Information About The Artist
Born: 1942, Boston, Massachusetts
BFA: Carnegie-Mellon University, 1964
CT : Ecole de Fontainbleau, 1964
MFA: Yale University, 1966
Public Collections (Indoors)
Large Permanent Public Sculpture Commissions
Public Sculptures Under Contract Or In Progress (2002-2004)
Selected One-Person Museum Exhibitions (1980 - 2000)
The following text and interview was produced by Ann Curran, editor of Carnegie Mellon Magazine (CMM), and was printed in the Spring, 2002, issue of the magazine. Jonathan Borofsky attended the fine arts department of Carnegie Mellon University from 1960 to 1964.
When Andy Warhol graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1949, he set off immediately for New York City and started sketching women’s shoes for Glamour magazine. He gradually advanced to colorful and dazzling high-heels for I. Miller.
When Jonathan Borofsky (A’64) graduated from what he calls “a nice four-year protection,” he flew off to the Ecole de Fontainebleau in France for summer study and on to New Haven for a master’s from the Yale School of Art and Architecture.
Then he went to New York City after spending three-quarters of his life studying art. He became, he says, “more cerebral than I had ever been before.” He hung around his studio writing down his ideas that he later gathered in the unpublished but exhibited “Thought Books.” And he started to count—on paper—for several hours each day. Heading from one to infinity, his counting took a not unexpected turn. He’d think of something that he wanted to draw and put it right down there with the numbers.
After literally several years of counting, one day he thought he’d like to paint one of his sketches. Instead of signing it, he used the number he had reached that day as his signature. Borofsky’s 34-inch stack of 8 1/2-by-11 pages, titled “Counting,” with numbers from 1 to 2,346,502, became the center of his first one-person show in 1975 in New York City at the Paula Cooper Gallery. He signed the other paintings and sculptures in the gallery with the number he had arrived at when they were completed.
Around this same time and through the mid-1970s, Borofsky began to make hay of his dreams. He deliberately got up and wrote them down in a combination of words and spontaneous drawings. Some of the things he saw in those dreams still appear in his work today, now dominated largely by monumental outdoor sculptures from Venice, Calif., and Seattle, Wash., to Berlin and Munich, Germany, Seoul, Korea, and Toyko, Japan. Not to mention a clandestinely painted picture of his “Running Man at 2,541,898” on the Berlin Wall, carried out in 1982 under cover of night. He makes his models for his giant sculptures in Maine and manufactures them at La Paloma, a fabrication factory, in Los Angeles.
In the interim, Borofsky did his time, about 15 years, as a gallery artist, as a museum artist—often creating installation art that lives only for the length of the show and is dismantled and painted over. He has, he estimates, “about 200 wall drawings in galleries and museums around the world…but they’re under a coat of paint.”
A complex person bent on simplifying his life, Borofsky didn’t strive for commercial appeal. He left New York City in 1977 and says he’s only been back four or five times since. He sees New York as the media focal point for art. Instead, Borofsky and his wife, Francine Bisson, a retired professional dancer from Montreal, who now teaches French, live in Ogunquit, Maine, not far from his parents. His mother, Frances, is an architect turned artist. She operates the Left Bank Gallery there and shows her own work. His father, Sydney, a pianist/organist, taught and played the restaurants in the Boston and Maine area. Jonathan Borofsky borrows his abilities from both parents. He is at least a 20th century conceptual artist of note. And at most, a major player in the expansion of site-specific art. He’s less known for his musical compositions and his brief stint as “Jonnie Hitler.” Following are edited excerpts from phone conversations and fax exchanges with Borofsky.
CMM: Are you still counting?
JB: I’m not obsessively counting on a daily basis like when I began in 1968-69. That became my daily obsession of three hours of writing numbers in succession linearly on paper every day and picking up where I left off the next. The obsessive ordering, the structuring that the numbers provided and the conceptual side of my brain that it reflected, isn’t quite so obsessive anymore.
CMM: You’ve kicked the habit then?
