An interview with Gene Gould

Art-In-Time Gallery

The Art-In-Time hourglass


  Gene Gould painting

How do you define your style of painting? Do you consider yourself as belonging to any particular school of art?

I try to make paintings that express my feelings about the world in the most direct way, using whatever technique I feel would allow me to do that. If I had to put myself in a class about art, I would probably put myself in the class of the cavemen painters of long, long ago, who simply made paintings to express their feelings about the natural world. I think that people have always painted, maybe even before people could talk, people made pictures about their lives.

Schools of art seem to me to be a marketing technique, a way to make particular painters seem "established" or "approved". Most painters paint in a variety of styles and those paintings that don't fit their accepted style are not shown-not until later.

What do you think of artists who use photographs and other aids to do their paintings?

Well, I think that any technique that you want to use, or need to use, you should use. Van Gogh is a very good example of someone using whatever he could use to achieve his aim, which was to make good, honest paintings. He measured, he copied other people’s paintings, he did everything he could do to improve his own technique. I think that if he had had a camera, he probably would have used it in some way. But there must be a point at which you abandon these practices and simply work from your own experience and your own draftmanship. If you copy a photograph, you end up with a very static and very dull painting. I believe, as many people believe, that Vermeer used the camera obscura to make his paintings. Most of his paintings are in the same corner of a room and all of them can be pretty much laid on top of each other. They are identical in the proportions of the room, but what he added to the painting was the human part of art that simply does not come through in a photograph. A lot of people who use photographs in creating their works end up with a colored photograph instead of the marvelous art that Vermeer was able to produce.

Who are your role models in art?

One of them is Van Gogh because he worked so hard and tried anything that he could do to achieve his goal, which was to make good, solid, honest paintings. I don’t know as much about other artist's lives, so I don’t think of them as role models as much as good painters.

We are fortunate to live in a time when great works of art are displayed in our local museums and books are available, filled with thousands of paintings and sculptures.  My favorite period is the 15th century, when painting was breaking out of the dark ages and becoming available to common people.  Painters were learning to paint people as they actually looked rather than as stylized icons.   People started looking real, which was shocking at the time.  And now, although the people in the paintings are all dead, including the painters who painted them, they are all still here... their spirit captured by the very human act of finding beauty in them. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have examples of the art that was made in the ancient days, except for some of the roman frescos and some of the paintings from Egypt, Greece and Rome, but some of these paintings are very modern-not Modern in the 20th century sense-but modern in the sense that they are very much like the faces we see in renaissance paintings and on our friends and neighbors. No matter what is said about Cubism and other Modern techniques, that way of "seeing" is not the way we see.  It is a way to depict in paint a very limited idea about seeing. Getting back to role models, I know more about Van Gogh's life and methods than I know about anyone else's because of his letters. His refusal to adopt other people’s mannerisms and his willingness to try anything that would help him achieve his goals in painting make him stand out in my mind as a person that was honestly trying to make his own brand of good paintings. I recently discovered that he used a grid to help him with perspective -the marks showed up on one of his canvases under X-ray examination. When I looked at this painting, I couldn't see why he would need such an aid -since the painting was filled with leaves and grass and had no structures of any kind in it. But I assume he used it on other paintings as well at that time. It made him a little more human to me. I could see a person struggling to create beauty using any and all tools available to him. As you can see on the Art in Time site, I have copied one of his paintings and although it is not an exact copy, it is pretty much done stroke for stroke as the original. I have also made a copy of a Rembrandt and a Titian, which can be seen on the web site

I must ask, do or did you use photography or grids in your art?

I have taken snapshots of a painting in progress and put it into the paint program on my computer. In a case where I am uncertain about changing the color of something, I can try it out on the monitor to see what effect it would have. Actually, I have had little success with what I thought would be a very helpful use of the computer. I do my best when I allow myself to simply paint whatever I feel like painting.

Did you receive any formal training in art? How did you develop your artistic skills?

I did take a drawing class at the University of Michigan when I was in the architecture school, and a year or so later, I attended the Chouinard Art Institute for one semester. After the end of that semester, I decided that I really did not need to go to art school, because I received very little instruction in art from my teachers. Mostly, they watched us paint and draw, and I felt I could do that without their presence.

Gene Gould painting

So, how did you subsequently develop your skills?

Mostly through drawing and painting whatever was in front of me or whatever I could dream up. Also: books! Libraries are full of books, on any topic that you want to know about. Going to school, the first thing that a teacher will do is assign you a book, and perhaps have you read the book and then find out whether you read the book. You don’t really need a teacher to do those things. You can get the book yourself, read the book, and learn what you can learn from it. A teacher is superfluous to that situation. And so, I simply drew and painted, and developed my own styles and methods according to the way I felt about what I wanted to paint. Now, we have the internet and everything is available right at home.

I was told of your intentions to spend more and more of your time making paintings and sculptures. What are your goals now?

My goal is the same as it has always been.  It is to make good, honest paintings, learn to see better, and put down my feelings about situations and subjects.  Now I am devoting my full time to art once again.  It seems that, unless you spend your whole time painting, you can't just drop in from time to time and make good paintings.

Much of your artistic production occurred in the years 59-64. Why did you stop then?

Personal events in my life at that time, including the beginning of a family, simply interrupted my ability to spend my full time making paintings and drawings. So, I devoted my time to my developing family, making the occasional painting or drawing with the hope of picking it up again later.

How do you relate your life as a scientist to your life as an artist?

At that time, I also went back to school and continued on with my education and my interest in science, ending up with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. I feel that art and science are not antagonistic, as some people believe. Each of these occupations, however, demand almost total dedication if they are to be served well, so there are very few practitioners of both. Leonardo Da Vinci comes to mind, and Louis Pasteur.

What do you think is the role of classical art forms in this computer art world?

I think that computer art should be equated with computer music. It can be done, but it is not very human and not very listenable. I see no advantage to using a computer to produce two-dimensional art. There is perhaps a value in using computer to develop 3-dimensional art. That is something we should keep an eye on, to see what people are able to do in the future using virtual reality programs.

Old Brushes

Are there tricks that you use for creativity?

I would not call them tricks, but I know that there are certain things that can inhibit your creativity. There are things that you should not do if you want to be creative. You should surround yourself with situations that are invigorating, interesting, and positive rather than negative and energy absorbing. Mainly, what you have to do is look at people and objects and think about them in real terms, look at them as if you were seeing them for the first time, and realize what is really there in front of you, and come to terms with your ability to take this information and put it into a painting, or into an art form of some sort.

You have used both oil and acrylic paint at various times in your life. Can you elaborate on that?

I used acrylic paint for a period of time because I did a lot of paintings that were outside of the studio, and acrylics are very good for that because they dry quickly, so transporting them around is less messy. You end up with oil paint all over the inside of your car if you use oil paint. I was also very interested in the fact that you can easily correct and change your painting within a few minutes. However, I find that the way oils feel when you paint with them, and the way they look after you finish painting, is much more satisfying than acrylics. Oils are more demanding, and it is much easier to get your colors muddy and dirty. Once those concerns are under control, oils seem more likely to give me the results I want.


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Photographs: Copyright 2001 M. Sawadogo/G. Gould. All rights reserved.