Roger Herman, Vater, Mutter, 1982, oil on canvas, 83 × 54 inches. Courtesy of Douglas Kennedy Collection, Los Angeles.
Hans Fuss It must be the worst to sit with three Germans.
Harry Kipper We have the three stages here. Hans is absolutely, 100 percent, solid German—
Roger Herman No, No, but he’s Jewish. That’s the thing. He’s completely Jewish. His grandfather’s name is Blum and his own name is Fuss. (mumble mumble)
HK You [Roger] are a German emigre. I left Germany when I was 12 and my family is sort of part English, Dutch, Jewish, heavily art scene.
HF Kipper represents the German well-educated aristocracy, which is Pan-European: they always have another aim, which is nationalism. I represent the peasant, the minority, and Roger represents the border French people, who always lost themselves in aesthetics.
HK Roger’s half French.
RH My parents hated Germany, I grew up with “the Germans eat margarine and we eat butter. They have a refrigerator, but we have better food.”
HK He’s totally fucked up, They just don’t know what they want. My grandfather was the Emperor’s chief of staff. He got the highest military honors that you can get. And personally knew the Emperor and everything. And yet 20 years later Hitler chased him out of Germany. You couldn’t be more German than my grandfather, despite the fact that he was a Jew.
RH My father was one of the high-ranking prisoners at Buchenwald. They have these ranks in concentration camps. They have Jews, gypsies, and the political prisoners, and then the top rank was the criminals. My father belonged to the criminal rank. He was a forger. He was in Buchenwald for seven years.
Becky What did he forge?
RH He forged passports, papers, money.
Becky For Jews to get out of the country?
RH Yeah. Uh huh. For money.
HK For money. It wasn’t some altruistic thing. His father was a real suave black market forger.
RH He was always a gambler and counterfeiter.
HK Just like me.
The Kipper Kids in performance. Photo by Roger Webster.
HF Somebody told me that Kipper is playing with hot iron.
RH He’s playing with hot metal. He’s a metal broker.
HK No, I’m a commodities trading advisor, I’m not a broker. I have my own company as an advisor and people specifically employ me to trade commodities for them. I trade in all commodities: metals, hogs, cattle, treasury bills. Everything that’s traded on the commodity exchange.
RH It’s a dangerous business.
HK Dangerous for the investor.
RH What about you?
HK I make the commission regardless. It’s medically dangerous because it’s incredibly stressful. It’s dangerous because I’ve just started my own company, so I have a lot of people who would like to see me out of the business. It’s very competitive. There are people who are trying to stop me. I’m being sued by somebody, and someone else who would like to see me out of the business is encouraging the person who’s suing me. Stuff like that happens. It seems that whenever a person does well, there’s always a lot of people who would like to see him not do well. That’s the case in any field. Like art. With a person who does well in art, you suddenly get these people who come out and start saying, “Nah. He’s just a bunch of shit. Nah. He’s just fashionable. Nah. Laurie Anderson—she’s got a record deal now—that’s just compromise.” Shit like that. It’s the same with what I’m doing. Some people wish me well and some people would just love to see me fail.
People in the [brokerage] company where I worked before I started my own company took bets on how long I would stay in business. A manager bet several hundred dollars that I wouldn’t be in the business by the end of the week. Now I make more money than him. (laughter)
HF What makes you change your life toward a steady job and a business of your own and the idea of making a lot of money.
HK What I have is not a steady job at all. It’s 5:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the evening. Constant hard work. There’s nothing steady about it—
HF What I mean is it’s not work you do occasionally. What makes you do it?
HK Well, my family has been in metal trading and banking for about 300 years and I got into it through them before I went to drama school. I decided to stay here—and since the Kipper Kids are not a very profitable thing unless we start doing situation comedy on TV or something … I always thought that what I really wanted to do was the Kipper Kids, and at some point, at the end of last year, I decided that since I do this work so well, why not go all the way. So now I run my own business and I really enjoy it immensely. I guess this is what I’ll be doing forever.
