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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Paul Cadmus, 1997


There is a serenity to the artist Paul Cadmus that is almost palpable.  He is 92, but he is ageless by any other calculation.  He is slender and refined, still sturdy in carriage, and all of him is grace personified. 
For more than sixty years, his paintings have occupied a unique position in American art, alternately neglected and celebrated, defended and denounced.  His notoriety began in 1934 with The Fleet’s In!, a picture of randy, drunken sailors far closer to the reality of Navy life than any recruitment poster.  Called “a disgrace to art” at the time, Cadmus now acknowledges this early controversy as the start of his career.  What followed were figurative works which introduced an erotic, psychological element to the Social Realism of the day, and murals for public buildings that didn’t always please the public.  With the rise of Abstract Expressionism and the swaggering New York School, representational paintings with homoerotic content were not in great demand.  And yet Cadmus’s work attracted a loyal following that continues to this day.  He has in his lifetime produced perhaps no more than 100 paintings, in some years only one or two, and they are highly sought after.
Today, Cadmus’s work has, like the artist himself, peacefully arrived at the juncture where ardor and accomplishment converge.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently honored their acquisition of Chuck Close’s 1993 portrait of Paul Cadmus with a full-scale exhibition of The Seven Deadly Sins (1945-49), his grotesque post-war masterpiece.  And with the inclusion of Cadmus’s later, eighth panel, Jealousy (1982-93), the complete series was shown for the first time.
This past year, New York’s D.C. Moore Gallery exhibited photographs made collaboratively by Cadmus, the artist Jared French, his lover of a lifetime ago, and French’s wife Margaret.  Together, they were known as PaJaMa — which Cadmus derived from the first letters of their first names.  The photos, mostly taken in the late ’30s on Fire Island, and in Nantucket and Provincetown, were collected in 1991 for a book published by Twelvetrees Press.       
We went up to visit Paul Cadmus in Weston, Connecticut, where he lives and works.  Next month he turns 93. 

Theodore Bouloukos:  Having outlived so many of your friends, other artists, and even those critics who might have disparaged your work, do you ever feel like an icon after all?
Paul Cadmus:  No, I’m not conceited enough to feel like an icon, but some people act as though I were.  This year has been less about working and more about wills and lawyers.  I mean, I have to take pills to keep my heart from racing, but I feel pretty good.

TB:  You were recently given an award by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.  What was that like?
PC:  Governor Rowland gave out medals.  They’re very nice, with the Seal of Connecticut on them and a nice blue ribbon.  Great big function, too.  Huge.  Black tie.  I hadn’t heard of these awards until somebody contacted me to tell me I was chosen.  I think it’s rather rare for them to choose an artist who has a slightly scandalous notoriety rather than ... well, not quite like Mapplethorpe.

TB:  But a Mapplethorpe of your time ...
PC:  Well, quite possibly.  I wish I liked Mapplethorpe’s photography better.  I think it’s wonderful technically, but it doesn’t interest me very much.

TB:  It’s a bit more blatant than the kind of representation you’ve tried to reveal.
PC:  I’d say a lot more than a little blatant.

TB:  What do you consider a scandalous work of art?
PC:  Nowadays?  There’s no possibility of scandalizing anymore.  There’s no way of shocking the public today.  It’s impossible.  In the old days, when the world was much more naive, in the days when I shocked, it was quite different.

TB:  Was your work among the most scandalous? 
PC:  I didn’t think it was scandalous at all.  I was painting scenes I knew — from Riverside Drive and Coney Island.  They were exaggerated observations, of course.  As Flaubert said, “Woe to those who do not understand exaggeration.”  Or words to that effect.  But I never tried to shock. 

TB:  Did you make a speech when you accepted your medal?
PC:  I quoted that poem of W.H. Auden to Christopher Isherwood: “Let us honor if we can/ the vertical man/ though we value none/ but the horizontal one.”  Which some people might interpret as sort of a sexual remark, but I think Auden meant that the poets he admired were dead — that kind of horizontal.  And I was able to say that I was still somewhat vertical.

TB:  And what do you think of the various plaudits bestowed upon you?
PC:  They seem to be multiplying as I live longer, but not nearly as many as I’ve deserved.  But after all, so much of my career has been devoted to a kind of art that has not been popular during my lifetime: the figural, the representational.

TB:  And then there’s the homoerotic element in much of your work. 
PC:  I did what I did because that’s what I wanted to do.  I never painted with the anticipation that it would be popular or accepted.  And I very seldom had good reviews whenever I had shows — not that I cared what the critics thought.

TB:  Do you recall your worst review?
PC:  I had quite a few bad ones, but I can’t remember the worst.  One critic, Margaret Bruning, who wrote for one of the big papers — either the Times or the New York Sun — spoke about my work being incompetent.  And I foolishly wrote her a note saying that I didn’t think myself incompetent at all.  We had sort of a little tiff by mail.  But it didn’t amount to much.  I’ve always had a following and a group of faithful collectors.

