mat board and the masking tape. So I made a lot
of things out of cardboard.
One day, I must have been maybe 13 or 14,
I made a life-sized man out of cardboard. And
that was the first transcendent moment for me,
where I felt a release from all the cares of the
world into the mental process of thinking through
this project. At one point I stopped and went to
my mom in the kitchen, and I told her something
like, “I just want you to know that at 5:04 p.m. on
this day, I am truly happy.” I was being a bit dramatic, but I still remember that feeling so vividly.
It was real joy. And the cardboard man sat out in
front of my parent’s house for a couple of years.
Another time, I found a refrigerator box after
school and was pushing it home. This tough kid
Peter came up to me and said, “This is my box.”
And I said, “No no no no no.” So we had a push
fight. I pushed him and he backed up and he said,
“Didn’t move me! Didn’t move me!” I pushed
him again, and I don’t remember exactly how it
played out, but he went away. I used that box to
make a spaceship for an 8mm movie that my
friends Paul Caro and Eric Pack were shooting.
We even stop-motion animated an explosion.
They tried to hold perfectly still in the shot while
I pulled out like 2 feet of yarn to be the laser blast
and then uncrumpled this explosion burst shape
that I cut out of paper. I never saw the footage!
After that, I ended up moving the spaceship
into our guest bedroom closet, which was like
4 feet wide by 12 feet deep. For the back wall
of the closet I painted some cardboard black,
punched some holes in it, and put a light underneath to make a star field. I put the cockpit about
4 feet back from there, so it was like you were
looking out into space. It was so much fun
making that environment and getting in there!
PS: So much learning comes from doing things
that you enjoy, experiencing that feeling. And
you’ve also talked about how failures stay with
you, when you feel you’ve let people down. It’s
interesting how first-hand experiences guide you
in a way that explanations and lectures never can.
AS: Right. When I was 19 or 20, I was bouncing
around apartments in New York, living alone for
the first time. I got this free apartment in Brooklyn,
where the landlord was a collector of my dad’s
paintings. I set up a little studio space there for
34 Make: Volume 20
making sculptures. I was lonely, but creatively it
was a fertile couple of years for me.
I remember another transcendent moment
from that time. I was making a piece that was
like a phone from Hell. I glued all this stuff to a
normal phone, making it like something from the
movie Brazil. I decided to paint it in black and
yellow stripes, but with all the tubes all over it,
I had to spend an hour just masking. I worked on
it until like 2 or 3 in the morning, totally getting
into the zen of doing this thing, while this terrible
Roddy McDowall movie was on TV.
Around that same time, while taking the
subway home from my friend David’s house,
I started writing what I called “The Manifesto.”
It’s 15 pages of furiously scrawled notes, and
I remember looking up from my notebook once
and seeing some guy on the subway looking
at me like, what the heck is he writing? The
Manifesto is basically my realization that being
creative is like seeing your way above the clouds,
to borrow terminology from Ram Dass. It’s
like seeking spiritual enlightenment. The real
transcendent feelings you get are few and far
between, but they keep you going to the next
one. The cruel joke is, they get harder to get to,
because you always have to go deeper. You know
more about yourself, and you want more out of
what you’re doing, so you get better at it. The
result is that everything you do well is the result
of personal risk-taking and exploration.
PS: Doing something you already know how to
do isn’t going to get you there.
AS: Yes, and I don’t think there’s any separation
between someone who’s an excellent banker
and someone who’s a terrific painter. It all comes
from the same emotions. I see creative endeavors
as problem solving: you give yourself a problem,
and while you’re solving it you realize that you’re
miles from where you thought you were going
to be. There are no concrete guidelines that can
help you. You just learn how to dance with the
thing that you’re doing.
I think a lot of people get frustrated when what
they start to make doesn’t look like what they
were thinking. The trick is, it’s never, ever gonna
look like what you pictured in your head. As
Diane Arbus said, “I have never taken a picture
I’ve intended; they’re always better or worse.”