JB: For me, numbers are like God. They connect us all together in a way nothing else does. Like magic. You and I are now speaking from different parts of the country about ideas, and we’re doing it through the use of numbers. Each of our pockets or purses carries all sorts of numbers, printed on plastic cards, which allow us to buy things, call people and do something. That led me to an obsession in the last few years with binary numbers that run every computer in the world. Talk about connecting us all together! We’re not talking about numbers zero through 10 or 100. We’re just talking about a zero and a one. You put it in a sequence of eight like 01000001. It gives you a letter “A.”
CMM: When you stopped working and started counting, what prompted that?
JB: I had just left graduate school and moved to New York City [in 1966]. I was digesting the New York scene. There was Pop Art and Minimal Art. Both seemed very beautiful to me. Yet each had a weakness or flaw. I was a young artist, searching for his own uniqueness. I ended up in my studio a lot, thinking a lot, writing thoughts down. Less making of things and more thinking about things. I looked for a way to simplify the thought processes. I began to do little 1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—writing of number sequences on paper almost as a way to pass the time and not have to think so deeply. Later, I made a decision to count from one to infinity and did write those numbers on paper. After about a year or two of doing that solely with nothing else, counting for a few hours a day as my art activity, I began to go to painting and sculpture again. I made this connection…instead of signing this painting I made today with my name, I’m going to sign it with the number I was on on this particular day when I stopped counting.
CMM: Was the counting the only break you took from art?
JB: I didn’t see it as a break from art as much an innovation. I saw myself as an innovator, stretching the boundaries of art. Art critic Lucy Lippard [in New York], who almost single-handedly...helped to develop the Conceptual Art movement in the U.S., put me in touch with artist Sol LeWitt when I was very young [and] people who were doing similar conceptual work. My work slowly fell into a movement. Both Lippard and LeWitt were very helpful and supportive of my work. My father said, “I sent you to graduate school to learn how to count?” He said that as a joke; he’s accepting of everything.
CMM: When did you start putting your name on your art?
JB: There’s no real reason in this day and age to do it. It might have made sense in the 17th century to put your name on a painting, but everything today gets recorded by photograph and on computer. Anybody can forge your name. I’m not too concerned with my own name being on a work of art. Quite often I do these big public sculptures, and they say, “Now we have to have a name plaque somewhere to say who did it.” It’s not that I’m so humble; I just don’t find it too important. In 50 years it is not going to be important that I made that particular “Hammering Man” in Frankfurt. It’s not even important now. Most people don’t know it. And it’s fine. Maybe I need it [to get] more work. I actually like to play down the individualism or the ego that goes with the work of art.
CMM: You’re still dreaming, right?
JB: There was a period right after the counting kicked in when I began to focus in a strong way on my dreams. I would say that period started around ’71, ’72, ’73. During that period, ’70 to ’80, I pretty well did write down my dreams every day, especially the ’72 to ’76 period. [I] used them, too, as my subject matter for my work. It became almost a balance to the counting. There were these dreams that there was no rhyme or reason why they were happening. They were fascinating to me and very personal. Many of them giving me clues to my own life. I began to see them as my personal contribution to the art world at that time. We had Pop Art, which seemed a little too tongue-in-cheek for me, and Minimal Art, which I could relate my counting to, but I was looking for something more personal, more honest and open and direct. Hey! This is what I dreamt last night; it’s kind of embarrassing about my mother and my father, some sexual thing or whatever. It’s not necessarily something you normally tell in public or even care about in public.
CMM: You’re lucky you dream so much.