TB:  Malcolm Forbes was a great collector of your work.  Had you ever met? 
PC:  Yes, we did.  He came to my studio with another painter, whose name I can’t recall.  I do recall that he tried to buy two of Jared French’s paintings for the price of one.  He liked a good bargain.  And he was used to getting bargains wherever he went.  He was very charming, though.  The painter who brought him to me said that Malcolm knew every hustler on 42nd Street.  But he was very discreet.  I never knew him socially, but he kept on buying pictures of mine.  He had a good eye, but I think he liked figural art almost entirely.

TB:  You and your companion, Jon Andersson, have been together since 1964, and you’ve used him as your model many times since then.  How do you feel about gay marriages?
PC:  I don’t like the institution of marriage myself, not even for heterosexual couples.  I suppose it’s very important if you have children, and it’s very useful for tax purposes.  I could save a lot of money if I married Jon.  In fact, Jon’s brother is a Unitarian minister and he’s offered to marry us in the past.  The Unitarians are very broad-minded.  But I don’t see any need for change.  Everything is all right as it is. 

TB:  Lincoln Kirstein was married to your sister, Fidelma, and all of you lived together, so to speak, in separate houses on Mr. Kirstein’s estate.
PC:  She died about five years ago, and I do miss her, but the last years of her life were not good.  She’d been subject to nervous breakdowns over the years — the first occurred when I was living with Jared French in Mallorca in about 1931 or ’32.  I miss Lincoln a lot, too.  Before he built the house for us, Jon and I would often visit him.  I did a great deal of the cooking, and after Jon and I moved to our house, I became a kind of “catering service.”  We’d carry the food up to Lincoln’s house for his big Saturday night dinners.  It was a great deal of fun in the days when Lincoln had many guests — Christopher Isherwood, Wistan Auden, and George Ballanchine.

TB:  What were their conversations like?
PC:  In Lincoln’s case, he went out to the country to relax.  He didn’t want to be serious.  He behaved like a bad child very often.  He wanted amusement.  He wanted to forget the problems of the city and the New York City Ballet.  But it was fun.  One weekend, Wistan was coming for the weekend, and Lincoln said, “Now before we start out, I want it clearly understood, I am the host, Paul is the cook, Jon is the scullion, and Danny Maloney is the court jester.”  We were having a rib roast that night for dinner, and Wistan did everything by clockwork.  He had to have his first martini at six o’clock, his second martini at six-thirty, and his dinner at seven.  Well, at a quarter to seven, I realized the roast wasn’t done and would probably be about fifteen minutes or a half hour late.  Everybody was sitting by the fire at this time, and Wistan asked how much the rib roast weighed.  I told him eleven pounds.  “Well,” he said, “I could have told you to put it in sooner!”  So he had to have another martini and that put him in a bad temper.  As we entered the dining room, the candles were lit and it looked very pretty.  But Wistan asked, “What’s this niggardly lighting?”  And Lincoln said, “I like it that way!”  Right after dinner, Wistan had to have his bubble bath and then off to bed he went with his bottle of vodka.

TB:  You also knew Tennessee Williams?
PC:  The writer Donald Wyndham brought him by when I was living in 5 St. Luke’s Place — must have been around 1938, ’39 or ’40.  I didn’t like Tennessee at all at the time.  I thought he was very sloppy.  He smoked too much.  I don’t think he burned a hole in our sofa, but he was apt to do that sort of thing.  I told Donald, “Please don’t bring that old man around again.”  I don’t know why I called him an old man; he was younger than I was.  But he looked old to me.  Later on I got to rather like him, not that I knew him very well.

TB:  What was Christopher Isherwood like?
PC:  At the time I saw most of him, he was living with Bill Caskey, whom we called Fuzz-Pig because Bill was so hairy.  And very charming.  He was once at a dinner party, sitting next to a lady who asked him, “What does it feel like to be a homosexual?”  And Bill Caskey turned to her aghast and said, “I’m not a homosexual, lady, I’m a cocksucker.” 

TB:  And what do you recall about Ballanchine?
PC:  Ballanchine was very reserved.  I never got very close to him.  He was very proud of his cooking.  He didn’t care what you said about his ballets; he knew they were wonderful.  They were.  But if you criticized his cooking it would be the end of any relationship with him whatsoever.   

TB:  Tell me about your friendship with Jared and, later, Margaret French, and the genesis of PaJaMa?
PC:  Jared and I met Margaret at the Art Students’ League in 1934, when we got back from Europe.  And Margaret had a Leica camera, so we began taking pictures just as a form of recreation after painting all day.  A great many of them are Fire Island subjects, and almost entirely of friends of ours, who’d visited us in Fire Island or Provincetown or Nantucket.  We also took a number of pictures when we were traveling in Europe together.  They’re all posed pictures — almost none of what you’d call impromptu shots.

TB:  A lot of the men look as though they could have been the subjects of George Platt Lynes’s work.
PC:  Yes, a lot of them were friends of his, too.  The painter George Tooker appears in our photos as well as in George’s.  But we weren’t particularly influenced by anybody.  We didn’t take photography very seriously.

