Born: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Harvey Breverman is a Living Legacy Artist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Harvey Breverman is an influential educator and an internationally recognized master printer who works in several media. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he was hired to teach at the University at Buffalo in 1961 and given the charge to reinvigorate the drawing program. According to Breverman, he “did just that and, likewise, created a significant printmaking program.” Promoted to full professor in 1969, Breverman later received the rank of State University of New York Distinguished Professor of Art in 1999. In 2003 he received the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from the College Art Association.
In an artist’s statement, Breverman describes the human drama as a primary source for his paintings, drawings, and printmaking—that drama “particularized by the figure in all its frailty and grandeur.” He continues, “A surround of fragments, connected or disparate, have found their way into my imagery. It serves as a compelling and complex vehicle not only for identity, disguise, and deception but as a conveyor of associations and private mythologies.”
Breverman has had more than eighty-five solo exhibitions. He has shown his work in New York, Honolulu, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Oslo, Paris, Bologna, Moscow, Basel, Barcelona, Krakow, Belgrade, Rome, Milan, Vienna, Tokyo, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro, among other cities. His art is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney, the Jewish Museum, the Library of Congress, the British Museum, and the Israel Museum. He received grants and awards from the Tiffany Foundation in 1962, the Netherlands Government in 1965, the New York State Council on the Arts (CAPS) in 1972, the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974 and 1980, and the American Academy/National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980 and 1981. He represented the U.S. in International Print Biennales in England, Norway, Spain, Taiwan, China, Japan, Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, Egypt, Thailand, and Turkey.
Breverman has taught and been a visiting artist at Ohio University, Illinois State, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Skidmore, Maryland Institute, William and Mary, and at universities in England, France, and Poland.
The artist notes, “Although [I] retired from formal teaching in 2005, my artistic enterprise continues to be based in Western New York.” He has a long history of exhibiting in Buffalo, including solo shows at the James Goodman Gallery in 1964, Albright-Knox Art Gallery (1967 and 1989), and the Nina Freudenheim Gallery (1977 and 1994). The Albright-Knox’s first two In Western New York invitationals (1977 and 1981) also included his work. A major exhibition of Breverman’s paintings and drawings from the 1980s and a comprehensive survey of his prints from the past forty years were presented in both the UB Art Gallery and UB Anderson Gallery in 2004.
There are currently 30 works by Breverman, including drawings, prints, and paintings, in the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s collection. In 2009, the artist started donating an archival collection of papers, correspondence, exhibition catalogs and other materials pertaining to his art and career to the museum.
Transcript of the Living Legacy Project interview with Harvey Breverman, Heather Gring, & Tullis Johnson.
Transcription was completed by carmen ml brown.
P a r t 1
Harvey Breverman – As soon as I finished my MFA I was hired and then I said what about me, how did I grow up. What about my background, what about my thoughts and feelings, how do I respond to the world around me, what about my own limited experience. So some way I could accommodate those things and utilize them. And then I found there was an awful amount of rich heritage growing in up in a desperately poor ghetto, little like parts of Detroit. But everybody played together, there seemed to be racial equality and a lot of interesting people went on to do fascinating things. At any rate, in '65 I got a fellowship from the Dutch government to be a painter in the residence at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, so I took a leave. This is one of the works that I have and here’s my Dutchman friend that I posed and I gave him a phylacteries bag and he said, “wat doe je? [Dutch] what are doing?” I bought these thinking I might wear suspenders for the first time, never wore them, I don’t know where they are so I draped it over his shoulders, it’s the same guy and then shortened again in front of an escutcheon over a doorway which was typical, there’s one at the Rembrandt House. there’s one on Cleveland Avenue that the honorary Dutch Consul Doctor Francis Avisertofe and his wife a painter, Martha, lived in and they came over the year we were there which was interesting and got us to go to the opening of Parliament, and so this early and no entry sign above would normally be red and white. So I was slashing around and finding a way to work and people like Hyman Bloom I met, Jack Levine I was with on a couple of occasions; died in his late nineties, and old master paintings intrigued me. And rather than go to Italy as my colleague were doing, I said no, the Dutch 17th-century painters like [Frans] Hals, Rembrandt, [Johannes] Vermeer, [Gerard] ter Borch, the miner people interested me a great deal, so everything was so… Friday I had to keep the studio open in the afternoon for others at the academy to go through and on weekends they closed, sadly. So I was with my drawing materials and with ink and wash, I had already been through a lot of the Rembrandt archives at the Rijksmuseum. Ah, but in particular drawings, they washed things down with quills and reed pens, and so I said I was Rembrandt out on the streets.