JB: I am a student of the mind, how the mind works, why we hurt each other, why we help each other, why we do what we do. Certainly, the dreams were in the tradition of mind study from Freud to Jung. What can I learn from this subconscious area that can maybe help me? It has given me some major symbols. One project I’m involved with now in Grand Rapids, Mich., does use a symbol, a ruby, in a rather grand fashion outdoors. Lit from within as part of a sculpture that’s 75 feet high. This is a ruby that came to me in a dream early on, maybe ’75. I remember it feeling and being like my heart—a beautiful stone the size of my heart. That symbol was quite often used in my installations and even now,  years later. That symbol was so positive, so spiritually tuned and so beautiful. It helped to balance out a lot of the fearful dreams that I was having—being chased through a city street or whatever. [The ruby] and the flying dream were the two most positive and uplifting dreams that I had at that time. I just finished an installation of flying people at Boston Museum of Fine Arts this past summer , and I’m doing an installation, a permanent commission, at the new Toronto airport of giant 20-foot translucent flying figures in the skylight in the next two years. These are examples of images from dreams that continue on into the present. I rarely write my dreams down these days, but I’m still open to them. I try to make my public works more on the positive side.
CMM: Do you feel that the counting and the dreaming helped you discover things about yourself?
JB: They give me food for understanding who I am. If I can understand who I am, then I understand who you are, and I can understand who everybody else is, including our so-called enemies on the other side of the world.
CMM: Are the Boston Museum of Fine Arts pieces, “Walking Man” and “I Dreamed I Could Fly,” temporary?
JB: No, they bought them after the exhibition. I haven’t worked with museums or galleries in the last 10 or 12 years. I have found myself much more involved with outdoor projects. People who go to museums and galleries are a very limited number. But the people who walk around and through my [outdoor] sculptures every day could give less of a hoot about art. Here they are being forced to interact with a piece. This is a nice challenge for me to come up with things that work for people. Each [sculpture] takes anywhere from one and a half to three and a half years from the first inception of people approaching me. But [the Boston Museum] approached me…and said, “The challenge will be for you to invent places to put art that aren’t normally used for art. We don’t want you to use the galleries.” I set up a piece outdoors that the cars drive under, and then in the big barrel vault of the new wing, I have these figures flying through the space.
CMM: When you do these large pieces, you do the model, and does somebody then manufacture the piece?
JB: The ideas flow from my mind and my heart. This is probably what I get paid for. When I was younger and working smaller, I could make my own projects myself—sculpturally or painting-wise. When you get into 20-, 30-, 50-, 100-foot sculptures, naturally, you need 14 to 20 people working at a time with you for you to complete these—especially when you’re into material like welding aluminum or steel on a big scale, using cranes, using lifts. I’m not a great welder of aluminum. I weld steel all right, but aluminum is very tricky. The Berlin piece [“Molecule Man”] that we completed a couple of years ago stands 100 feet tall in the Spree River in Berlin. It’s not something that I could accomplish alone in my lifetime or four lifetimes. We had many people working for a two-year period to fabricate that piece. “Molecule Man” was commissioned by Allianz GmbH, the biggest insurance company in Europe, for in front of their new building. We decided we would put it in the river, so that boats can go by it on either side. The figures appear to be standing on the water. That isn’t something I do up here in my two-car garage in Maine. These pieces start with me. The sketches, the models often come through me, and then I talk with my head fabricator, Ron McPherson, in Los Angeles. This Berlin piece was built in Los Angeles and shipped in sections. “Walking Man” in Munich was built in Los Angeles and then flown over in a giant Israeli transport plane in sections. Each project has contracts, lawyers. The contract I’m working on with Denver is 24 pages and a lot of legalese. I have to digest it and get a lawyer to work with me. When you’re building big sculptures that are the size of five- or six-story buildings, you have to be involved with all kinds of insurance for the workers, for performance bonds. If Denver is putting up $1.5 million for a giant project, they have to protect themselves. How do they know this artist is going to follow through? How do they know the work isn’t going to be destroyed in an earthquake in Los Angeles? They have to protect themselves. I have to protect myself on such big projects; hence it gets fairly complex.
CMM: You are doing something for Korea.
JB: “Hammering Man” [for] an insurance company in Seoul. It’s a symbol for the worker in all of us. I used a very traditional hammer image. We still have people who use hammers, of course, to build, but it can be anybody who works with their hands. My vision was to have as many of these hammering around the world at the same time as possible to tie us in as one installation, one people working.
CMM: How big is it?
JB: It’s 72 feet. The biggest one up to now is in Frankfurt, which is 70 feet.
