy Jerry Foder. It was about the brain and how different parts of the brain are bad at communicating with one another. That’s the way that optical illusions work really well. You know that that line is the same, but it still looks longer. Your rational understanding of the facts is completely overwritten, and even though you’re making an effort to get those to combine, they’re just not binding. So there’s the idea: you can be doing something that the language wouldn’t be there for. 

Elizabeth Cannon:    And what they know about memory now. That every time you retrieve a memory it changes. And when you’ve been with someone for like 40 years, we see that all the time. We have memories that are different. Of stuff we did together! We never agree on what happened. 

Taro Suzuki:    I know. I know.