Holland was largely the same, it had not changed then, there were no railings to prevent cars from going in the canals. [Debbie in the background saying: They really hadn't recovered from the second World War.] No affluence at all. Men went out and they wore a tie otherwise they’d be embarrassed into believ- feeling that they were of a lower class. You went to the laundry with your suitcase to wash your clothes so somebody would think that you were socially at an upper level. So we learned to do the same thing. It was a great year, it was. Anyway oh and they were in front of a typical half-opened door warehouse, the warehouses were just great. Now their boutiques, restaurants, cafes. Holland was quiet, so this is the size and the scale I was working on then. My drawings reflected it and I went upstairs into the lab and I said I would like a couple of trays and some acid, I was there as a painter and I did four etchings while I was there and worked for the print shop to have the editions printed. Anyway, that and the drawing are there. You’ll notice that there is work by people whose point of view and stance is different than mine in many cases and that’s ok. I guess I can get excited about San Francis and Ben Nicholson…
Heather Gring – Oh absolutely
Breverman – As much as my own stuff.
HG – Yeah that’s fantastic.
Breverman – Everything has become... Oh, that’s a working study that intrigues me a lot. Things that collectors most of them were not intrigued by with all the notations, and the Motherwell part of the series in honor of Wittenborn, the bookstore owner in New York. So there is one series just assuming ink drawings… Oh, and you know what, I do know where everything is. At the bottom in small words… so I just keep quiet about most of this stuff. So here is how drawings are framed, and if I have the plex plastic I will still adhere it temporarily with this over and foam line corners. These are all new there is a whole contemplating and articulating, Venice, Jerusalem, Paris series. They grow from drawings I’ve done on site and if we stay a little Pensiones somewhere, a Pensione in Paris or Venice or some other small village. I look for something with a big window or two and if there’s a balcony usually its some third floor, fifth-floor thing tucked away that most people don’t want. But for us, my God! I got a view of the rooftops of Paris, that’s covered over the Sutherland because of the light and that’s why the shirts are there. Yeah.
HG – It’s very resourceful.
Breverman – So let's go in and we’ll go in and look at one big… and you can see that there’s so much stuff I need to get to constantly. Anyway, this room we added on. Its catalogs, its books, it’s all kinds of things. This we added. The painting from the back which was… I was doing figures from the side, seated, moving around and you can see the method of painting became different, this is the early eighties very late seventies and that’s early eighties as well so they’re concurrent with one another but this is typical and a composite of background from some architectural structures in France and the incredible deck chair, over and over and over again. So uh there were some photos, routinely at the university, we are asked to… Debbie and I get seats, reserved seats uh maybe in the second to third row on an aisle so I draw visiting people, so I did Rudy Giuliani and he’s signing the drawing. We go to the reception first, the same for uh- Babble which was really nice and Bill Bradley the basketball player and senator… you’ll see something that’s similar to this of Ellie Wisou and another work, Amy Tan.
So this is the title Mélange was given to me when Michelle Sare, member of the French Academy, taught at UB as a visiting Millodia Jones Professor. The drawing was done in the studio from him, he came over, and my mother-in-law was here at the time so they had a good time together. But he came over and he sat for me, which was completely prearranged by someone else, I wouldn’t have dared to ask. Then I started going to his lectures and with only very rudimentary knowledge of a few words in French to get by. I drew at the lectures as well but there is a litho related to that as well so often I’ll recycle something in another medium in another way, but it was at Ray Federman’s house… much of this was done and- O’Hibernou Feeler, a much younger [Robert] Creeley and the overlapping intrigued me. This is Rene Girard who is still alive. Robert Duncan a groundbreaking poet who I much admired who would come here many times. He had me draw him I think at 7:30 in the morning but he was also a little bit worried about taking his spirit away from him. So didn’t do a litho but I did an ink wash drawing so that’s what I would do a 22x30 drawing and there are about thirty of those, tough because of the ink splashing so I did him… We’ve got to know Tom Wolf of all crazy things along the way through a friend and John Barth. But I also started to include I think early on not only the geometric stuff but also mathematical formulas that I knew virtually nothing about…
Tullis Johnson– There are about thirty of the ink wash drawings, the drawing you do of these different individuals when their either speaking or sitting…
Breverman – Oh no those are done here or at their office or in their home. I did Mac Hammond who died recently while he was in a…
TJ – Have those ever been shown…
Breverman – Once at Nino Froid and Heims along with the triptych. One was sold surprisingly to the National Portrait Gallery. I didn’t want anything to be sold but somehow and the one they wanted, they wanted somebody famous so was Dwight McDonald, a literary critic who helped… I think he coined the term fortune for Fortune Magazine and he came here several times. My early drawings had turned into a litho, there was the big ink wash drawing of him down in a dormitory on the main street campus where they put him up while he was here as a visiting critic for a couple of months. And he went to sleep, oh he said “I’ve gotta take a break” and he took a nap and I’m on the floor with a pad, the ink wash, and the little receptacles are there and I sat there with my legs crossed because they had gotten numb at that point and I was daydreaming, he was humming to himself.
