It was always my intention with my drawings, or more specifically the rubbings, to tie together some of the various themes of my paintings, to give some cohesion to their connections, which, to the casual observer, would otherwise remain forever fragmented and vague, if not totally opaque.
That series of frottage which I began in the Sixties (and which continues) called THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM with a geographic subtitle at once links what I consider my own major involvement in painting—the series of oils called just THE AMERICAN DREAM with a numeral designation beginning with the FIRST which was my first major canvas sold in a New York gallery and acquired directly by the Museum of Modern Art, the personal choice of Alfred Barr. Needless to say this was a very auspicious occasion for me and spurred me to expand it into a series of paintings that still goes on.
GREAT, more than just a means to distinguish paintings from drawings, refers to a particular image from my own rural background and that of the literary history of Indiana. I was born in New Castle, Indiana, which for some reason unknown the Hoosier author Ross Lockridge, Jr. took for the locale of his only published novel, “Raintree County”.* This was Henry County disguised and his Freehaven was my New Castle. There is in his book a chapter “A White Bull”, which I do not recall in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (transplanted to a more southern locale for obviously cinematic, romantic motives) that describes a certain Mrs. Evelina Brown who is wont to climb to the top of the tower of her Victorian house to watch the operation of a nearby stud farm. When I found in my second studio on Coenties Slip a 19th century brass stencil of a robust bull it recalled this bucolic and some of my own childhood fantasies on an Indiana farm and became the centerpiece of these drawings, extended into a series celebrating not just the geography of the Midwest, i.e. my own TERRE HAUTE and NEW CASTLE paintings, but that of the whole United States: others are San Francisco, Santa Fe, Freehold, etc. This is naturally an open-ended series due to my own abiding fascination with American place names.
Thus THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM ties together the found object aspect of my early work started in the late Fifties (see the Whitney’s wooden construction MATE)—via the “found” stencil, my DREAM paintings, the geography series and now the AUTOPORTRAITS. As I once had my own calf in childhood and similar fantasies, I now have Lockridge’s (and Hopper’s) Victorian house with a tower overlooking the town of Vinalhaven and the Maine variation on the stud operation. It is meant as a hymn to American fertility, both of the natural sort and the artistic.
* Raintree County, Ross Lockridge, Jr., Houghton Mifflin Company (The Riverside Press Cambridge), Boston 1948