Oral history interview with Helen Pashgian, 2012 July 11

Pashgian, Helen , b. 1934
Painter, Sculptor
Active in Los Angeles, Calif.

Size: Transcript: 83 pages

Format: Originally recorded as 4 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr., 11 min.

Collection Summary: An interview of Helen Pashgian conducted 2012 July 11, by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, for the Archives of American Art, at Pashgian's studio, in Pasadena, California.

Pashgian speaks of her parents and their backgrounds; her fathers businesses; her grandparents; the influence of great grandmother; her brother; attending grade and high school; attending Pomona College; swimming and athletics; spending time at the beach; the influence of light on water; art classes; learning to look at art; attending Pomona; teaching; living in New York and Boston; working at an advertising firm as a secretary; attending graduate school; working for the Fogg Museum; quitting teaching and moving back to California; experimenting with glazes; California light; La Cienega; taking her work to galleries to try to get a show; Rex Evans; Felix Landau; being a woman artist; meeting Mia Farrow; experimenting with resin; hemispheres; support of parents; Caltech; Nicholas Tschoegl; Jet Propulsion Lab; Great Sphere; stolen art; Jack Brogan; working in resin; Jack Brogan; James Turrell and growing up in California; Balboa Island summer camp; meeting Judy Chicago; being a woman artist; Laguna Beach; Crystal Cove; (3z(Bfinish fetish(3y(B; color field painters; California artists showing in New York; Jill Kornblee Gallery; spheres; Phenomenal exhibition; Baroque period; show at UC Irvine; corporate art collections; plastics technology; working with companies and engineers; epoxy company in Visalia; plastic work; Works Gallery; the early 90s in Southern California; hiatus; working with a fabricator; Pomona College board; L.A. Master Chorale; fathers health and growing old; Ace Gallery; new work. Pashgian also recalls Seymour Slive, Vincent Scully, HelenGretchen Van de Kamp , Christopher Ward , Larry Gagosian, DeWain Valentine, Richard Diebenkorn , Roger Kuntz , Peter Alexander , Dave Elder, Bob Bassler, Richard Feynman, Larry Bell, Frank Gehry , Robert Irwin, Mary Corse, Archie Turrell, Miriam Schapiro, Elizabeth Elgin, Brooke Alexander, Wayne Thiebaud, Roger Kuntz, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Donald Judd, Melinda Wortz, Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, Leo Castelli, Jill Kornblee, Phyllis Plous, Melinda Terbell, Stella Polaris Gallery, Mark Moore, is Lance Willis, Kettleman Hills, Michael Govan, and others.

Biographical/Historical Note: Helen Pashgian (1934- ) is a sculptor in Pasadena, California. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is a writer and art historian in Los Angeles, California.

This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

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Interview Transcript

This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Helen Pashgian, 2012 July 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview with Helen Pashgian
Conducted by Hunter Drohojowskia-Philp
At Pashgian's studio in Pasadena, California
2012 July 11


The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Helen Pashgian on 2012 July 11. The interview was conducted at Pashgian's studio in Pasadena, California by Hunter Drohojowskia-Philp for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I'm here with Helen Pashgian

HELEN PASHGIAN:  It's pronounced in two syllables:  Pash-gian.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Pashgian.  It is pronounced Pashgian.

My name is Hunter Drohojowska-Philp.  I am interviewing Helen Pashgian at the artist's studio in Pasadena, California, on July 11th, 2012 for the Archives of American Art-Smithsonian Institution.  Card number one. Here we are.  Helen, would you speak—tell me—Helen?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Can you hear me?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, I cannot.  You need to be a little closer to that if you could be.  Can you be closer to that microphone?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Right here?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes.  And you've got a good voice.  You can—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Can you hear me now?



MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You need to speak in your big Helen voice—your "big girl" voice.

