The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Monday, July 24, 2000


The Herald's Raimondi interview transcript

Here is the text of an interview with artist John Raimondi conducted by Herald Staff Writer Joe Pinchot on July 11, 2000, at the Butler Institute of American Art's Trumbull Branch in Howland.

HERALD: Are these pieces considered studies for the monumental works

“Yeah, but I think they work on their own, as an independent work of art. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t produce them. For instance, this small one of ‘Lupus,’ which is the sculpture I did about wolves. It works as a small piece of sculpture. You don’t have to know that there is one 40 feet. That was the criteria for doing the smaller work. They were study models. Now, in some cases, it doesn’t work. This sculpture (‘Erma’s Desire’) I’ve made a smaller version of. It’s not an attractive sculpture. I don’t think it stands alone.”

HERALD: Are they exact replicas

(Points to “Dance of the Cranes.”) “That’s 60 feet and that’s 60 inches. It could be a slight difference. It came amazingly close. If you look at the shoulder up on that part, how accurate it is, that’s right down to the com-puter-generated drawing. As that wing gets far away it gets distorted.”

HERALD: Do you use computers to design your works


HERALD: You didn’t have computers 30 years ago.

“It was all done by hand, all the geometric ones. Luckily, I wasn’t into the organic things then.”

HERALD: Does the computer make the work easier

“Yes. It makes it faster, better — a lot better. It’s so much more pre-cise. You’re not counting on your hand to make a cut or an edge to make a cut. In the computer you scan the image, and you’ve entered it in. You put that program in the machine and it’s cutting it. It makes a big difference.”

HERALD: How does one get into making monumental art

“I guess you have to want to be president, or want to be a movie star. You have to want to be something really big. That helps. If you don’t have that kind of persistence and determination then it won’t happen. It doesn’t happen with that determination. You still have to be very lucky. Things have to move your way. It’s more a calling that you accentuate the calling. If you have the right intellect you can study medicine and if you have a good heart you can be a good doctor. You can learn how to do that. I don’t think you can learn how to be an artist. I think you’re born, to a certain degree, an artist. You can develop those strengths, those innate strengths.”

HERALD: Is that where training comes in

“Yes. You can develop the technique, the emotional content, the psychological content, the profundity of the work.”

HERALD: Some of your work in the show is new, and some is from the beginning of you career. How do you compare them

“When I was photographing for my book I had to drive around the country and some parts of the world. I went to London, I went to Vienna, to Italy to see where my sculptures are to photograph them. I haven’t seen a lot of them in many, many years. There are things I’d do differently. I look back and think I was 21 years old when I created the sculpture of ‘Cage.’ It’s not bad for a 21-year-old kid. I have nieces and nephews who are older than 21 and they’re not doing those kinds of things with their lives. Now, looking back, it’s serious sculpture. Good, bad or indifferent it’s real sculp-ture. I wouldn’t change any of it because that’s my history. But I think the jazz pieces are among the finest pieces I’ve done. That’s because they’re my newest work. If I didn’t think that why would I be doing it.”

HERALD: How do the two-dimensional works fit in with the three-dimensional ones

“I love to draw, as you can see by the diversity of what’s here, and I take drawing very seriously. It’s not just black and white. That tiger is a full oil painting. The Chet Baker work, “Like Someone in Love,” that’s a full oil painting. Once I have the theme, then I explore that theme very deeply by drawing. I draw from photographs, I draw from life, for instance. When I was studying the tigers I went to the National Zoo and photographed them and actually drew them while they were swimming. It just helps me to expand upon where I’m I think it’s going to be. I don’t know what the sculpture will look like until I do it. I could never conceive of doing a sculpture without the drawings. How else am I going to get to it? The drawings are really a bridge between my concept, my heart, and the sculpture. Some of my favorite works are drawings. Some of things I’m least likely to part with are my drawings. And conversely some people have paid money for them. As you notice, I only own a few of the drawings. Some people have paid as much money for the drawings as they would for the sculpture.”

HERALD: Some of the drawings are abstract and some are realistic.