CMM: Are you going to make “Hammering Man” bigger?
JB: Yeah, it could be bigger. But bigger isn’t always better. It depends where it’s going. If the location needs a bigger one because of the site, then you build it bigger. There’s a 48-foot one in front of the Seattle Art Museum. That’s the right size. There’s a 44-foot one in front of the Swiss Bank Corporation in Basel, Switzerland. That’s the correct size for that building. If I’m lucky enough to place one or two more around the world in my lifetime, that’s great.
CMM: Are they made of steel?
JB: Yes. Steel and then painted black. As opposed to say the “Molecule Man” in Berlin. It’s shiny natural aluminum color. Each has its own material.
CMM: Is “Hammering Man” always mechanized?
JB: Yep. Goes up and down.
CMM: What are you doing in Denver?
JB: “Dancers.” It’s going in front of the new Denver Center for the Performing Arts—two figures that are sort of interacting in a dance fashion. I’m still working on the contract. This started two and half years ago, going down and making a proposal in Denver, bringing a model with me. Them having to find funds, having to go back and forth. City Hall, whatever. They finally came up with the first payment of $60,000 that goes right through my bank account to my engineer out in Los Angeles. It’s a very complicated piece engineering-wise. Out of that came a very complicated set of drawings that I don’t understand, but engineers understand. That set of drawings has to go to the engineers in Denver. They have to approve everything according to Denver code. And engineers naturally have to go back and forth. Slowly, four or five more months pass. We’re getting closer. It looks like the plans are approved. If we start [fabrication] within the next two months, we should be finished in the spring of 2003. Some we can finish in seven months, and others like this, it’s going to take over a year to build. The project in Berlin had to be approved by the Berlin Senate. It had to get approved by local authorities in the section of Berlin where it was going.
CMM: In Udo Kittelmann’s book,
“Jonathan Borofsky,” you say, “I want life to be better
both for myself and for other human beings.” Do
JB: We all do. Everybody in their own way—whether you’re raising a child or whatever. I just do it through my talent. I have my specific abilities; a lawyer has his or her abilities. Each of us tries to make the best of our world. Some of us become damaged goods a little early, and I think being damaged goods sometimes you spread that damage around to others. That’s the downside of the human condition. We try to lift each other up, so there are not too many damaged people who go on to damage other people.
CMM: Tell me about the role of fear in your work.
JB: I’m trying to understand what fear is, where it comes from, how natural it is or is not. How can we have less of it? I did a project relating to Hitler, trying to understand the ultimate fear-maker of the 20th century. We’ve already crowned the first fear-maker of the 21st century on Sept. 11. Why do these events happen? Why do these people feel the way they do and create fear in all of us? I’ve learned from my studies up to now that it’s important to feel good about yourself. If you feel good about yourself, there’s a certain confidence that comes to you and comes to your life. If you have that, then I think there’s less fear. I’ve simplified it. That’s my goal. I want one or two words to answer all the problems of the world.
CMM: Some have noted that you are the subject of all your work.
JB: I can’t really study somebody else’s dream. Every artist’s work is their self-portrait. That’s true whether it’s Mondrian [putting] one box of red, next to a box of white next to a box of blue and balancing those boxes. It’s still a self-portrait of the inner working and the inner soul and the inner feelings of the artist. Some of those self-portraits are more abstract than others. Because I’m an ongoing work myself, my artwork becomes kind of a record, an ongoing portrait of my life.
CMM: Are you still teaching?
JB: No. It has a certain exhaustion factor to it. There’s just too much going on in other areas. (Borofsky taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, 1969-1977, and at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, 1977-1980.)
CMM: Curator Michael Auping at the Fort Worth Museum identified you with New Image painting and Neo-Expressionism. Where do you fit—conceptual artist or all of the above?
JB: It’s been my goal not to become a Pop artist or this artist or a Minimal artist. I have some spiritual goals, some ways that I like to be able to be helpful. There’s no label out there [for that]. I look for a feeling of oneness, and I look for a feeling of just being happy to be alive. My work serves that search.