MS. PASHGIAN:  [Laughs.]  Okay.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay, Helen, where we you—tell me your birthdate, and when and where were you born?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was born on November 7th, 1934, which sounds like a very long time ago, and it was, in Pasadena. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  What were the names of your parents?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Aram John Pashgian and Margaret Elizabeth Howell Pashgian.  My father, just by way of Pasadena background, my father's father came here on his honeymoon.  A very romantic story, in the late 1890s.  Can you hear me?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Before you continue, can you just tell me how to spell your father's name?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, A-R-A-M is the first name.  Second name was John.  He always went by both of them.  And my mother—


MS. PASHGIAN:  —H-G-I-A-N.  It was Pashgian.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And your mother's name

MS. PASHGIAN:  Margaret Howell Pashgian. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay.  Spelled M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T?  And H-O-W-E-L-L?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Correct. Now, Hunter, do you want me to talk about the family—give me a little idea of what you want for background.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, we want to know where you came from a little bit.  So, in a concise way, I would like you to talk about your family background and how it formed you.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay.  Okay, it's very interesting particularly how the mother's side formed me.  I would say it was more.  Well, both, but in quite different ways.


MS. PASHGIAN:  So, to go back—not to go back too far but as far as California goes, the grandfather came here on his honeymoon from New York and he was married in January in a blizzard in New York, and in those days, Pasadena was a tiny town: lots of dirt roads, not very much going on, no Rose Parade, no Rose Bowl, nothing.  And he and his new bride came to Pasadena, which was a big terminal stop on the Super Chief, for a two-week honeymoon at the ancient Green Hotel [sic], which was a big thing to do in those days.  And when they got to California, it was blazing sunlight and beautiful and the roses were out; everything was out.  It was warm.  And after the second day, he looked at his new bride and said, "We're not going back."  They shook on it and agreed.  And he telegraphed his brother who lived in Ohio and said, "Sell everything.  Come to Pasadena."

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what was their business?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Their business was real estate and other things, because everything was wide open at that time.  My grandfather—this is going to be kind of divergent—was a great—speaking of business—he was a great romantic in many ways.  He was a poet amongst other things.  And in those days, everything occurred with a handshake as far as business went in the Wild West.  And so as a result, he traded about 100 acres in the north desert, out near Palmdale, for a box—a crate of oranges.  Recently, my cousin and I sold it.  It was 100 years later.  He also bought a parcel in Texas—one of four parcels—for oil drilling, and it was the only dry parcel.  That wasn't a good business move. He also bought a gold mine in Calgary, Canada, which had no gold, as it turned out.  That was a less good move.  But that was—but he also bought buildings on Colorado Street in Pasadena.  Would have been better if he'd bought them on 5th [Street] and Spring [Street] in Los Angeles, but he bought them in Pasadena, which we still have in the family, more or less, and that has been a very good thing.  Anyway, they came here and established—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Your parents came here.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Grandparents.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Grandparents came here.

MS. PASHGIAN:  —and established a foothold, and my great-uncle came.  And this has a big impact on me.  My grandfather—and then my father was born in Pasadena, and so on and so on.  I'll get to the mother later.  But my grandfather bought—he was very excited about property.  This was the West.  This was open.  Everything was new and fresh, and there were very—there were hardly any people.  He bought a hill in Pasadena—property on a hill in Pasadena.  The same hill where the Huntington Hotel was originally to go, but it did not go there.  But it's the only big bump in the city, which is a big hill by itself.  And he bought property on top so that he could—when he could afford it, which was not for 20 years after the date of sale—so he could build a house and look at Mount Wilson in the morning and look at Catalina Island in the afternoon because you could see both.  There was no smog in Pasadena.  It was always very clear.

