Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interviews (with Lamont Langworthy & Claude Smith) by Becky Wells

LAMONT LANGWORTHY
BW:  Where did you grow up? Did your parents influence your decision to become an architect?
LL:  I was born in Boone Iowa, 1930.  We lived a depression life until we moved to San Diego, CA.  But before we moved, I stood in front of Frank Lloyd Wrights' Johnson Wax building (Racine, WI), just finished, and knew what I wanted to do.  Many years later , I interviewed with him about a job, but that didn't work out.

BW:  You mentored with Soleri, the innovative architect who built an artist community into the side of a canyon in Arizona.  Did he influence your decision to create a place for artists to work?
LL:  I helped Solari build his first project, a small underground  studio in Scottsdale, AZ. I also made ceramic bells for him - that is how he subsidized his work.   I later hooked up with some  artists who wanted to build a live/work place. They knew a contractor who would be a partner and put up $120,000.  But The County Planners & Supervisor did not allow Live/Work Spaces as that would be "Growth Inducing".(Ha)  We then just converted the building to rental studios. We have one Live/Work space, #13 (Maureen Lomasney).

BW:  Who has influenced you the most in your career?
LL:  Although I graduated from a Bahaus University, I read everything I could about Louie Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Paolo Soleri, Richard Nuetra and Rudolph Shindler.
Also, my 6 months in Japan probably had a major effect on my work.

BW:  Do you consider architecture a craft and an art? Is it one thing more than another?
LL:   I believe Architecture is a rare blend of Art and Engineering. Although this Art has to be practical as well as driven by a budget.  That is my concept, obviously, the major “Starkatects” do not share most of these ideas

BW:  In regards to your own visual artwork, what is the meaning or was there a focus for creating your computer-generated art piece in the upstairs bathroom at Atelier One?

LL:  EPILOGISMUS  (Toilet Art) I found it in an esoteric book on the cabala and was just learning a new CADD program so I did the drawing as an exercise to learn the program. I don't remember how it got framed. but am intrigued by the pattern and the voids.
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CLAUDE SMITH
BW: You were born in New York City, your father was an advertising executive who also had a love and appreciation of calligraphy. He must have influenced your work.
CS: Yes, my dad, Sid Smith, was a “Madman”-era art director for big agencies. He was also a painter and calligrapher. Our apartment was an art-filled environment with art and calligraphy books, and paintings all over. From the time I was 6, I knew what I wanted to do: follow my dad’s footsteps. If he had been a musician, I would have probably been a musician.
As a 5 year old, I sat on his lap and we looked at the calligraphy books. I would ask my dad, “What’s this? What’s that?” And he would say “It’s a Caslon” and explain what distinguishes it from other letter styles like Art Nouveau or Spencerian Script etc. Remember, this is decades before computers!

BW: (I listen to his stories as Claude is a natural storyteller)
CS: Here’s a story that is a capsule of my life:  When I was in first grade, the teacher was introducing us to the alphabet, she said, “Can anyone tell me what this is?” I raised my hand and said, “Bodoni Bold?” She said, “No.” “Caslon San-Serif?” “No.” Then she said, “This is the letter A.” Claude remembers saying to himself, “Man, this school thing is going to be a long haul.” 

BW: Haaaa! So I’ve seen your work in the last three years involve scribbling or writing.
CS: Writing has always been an interest. Not so much for content which is less interesting to me than writing as drawing and drawing as writing - there is no separation. Music is very similar. Written out music is related to it. After studying graphology intensively 14 years ago, I realized how  graphology can be used in regards to knowing who a person truly is. Consequently,  I became much more compassionate when I understood that all of us are messed up,as our writing reveals.

BW: Do you do automatic writing?
CS: Yes, absolutely. I don’t separate writing from drawing. And music has also been an important component. Lately I listen and respond to Middle Eastern and North African, Turkish, and Greek belly dance music. I dance while I paint, the drawing is very physical. 

BW:(I watched Claude use a 4 foot long bamboo stick with paint on the end of it, dance and draw to his music. It was playful and energetic)
BW: Did you ever want to learn from your dad’s painting?
CS: Yes, some of our paintings in the 60’s and 70’s were similar but I had a greater need to experiment than he did. The commercial aspect of advertising influenced his art and not in a positive way, in my opinion.  Here’s another story:
When my father died in 1994, age 69, the family lived in Toronto and I visited their apartment. I sat in the living room surrounded by Dad’s paintings from the 1960’s to 1980’s and saw them in a way I never had. There were two categories. Some looked poured on and were fluid. Out of the fluidity came figures dancing, not exactly human, but colorful spirits. I wondered where they came from. The other side of his work was linear and clearly human figures dancing. The spirit aspect vs. the illustration. I had a revelation: Who knows how many levels we are operating on. Dad didn't talk about spirit, but the fluid paintings showed things were coming through him at a soul level that couldn’t come through any other way than through his art work.

BW: Amazing, Claude. So...on another note...Why wear black and white every day? And why the beret? Is it a Johnny Cash kind of thing?
CS: No, not Johnny Cash. The beret has always been there, even as a baby and a little kid, I wore one. I have a photo of myself as a baby with wearing one. And as for black and white, it’s a New York thing. As a young New Yorker, that’s what we wore. It doesn’t feel right to me to not wear black. I grew up in the time of Beat musicians, poets and artists. Certainly was aware of them.


BW: What do you think of the New York City art scene today?
CS: Baffling - I don’t understand what’s going on in the art world.   Art is so commercially driven these days that it’s hard for me to engage with it. When I visited New York and went to museums and galleries, I asked myself, “Why is this here?” New York is not where I get inspiration. LA is the closest urban art scene that I visit at the present time. And the most vital stuff is mostly on the street, graffiti art and layered graffiti. I find interest in those sites where multiple artists have pasted things up and sections get painted over and weathering reveals deep layers. Natural collage, things unexpected. I don’t believe true art can be taught. Art school can teach techniques and one can refine skills at art school, but the best stuff I’ve seen is from indigenous people all over the world,  self-taught artists, and children.  Having moved through school rapidly, graduating from high school at age 16, then from Pratt Institute at age 20, I’ve spent the last 45 years unlearning what I learned.

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