It’s constant change. The commodity markets are incredibly volatile. There’s huge amounts of money to be made. AND I LOVE MONEY so I can always buy the BEST!! THE BEST!! THE BEST!! NOW!!! NOW!!! NOW!!!
RH Now let’s talk about America. Kipper, why are you in America?
HK Because it’s here.
RH And not there?
HK I came here because of the Kipper Kids and because we were invited by David Ross, who was curator of the Long Beach Museum of Art for video. He saw us in Cologne playing at the Rudolf Zwirner Gallery where we were making good money doing the Kipper Kids, touring around Europe and stuff, and said, “Hey boys, you oughta come to America. That’s where the big money is.”
SEGUE FROM BIG AMERICA MONEY TO SELLING OUT.
RH So, when you sell commodities do you think you’re a real crook?
RH You don’t think so?
HK No. I tell the people exactly what the risk is: I tell them that they can get what I give for less if they go somewhere else, and I’ll give them the name and phone number of somebody else they can call. I give them the absolute choice of trading with me if they want to.
RH Do you invest yourself?
HK Are you crazy? (laughter)
Yes, I do. Usually when I invest, I lose. I’m much better at investing for others.
RH Are you more careful with other people’s money?
HK Yes, I’m less emotional with other people’s money. Brokers generally don’t trade their own accounts very well because they get too emotionally involved.
HK You know what’s funny about doing the commodities business and then doing the Kipper Kids? Well, I’m about to do a performance this weekend, and it always occurs to me that when my picture is in the newspaper announcing that Harry Kipper is doing a performance—
RH You have to change your name?
HK Because I’m also on TV every day here as a commodities advisor in the whole of southern and northern California. I always have this fear that some client of mine will look at this picture of this lunatic and say, “Harry Kipper? That’s my broker! I’m not giving him any of my money!”
RH Why did you come to Los Angeles?
HK The Kipper Kids came here … and then we kind of stayed. We did a few shows and then Brian, the other Kipper Kid, got married and disappeared. Whenever Brian gets married—and he’s been married three times now—he always has a tendency to disappear.
RH For how long?
HK This time he disappeared for two years. I met him again at a popular steam bath in the East End of London, and then we did a whole bunch of shows again. Then there came another point when I didn’t see him for two years actually. It’s a slightly flaky arrangement. He lives in Chicago. I live in Los Angeles. And he’s doing shows on his own right now. We do shows together, but geographically it’s impossible—
RH But you do show on your own too.
HK I do shows on my own, too. But the shows with the Kipper Kids—they have a magic that is not replaceable. People often say “I’ll work with you.” But you can’t replace something like that. So I work on my own—
RH It’s more like masturbation, the shows you do alone.
HK Fuck you.
RH And the other ones were like two guys masturbating.
HK Right. It’s better to watch two blokes jerkin’ off.
RH Like, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
HK Mine’s bigger than yours.
HF How do American audiences react to your show?
HK The American audiences are really good. New York audiences are great. I would have thought that maybe they’d be a bit jaded from seeing so much—but they’re not. We did a show at Danceteria at 4:30 in the morning. And I thought, “This is ridiculous doing a show at this hour, nobody will come.” The place was completely empty until just before the show, when it got completely packed. People come out at 4:30 in the morning in New York to see a show. They’re crazy.
RH That would never happen in Los Angeles.
HK No. Here it has to be 4:30 in the afternoon. Because at 4:30 in the morning they go jogging. So now I do shows when I really feel like it. It’s almost like I’m not a professional performer.
RH You’re not a professional performer.
HK Well, I am. But I’m not professional because it’s not what I do as my profession. (pause)
Why did you come to America?
RH I got a grant to come here, but I came for the wrong reasons. I thought something was going on that wasn’t really going on at all.
I told the grant people that the reason I wanted to come here was to meet all these artists. And when I got here, they were all dead.
HK What? The Bay artists?
RH Yeah. The Bay area artists.
HK Who are they? John Altoon?
RH I think it was Bischoff, David Park, Diebenkorn, people like that … I just wanted to get away from Germany. Basically, I wanted to get out of there. I mean, I had just finished school …
HK Were you in trouble?
RH No. It’s like … as if you’re in a soup plate trying to look above the rim of the plate and you cannot see the horizon.