So there are some weird things and I did fall off when I’ve drawn here in the studio it’s been on a little stool not even a stool it’s a wooden cube with a top on it and then I have a little cushion I put on that, so I’m down low and then people, of course, are a little nervous, "how should I sit what should I do," I say daydream, read, I don’t have music but I think I turned the radio on a couple times. And they daydream, Creely, on the other hand, I did early on in the early seventies when I started down on Linwood Avenue and he still had the Patch on his eye and he took it off, gaunt guy and he kept asking me very probing questions so rather than just move around like mad, spontaneously involved with my work I had to really answer his questions with some degree of intelligence, it wasn’t easy, but he’s always been like that. If there is a lecture in poetry somewhere else he’ll say “come sit with me, tell me what you’ve been doing”. He and Fedderman always asked questions like that… Ray was out playing tennis and I wanted something up there looking out and I called his wife, Erica, she said he’ll be right over, so he came over and of course a cigarette’s nice, you can see everybody smoked. Feeler didn’t really… he lit them but I don’t think he did much smoking but it was a motif it was part of his signature. So there was this on sight thing and there was a lot of pressure that I put on myself that no one’s aware of, but while I was drawing John, JM Coetzee, the novelist from South Africa who’s now in Australia. I fell off the chair the inks flew spattered on him… what do you say when someone you’re with for the first time? We all- I think we laughed, but he was very shy. I did two of John Barth one in the morning and one in the afternoon… so that’s a little bit of the story, there’s a sequel to this upstairs same format that’ll have to frame. But this is all new this business of doing them in my sketchbooks. So I, I track them at the receptions I’ll be walking around chasing Schwarzenegger. Tough guy, Schwarzenegger…
HG – Did you do one of Neil De Grasse Tyson when he was here a few years ago?
Breverman – Yes I did, the black chap, oh I think he took off his shoes when he was on the stage, yes he rolled up his sleeves... Yeah, he’s in my sketchbook I think I’ve got about four pages of him, wonderful man…
HG – Yeah he’s an incredible person.
Breverman – Does he head up a natural history museum or something in New York?
HG – He’s the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
Breverman – That’s it, in New York, I think in the upper west side so anyway… oh, there’s Duncan that’s the guy with the sideburns over here. So ended up making this composite what oh Michele Sare came to Federman's one afternoon and he said” why don’t we bring this over” it wasn’t framed or matted he said Michele Sare’s gonna be there and a few friends all whom you know but when he saw the… oh, the pencil was not in, oh the pencil was in, he said "yellow is the sign for intelligence" or something like that so… but the pencil was nice it gave me a little marker of sorts and there’s the same director’s chair, but at meetings that dealt with nothing to do with tenure promotion that you couldn’t stop, but I would sometimes sit in a larger meeting behind people or off to the side while I was sketching… there was one instance when Creely said: "Ginsburg’s coming he’ll be with my class, can you come to that?" Well, I did, they created a circle and I sat in the middle of the circle and they dialogue right passed me. It was a weird set up and of course, here I am drawing and drawing and drawing, and I had a great view of everything. They ignored me which was wonderful and I just, I just continued working.
HG – How funny to be in the center of everything and be so anonymous.
Breverman – I do have a Ginsburg drawing the one he gave me, its hidden away somewhere… Oh, here’s the drawing of Duncan! This is the drawing of Duncan, the ink wash 22x30, I didn’t know who had it but Berthoff bought it… so it’s a little hand, the face is different and that was done in Bill Sylvester’s house in the mid-city. Figure you’re in some else’s house you’re sitting with this strange stuff around you and you work, you do what you have to do. You know you can’t turn back so again late 70s and that’s typical of work done through the seventies and eighties. UB’s show concentrated mainly in the main apart from prince which provided a survey early up the moment of work from the eighties selected works from 1980 to '04 and there was more than enough so this was in the show… Oh, this is one of the discontinuous sequence series paintings. Jerry O’Grady who headed up media studies started the whole thing asked me at one point and that’s on that mailer who got from the Fore Gallery in New York.
Ed Emshwiller's coming, Jones Michus is coming from the anthology film archives around Meriam Faller’s husband… all sorts of fascinating filmmakers were here, experimental people like… and I started to see those just as the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down included a whole pile of units across fragments taken from so many sources, little drawings, sketches I had made. Churchill and I think Roosevelt at the Alta Conference so these were about 72x60, and I haven’t looked at the phots in quite a while. I try not have too many personal things on it… Is this ok? This is the room that we had built that was nice and open… and oh more drawings this is from the show at UB, these are all brand new this is more of the contemplating things 30x44s and there covered over. Codex Literati that series goes on and on... Articulating Vas, there are conti, pastel, principally monochromatic in contemplating Jerusalem. So, uh, I got that out of the way from the studio, and now there they are. I’ve never done this…
HG – Really? Thank you so much.