On the top of this hill, there was a very small green-on-green picnic house, which was of no architectural consequences, and it was eventually torn down.  But in those days, the families would come in their carriages.  Maybe there was a car or two, but mostly their horse-drawn carriages.  And they'd spend the whole day picnicking on top of the hill and looking at the surrounding territory.  Also on top of the hill—and this is very important to me—and I think in a very odd way, in a kind of a tangential way, to my interest in light as I look back on that.  On this hill, going all the way down the hill, many, many acres, there were over 200 fruit trees.  And the fruit—the orchard was old.  I talked to a historian recently and he said they were probably planted in the 1860s, '70s by the Spanish; by the padres and the people who passed through—and stayed, some of them.  Because I remember a particular fig tree, which still exists.  I have cuttings from it and it still exists and it was very big when my grandfather built the house.  And when I was four and five, I lived there.  And it was very big.  Never been pruned, never been watered, and all the leaves came to the ground.  There were also exotic things like loquat trees and all kinds of guavas, four or five kinds.  Three kinds of mulberries: black, white and red mulberries, and then all the usual fruits and citruses and summer fruits. So, at age four and five when it was very bad times economically—it was the bottom of the Great Depression, my parents moved in.  Also, my uncle lived there at the time.  And they were all named John Pashgian.  My grandfather was John Pashgian.  My uncle was John Pashgian.  My father's middle name, my cousin's middle name is John, and my brother's name was John.  So they were very uncreative about names.  [They laugh.]  Living there, I loved to explore.  Can you hear me?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Mmm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MS. PASHGIAN:  I loved to explore the orchard.  And I would go down there at all times of day, and I'd already learned about rattlesnakes and things to watch out for.  And there were—and I remember one time particularly that my grandmother would send me out to get the mulberries, when they were ripe, for the family breakfast.  There were eight or 10 of us living there.  And I would take the sieve and go all the way down to the bottom of the orchard, where the huge, huge black mulberry tree was, and I'd get down—this was a little—with my dress on before school, and I'd crawl under the tree with a sieve, and they'd hang down and I'd pick one and eat a few, pick one, eat a few.  If you know anything about mulberries, Hunter, they stain.  And, so, but what I remember about that was not picking the mulberries.  I remember lying in the dirt clods and looking up at the sun coming through the leaves, which are, you know, eight or 10 inches, huge leaves, and the sun was coming through and exposing all the veins of the leaf.  And I was fascinating looking at the light.  So, obviously, I didn't pick many mulberries.  And I got back and my grandmother punished me.  She said, "Helen, did you eat any?"  And I said, "Oh, no."  And she said, "Look in the mirror."  And my entire face was stained with mulberries.  And I had three mulberries in the basket.  So, I was spanked and sent back to get more mulberries.But that light, the light through leaves and the light that I'd look up into was very, very pivotal, I think, in the interest of how light could permeate a surface and could permeate a substance.  And this is very, very true about what I'm doing right now with these big, eight foot columns, in a very, very—in a very strange, translated way. On the mother's side, which is, in a way, far more interesting, she—her family are all British.  They came to Boston in the—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Her parents—your family were all what?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Her family was all British.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And they came to Boston in the 1630s.  So, they were very strict Bostonians.  My grandmother, whose name was Helen Brown, was the family chronicler of the history, and I knew her quite well.  And the interesting thing about her family is the maternal side.  And the fascinating thing—and I have this written down somewhere—the fascinating thing is that from the very beginning, the oldest daughter of every generation—there were about 15 generations—were all named one of four names:  Margaret, Anne, Helen, or Elizabeth.  And those four names were interchangeable, and which is what they did in families in those days.  And, for instance, my mother's—my grandmother's name was Margaret Helen Brown, my mother's name was Margaret Elizabeth, my name is Margaret Helen, and so forth. Anyway, it stretches backward, and the most interesting person in that family, who I think, although I never knew her, has had a huge impact on my life, more than any other person because I was told about her all my life by my grandmother and my mother, she was my great-great grandmother.  Her name was Margaret Anne Fannon Osborn.  O-S-B-O-R-N.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Can you spell that again?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Margaret Anne Fannon, F-A-N-N-O-N, Osborn.  She always went by four names.




