Jerry Saltz and Mark Stevens talk about Willem de Kooning in New York Magazine’s Fall Preview:
Jerry Saltz: Mark, the Willem de Kooning biography you and your wife, Annalyn Swan, wrote gave me the most vivid picture of the mid-century New York art world I’ve ever had. One thing that really struck me was the severe poverty these guys experienced—how it seemed to define their whole lives. De Kooning didn’t have a phone until the sixties; he had no bank account. Most of them achieved success later than almost any artistic generation ever. What did this poverty cost them?
Mark Stevens: Depends on the artist. Gorky found the poverty and lack of recognition soul-crushing. De Kooning suffered too, but he also knew how to be poor. He’d grown up rough, scraping by. He was resourceful. He used to say, “I’m not poor. I’m broke.” I hate it when people make a romance of the garret, but the struggle probably made that generation—or at least the best artists of that generation—unusually serious and committed to their work. They had bet their lives. […]
J.S.: I actually cried when I read the passage you and Annalyn wrote about the moment in 1953 when the young Robert Rauschenberg came to de Kooning’s studio and asked him for one of his drawings so he could erase it. One of the most pathos-filled moments in American art, to me, is when de Kooning says, “I know what you’re doing,” and adds, “I want to give you one that I’ll miss.” De Kooning works his whole life for a scrap of recognition; he gets it, and after 36 months he already knows his time is ending.
M.S.: That was tough, but he was tough. By the sixties, he was the artist you rejected in order to give your own art a generational edge. He became the necessary foil. He wasn’t happy about this, but he never tried to change with the times.
Why de Kooning Matters (NY Magazine)