Breverman – No, no, I’ve avoided it. Let's see, oh! I will show you something because it's in one of my...
P a r t 2
Breverman – From the Stone Moon series, I got that in trade with a friend named Ed Witkowski, who had a bookstore poetry shop in the basement next to Militello’s across from UB’s main… I don’t know if Militello’s is there, a little clothing… Oh, it’s a story that carries small things… so that’s the one I got. And that is, that’s a work on paper a lot I got in trade were my own things which was really nice. A full stone litho right, to the edges. That too is part of the Stone Moon series and the launch series, in fact, that has astronauts- Oh! the early astronauts were two who died, I think it just didn’t lift off so they were killed immediately. Shall we go up…?
HG – Yes everything’s wonderful…
Breverman – Oh before we go up, I know what we’ll do. We’ll look at those quickly if that’s ok?- Go down and see two, very recent, two of three about six feet high four or five six feet high montages that I’ve done, poets and writers that I didn’t anticipate that are adhered to a black paper that I sprayed… but it deals with this kind of fragmentation… Debbie got this plant in the mail from her sister for her birthday, we still have it I’ll show you I just wanted it… its direct light so we should be ok. So this thing has recurred again and again bifurcating the whole imagery and then I not only have been looking all along at ancient Hebrew manuscripts, Masoretic texts they’re called… and I started looking at Islamic Architectural motifs, decorative elements and so on. I had this little thing upstairs that the cellist from the Budapest String Quartet gave us. It’s a clamp that fits over a bull’s testicles during a bullfight to make the bull…
HG – Angry?
Breverman – Jump! Jump and go all over the place causing the whole bullfighting activity in terms of what the Matador did… that’s this thing it's hanging so I use it a lot… there’s Fedderman again a marvelous face. These are two very recent ones, Codex Literati. I’ve drawn Carlos Fuentes, former ambassador to the US from Mexico, died recently. Once at Daemon and once at UB and then, uh, Debbie the playwright downtown… anyway, this is Tony Rosenthal a sculptor, of some note, who was a good friend of… uh, god remember we saw him [Debbie in the background saying ‘yeah’ in response.] we grew up him… it wasn’t a reading it was a dialogue with some of the administrative staff of literary groups in Buffalo and they said: “do you want to come along and draw?” So I think I sat in the first row, no obstruction and drew. Oh god anyway, he’s getting very old now. Oh, that’s terrible… Oh! he had a cold, Debbie threw him a cough drop from the audience…
HG – (laughter)
Breverman – he grabbed it, “thanks” and afterward I said to him I’m a good friend of Tony Rosenthal’s, he’s written the introductions to some of the catalogs… oh, in New York City downtown there’s a gigantic cube sitting on a stand, it does revolve, it’s at the police headquarters and it’s not a lot. He also did the Holocaust Memorial here that was out and when the Jewish center re-did a structure, some of the sizes of the areas they weren’t utilizing the overhead was too high... They commissioned him so the pieces disappeared. Susan Howe, now like this with Fuentes and Omasa’s, he’s holding an ancient scepter, why I don’t know, I thought it would be crazy and I have his initials here and I kind of decided I’d go over it. I was able to do this some transfer methods with some trichloroethane, get some things and not get others, but I’m just going to do this… but there he is again from the same sketchbook at another time so this double thing now is sixty and I’ve put archival tape across and the frames are made I just have to put all that together, and buy the plex. This is typical of two them fitting together, I don’t know which two and take the cross with this stuff, there’s Fedderman again and another poet… But a lot of course of ancient Hebrew characters this is from Spain begin the form of four, five centuries old you couldn’t use the human form but you could use animals so this is a Hebrew character. This is a different one, here’s one here and I found it so intriguing going through all these old texts or manuscripts and so on. So this is part of a double one and makes a form like this and they're all ready to be put in frames and the same Ginsburg is there over there again. So this is new and little symbolic things and architectural elements… but that whole series really grew out of this. Debbie that other plant you brought home one day and I said we’ve got to use that.
HG – Is it a bamboo?
Breverman – Yeah. There’s Duncan again you see what I did with one of the sculpture students, one of the TA’s was doing death masks of himself and of others, so I traded him for one of these and I put a little hook in it and I decided I’m going to use it. You can see what I did through here with the mouth and I had it here again essentially the same. There are some weird things, antiquities, catalogs, and ancient bronze vessels, something from an old palace, Palacio in Spain. Now we usually travel by bus or train, we’ve never taken a tour, we’d go on our own and just stop and meet interesting people and sit down and start drawing in the middle of it all and eat. You have these two this is the Jim Dine business ready to be framed and a map will come around here… Oh, that playwright cracks me up, Debbie.