MS. PASHGIAN:  She was a very feisty, tiny woman: four feet and eleven inches. And she wanted to be a doctor.  Now, this would've been way back—I don't know, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, I'm not sure.  And of course, she applied to Harvard Medical School, which had just been formed, and was told because she was a woman there would be no admittance.  She married a doctor—and I know all this because I've read books about her—George Augustus Osborn, and he taught her a lot.  And then they moved to Chicago, and other places in the Midwest, and she did get admitted to a very small, nonfamous medical school that would accept her as a woman.  [She was] the first woman who'd ever gone there.  These were the days when, if a woman wanted to deal with medicine or anything chemical, she was considered a witch.  So, this woman became a doctor.  She became a very famous OB/GYN.  She was very interested in that because in those days at least half the babies that were born died from one reason or another.  And she, on top of this, had 10 children of her own.  I feel like I don't have to have any because she had them all.  Five of them died, but of the five that survived, one of them—she was four feet and eleven inches; this one was six feet and eight inches.  And his name was Chase Salmon Osborn.  Chase Salmon Osborn became governor of Michigan in 1911.  He was governor for only two years.  He stood as vice president with someone who lost, and I don't remember who ran for vice president.  But he was governor.   And the very first thing he did when he was inaugurated was to make a proclamation, of which I have a copy, designating in the great Commonwealth of Michigan second Sunday in May or the third Sunday of May would be devoted to mothers, and that is why we have Mother's Day, which my family absolutely loathed.  [They laugh.]  Someone else claims it started in Virginia in 1908, but I don't think that's true.  At least it became official in Michigan and then it spread around and became an official national holiday.  But he did that because of his mother.  He so appreciated this woman who was not only a tremendous mother to the children, but had gone out on her own against all odds and become a great person in her own right in a field where there were on women.  And not only that but she—my grandmother told me that she was tiny and her little hands were probably four inches or five inches long.  And in those days, the forceps when they brought the baby out of the mom, the forceps would create often brain damage, if not kill the baby, because they were primitive.  So she delivered over a thousand babies, but she would put her hands in there and position the head correctly and pull the baby out.  And then she did it so much and she was so familiar with the procedure that she designed herself a forceps that was manufactured that was much gentler so it would be much better. So, she has always been held up to me as a woman that I should try to emulate.

Then, her—I don't know what her daughter did, but my grandmother, Margaret Helen Brown, became an instructor in English at Purdue University when there were almost no women professors.  And my mother, who was an amazing woman, she was thwarted in her wishes.  She had gone to college in the Midwest, but she'd received a four-year scholarship to Smith for graduate study in anthropology the same year that Margaret Mead went to Smith.  But in the meantime, my grandfather who died—I never knew him—was the famous metallurgist and they had moved to Oakland.  And so my mother took the train to California from college when she graduated.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  She went to Smith on scholarship?

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, she went to what was then a women's college in Illinois called Rockford College, and she was president of the class, Phi Beta Kappa and all the things you could be, plus she had this incredible four-year scholarship all paid for.  And she had her return train ticket to Massachusetts, to Smith College, but when she got out to Oakland, her father, who didn't think women should be educated, that it was a waste of time, would not let her go and said, "Your mother is ill.  You have to stay home and take care of your mother." So, my mother gave up that scholarship.  And I have a feeling, since she talked about that her whole life, that she was never the same again.  And because of that, I think she wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do.  And I didn't want to do any of the normal things that Pasadena ladies did.  And so she supported me always in doing whatever I wanted to do.  Anyway, that's the maternal side.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That's very cool.

MS. PASHGIAN:  And they were—and there are lots of Bostonians of note.  Oliver Wendell Holmes is my great-great-great-great uncle.  And they were all very proper, of course, and straight-laced and stern, I'm sure.  So, that's all that you need to know about the family.  [Laughs.]  That's more than you need to know probably.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, well, where were you actually raised?  Like, what—you were born here to these two?—

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was born here and we—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And before we go there, let me just ask you this: What did your father, John Aram, do for a living?  Was he also in real estate?

MS. PASHGIAN:  He was in real estate and he had a store and he sold antique rugs, and he—but mostly he managed buildings and he was in real estate.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And I noticed—couldn't help but notice that there's a Pashgian rug shop right next to your studio.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That is no longer owned by anyone in the family, but it passed down to my cousin.  I never had anything to do with that.  My father left that business, which  was not the main business, but he left that in 1960 and moved to Laguna Beach a long time ago.  And his brother, who had been a lawyer, took over the business.  And then my cousin, who was never interested in it, took over the business, and he has now sold it to someone.  And it's not—I don't know—.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But in terms of—what was the origin of the interest in the antique rugs?  What is your—where—is Pashgian a—where did it come from?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, my grandfather was Armenian but he was also, because he had pale blue eyes and very light skin, I think, a Viking way, way, way back or something else.  And he had accumulated—he was a professor.  And he had accumulated somewhere in his life some beautiful antique Oriental rugs, and he was going to auction them at Sotheby's and then didn't do that.  And then he came to California.  The Depression came.  And he had to sell them to stay alive.  And then he bought otherwise eventually sold them.  But I think his real interest was in more intellectual pursuits, which he was forced to probably forgo.  Although he did write poetry, I've never really read it, but he did.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, that's where the connection to the Oriental rugs connection begins with your grandfather.