HK So you came for the wrong reasons?
RH No. The reasons are always wrong which makes them right. You make decisions and you don’t know why and then you’re there. Now I really like living here.
HK I really like it here too. I like New York, and for a while I wanted to live there because I thought that there’s so much more energy there.
But I really like it here. (Derisive snorts from everyone)
RH I like New York. It’s very much for me like Berlin or a European city, but LA is something completely different. LA is a puzzle and I haven’t really found out yet how it works.
HK I go to New York to get burned out and I come back to Los Angeles to recover.
RH Well, that’s what every secretary does. “I’m going to New York for the weekend, and I’m not sleeping!”
HK That’s exactly what I say.
RH New York is loaded with history. LA is more banal, more bland.
HK Los Angeles is just such an easy place to live.
RH But there’s no art here.
HK In terms of art in LA … well, there’s Roger Herman.
Roger Herman, Untitled, 1983, oil on canvas, 10 × 4 feet. Courtesy of Ulrike Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles.
RH It’s a rehashing of old things of the ’30s. They don’t have any kind of critical distance to themselves.
HK Do you think 30 years from now many of these people will be eminent painters?
RH No, I don’t. It’s very trendy. It’s very fashionable. It’s all about style. I think Schnabel is much more important because he’s not definite. He’s getting a lot of criticism now because people don’t like him being pushed so high up there, but I think he’s very good.
HK He’s also a real good diplomat. Has your painting been influenced by being in America?
RH Yeah I think so. I have become much less worried. I hate Germany, because I hate this whole pseudo-seriousness, this whole heavy taking it to the extreme. It’s very corny. People just have to make a serious face and everyone takes them seriously. (mumble mumble)
RH Really, there’s not much art.
HK So, Roger, what do you think about American painting?
HK No. I mean, like since 1970. Is there any painting that’s happening in America since 1970 that you think is really—
RH I think this whole new painting thing in America—whatever you want to call what happens in New York—is a very reactionary kind of movement.
HK Okay, you mentioned …
RH It’s not names, it’s a general attitude. Besides Schnabel and the Shafrazi people there is not much excitement. I think that many New York painters misunderstand a lot. They do a rehash of old styles in a very trite way. They don’t use styles, but they do styles.
HK What’s the style that they’re doing? So, if you were living in Germany right now, would your paintings be very different from the way they are now?
RH I don’t know. I left Germany because I wanted to keep painting. When I was there, I wouldn’t paint because I was so worried about whether I should put in some radical political meaning or not.
HK Well, Immendorf does that, doesn’t he?
RH Yeah, he’s pretty funny. But it’s very tongue in cheek.
HK Do you really think so?
RH Oh, it’s completely tongue in cheek.
HK God. I think it’s so serious.
RH No, it’s not. He’s about as serious as Lupertz is about his cardboard fascism.
HK Without knowing that much, I can definitely see that Lupertz is tongue in cheek. But Immendorf immediately strikes me as being genuinely, seriously, very political. Like, art is no good unless it makes a powerful statement.
Do you think that it will be possible for an LA artist to make it if he stays in LA?
RH Who cares if he makes it?
HK No. I’m asking this seriously.
RH Yeah, I think so. In a longer term thing, I think it doesn’t matter where you live and I think New York is just much more of a milieu.
HK Do you know any good female painters?
HK Sorry. That was a trick question.
RH No, It’s not that women are not good painters. It’s just that good women don’t paint. Ha, Ha.
HK There seems to be a real move back to painting as a medium.
RH That’s bullshit. Painting has always been there. Painting is like fucking. It’s like, “Well, now we don’t fuck. We are celibate.” That’s rubbish. Painting is a very elementary thing.
HK No, what I meant was, my recollection of art in the early ’70s was a whole lot of conceptual shit that required close attention, knowledge of many references to get anywhere at all. And my perception … what I like about painting now is the fact that painting is large, bombastic, and immediately perceivable; it doesn’t require vast amounts of textual references and that seems to be in keeping with the times where everything is very immediate. So do you think that now that painting has come back as a major force—do you think it is yet again another wave of printing, and in ten years, we’re going to go back into Fluxus and that sort of thing?