HG – Tullis is trying to look it up. Do remember any of the plays he wrote?
Breverman – Oh god. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" Big name, and when we say it it’s going to be so obvious. We go upstairs… I keep a log it’s… my father worked in a shoe store. I bump into people in the restroom and that’s actually where it happened, “Oh you’re a friend of Tony Rosenthal’s and I saw you drawing”.
TJ – Edward Albee.
Breverman – Edward Albee! oh, it was frustrating like hell… Oh, here’s Andy Pascovich this is upstairs twenty-two thirty drawings and I have this little symbol again that appears here. A lot of times I’ll roll out the roller just to get the ink off it onto to a sheet of paper with all kinds of junk apart from things like this so I saved a lot of it and I took some old initials took them up glued them down, so they're two30x22s butted together and tapped and I got in some stuff but its principally monochromatic.
TJ – So that’s a…
Breverman – A thinner ending, much thinner at the beginning from when he first came and Mélange again another one, but a horizontal this is about 70 inches long. I’m in it, Bruce Jackson and his camera, Diane. You’ll see a little sketch that had been pinned up. Susan Howe, after I drew her some reading said: "Gee, Michael Palmer from California is coming and poor Michael Palmer, why don’t you come to my seminar?" So I sat in a great spot I could see them from the side, my back was to the window and so in effect… Fedderman, you know Fedderman, not knowing a lot about cameras it’s tricky drawing them.
This is to the Glasgow Station, the title based on the T.S Eliot book, poem. Toshiko Mori the architect who did the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, Joyce Calottes. Alice Walker, The Color Purple, she was very nice, and some other poets. Joanna Brooker, who’s a book artist and poet who I think left for Virginia, Charlottesville or California. But I did draw the… Whistler Study Center invited us to come there for a few weeks to spend time looking at whistlers of all kinds the gloves turning over the backs, the little notations, the furniture they had given him, the easel, tableware that he had designed for himself, it was manufactured, all kinds of personal stuff and we got to know the ranking whistler scholar that’s how it happened, Margret McDonald who was here in Buffalo because it’s a whistler in the background. Little sketch down in Ajaccio near Corsica that I got back by accident in New York, dealer, print dealers … associate of American artists, the director said, the President Sylvan said: “I don’t know how much this is gonna be, just take it home.” I was looking for a litho tint and then I saw this and I said “my god there’s this little sketch” and it was exhibited at the Albright in I think 1902 and they have the catalog and an extra one they gave me, its owned by somebody in the Rhode Island. Anyway, that’s the story of Glasgow. These train stations intrigued me so we did get to our destination each time but I did this drawing and I think there are a few others. Glasgow as they say, it’s hard to understand there English… I think that’s this group, that’s this group. We’ll go down, do you want to go down to the basement for a few minutes?
HG – Yeah.
Breverman – Nobody’s ever been there
TJ – I’ve been up there
Breverman – Oh you were?
TJ – Yeah I think I helped you move some work
Breverman – Oh, you must have.
TJ – It was around the time I graduated.
Breverman – Oh, here’s another series of drawings! This group is 39x27, Biff made- I just picked this up yesterday, this series- They're large, as are these. Down on dark grey paper, down on Murillo not black, and you can see the same motif again but with variation. And I said: “Biff can we make them larger” and he did this with a whole series.
Another one with Warsaw burning. The Second World War and the Holocaust ended up being something I remembered indirectly, you know, growing up in the '30s and early '40s as a kid. And then the Holocaust, and losing some relatives was uh, not immediate family, obviously- Other than an Aunt and her family- And we've been to Poland, we've talked to lots of people and I have this device…
HG – Now what’s that?
Breverman – An artificial arm that was given to me, which is really interesting, and so I use it again and again and you’ll see it with Philip Roth and of course I have this jacket and my clothing and I don't try to dress myself up and when it’s cold I’ll wear a scarf and I try to work when there’s no heat, I don’t keep the furnace on often, so that I can put the garb on and look in the mirror and make some adjustments. So, there is a series of maybe eight or ten works that are part of this. Done with Conti oil bar, livestock markers some of this stuff. Crazy group. and there’s several more that are part of that. So, this has been going since I think the late '80s. Let’s leave that here, let’s go down…
P a r t 3
Breverman – Now here’s one, this is what I just finished, again a crazy composite. Junk from the print room that I saved never anticipating… So, Leslie Feeler and Harvey Katye, the view outside a tiny café in an area in Paris where Boletus lived, cobblestone. I remember I was having maybe some pancakes and I said: “Oh Debbie we’re gonna sit and draw.” So, I sat and drew, and people ignore you for the most part and are initials. I corresponded with him quite a bit, so I have a lot of postcards from Harvey Katye’s work I admired and the letters from Feeler as well. I decided then to do this, it’s ah… oil stick livestock marker on black Murillo. Something having to do with tarizean or terasion style of statistics of how many people lost their lives to famine, disease and being shipped off to Auschwitz and so on. But all of these weird things… Got a little more oil stick here.
