Bradley Rubenstein: You are known primarily for your film work, but this show, Robots, is paintings. Is painting a new venture for you, like an extension of filmmaking, or something new?
Amos Poe: I am a filmmaker and have been making various art objects for years; the similarity is that they both take over my conscious and subconscious, and I'm compelled to get them out. Painting is a new discovery, or at least the pleasures of it are new. A new love. I started having dreams of robots in May of 2012, and the first painting came about a week later. I've been painting these robots since then, and the dreams still come regularly. I think everyone should have a robot in her or his life.
BR: You are a seminal New York filmmaker, so it almost seems beside the point where you are from, or studied, or whatnot -- but I'm going to ask you anyway.
AP: I was born in Israel. My family emigrated in '58, and I grew up on Long Island. Your basic Sixties suburban upbringing -- Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Beach Boys, etc. I was a jock in high school, went to college in Ohio for a year before getting kicked out, then lived in Buffalo for two years, where I started making Super 8 films.
BR: When I first saw your paintings, I was immediately taken by a certain cinematic quality they have. When I read about them, I was, like, ten words in, and I immediately thought Metropolis. They have that feel: they are black and white, their size relates to old film stills, or whatnot.
AP: Yeah, my first films were all black and white (gray) because I love black and white films more than color movies. With these paintings, when I went to get materials, the colors confused me at the art store. Too real. I decided that the paintings would only be black and white and gray (I love that there are so many grays). So yeah, they're like the early films. More abstract that way, and I can deal with the figuration outside the psychologies that color imposes. There are certain places in the world where color makes sense, like India, but in New York City it doesn't.
BR: The one titled "#103-Ulysses" reminds me of Picasso's Harlequin, and the title brings to mind Joyce. Both of those references are fairly autistic artists. They both have a kind of internal logic to their work. You seem to be coming from a more narrative approach, though. I see these paintings as more character-based. Earlier I said film stills, but they could also be costume design sketches.
AP: Well, yeah! Picasso and Joyce inspired this robot. This is the biggest robot yet -- life-size -- so it needed both gravity and poetry, a reference point. The recent Picasso black-and-white show at the Guggenheim was inspirational. I love the character of Arlecchino from commedia dell'arte and of course Picasso and Miró's harlequins. It seemed to make sense. Joyce's book is big and an inspiring, lovely read -- literarily, a journey. So to take these two modernist masters as a starting point seemed natural. When I made my first films, I went to Godard, Warhol, and Cassavetes. These decisions are instinctual rather than planned. And yeah, each robot is a character; day after day living with them, they seem to come to life off the wall. They speak to me in an unknown language, one both mysterious and beautiful, sad and elegant.
BR: There is something kind of retro about robots too, especially when you place it in relation to film. Robots, as opposed to cyborgs -- like in Terminator movies -- robots have a sense of H.G. Wells about them. Do you also see them as a friendlier form of technology? You said that "everyone should have one" -- that they are nonthreatening, in a way.
AP: They can be "threatening," but it only means the viewer is vulnerable. They can also be comforting, erotic, sensual, absent, coy, humorous, flirtatious, smart, decorative, needy. These robots really do become people. That's why I like art on my wall. It needs to relate to me daily or I get bored and store it. I have enough technology with my computer and phone. Also, the best part is when there's more than one robot on the wall -- they seem to also relate to each other! Which is kind of cool. They seem to have a robot language amongst themselves.
BR: Do you think that the painting and the filmmaking influence each other? In other words, has working in a non-moving, two-dimensional medium changed the way you look at making films?
AP: Well, filmmaking is a very social medium and is costly. It is totally engaging but often stressful. I've been making films for six decades (43 years), and I still have a love affair -- love and hate I should say -- with it. Painting is simpler but equally engaging. I think filmmaking is more pleasurable, but painting is more joyous. - Bradley Rubenstein
Robots is at Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Place, Brooklyn NY 11221 through March 18.
"Danza Piccolina," acrylic on canvas, 16" x 12"
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.