(Looking at the “Lupus” series.) “I did that with the tiger, too. Except, we didn’t have enough room (to display). This starts off super-realistic and then it goes into a transitional. You see it’s a tiger. There are some drawings that you would not know it’s a tiger. But if you saw the transition it would make perfect sense to you. You could see it. I only draw to get to this, to get to the sculpture. Not all the drawings end up framed. Not all the drawings end up getting sold. I destroy them after a certain amount of time. They were rungs on an evolu-tionary ladder. The place I was going to on the top of that ladder is the sculpture. I will only frame them and only sell them, if they stand inde-pendent of the sculpture.”

HERALD: You destroy some drawings. You don’t want to keep all the drawings for an archive

“I don’t want to get caught up in that. I think I pick the best ones, hope I pick the best ones. We have them photographed so they’re documented. Now, with digital imaging it’s so much easier. I’d rather go on. This is just my first 30 years show.”

HERALD: You’re waiting for the second 30-year show.

“I’ll be 82. That will be a very interesting kind of thing. Who’s to say that just because I started off with that “Cage,” I ended up with John Coltrane. So what would happen next? As long as it’s growth, as long as it’s positive and still my work and not imitative ...”

HERALD: Do you also fabricate the works

“I used to. I work in a studio now, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sculptors from all over the world come there and work there on a per-piece basis, that’s what you’re charged. I happen to be the kind of artist that enjoys hanging out at that studio. It’s not true to say that I built it. However, in the case of these three, the jazz pieces, when I have the cardboard model and I’m making the transition from the cardboard to the bronze, I do physically work there with them, and that’s called an artist proof. (Some artist proofs are in the show.) See AP? I physically made this with the fabricator. Once he has this, this stays in the shop, and then he makes another one, number two, number three, as they’re sold. I technically still do work on them. But I just do it to make the transition easier.”

HERALD: Why don’t you fabricate them anywhere

“It’s very dangerous, it’s time-consuming, it’s boring, it’s technique. As a certain point, once the creating is gone, it’s technique. It was OK when I was younger, poorer.”

HERALD: Why do you like to mix the abstract and the realistic

“It’s what’s ringing true in the motif. It’s the theme that is guiding me. I don’t have any interest in doing statutes. All that’s been done. But I like to do things that are evocative. I didn’t want to do a statue of Billie Holiday. I wanted to do a piece that is reminiscent of her sound, of her life, the sadness of her life, of her music. With something like the tiger I didn’t want to do anything that was abstract. I wanted anyone to look immediately and say, ‘It’s a tiger.’ Without being a statue still. It’s not. It’s a nice kind of mixture. The same is true with ‘Athleta.’ See, it really depends on what the theme is. I was commissioned to do a sculpture for the University of Ne-braska, at their new sports coliseum. The university wanted a piece to rep-resent male and female athletes. And not just white athletes, athletes of all different races. If you did a statue of a black male, what’s that do to white women, and vice versa? So, by still doing something evocative and some-what abstract — it’s obviously men and women — and I think much more accurately representing what the purpose of the commission was.”

HERALD: “Journeys” seems to be influenced by Matisse’s “Dance of Life.”

“Certainly. I was very inspired by Matisse and Picasso. Matisse’s ‘Dance.’ Now I think being inspired by and copying them are two different things. I don’t think anybody would deny that this has been influenced by Matisse’s ‘Dance.’ But Matisse, he never did breasts like that. I am very proud of my influences, very proud of my teachers.”

HERALD: What are you working on now

“I have one more piece in the jazz series I’m going to be doing, about the great singer Nat King Cole.”

HERALD: How long will the process take

“It won’t take years. In these jazz pieces I was able to get them very, very quickly. It just kind of came, I was so pleased that it happened in a really short time frame. ‘Lupus’ took me over a year to do. ‘Dance of the Cranes’ was probably a six-month process. It’s usually many, many months. I’m not in a hurry to do the jazz piece. After this type of exhibition, it’s OK to take a break and re-flect upon what the next sculptures I’ll do. I’ll be anxious to see the next sculptures, obviously. I guess the three in this room (jazz series) have a series, a connection over and above just my theme. I think, visually, there is something. But they are distinctly different works. One looks like it’s carved out of a block of wood or something (‘Trane’). And the other is very, very flowing (‘Billie.’) And then ‘Chet’ is more like architectonic. It’s built. ‘Billie’ looks like it’s growing, sinuously like a flame, smoke or something.”