This is looking to a book of objects in Museums in Prague, where we were, and there was, I think, a 19th-century circumcision knife for preform-(laughs) and I said: “Oh my God!” So, I made this sketch from, I think- I made this sketch and then I decided to incorporate, this is all oil stick and oil bar, and then I included this, by hand, and the word briz, B-R-I-Z is from the American word of circumcision, or the ceremony having to do with that. I added some little things down here and did some rollouts, I ran back to school and did a couple things and this on the back is etching depicting Michael Moore. So, there is that, this one I’ll have to put the spotlight… I did three like this one is upstairs, and these were over there, and I’ll have to pull them out. I went to Hyatt’s with a couple of horses and a door, a hollow door I found on the street earlier and set up next to the store and I brought the 4x8 boards out because they don’t fit in my wagon. So, there’s Phillip Roth, oh I’ll bring Phillip Roth right over to Feeler. Let me do that, I just thought of it. Yea, there’s absolutely no light there.
At Harvey Katye’s opening in New York, I made several sketches of Kurt Vonnegut, Lee Freelander the photographer. Jim Don, I think, had a falling out with Katye. There was a show at the Tate, the LA County Museum and then came to the MET and we were inviting to the opening. Katye was dwarfed by all these “big guns.” Anyway, Roth was there so I drew, I just stood there and drew while others were photographing and he’s from Newark. I just brought a couple, I had one book, then I bought a couple more and started reading about and then I knew that all kinds of people had been born in Newark in the city itself. It’s actually based on a drawing I did in Venice, a fragment from part of a window from a shutter thing that opened up, and phylacteries on my hand. Yeah, this was one sheet from a monotype that I had. Anyway, I decided that I’d use that, I think I cut off a piece on top, oh this is part of the paper you can see the plate mark why this is here I don’t know but it’s sitting up against the wall upstairs and came up with this. But this stuff I had, it’s in Polish a lot of it, there’s a pencil so I, it was a rediscovering. Oh, I did add this is an elevation, I did a lot of floor plans from an old publication, the Jewish Museum, the Yeshiva University museum now downtown in New York in Chelsea. They let me use, they wouldn’t let me borrow it while I was there and I made drawings and I got Xeroxes from a publication that a couple had written of destroyed wooden Synagogues in Belorussia, Poland and parts of the Ukraine, and the churches were made the same way a very elaborate vaulting inside in wood and none of these survived but some of the churches are still there and quite remarkable.
So, I got a lot of those and I made a big, bigger... Buffalo blueprint from my Xeroxes and then coated with oil stick on the back, a little bit of turp[entine], lay It down and as quickly as I could with straight edges, by hand, just draw right onto the thing and then what would come off would be a variable. Usually pretty good, and there’s some text here in Yiddish, which I can speak somewhat fluently… are you Jewish? (Speaks in Yiddish) and It’s like German… and I said something about I put on phylacteries, “can you speak Yiddish?” There’s someone on the UB faculty who’s married to the chair of the Yiddish department, former chair. He got a Guggenheim and she got a Fulbright so they’re probably in Paris right now. Wonderful people, he’s got a, you know, a ponytail in the back this tall guy, it’s fascinating. Some of this is… I’ve got my short dialogue, I think you’ll see that may be in the text in the interview and answer to questions that Sandra Furman posed for the UB catalog, she orchestrated that, and you know monotype stuff. Oh, the initials, this is for Phillip, first initial, this is Roth, those demonic little monsters. This is an equivalent of an “R”, but I did have a lot of this stuff, I didn’t have this and I just cut it apart, played… Zuckerman, book he wrote, weird stuff. So, you know I didn’t think of how it would be displayed and it’s not gonna be glazed. So there it is. I’m going to put these two back if I can.
HG – Okay.
P a r t 4
Breverman – You know it’s a mix of prints, smaller prints here, big drawings down underneath there, more stuff here, framed drawings there. A drawing from Holland, from Amsterdam,
HG – Oh!
Breverman – an ink wash, back from 1965
TJ – That’s from the same era?
