Excerpt from interview by Glenn Phillips, June 15, 2010
Glenn Phillips You studied art at the University of California, Los Angeles?
Lloyd Hamrol I did, and then I went back and spent four years in graduate school there for a master’s degree. I think I was probably one of the most difficult people for them to eject from the program. I don’t know anyone else who spent four years in that program. When I graduated with a BFA, one of my teachers, Jan Stussy, said, “So what are you going to do now?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Don’t go out there. It’s scary out there; you should come back to school.”
GP What did your sculpture look like around the time you were finishing the graduate degree?
LH Well, I wanted to cast, but I had some disasters with casting. We didn’t have a casting facility at UCLA then. I had done these wax pieces, and I looked around town for someplace to cast them in bronze. I found a foundry out in the valley, but they really weren’t lost wax casters. They did a piss poor job of burning them out, and when they poured it, there was an internal conflagration between the wax and the molten bronze—things were shooting around. I thought I was embarking on something that would be my thesis show, and I got half a piece. I was so depressed after that. I said, “Okay, no more hot industrial processes.” So I started making these laminated polychrome constructions out of plywood, cut with a scroll saw, nailed together, and glued up. John Coplans saw what I was doing, and he was very supportive. He was involved with Finish Fetish, the refinement, that sort of elemental geometry, and he told me that I was going to have to learn how to spray paint. Judy [Chicago] and I—we were neighbors at the time—enrolled together in an auto body finishing school in downtown Los Angeles, and we learned about spray painting. I realized that I couldn’t really build a spray booth in the studio I was in, so Judy and I decided to move together into the same place in Pasadena. This was in late 1964. We turned that studio into a paint factory. Then I sort of lost interest in the spray painting thing. When I made Goodboy (1965), the canvas and plywood triangular sculpture that Los Angeles County Museum of Art owns, I simply used paint rollers. Then, when I was making 5 x 9 (1966), a set of adjustable, modular sculptures I showed at Rolf Nelson in 1966, I started looking for craftsmen to make it. So within a year I moved from doing everything myself to beginning to employ other people to make the things I wanted to make.
GP Was that about getting the level of finish you wanted?
LH When I was in school, we were looking for signature and authenticity—the artist’s hand, and that sort of thing. Then the whole paradigm shifted from expressionism and individuality to the artist removing himself or herself from the work by degrees.
GP Were you watching what was happening with Minimalism and with developments on the East Coast?
LH Kind of. We were all reading Artforum at the time. Bob Morris was beginning to pound away at his philosophy. But then also around that time there were other things going on that had to do with participation. So I had an impulse to make these discrete forms, and I had this other impulse to go out and do stuff that disappeared. That’s how we got into those dry ice environments in 1967. Before that, we did a feather environment at Rolf’s gallery.
GP Where did you get the feathers?
LH From a chicken plucker! There was a place down in South Central. A guy used to pluck chickens for the bedding and pillow industry.
GP And the gallery walls were covered in plastic.
LH It was inflated. They were bags that we blew up, so they became pillows. We had a drop plastic ceiling, convex pillow walls, and the floor was covered in feathers.
GP The reviews from the time say that it was this incredible, ethereal kind of environment—but then the smell—
LH It was a killer. You couldn’t stay in there for very long. It was just the aroma of hundreds of pounds of chicken feathers and talcum powder. The smell factor. It was dynamic in there. [Laughs.]