MS. PASHGIAN:  As far as I know.  But then we lived—so we lived with my grandfather in the great big estate with the tree—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  During the Depression.

MS. PASHGIAN:  For two years when I was four and five.  And then my father built a lot—found a lot in Altadena right up at the mountains, the very last street.  Nobody else on the street, but there was a street and there were lots.  And he bought a lot and built a house.  So, when I was six we moved to Altadena.  Now, this, Hunter, was a paradise for children.  There were 18 boys and one girl in the neighborhood.  And we had our little gangs and we were outside all the time.  We played.  There were no video games in a dark room for us.  We played, we had forts, we dammed up the water that came down from the melted snow and made swimming pools in the canyon.  We played under a 300-foot waterfall.  We made forts out of—we made forts around pine trees and we made dirt clods with rocks in them, which we lobbed at each other.  Fortunately, we always missed.  And things like that.  We rode our bikes to school.  We were a wild bunch, although we were from very conservative families.  There were mostly Caltech professors that lived up there in the neighborhood.  But most of the lots were empty, so we ran wild when we came home from school and had a lot of fun.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Do you have siblings?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I had a brother.  But my brother had problems all his life.  When he was a year old, he had brain damage from a high fever with whooping cough and so was never quite right. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  What was your brother's name?

MS. PASHGIAN:  John.  They were all named John.  But he had fun when he was little, and he was raised—we were raised just alike.  He was socialized very well.  But people—I certainly knew that he was a little slow and there was something wrong, but nobody in those days knew anything much.  But my mother did tell me when I was an adult that when he had the fever of 108 in the hospital, when he came home he was different.  He was only one year old, but he was different when he came home.

And so, I became an overachiever, I think, to compensate for that.  It was never in my conscious memory, but I think that's what happened.  And I always included John, but I always knew that I would have to defend him.  One day, the big bully in the neighborhood threw his new bicycle over the embankment and I remember—I was a little squirt, only five feet tall, a skinny little thing—and I went down and all the boys were down there, and I saw my brother's bicycle.  Oh, my brother had come home crying.  We were in different schools.  But he came home crying.  I said, "What happened?"  He told me.  So, we went down there.  And I said, "Who did this?"  And the big bully, who I knew was the big bully, threw his bicycle over the embankment.  So, I remember I decked the big bully.  I made a little fist and I hit him in the face.  He fell to the ground.  And I kicked him and I rolled him over the embankment.  And I threw his bicycle on top of him.  [They laugh.]  And then time passed that a dinner, Mrs.—this is the famous Arnold Beckman's step-son.  Mrs. Beckman called my mother.  My mother said, "Oh, really?  Really?  Oh, Helen, did that?  Well, if she did all the things he said—that you say he did, he probably deserved it."  She hung up.  So, things were dramatic, but I was always protecting my brother.  And he died a few years ago.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  A few years ago. And just to pause there for a moment, so you were raised as an overachiever?

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, I wouldn't say so.  We were raised exactly the same.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But you became an overachiever.

MS. PASHGIAN:  I think I did very well.  I was a smart little girl and I was quick-witted and I was a leader.  I knew that because I would be the leader of this group or that little gang in the summers.  In the neighborhood there were so many children.  We wrote plays and directed them and, you know, charged the parents five cents.  [They laugh.]  But we were very creative children.  And I remember I wrote one of the plays and directed it.  We all acted in it and we made the sets.  It was really interesting.  But I did well in school and I didn't have to work hard.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Where did you attend school?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I attended grammar school and junior high school all in Pasadena.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But what were the names of the schools?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Burbank Elementary School.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, Burbank Elementary.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Eliot Junior High School.