HERALD: Will the jazz pieces be made into monumentals

“Yeah. Most of the show is. This piece is in Europe. The tiger is only 12 feet tall, but that’s outside. ‘Athleta’ is already monumental, as is ‘Bravo’: this is 28 feet, University of Richmond. The King Arthur, ‘Artorius’ is in London, 41 feet. ‘Dance of the Cranes’ is 60 feet. ‘Spirit Ascending’ is 39 feet, owned by the Palm Beach Opera. ‘Lupus’ is 40 feet. ‘Aquila’ is 28 by 78 feet. ‘JAT’ is out front at 30 feet. ‘Cage’ is in Minneapolis at a college, that’s 18 feet. ‘David’ is 20 feet at a school in Massachusetts. All those early pieces were all done monumental many, many years ago. That’s the nice part about growing to be older. I’m less anxious about that. I know it’s go-ing to happen. May not happen when I want it to happen, but so what. It’s going to happen. It’s nice getting older in that respect.

HERALD: Are there multiple copies of your sculptures

“Yes, on the small scale I do an edition of 10. On what I would call a garden scale or a terrace scale, like the ones outside, I do an edition of three. The monumentals are strictly one. Some artists choose a different number but everybody has got to be comfortable with what they want to do.”

HERALD: It gives different levels of people the chance to see your work.

“Precisely, Affordable and accessible instead of just doing it for the corporate world. I’m much more of a people person than that.”

HERALD: Have you shown at the Butler before

“They acquired a work of mine back in, probably 1996. I met Dr. Zona through another artist, an artists who is a friend of mine and an artist I collect, Gary Stephan. He’s a well-known New York painter and an excellent painter on top of that. Just because you’re well-known doesn’t mean you’re good. Andy Warhol is very famous and I don’t think he could a pimple on an artist’s ass. Gary had just come here, lectured at the Butler, and Dr. Zona ex-pressed how much he would love to have one of Gary’s paintings. They were very expensive. The Butler needs all its money so the doors stay open. And Gary Stephan told him, ‘Gee, I have an artist friend that has a big collection of mine, and he does give paintings to museums from time to time. Why don’t you give him a call?’ So Lou Zona called or wrote, I think he dropped me a note. And I had been a part of Lou’s classes, he uses me in his slide lectures about sculpture, monumental, public-scale sculpture, he uses early works. Although we’d never met. So now we met over the phone and writing. I came out a few summers, it must have been five summers ago. I was here. I was actually in Cleveland doing some business and he called me. We met and we saw the Butler, I saw Lou, and I thought he’s really got a great operation. And I like him, Lou’s an easy guy to like. He’s smart, he’s interesting, he doesn’t take himself so seriously that he’s a bore to be with. And he knows a lot of things. He doesn’t know anything about baseball. He’ll love that. So I invited him to visit us in Palm Beach and I had a painting by Gary Stephan that he wanted. So he came down maybe six months later and he had a number of favorite Gary Stephans. I gave him one he wanted. It’s a beautiful painting. I wish I had it back. That’s really how it began.”

HERALD: What do you think of this new building

“It’s beautiful. I know they have some ideas. I knew Tom (Schroth) the architect and I know he had some ideas to expand it. They’re going to expand it that way and that way because they know all the land. They could have four shows at a time. Wouldn’t that be great. You’d see a painting show, a sculp-ture show, maybe a glass show, maybe something else, in one beautiful location like this. Outdoor sculptures.”

HERALD: Are there any monumental projects brewing

“Yes, I’m involved in a sculpture competition, a national competition right now in Anchorage, Alaska, to build ‘Journeys’ full-scale, which would be 24 feet by about 48 feet, for a high school in Anchorage. And I’d love to do that. Big enough so the kids can walk right underneath it to go into class. Ride their bikes under it.”

HERALD: Does that kind of interaction happen with your other monumentals

“Oh, yes. I love seeing people interact with my with them. (‘Journeys’ is) The first sculpture I have created to be seen from the inside.”

HERALD: Anything else you’d like to bring up

“I’d just wanted to thank Mr. and Mrs. David M. Draime for supporting this exhibi-tion. Without them it wouldn’t have happened.” Main story

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Updated July 24, 2000
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