TB:  Was there an attempt to capture some ethereal quality of leisure?
PC:  That’s a rather good description of them, but I don’t think we’d thought of that.  I think it was Colette who said something about leisure being one of the few luxuries of life nowadays.  I wish I could remember her quote exactly.  But most of these pictures were done in late afternoon, some in late morning.  Some of them show the results of hurricanes on Fire Island.  The first hurricane occurred while Margaret, Jerry, and I were going to the opera one night, and as we were walking in, struggling with our umbrellas, Margaret said, “Oh dear, I think I left the kitchen window open.”  And the next day we went out to Fire Island, it was a calm day — as it so often is after a hurricane — and the house had disappeared except for the chimney and an unbroken bottle of rum.

TB:  We tend to think of Fire Island and Provincetown as largely gay meccas now, though back then they were much more the summer habitats of an artistic community.
PC:  Yes, in fact, the part of the island where we took most of these pictures was in a community called Saltaire, which is about 11 miles from Cherry Grove.  We would occasionally walk to Cherry Grove to see the sights, see what was going on in the fantastic “gay” world — for which it had a reputation in even those days, which was 1937, ’38 and ’39 when we first went to Saltaire.  It was a very suburban community, with families.  The Frenches rented the cottage and I could come out for a visit whenever I wanted.  We would certainly walk far enough along the beach where we’d be by ourselves.  We weren’t exhibitionists by any means.  But just to show how naive people were in those days, I do remember a sign in front of a Cherry Grove cottage that said: “The Lisbons must leave our young boys alone!”  The Lisbons.  As if “Lisbons” would have any interest in young boys!

TB:  Before this age of sexual taxonomy, people seemed a lot more elastic or fluid, no?  I mean, you and Jared French were lovers for a time, and then he married Margaret, yet all of you remained friends.  It all seemed less self-conscious.
PC:  You don’t think that would work today?

TB:  No, not for men.  It’s fashionable for women to experiment and pretend for a time.  But there are too many anxieties in the male psyche to allow anybody but the most evolved that kind of carefree self-exploration.
PC:  I think artists were much freer than other people.  But it just seemed natural for our relationships to survive regardless of the configurations between us.

TB:  The PaJaMa photographs have a kind of built-in prescience.  They anticipate a lot of the photography of, say, Bruce Weber.
PC:  Well, Bruce is a fan of mine actually.

TB:  Which must explain why he used you as the WASP patriarch in those print ads he did for Banana Republic some years back.
PC:  That was lots of fun to do.  Just wonderful to be with all of those models, those beautiful creatures.  One of them writes me a note occasionally.

TB:  What do you like about Bruce Weber’s work?
PC:  It’s very sexy.  Bruce is a good photographer, very inventive, and he has the good sense to choose models like me.

TB:  Were the ideas for some of your paintings influenced by the PaJaMa photographs?
PC:  No, I think the photography was influenced by our ideas for the paintings.  Of course, we never thought of this work as being sellable.  Those photos were meant to be tokens of friendship, to show around after dinner or something.  They were essentially family photographs. 

TB:  Many people have bemoaned the blatant absence of painting in this year’s Whitney Biennial.  Does this signify anything to you about the state of painting today?
PC:  I bemoan that all the time because painting is what interests me.  And I’ve been in more Biennials at the Whitney than any other artist, since the beginning of them in 1934 — even more than Edward Hopper, I believe.  I’m not interested in today’s installations.  Well, once in awhile.  But they have nothing to do with painting, and painting is what I care for, disciplined painting that requires skill and training. 

TB:  Are there favorite paintings of yours?
PC:  Well, I know if everything were to go, I would choose Night in Bologna.  It’s one of the simplest paintings I’ve ever done, and not typical of my work.  So that’s the one I’d want to save.  If I had to say one of my paintings is more important than the other, I’d say it’s The Seven Deadly Sins.  But that’s actually saving seven paintings, eight counting Jealousy.

TB:  Those paintings were recently shown when the Philadelphia Museum exhibited Chuck Close’s portrait of you.  Were you a fan of his work?
PC:  I didn’t know much about his work.  I mean, I liked what I knew, but I haven’t kept up with contemporary art very much because I live in the country and I’m old and I don’t go as often to the city as I’d like.  But Chuck Close has done three more portraits of me since the first one.

TB:  Do you ever think about writing a memoir?
PC:  No, my regret in life is that I never kept a journal.  But by nighttime, I was ready for bed and I just didn’t have the energy.  Besides, I take writing much too seriously, and being an autodidact I wouldn’t think of writing my own memoir.

TB:  Since our little talk is for the magazine’s Survival Guide, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the topic of survival?
E.M. Forster said that all of his friends behaved as if they were immortal.  I feel that way myself.  I know I’m not immortal, but I don’t feel I have to hurry just because I’m getting older.  I’m just as lax about being efficient as I ever was.  I don’t think about death.  The only thing I fear is being a burden on people, if I should have a stroke or something.  I hope that I can avoid that sort of thing.  I just want to keep making art, though I don’t have the energy to produce big canvases anymore.  But I would love to be able to do a big subject, a large panel with a great many figures — something like a boring, upper-class cocktail party would be fun.

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