MS. PASHGIAN:  E-L-I-O-T.  One "L," one "T."

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay.  Eliot Junior High School.

MS. PASHGIAN:  And that was a strange thing because it was from seventh grade through 10th.  And then for 11th and 12th grade, I went to John Muir High School and it was with the junior college.  I went to the high school part.  And then I went to Pomona College for four years after that.  So, I went through public schools.  In those schools, the public schools in Pasadena were excellent.  And to explain to you how excellent they were, John Van de Kamp was in my class.  He went to Dartmouth.  I had a number of friends who went to Stanford.  I had a friend at Vassar, a friend to Bryn Mawr; I went to Pomona, and so on and so on.  So, we were well prepared.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, and Pasadena is known for that.  It's known for having strong connections to Ivy League schools, for having the children go back East for an Ivy League education or a West Coast Ivy League.

MS. PASHGIAN:  If I had a child now, I would—they would have to go to a private school to be able to get into the Ivy League because the public schools are no good anymore.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, yes. No, I know.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But in those days, they were.  And my mother wanted me to go to Westwood School for girls.  I didn't want to go there because I was—one thread that's gone through my whole life, Hunter, is I was a swimmer and a very good one.  And I was swimming—we had the National Junior Synchronized Swimming champion in my school and I swam in a duet with her, one of the thrills of my young life.  [They laugh.]  And also I was a lifeguard.  I think the two most boring things I've ever done in my life.  One was being a lifeguard and one was being a fashion model, and I've done both on and off.  [Laughs.]  But I've done lots of things, but those were the only two that were immensely boring.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Were you a tomboy, then, when you were growing up?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was a tomboy.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, you were athletic and—

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was athletic.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you have boys as friends?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was always—I had these long arms that hung to my knees [they laugh] and broad shoulders, so I had a natural swimmer's body.  And I was going to train for the Olympics in the backstroke.  I was very, very good in that.  And I used to practice in the summers with a trainer out in the ocean all day.  We'd just come in for lunch.  But I started too late.  You have to start now, as you'll see in the London, you know, those kids start when they're five or six, and they have no childhood.  That's all they do.  And I wasn't going to do that.  When I was a teenager, 13 or 12, I discovered boys and other interests.  But I was always athletic and I was always a swimmer.  When I was in elementary school, I was pitcher on the girls' baseball team, and I loved all of that physical stuff.  I could run up and down any tree.  And I've gotten a little more conservative in my extreme old age, but not too much.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  When did you discover the visual world?  Were you—were you—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, Okay, now, I knew you were going to ask me that.  There is one memory that is so distinct, and it's my young life when I was about three and four.  That was at the beach, at the ocean.  We rented a house at a little beach called Crystal Cove, which is near Laguna Beach.  It's now a state beach, but it was not. It was owned by the Irvine family in those days.  And every summer we went from a—beginning when I was four, I believe—three or four— when I was four.  And it was a very safe beach and there were very few people out.  And I remember that my mother would just let me go out and I'd run down the beach with my little pail, this little tiny thing.  And my father would be fishing on the rocks at the end and I would go down there because she knew he would watch me and make sure I didn't drown, and I remember I would—I was fascinated looking—I mean, it's as clear to me as though it were yesterday—looking at the tide pools because there were very rich tide pools encrusted with sea life under and above water.  And I'd poke the sea urchins, you know, underneath and I'd play with them and I would—I would notice—I remember—that little girl's mind, I was noticing the play of light on the ripples of the water.  I was also noticing the light, how it was under the water.  Now, this might have been between two inches of water and two feet of water.  And I would play there for hours.  You know, little children's attention span is supposed to be 15 minutes?  I would just be in there for hours.  And I think my father would have to bring me home for lunch with him when he came—when he was finished fishing, catching our fish for the dinner that night.  But I remember that. 
And I do remember reading when I was an adult that Georgia O'Keefe said, in her view, when she was 91 or something, she was asked about the formation of an artist, about the visual formation of an artist.  And she said it was her belief that the human, and particularly artists, are fully formed by the time they're five.  And after that, it's just a matter of refinement.  She said, in her case, she could remember things when she was three and four years old as clearly as though it was yesterday.  I feel the same way about that one thing I remember because I remember visually how beautiful it was and how it was all about what the light did.  I knew that the water moved as the tide moved.  I knew that the light changed because the water moved.  I knew that the water was what the light—the sunlight, which was the thing that lit up the little creatures under there because at night it was dark and you couldn't see anything.  I knew all that instinctively.  And I think that was one of my earliest and most profound memories.  Whether that led me to do what I do, I have no idea, but I think it did.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, did you end up taking—having any art classes in your junior high school or high school?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I took art classes; never liked them.  [Laughs.]