Breverman – What’s that? Yes, the same era, the same time. I’d just sit down somewhere, plunk down and in Europe, people, you know, artists respected it; didn’t care. Here’s another… I think this is a drawing back here… you can’t see much of it… it’s from one of those warehouse, a double warehouse in Amsterdam right around the corner from the Rembrandt house. I bought that in Niagara on the Lake, it’s a cap blocking form, there was a little shop and I said “Gee, I got to have this,” nobody wanted it. That device and it comes apart into three sections and I bought the Arab keffiyeh in old Jerusalem, but that’s what it is, it’s not a prayer shawl. I just created my own little still life, just set it up on a surface. I did a whole series of prayer shawls, from the back, you’ll see it in the big catalog. Maybe twenty wrapped on a mannequin, and then I think my description of that when Sandra Furman asked me: “is that growing up as a kid at religious services?” Orthodox services, not all services but decades later the thought occurred to me that I was actually at a service and I looked, and I said, “you know what my motifs are right here!” People are in front of me with this thing, this big thing wrapped up over them, not the neat clean shawl and the stripes and the patterning. I have one of the big ones it’s a pigment on it… and so I did a whole series of paintings and oil bar, oil stick- The livestock marker drawings. Tullis, I think a lot of the paper from you is tucked in here, all this wonderful stuff.
TJ – Oh yeah, look at that. Yeah, there are different kinds, this is the stuff that’s more worth it, I had stuff that was very heavily textured, and it was hard to use.
Breverman – This is in Montreal just outside a window and we were eating, and I did a little rubbing of something so their sketchbook, you can see the divide, galore of drawings done. It always works, it always works.
TJ – You do some earlier stages?
Breverman – Yeah this is something I’m playing with again, now.
TJ – So you’re working…
Breverman – Two more… what to do with a star. And I got to call, there’s a poet who’s asked me if he could be drawn. I said, “I will one of these days,” and I mean a big drawing. Come in here only if… because it’s a bathroom, but because there’s storage back here with a lot of big drawings…
HG – Oh, wow!
Breverman – All the way back, all the way back. And that’s my Jewish library right there, an exhibition catalog. This is the kind of thing I was doing… very late 60s and 70s, the composites, the discontinuous sequence series. But you know you come into an unfished thing, and for us it was perfect. Put it up and do nothing more with it. I thought I’d have to… Isn’t that weird?
HG – It’s a wall of Harvey.
Breverman – Since nobody comes into to see this, Debbie will say, “You didn’t take them in there.” The inner sanctum. And Heather for a lot of the big paintings I would make pricing, and then I could cut them apart bring two people together the bottom of one, the top of another or link them together in somewhat unpredictable ways. A lot of those are my smaller drawings and drawings done by others. It’s just a constant with this overload of things, and matte board, but anyway let me bring you in here. This is what was left unfinished and I banged in the insolation and put only enough wallboard to make it a little neater and cleaner. Oh, here’s the tool, where’s the tool? Should be… Ah, here it is! This is what’s in Phillip Roth’s house. In the dine I have a lot of my father’s… Vault.
TJ – Where’s the- The bull?
HG – The bull ball?... Picture?
Breverman – Oh I’ll show you that. It’s hanging up, do you see a glove over there?
HG – Yes, oh!
Breverman – on the side of an old crate…that’s it. This is the other one, oh that’s it. The gloves been in a lot of works. I did one entire series, it was exhibited in a big show at the Castellani that I had. Sandy Olson put together. This is the… I just put some green tape, carpenter’s tape, painter’s tape. This goes on the bottom and there’s Ellie Wisou in formal wear and his medal from the French government, this is what Biff took for me. He put that on a grave when we went downtown to his place and used to hold it… ah, black wool was painted down there so that’s this. I cut apart some fragments of some oil stick imagery that I had, this is actually I think made up of two or three pieces.
TJ – So this is from the series that’s in the basement?
Breverman – From the series. Yeah, I brought this out because, you know, it was hidden away so I could work and here are the other two you saw in better light. There’s the circumcision knife.
TJ – So is a… These are newer?
Breverman – This is ah, it’s newer than the one downstairs framed that had all those people in it, sorry it’s covered over.
HG – That looks like Diane right there?
Breverman – Diane Christian and there’s Bruce [Jackson] up here, Gary Snyder the big poet, Creely, Jim Dine is right here. So it’s going to float, no I have to overlap this one because it’s just so big.
TJ – So what year would this…?
Breverman – This would have been mid-80s… oh no, it would’ve been maybe eight years ago.
HG – Oh, wow.
Breverman – I got my logbook, I’ll tell you exactly when. I keep everything here Heather, of recent, maybe last twenty years, in this thing.
HG – Oh, wonderful. (gasps)
TJ – Oh my god!
Breverman – So the three that are here will butt together to make separate… create a triptych. I’ll go back a little bit. You saw this one?
HG – Yes.
Breverman – That’s this, two-oh-five-six.
TJ – So is this your thumbnail sketches of all your work or just the composites?
