I met Rubinowitz at Les Halles down on John Street in the Financial District. He doesn't seek fame and is most comfortable flying under the radar. The last interview he gave prior to this was in late 1987, possibly early 1988. We had a quick drink and then made our way to his Avenue B studio/apartment. He has been working there (painting/gluing/dyeing/collaging etc etc) since the mid 80s. He’s a very interesting character indeed. His studio is overflowing with the creations of the past several decades. He has never sold a piece, nor has he attempted to. He told me that he did, however, once trade a canvas/Mylar piece for an Alaskan crab sampler. He has gifted quite a few pieces but the lion’s share of his 20 year plus output surrounded us as I conducted this interview.
HH: thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Are you feeling talkative or I am I going to have to work for this?
MR: If you have questions, ask....
HH: What do you want to happen with these pieces that are all around us?
MR: Want? I think you mean “hope”.
HH: Ok, what do you hope happens to them?
MR: I hope the majority of them get treated well. I know they all won’t. Some will survive longer than others and some will have a rockier go of it. I like to think that they have the ability to see, to perceive, so I hope they wind up in interesting places surrounded by stimulating people and thought provoking scenes. People often ignore the possibility that when they go to a gallery or a museum, there’s a chance, however slight, that the paintings are looking back at them.
HH: Are you fucking with me right now? You think these paintings and collages are looking back at you?
MR: No. They’re not looking back at me, they’re looking at you. They ARE me. I merely said there’s a chance. It takes a pretty negative person to just rule it out. You say it’s impossible, I say it’s possible. Prove me wrong. Artists/creators should always be open to the idea of possibility.
HH: I heard that a collector recently offered to buy all of your works for a 7 figure number. Is this story true?
MR: Not all of them, no. But let’s just say she offered money for some of them. I let her choose a few. They belong to her. She can visit them whenever she wants but she can’t take any of them now. I might not be done with them. If I were to have an idea and wanted/needed to alter one and it was on the other side of the globe, it would be a problem. It would disturb me.
HH: And money is not an issue?
MR: Not for me. I got lucky along the way in that regard. I kept my day job and it worked out quite well.
HH: That leads me to your 1990 piece that has the words “fuck sacrifice” embedded in it. Is that when you decided to push your artistic endeavors to the back burner while you earned in a more conventional way?
MR: That was the turning point in my life. I had friends who were lost to AIDS and to hard drugs. The mid to late 80s were lost years for New York artists, at least the ones I knew. There was a feeling of hopelessness and despair that kind of permeated the streets. When you see your contemporaries dying in their 20s and 30s, you’ve got to make a decision. I went down the road of the happy idiot struggling for the legal tender. Luckily I’ve been able to keep producing and earning simultaneously.
HH: Would you consider showing at a museum?
MR: Sure. I’d love that. It would have to be in NYC though.
MR: It’s New York art. It’s visual but it’s meant to convey a feeling to the viewer and that feeling is the feeling you get when you’re having a drink in a West Village bar or trying to score on Avenue C. It’s a bit dangerous, a bit heroic....it’s contemporary in New York but nostalgic everywhere else.
HH: So you’re New York through and through.
MR: Without question. When I travel, I enjoy myself but I can’t be away for more than a week or so before I start having withdrawals.
HH: speaking of withdrawals, can we discuss the hypodermic needles that are on your workbench?
MR: (laughing) Yeah I guess that looks bad. When I lay Mylar on canvas, pockets of air form and I use syringes to add colored adhesive or dye by injecting it between the Mylar and the canvas. Sometimes the air pockets work to give the piece depth, sometimes not. But I think there’s more to your question so here’s the answer you’re looking for - I’ve been clean since 86/87. I haven’t used in 20 years.
HH: Do you miss it?
MR: Only when people mention it.
HH: Sorry. So what is your drug of choice these days?
MR: Airplane glue. (Laughing).
HH: Come on. Seriously. How do you feed your head?
MR: Seriously.....I’ve smoked weed since I was 11. It’s such a versatile plant and such a reliable high. People call it a “drug” but that’s a misnomer. Drugs come out of labs in Jersey. Weed grows in some of the most beautiful places on our planet - there’s no coincidence there. But I preach the gospel of moderation - bet with your head, not over it. Also, I have no doubt that in the coming decades, weed will be completely legal just as alcohol is now.
HH: that’s it? Nothing else?
MR: Once every few years I recharge the psychedelic battery….that’s to ward off potential psychic trauma. I could be cliche here and say that the very act of creating is my drug of choice…when I’m working in the studio and I get into a groove, time and space disappear. That’s a place that no drug can take me. That’s probably my favorite place to visit - the only problem is that you never know you’ve been there until you get back. It’s a place that can only be enjoyed in hindsight - it can never be enjoyed in the moment. Still, it’s a beautiful place.
HH: You’ve never been represented by a gallery. Would you consider that?
MR: I think the art world is going to change dramatically in the next 10-20 years. The Internet and the Web will change so many things and I can foresee a future in which artists have their own individual online galleries. They will be able to reach millions of people electronically and commerce will be done online, without cash. Why would I need a gallery to show or sell my art in a world like that? I’m very interested in thinking about what the future will look like - it’s infinitely more interesting than the past. I’m not sure if that answered your question….I hope it makes at least a bit of sense. Is gallery representation necessary in a world with no brick and mortar galleries? In fact, I’m not so sure art itself will be what it is now….there are futurists who predict that art, in the coming decades, will be electronic - your art collection won’t be on your walls, it will be in cyberspace.
HH: Well I like my art on my walls, not on my computer.
MR: Have you ever bought anything on line? Ever used a company like eBay or Amazon.Com? There’s a real possibility that these companies are going to make shopping centers, malls, art supply stores, galleries, etc obsolete in the coming decades. Have you thought of a world in which you do all of your shopping without leaving your home? That’s the world that we’re heading towards. It’s inevitable - you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
HH: Interesting. So as an artist, what do you do to prepare for a world like that?
MR: I’m going to do a few things - first, I’m going to keep creating. I’m going to make as much art as I can because that’s how I stay sane in this largely insane world. Second….I’m going to buy stock in Amazon.com and never sell it.
HH: Its funny that you say that - I actually had stock in Amazon.com and I recently sold it. My stockbroker told me to buy it when it was $100 per share and I sold it at $38 per share. There was only so much money I could tolerate losing! thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions today. I really enjoyed this.
MR: Thanks for dropping by Harry. I hope your readers aren’t bored to death by my not so exciting existence.
b. 1967, NYC