RH Maybe. (long pause)
HK Here, I’m trying to give you really deep, intellectual questions and you’re just making fun of me.
RH You don’t produce for an audience, I don’t produce for a trend. Now I paint and I’m trendy.
HK So you do admit that you’re trendy?
RH Then tomorrow I’m old fashioned.
HK So would it matter to you if 20 years from now, you were as prominent as you are right now, but had never risen above that level of prominence that you have. Would that bother you?
HK You’d continue painting exactly the same way? You wouldn’t end up becoming a painting instructor in a college?
HK So, you’re not madly ambitious to become a hugely successful painter?
RH I’m very ambitious about becoming an important artist.
HK Are you an important painter now?
RH I’m only painting since ten years.
HK I once saw a catalogue of paintings of abstract expressionists: I saw it in the early ’70s. Nobody in this show seemed to be more important than anybody else, and yet in looking through it recently, some 12 years later, it was easy to see who the people are who were really powerful, and then when I looked to see what the names were, it turned out to be people who are prominent right now.
RH Well, you have a good eye.
HK Thank you. Two of them. No, what I’m wondering about is—it would seem that the criterion for a really good painter would be one whose work survives. I’m sure that at the time of Beethoven, there were lots of composers who nobody has even heard of now, so that’s what my question is about.
RH Yeah, but that’s all about fame, and …
HK No, it isn’t. Actually, it’s about painting. Because it obviously has something to do with the actual value and strength of the painting—whether it survives the times—whether it transcends pure trend or fashion or not.
RH Painting is doing the same thing that music did a while ago. It’s become rock and roll. I mean, painters were all of a sudden rock and roll stars, and that will also become a pretty irrelevant state. I’m not interested in that.
HK What are you interested in?
RH I’m interested in solving some problems in painting. I’m interested in trying to do paintings that are as good as I can make them, in a way that is somehow much less spectacular than what’s the popular wave …
HK So, what are you trying to achieve with painting, then?
RH I’m not trying in convert anybody. I’m not trying to please the masses.
HK What’s the matter with you?
RH I’m not interested in democratic art.
HK Fuck you.
RH I’m not really interested in a mass audience anyway.
HK Do you think at all about any kind of statement that you make with your paintings?
RH I like the freedom of being irresponsible. I don’t think that painting has a responsibility.
HK Well, the idea of art has been to present society with an alternative to the way things are …
RH Well, it doesn’t.
HK That has been one idea of the purpose of art. Do you have any purpose at all in the paintings that you do?
RH Not like that, no.
HK What’s your purpose in doing the paintings?
RH I do them. I don’t have to do paintings that explain themselves.
HK I want you to admit now, and let’s be really truthful that the only reason why you paint is to earn a living. (laughter)
The way that the Kipper Kids do their work is—we never have any statements made whatsoever, and we never define the purpose of doing what we’re doing other than to have a good time. It always gets very frustrating when people say to us—particularly the critics who have a hard time with us—(Affects a stuffy English accent) “Well, what are you trying to say?” And that’s what I was trying to do. (Stuffy English accent again), “What are you trying to say, Roger? I mean, what do you mean by these paintings? What’s the statement? Are you trying to change the world? What is your contribution? I mean, why are you doing it? I mean a human being has to make some kind of contribution, otherwise he may as well just die? Why don’t you go out and sweep the streets? I mean that’s doing something really useful instead of using good paint, good canvas, and perfectly good wall space. I mean it’s not as if your paintings act as insulation for heat or coal.”
I must admit though, you do do a nice painting.
RH Fuck art. What about the women in your life?
HK What about them?
RH Well. I have seen you now for the past weekend with about, three or four different women that you’re going to marry. So I wanted to know, what is your relationship with all these women?
HK (burps) That’s my answer to that.
RH Do you have difficulty with American women?
HK Well, I like … I like … . I really like the way that American women paint their fingernails. So that … I really like seeing an attractive hand with painted finger nails around my dick.
RH I just paint my nails and jerk off. (laughter)