MS. PASHGIAN:  I liked one art class in eighth grade.  I remember the teacher.  I remember I liked that class.  It was interesting, the projects.  But usually I found them dull and boring.  I took another one in high school.  But the way I got into art—this is—maybe you want to ask me this later, but the way I got into art was not through studio art ever.  I didn't really care about it.  And I didn't do any drawings or paintings at home.  I never was interested in that.  But when I got to college, in my sophomore year, I had an—no, in my freshman year, I had a sponsor.  They had older girls sponsor the freshmen in small groups.  And this girl was an art history major, and she told me that—and it didn't happen till the first semester of my sophomore year, but she said, "You have to take this course from this incredibly brilliant professor."  An art history survey course.  And she persuaded me.  And she said, "You have to take the course with the professor."  I said, "Not interested in art history.  The only thing about it sounds boring."  She said, "Promise me, you will not be—he's an actor and a scholar."  I remember her telling me that "And you will be mesmerized." And because she was so, herself, such a strong personality, I agreed reluctantly, and I signed up for this course.  Well, the professor was Seymour Slive, who then became legendary at Harvard.  He was only there two years and I got him his last year.  And he and Vincent Scully became the two legendary art historians in the country at that time.  You know, Scully at Yale in architecture and Slive at Harvard.  Anyway, he transformed my life.  And I wanted then to become—then I became a major in art history.  Actually, I majored in sociology; I had a major in art history when I left—enough so that I could go directly into art history in graduate school.  I'll tell you more about that later, but that's just following up on the question about—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And tell me about Seymour Slive and what you got out of him.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Seymour Slive, first of all, was an expert in 17th century Dutch painting.  Frans Hals in particular and Rembrandt.  And I don't know if you've ever heard him lecture, but he was—for undergraduate kids that knew nothing about the field, he made it so dramatically exciting.  I don't know, I can't define what it was, but he had a magic that no professor I ever had afterwards had although I had many wonderful teachers. He and I think this also had to do with light.  He used to flash the photographs on the screen, and he would—in the case of the ruff in some of the paintings of Frans Hals, he would make us look at how the light defined the ruff, you know, the white ruff on the costumes that they wore in 17th century Holland, and how the brushwork was almost abstract.  And on the left screen, he'd show the painting; on the right screen, he'd show a detail just of this part of the figure—the upper—just the bust, the neck.  And we could see that it was just a stroke here and a stroke here.  And I had no idea; I was fascinated by that and how he made the light on that.  And then in the Rembrandt, how he had one dot of light here. In the Vermeers—and I was entranced with Vermeer because Vermeer would define a whole interior space with the light.  Seymour Slive taught me that. 