Breverman – Oh after I’m done, when I go, I do this for my record and when I go to Biff’s place I will Xerox this and give him a copy of it, so he knows what he’s photographing, it’s got the specs on it, the date, this means it’s unframed, a little circle. Oh, they go on. That’s a franciscan friar.
HG – Uh huh.
Breverman – (laughing) We went to a wonderful old …. Uh, museum with church-related artifacts and so on in Glasgow and I drew.
TJ – Are there are a number of these books or is this…?
Breverman – No this is the one and only.
HG – This is everything?
Breverman – This goes back to the prayer shawls. Oh, here are things like what’s in that back room, the 80s, yeah 80s. But this has helped me when I need the exact dimensions and then with Biff recording it, it’s given him something that he needs. And this right now, this is the one with Elli Wisou. And this is this! I just took one of my big boards and I rolled up tape. Here I’ll cut apart and use archival tape to go across, white tape, and then go this way but I’ll make this a sharp line and so I can butt them together. I won’t be mounted, it’ll just be hinged at the top.
TJ – Do you have a name for this book?
Breverman – No.
HG – It’s a shoebook, right?
Breverman – Uh, shoe salesman’s book.
TJ – I think it’s really wonderful that it’s a… It’s the artist inventory of his own work, and it’s beautiful drawings of each …
Breverman – Oh record book… there’s a rubber band around it. ‘The Institute of Jewish Thought and Culture’ is a new department at UB and I went to a few of their lectures and sketched, and so these this is actually from sketches done on the spot. Sergey Dolgopolski is his name I signed it up there a little at the edge, but his wife wrote this out for me under the drawing, so I had the thing and I just copied it. This is my name in Russian, we were in a little café in New York one day with one of our nieces who was going to NYU uptown and there were some Russian priests there, Russian Orthodox Priests and they looked magnificent will all the garb. So, I walked over and said, “May I make a quick sketch?” and they were delighted and so, uh… Oh, I had an address, I sent them good Kinkos copies of the sketches and in return, I got a letter back, but I think they signed the drawing as well and I have a letter. But anyway, that was my name at the bottom… and here are some of the notes I was taking while I was drawing Glenn Goodman who came from Vanderbilt.
HG – This is lovely. What is it?
Breverman – I bought one of these in Venice.
HG – What is it?
Breverman – It’s a totem pole, silver filigree, in this case, Russian from the 1800’s. He was holding the microphone speaking, I think, at the Center for Tomorrows… so I decided that I needed a diagonal of some sort and I didn’t just want a hand so, uh… It’s from some old Biblical archeology books. But I did this in the print room just from little scraps of black Xerox pages that didn’t quite take right and I cut them up and used the trichloroethane and it came off perfectly and I just… first I started with that drawing and I said I’m going to continue my series.
That’s actually part of the ancient site called Beit Alfa in Israel that has a mosaic on the floor depicting, it’s old and biblical, the uh… Abraham almost ready to sacrifice Isaac and he spoke at length about that whole business of sacrifice and even offering up a child, that was another piece of a sketch. So, anyway this I just taped together for today and butted it, otherwise, it’s just a work area, work on paper. Paintings are stored back there, you can see some big ones back here. So, the big ones that are about 120 inches are a double painting bolted together and part of the “Night Work” series and I haven’t gotten to that tucked back there.
HG – What about these?
Breverman – Oh they have never been exhibited. There’s the cap blocking form again inside and phylacteries that are wrapped around that hand. I did that by just looking in a mirror since I do that prayer every morning six days a week out of habit and I find it interesting, just this little thing you wrap around so I can go to any religious service, Jewish synagogue, Temple and feel pretty much at home. I’ve done that occasionally in Europe, just walk in “oh stranger’s here” and there’s the common language, the prayers, so I did that and (laughed) reminded me before I’d wrap them up and take them apart to put on of a little tank.
HG – Yeah.
Breverman – Isn’t that bizarre? No one’s seen those, but I did have a lot of oval things and then there’s a little cap like the green thing that is a protective thing that fits over. I made this strange landscape and there they sit, they’ve been sitting there for years. I do have some oval frames that allow the picture to float inside but this is, this is uh… This is my little record book. I did want to show you one or two things in here you see drawings are stacked there, some of the others are stacked here. There are some slots where things slide in all the way under the molding and over there.
TJ – Big stretchers there.
Breverman – Stretcher bars. Oh, I have big welded aluminum frames. Oh, I did two called requiem let’s see … this one in the back… ah, that’s the one I wanted. There’s so many catalogs like this, old complex stuff with illuminated manuscripts consistent with Christian illuminated manuscripts. Oh, had a play at Studio Arena Theatre not long ago, I don’t recall what it was, I had this fire hydrant… a fake one that they built
HG - In the play?
Breverman – In the play. Codex Literati... this is actually Yiddish, it means “a dark place”, like an impending disaster.