CMM: You told Auping in “Drawing Rooms: Jonathan Borofsky, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra” that “I realized I could make these personal drawings public without being overtly commercial.” What’s the problem with being overtly commercial?
JB: There is not a problem for other people. There has always been an underlying problem for myself. It’s just a question of how much you need to please someone else and how much you need to please yourself. Every artist struggles with this. When I was doing very personal installations—an entire room—and creating these walk-in environments, I was not emphasizing the salable object. At the time, some galleries would have eight paintings by Joe Schmoe, the famous painter of the moment. There would be red dots next to each one, and they were going for $120,000. They’d say, “I’m sorry, Joe Schmoe only paints eight paintings a year, but you can be on the waiting list for next year.” I was interested in a walk-in oneness, created [with] 100 objects—painting, sculpture, drawings, drawings on the wall, whatever. That tended to deemphasize the commercial side. I had to find what worked for me, what I needed to create to feel good, what I had to create to teach other people what I thought was important. It doesn’t mean that those people who were focusing just on beautiful paintings were incorrect. Right now, I make very big objects and sell them for $500,000 to $2 million, so I can’t say I’m against selling my art and being commercial and giving in to the public when I just want to do what I want to do. I do just the opposite. I choose images and symbols that I think are going to work very well with as many people as possible. I’m as commercial as anybody.
CMM: Is humor important in your work?
JB: The dreams definitely had some funny [stuff].
CMM: There were a couple of “molecule” type people in a dance in the middle of a gallery. That was kind of funny or fun.
JB: That was the two black figures coming together. That was an early molecule indoor sculpture that got translated to a big outdoor piece—a 30-foot one in Los Angeles, a 100-foot one in Berlin. Two figures were coming at each other, and their arms connected in the middle. Many people saw that as sort of a violent image.
CMM: That’s surprising.
JB: Everybody comes from a different tradition. For me, the 30-foot “Molecule Man” that I placed in Los Angeles was three aluminum figures coming together connecting in the center with their arms. For me, it was people—all of us made up of molecules coming together to create the world in a sense. But a newspaper wrote, well, only in Los Angeles do we make a monument to drive-by shootings. The actual original drawing of the “Molecule Man” was really traced off of a magazine photograph. [It] came from two college basketball players that were rushing to congratulate each other for having just won the NIT [National Invitation Tournament]. They were on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
CMM: You told zingmagazine that “I had a dream….that I’d done everything that I set out to do.” Is it over?
JB: If I have to leave this world tomorrow, I’m quite happy with [my achievements]. It’s much more than I expected. But I have in my brain now at least five or six or eight large pieces that aren’t even close to being made yet because I haven’t been given the right sites to make them. I don’t think my career is over. But if it is, that’s all right, too. I’m not driven to be any more famous than I am.
CMM: What’s your reaction to art critics?
JB: I haven’t felt too comfortable with them. There’s been one or two or three that have been very supportive and helpful in my career, or in helping a city to understand a piece that otherwise, the city might say, “Why the hell do we have this thing here?” The problem, of course, is the word “critic.” It’s got a built-in negativity to it that’s unfortunate. It could be an “art explainer” or “art helper” or “artists’ helper.” People work too long and hard in their lives, and somebody comes along—which has happened to me, and I’m sure has happened to others—[and says] this is positively crap. I know it isn’t crap. Second of all, it’s embarrassing. It’s being read by 2 million people in The New York Times and, thirdly, this person has totally not got a clue as to what I’m doing. I mean I barely have a clue. So they’re hurting me, they’re hurting art; that’s the worst thing. People care so little about art these days anyhow. If you can’t write something nice, don’t write anything at all. People walk away with an angry attitude toward art because they don’t get it. But very few people deal with my work today. I’m just not written about. I managed to get outside of it. It’s too late once my sculpture is up in the public arena. You can say all you want. It’s staying. They’re always successful. They always work out. You find a way around obstacles in your life.
