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Mark Strand and Dr. Melissa Birdwell: An Interview
January 13, 2012, Madrid

Dr. Melissa Birdwell: I’d like to ask you about your new collages, that is, the ones you have been doing for the past eight or nine months, but before I do I’d like some information on your past. You were born in Canada, right?

Mark Strand: Yes.

MB: And you grew up for the most part in the United States?

MS: Yes.

MB: And your mother, when she was young, aspired to be a sculptor?

MS: Yes.

MB: I’ve heard that when she was a young sculptor in New York City, she was the model for one of the angels—the one on the right as you stand below—that appeared in the pediment of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

MS: Yes.

MB: Is it a good likeness?

MS: Yes.

MB: Your mother’s sculpture was, by way of your own admission, rather on the academic side and somewhat sentimental.

MS: I’m afraid so.

MB: Did your father draw or paint?

MS: He drew.

MB: What were his drawings like?

MS: Cartoons.

MB: Do you feel you have been influenced by the art your parents made?

MS: No.

MB: Well, then, let’s talk a bit about your experience at the Yale School of Architecture and Design. You studied with Bernard Chaet and Josef Albers, and some of your student work is included in Chaet’s The Art of Drawing and in Albers’s The Interaction of Color.

MS: Yes.

MB: That must have pleased you.

MS: Yes.

MB: Your most recent collages indicate that you learned something about color from Albers, although it is hard to say just what. Perhaps it was more a case of his sensitizing you to the possibilities of color rather than your color performing in ways that his does. That is, his work demonstrates the relative instability of color, how it can be made to appear chromatically different than it actually is. Color change or what he called “optical mixture” is enacted again and again in his Homage to the Square prints and paintings. Greens become grays, reds become browns, squares lose their rigidity and become, as their edges soften, the source of unexpected radiance. The wonderful thing about Albers is that he shows how color, even against a fixed and frontal geometric format, is able to assert with sustained energy a poetic identity.

MS: I agree.

MB: But your color is not active in the same way. For one thing, it is not engaged in a struggle with shape for pictorial dominance. Shape and color in your own collages seem dedicated to establishing images of unexpected concord and, in some cases, of elegance. It could be said that though your work shows a sensitivity to color, it has very little to do with the work of Albers.

MS: Probably so.

MB: Moreover, your collages have little or nothing to do with the collages of Kurt Schwitters, most of which are heavily indebted to analytical cubism, especially to its crowded surfaces, and they have nothing to do with the political and often grotesque collages of Raoul Hausmann or Hannah Höch; I would say, rather, that yours are more influenced by the studied playfulness of Paul Klee or even more by the early paintings of Willem de Kooning. They even have the look of paintings more often than they do of collage. This may be because you do not go out and find paper or cloth or old bus tickets or magazine illustrations, giving them new life as constituents of a new order. Instead, you make your own paper, working with Sue Gosin at Dieu Donné, at least that is what I have heard. Is this true?

MS: Yes.

MB: This means that you exercise greater control over the outcome of your collages?

MS: I guess so.

MB: What I mean to say is that making your paper limits the pool from which you make the selection of what you will use. The relative weight of the paper, its degrees of transparency as well as its color are controlled by you, but just how all of that is put to use is where your concerns overlap with those of other collagists.

MS: Yes.

MB: I imagine you give a great deal of thought to how you tear or cut the paper. On the other hand, I have the sense that you are equally dependent on accident, that is, the chance juxtaposition of two pieces of paper that could set the tone, direction, or character of where the collage is headed.

MS: Yes.

MB: I have forgotten to ask you about your poetry and its relation to these recent collages. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?

MS: No.

MB: Well, then our interview is concluded. Thank you, Mr. Strand.  end