JS: [Pointing to the work on the wall] The lines in these pieces look like butts and boobs. I see ladies in the abstraction (always).
LB: And that’s what I thought they were until I had the epiphany that all the shapes came out of my guitar collection.
JS: When did you start collecting guitars?
LB: When I was 16.
JS: Do you play them often?
LB: I collect, but I am not a musician. I play personally. I think of them as sculptures that sing.
JS: Did you ever do any art performances?
LB: I organized a couple of performances, but I was the producer, not the performer. One was called “Night Talk.” A bunch of friends sat in the center of the room all reading porn newspapers aloud.
JS: I didn’t know porn newspapers had text.
LB: They did back then. It was funny. They just were given the newspapers to read.
JS: Sounds like it would get rather boring.
LB: Right. It did. But it was funny.
JS: So these pieces you are doing now, they are collages? They seem to be one flat piece.
LB: They aren’t prints, each piece is plated with thin metal and mineral films, like quartz.
JS: How do you do that?!
LB: [Walking into the studio] This is a high-vacuum thermal evaporator. It’s essentially a big bottle that I use to create an environment without oxygen. When you eliminate oxygen, you can evaporate metals or quartz.
The aluminum pins I showed you [pictured in the slideshow], are put in a container that gets really hot, and that sublimates the aluminum from a solid to a liquid; when it gets hot enough it becomes a vapor. Because there is no air in the vacuum chamber, the vaporized metal then impinges on the surface of the paper placed inside. When I force the aluminum to evaporate, the metal re-forms with the same structure it had in its solid state, creating the same optical qualities but on the surface of the paper. Each of the materials I use has a unique crystalline structure that gives it the optical characteristics you can see (metal is shiny, quartz is glittery).
Aluminum raises the reflectivity on the surface, while quartz acts like a layer of gasoline on a puddle of water at a filling station.
JS: I have always wondered how that worked.
LB: The layer of gasoline interferes with the light at wavelengths equivalent to the thickness. Where you see blue, the gas is thinner than where you see red, all the rest of the colors you see are in a thickness somewhere in between.
JS: When did you acquire this crazy set-up?
LB: I had this built for me in 1968. It was delivered in 1969 and I have been using it since.
JS: That is so amazing how did you figure this out?
LB: Years ago, I found a guy in Burbank California that worked for Walt Disney making lenses and reflectors. I had him coat some glass for sculptures I was making for a show in New York in 1965. Some of the work he sent over broke in transit. I looked in the Manhattan Yellow Pages for a glass worker who could do vacuum coating. The guy I found charged a fortune, and he suggested I learn to do it myself if I was going to continue to use this technique. I found a guy with a used piece of equipment, so I stayed in New York for a couple years to learn how to use the machine.
The guy who sold it to me gave me a book that explained the procedures, I didn’t know shit about this. It was all an experiment.