CMM: What about your documentary video, “Prisoners”? (Borofsky’s documentary toured with his 1980s traveling show to major U.S. museums, was shown in Germany and Japan with subtitles and resides in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.)
JB: In 1985 I co-produced and directed a documentary on prisoners in the United States with Gary Glassman. We interviewed 15 men in San Quentin Prison and 15 women in Chino Prison, in Southern California. From those interviews, we edited 48 hours of tape down to a one hour long documentary. Gary shot the video on Beta-Cam and did most of the editing. I financed the project and did the interviews on camera. We talked to prisoners about their lives – very personal questions - “How does someone like yourself end up in a cement box like this?” This project aimed at understanding why people hurt other people. You can jump back and forth between that and what’s going on now in Afghanistan.
JB: After the prisoner project, I found myself heading into this Jonnie Hitler phase, which lasted about seven or eight months. I record a lot of music and have a recording studio. During that period, I started taking my existing music, both my singing and my instrumentals, and re-recording it backwards - listening to it and enjoying it very much. It sounded Middle-Eastern or African to me. For that particular CD, I took the stage name “Jonnie Hitler”, and the CD itself, composed completely of my backwards recordings, was also titled “Jonnie Hitler”. “Jonnie” was the name I was called as a child. Jonnie Borofsky. And I was born into the world in 1942—at the moment of Hitler’s prime. Hitler was an early model for me to study. Even as a child, I tried to understand why somebody like this existed. [I] was fascinated by the concept of concentration camps and why this happened. I did take on this Jonnie Hitler role and produced a fair amount of music and photographs, including a small exhibition of drawings. I would take a drawing of my own framed and take a drawing of Hitler’s framed—these were reproductions of Hitler’s work—and put them next to each other. He tried to get into art school, but I think he got bounced. He made OK drawings of landscapes. It was really a study of the dark side. It was a logical jump from doing interviews in prison to going out into the world and studying folks that had done damage to people, picking the ultimate damage-doer of the 20th century, looking for issues within myself that might be parallel. Anger that I might be feeling, fear that I might be feeling, the need to control (and that’s the big one) that I might be feeling in my own life, that each person feels in their life. When do you feel powerless? When do you need to lash out? When do you need to control another human being? When do men need to control women? It was just a period of study, trying to get into his mind and trying to understand. Studying his childhood: How was he raised, what possibly made him what he was, what led to it? If you confront the causes, then you can possibly find the solution to keep it from happening the next time.
CMM: Tell me about the “Ballerina Clown” in Venice, Calif.
JB: That image is a lot tougher than most of the images
that I put out in the world. I thought it was acceptable [because] it was right
along the beach there, a block away, where people are dressed in all kinds of
costumes and outfits. There’s a lot of street performers. It seemed like a very
appropriate place to put an image that deals with the duality within all of us.
It’s a male and a female mixed together—the male clown and the female ballerina,
and the duality of performance: the street performer and the ballerina, the
traditional, classical performer. A mixing of opposites [in a] splashy, showy
kind of way. Now it’s accepted pretty much as an icon in the city. But for the
first few years, it had its detractors. There’s an example of where the
CMM: Did “Running Man” go down with the Berlin Wall?
JB: That “Running Man” took me about two hours to make.
CMM: How did “Man with Briefcase” develop?
JB: “Man with Briefcase” came together after the “Hammering Man.” It was another worker—more of a white-collar worker as opposed to the blue-collar “Hammering Man.” At that time, I was carrying a briefcase to my exhibitions because I had all my transparencies of wall drawings in it. I would pull them out, put them on the projector and start [aiming] them around the room. It was my own personal self-portrait, but it also translated to an archetypal image of the worker with briefcase.
CMM: Are you still using the opaque projector?
JB: Unlike Sol LeWitt who has many people working for him to do his wall drawings, mine had to be done by me. They usually were taken from small drawings that I did. I used the projector as a way to get the drawing up there on the wall, 10, 20, 30 feet [tall], and make it within an eight-hour period. This was my way of filling a room with wall drawings within a short period. Bring in my sculptures, bring in my sound, bring in everything and help create these walk-in environments.
