Was there any nihilistic impetus behind this?
CHUCK CLOSE: Ad Reinhardt was to me the most important figure. He had more influence on me than anybody. He made the choice not to do something a positive decision. He would make these lists about what you can't do and that seems very nihilistic and negative. On the other hand, that became a set of limitations that opened things up. You ended up freed to be intuitive by a rigorous system. It's not the straight-line type of development, though. The problem with art history is its 'Old Testament' version of things -- so-and-so begat so-and-so, and so forth. It's as if you got on the train and got off on the other end. ...
CHRISTOPHER WOOL: [...] In a way, Reinhardt was a lot like Warhol. You never quite knew when he was being ironic. I think it's different from this reductive aestheticism. I define myself in my work by reducing the things I don't want -- it seems impossible to know when to say 'yes,' but I know what I can say 'no' to.
...You take color out, you take gesture out -- and then later you can put them back in. But it's easier to define things by what they're not than by what they are, which is what Reinhardt was doing, and what Warhol did so incredibly well on so many levels -- and then of course pretended that he wasn't. [...]
CC: One of the most liberating things is how often painting is declared dead. It's a very bizarre thing to be doing at this point in history. I've been around long enough for painting to be declared dead and resurrected five or six times. Whenever painting is declared dead is a great time to make paintings.
CW: I wish someone would declare it dead this week. [Laughs] It always seems to have the most possibilities when people are saying that. ...Accepting the limitations sets up the boundaries -- some simple, basic ways in which you know it's painting and not something else. It makes it easier.
But you never questioned the premise of becoming a painter?
CW: No. The parameters of painting are not any more limiting than other art activities -- they are actually much more to the point. All that crap about painting being 'complicit' or whatever is ridiculous, because all the other media that are supposedly non-complicit ultimately embody the same problematics. You accept the limitations as givens and then go on. [...]
CC: It is very different for younger artists now, because they are choosing painting as an option over all the other forms, like installation. When I was a student being an artist meant being a painter.
CW: That's not completely true, because many artists of your generation were the first to do nonpainting, nonsculptural things. I certainly grew up aware of that generation. At any time we could have easily chosen another course.
Excerpts from a 1996 discussion between Chuck Close, Philip Taaffe, Sue Williams, and Christopher Wool, as moderated by Allan Schwartzman. [ Source ]