SM: Good for you! Did you have a hand in the film’s terrific opening credit sequence?
RC: I do these Q&As at the Angelika and so on, and one of the things I’m asked is what part I had in making the film. I have to admit that I had nothing to do with it. I did not come out and say, “I think you should have this or that.” Morely Safer could have been a big part of this film. For whatever reason they chose not to include him in it. You see him in the outtakes. I was the subject. It was guys like [co-producer] Jim MacDonald, and [executive producer] Chris Concannon, and [director Victor] Kanefsky...[Kanefsky] had a vision. You know, filmmaking is collaborative. Painting is not. Painting is, like, I’m in my studio, I’m alone, I don’t want to hear the telephone. People ask if I ever get lonely. No. (Laughing.) I’m never lonely with my canvas. As a painter, I don’t collaborate well. I have to do what I want to do and that’s all there is to it.
SM: Where were you when you first saw the completed picture and how did it hit you?
RC: I was pretty dumbstruck when I saw the final thing. I chose not to...I guess I had seen an early version and it was kind of weird for me. I never wanted to see...first off, I never thought the film would ever be done. It took eight years. I would have preferred hearing other people’s reactions to it before seeing it. You talked about the credits in the beginning. I saw that and was instantly into the film. If that was the entire film, I would have said, “Hey! That’s pretty good!” (Laughing.)
SM: Every time I speak with the publicist, she hits me with the line, “You know he’s referred to as the Bernie Sanders of the art world.” You both have my vote! Do you feel comfortable with the handle?
RC: Totally. This guy is such a breath of fresh air. He even uses the word socialist. Christ, I grew up under Ronald Reagan when you couldn’t even use the “L” word. If you were a liberal, you were on the same level as — if not worse than — a communist. Here’s this guy coming out and talking about the 99 percent versuss the 1 percent. He’s the conscience of the Democratic Party.
SM: Whether they like it or not.
RC: Yeah! And the conscience of the Republican Party is Donald Trump, providing, that is, that he has a conscience. (Laughing.) They’re sort of the same, because they’re both reacting against the political garbage we’ve had to put up with for how many years now? People are just tired of it, in my opinion. Both these guys are energized by the same distrust of political lobbyists and the kind of stuff that has become part of the mainstream political system.
SM: There are so many moments in Art Bastard that give pause for reflection, but none more than the staggering realization that students can now get an art degree without once ever having picked up a piece of charcoal.
RC: Yep. That’s absolutely right. There are art schools today that don’t even offer Life Drawing classes. Once you can draw the human figure, you can draw anything. I learned this from [German artist and mentor] George Grosz. He told me you have to learn to think with your hand. That is the difference between copying something and then realizing that drawing is like a language. It’s about thinking. It’s an amazing discipline.