CMM: You seem interested in victims. Is that part of an interest in the dark side?
JB: The idea of oppression is everybody’s fear, and it’s
been restimulated and in a totally new way with Sept. 11. Can they walk into
your home and kill your daughter or son? Can they fly into your
CMM: Do you think the nation reacted correctly to Sept. 11?
JB: In an ideal world, it’s probably not the right response. For me, it’s very understandable given the world and the human beings in it. It’s quite traditional. [If] somebody comes into your house and kills your mother, you go out and get them. You don’t want those killers roaming the streets killing other mothers or other people. In a perfect, ideal world, I’d like to grab those people, isolate them and study them as prisoners. Find out what made them go wrong. But how to do that so clinically and cleanly without going in and bombing the hell out of a country [where] most of the people are 18th-century peasants. Unfortunately this is what’s happening. It doesn’t feel right. It feels stupid to me to be dropping a $2 million bomb on a tank in the middle of some desert. Is that really going to solve the issue? It goes back to people feeling disenfranchised like a Columbine student who might be picked on enough to feel bad about himself, feel hated enough that he wants to get back at those people that he feels weaker than, and finally goes out and gets the gun and shoots it all up. Do you call up bin Laden and say, “You just killed 5,000 of our people. You can’t do that again. Let’s have a meeting because I want to hear your gripes.” It’s just not going to work. It probably would have been better because there’s going to be a lot more people killed on both sides because we can’t do that. The natural instinct of the human being is [to think] they killed 5,000 people; well, there’s no way I’m going to sit down with that guy and talk to him. I’m going to sit down with him and cut his head off. It’s understandable what we’re doing. I wish there was another way.
CMM: Could you comment on alumnus Andy Warhol (A’49)?
JB: [Sigh.] He had quite a major influence on art and society at the end of the 20th century. When I came to New York, he was the symbol of success within the art world that I found both intriguing and a little depressing. He represented just a bit too much concern for money and splash, and parties and drugs. Just a little too much for my own taste. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Artists notoriously lean in that direction. Let me say: beautiful work that he’s done, to a point. I looked for something a little less flashy, a little more honest. There’s definitely a genius there of sorts that I don’t quite understand or relate to. Warhol really was the focal point of the whole vision for New York. In retrospect, it was a little excessive. I just think everybody finds his way. And if that was the way that related to the public at the moment, so be it. It wasn’t my way.
CMM: Philip Pearlstein (A’49)?
JB: Beautiful work but totally different energy and a totally different spectrum that he’s working.
CMM: How do you progress spiritually?
JB: Minute by minute. [Laughter.] I’m looking for ways to bring peace to myself, and I think I can do that if I can bring peace to others. That’s a religious goal. If you don’t call it religion, call it a spiritual goal, call it just common sense. I like the word “God,” and I’m aware that it’s a word that we’ve invented to describe something that we don’t fully understand or can’t quite picture. I would have to say that God is a feeling – a feeling of everything being connected, all human beings, everything. It’s just all one organic interacting whole. You can say that word “God,” but to feel it is something else. The more you feel it, the closer you come to God.
CMM: How was your experience at Carnegie?
JB: Great. I liked walking across campus and hearing trumpet practice coming out of the Fine Arts building, walking into a building where there were architects working, and drama students walking around campus with their egos out there in the wind. I liked being thrown in with a bunch of engineers as well. I ended up joining a fraternity [Tau Delta Phi]. Not only were the living conditions better than the dormitories, but I also played a lot of sports. Fraternities were much better for that. I did end up on the track team. I liked the fact that there was a whole building devoted to the arts. You had the real world there, a full spectrum of different minds running together. My fraternity had a lot of architects, artists; yet it had a lot of engineers. It was good to learn from each other, different ways of seeing the world.
CMM: What do you do when you’re not doing your art or making contracts for outdoor public sculpture projects?
JB: I’m going to try to get my walk in at 11. I’m going
Ann Curran is editor of Carnegie Mellon Magazine.