Research: Paul Soldner Interview

http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-paul-soldner-12457

MS. RIEDEL: It makes me think of something you’d said; I think it was something you’d said to the students about don’t be afraid to take something farther than you think it might go, just to push it beyond.

MR. SOLDNER: Yeah, I think-I’d say-yeah, I’m glad I said that. That is important.

We are so afraid to go farther. Of course, if you want to get off of ceramics into philosophy and so forth, I think fear and guilt are two of the biggest problems in our lives, and as artists or as craftsmen it does stop a lot of people from going far enough. Because somebody can laugh at it, it’s not going to be what everybody thinks it should be, and it takes a lot of courage really to deviate. Sometimes it’s easier to think of people deviating or not really thinking much about it but just doing it for the novelty or the shock value, and to a certain extent you can’t do that. You can use shock as well as the opposite from shock.

But nothing changes if it stays the same. So the only way to change it is to take something-obviously you can be working in a familiar direction, but if you stop at the end, always at the same place, it hasn’t gone anywhere. And what you’re going to do next to push it farther is-people have difficulty imagining that, I guess, because they’re so used to working from, emulating, by emulation, something that somebody else has already figured out, and they’re not comfortable with taking the risk of changing it.

I thought it was interesting that at Pete’s memorial there were maybe about six, eight, 10 friends that were invited to say something, and over and over the thing that came out more than anything else was their appreciation of he did it his way. He wasn’t always easy. Sometimes you’d get really upset because a simple thing, like when are we going to go to dinner, that should be a simple thing, but Pete could turn it into an event. He didn’t want to go an early sitting. He’d say, call and find out when it’s the last we can get in. He wouldn’t-you know, it was like five or six hours before we could eat, whereas everybody else was ready at 6:00, but you kind of respected him.

Those years that he was living upside down, sleeping all day and working at night, I think was part of that his creative need, not just to be different, but to do it his way. And he got a lot of criticism, a lot of flak for it and also, of course, for his alcohol problems and his drug problems, but in the end none of that mattered and it shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter that we now know that van Gogh was mental, had a mental problem. Look at what he left us, what he did.

I remember Pete demonstrating up at the Anderson Ranch a couple years ago, and there was a woman in the audience who fancied herself as a big collector from Iowa, and she’d never seen Voulkos. She only knew about him and had collected some of his work, which had been the more early, safe work. But in the workshop Pete was already pretty heavy into drugs, so he was just falling kind of over the place and couldn’t barely speak. She started to jump on him outside the demonstration area to me, and I finally just stopped her and I said, “Listen, you respect his work; that’s all you have to do. Forget about who he is or what he looks like or how he lives. He doesn’t have to please you that way, and that’s not what you’re interested in, not what you’re collecting.”

But that’s difficult for people, and it’s related to what we started talking about, the necessity to go farther. One of the biggest problems in all art-I don’t care if you’re a painter or a sculptor or a potter, a printmaker-when is it finished, and how do you know. Well, experience. Don’t pay attention to what the teacher says or anybody else, an art critic. As soon as you do that, you have ceased being the artist; now you’ve become a puppet, I guess.

So it’s very frightening and very difficult. I guess that’s one of the things I used to like about some people that we tend to think of as-what’s the word, when they’re outside of the boundaries?

 

MS. RIEDEL: Eccentrics.

MR. SOLDNER: Yeah, eccentric. Oh, like Beatrice Wood, quite eccentric. She was not a Hindu, but she rested or most of her life she wore only saris and jewelry, or George Ohr. I don’t like George Ohr’s pottery. I think it was sophomoric. But what we do respect about him was he didn’t pay any attention to anybody else. He might have been trying to shock them, but he didn’t-he did it his way and that’s probably the most important thing.

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