When the Norton Simon—a little divergent—when the Norton Simon borrowed from the Frick, I believe it was, last year one of the Vermeers and it was here for three months I went to the opening and spoke to the man from the Frick who lectured about it.  And I suggested to him—wait a minute. I'm trying to get this right.  The collar on this woman, it wasn't the famous one with the map in the background.  It was—no, it had—it was the one with a map in the background and the table in the foreground.  It was the guy with the lute.  Okay.  The woman in the background is not as well defined in his other ones.  She's looking out the window, waiting for the lover or something.  And the lute is there; the suggestion that the lover will come and play the lute.  That's what he said to us.  I'm not sure about that, but nevermind. So, she's looking out the window, and that's how the face is defined, by the light.  But what's fascinating about this—I looked at it for a long, long time.  The face is fairly gray.  There's some definition of the forehead but the face isn't in the brightest light, as Vermeer's others are.  The ruff around her neck, which is actually from a coat, the fur, which is a white fur around the neck, it's a yellowish white, that is done with a thick impasto paint and very bright.  That is the brightest point in the painting.  Everything else is obscured in darkness.  There's lots of that—a wonderful Renaissance word is "fumato," everywhere.  You know, grays on grays and deep suggestions of what's going on.  But that, the light on the collar of the coat, defines the entire interior space.  And I asked the question of the man and he said, "You know, I've never noticed that that was the brightest color on the painting."  Seymour Slive taught me that.  He taught me how a whole painting could be defined by the light in the eye—the highlight in the eye of a Rembrandt self-portrait or the light in one small place where your eye of the viewer always comes back and how it holds you in place and how it cements the composition of the work.  So, I would say that he taught me all the essentials as an undergraduate in college.  And then I learned more and refined more through graduate school, and I was going to begin my Ph.D. at Harvard with him.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, at Pomona, when you graduated from Pomona, did you graduate with a degree in art history?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, a degree in sociology, but I had enough credits that—the brilliance, I think, of a liberal arts education is that often, if you make a mistake in your major, which I did, you can accumulate enough credits to go to graduate school in a second major, which I did.  But before that, I went to New York after college, to Columbia, and I was teaching.  I thought I wanted to teach English, so I was teaching in Harlem, student-teaching in Harlem for a semester.  I didn't like any of that.  I didn't like that.  I was afraid of New York.  I was too young to be there.  I got out of Columbia.  I quit, I moved downtown, I met a cousin of mine who was a half-generation older who was a charming Princeton guy, and he got me a job at an advertising firm.  I worked there for three months.  An old friend from Bryn Mawr came back and we lived together, and she worked elsewhere. And then I decided I'd had enough of New York.  But in the meantime, I traveled to Boston.  A friend of mine was at Radcliffe and I traveled up there on weekends a lot.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Just pause for a second.  When you worked at an advertising firm, what did you do?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was a little secretary on a typewriter in those days.  I typed for account executives and for writers.  I typed eight triplicate–

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  How long did you do that?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Three months was all I could stand.  But the residue of my New York experience was that I'd gone to Boston a lot and fallen in love with Boston and wanted to go back there.  I think I'd fallen in love with somebody also. I mean a physical person and I wanted to go back to see him.  Anyway, I came back to California.  And then I did go to Boston for seven years after that.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, this is a good time to ask that.  I was going to say through all of this trajectory of coming from high school to college, have you had a—did you have your first boyfriend, your second boyfriend?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, there were always thousands of boyfriends, [they laugh] but I can't remember them.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But the one—it sounds like the one in Boston was significant.

MS. PASHGIAN:  For a while.  And, oddly enough, he and I are still friends.  But there were—listen, let me just say this.  When I got to Boston, it was the late '50s, middle '50s, middle to late '50s.  And the pill had been invented and everybody was far from home and everybody—we were all—I mean we drank. Once I drank seven martinis in one hour.  I was sick for three days.  It was a wild life in every way.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In Boston, where you don't think of—

MS. PASHGIAN:  In Boston, even in Boston.  In Cambridge.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You don't think of Boston as being that wild.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, it was wild then.  It was wild then.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, let's just get the dates correct here for a second.

MS. PASHGIAN:  So, anyway—no, but just to finish with the other thing because you may forget—not ask it.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You fell in love with Boston; you fell in love with somebody.

MS. PASHGIAN:  So, I went to graduate school at—I applied to Harvard to their art history program.  But I applied too late.  I applied two weeks before it was going to start.  And they accepted me, but for the following year.  I didn't want to wait.  So, I went to BU; it was easy to get into Boston University.  I got a graduate degree in art history there for one year—masters.  And then while I was working on the masters, I was working on a thesis on one etching of Rembrandt's, the Faust etching.  And I had been doing a lot of research at Harvard because I lived in Cambridge.  And I got stumped because I'd come to a lot of the research was in Dutch, and someone suggested that I go to the Fogg Museum and talk to one of the most famous art historians at the time—wait a minute.  Famous Dutch art historian.  [Pause.]  Isn't that terrible?  It'll come back to me later. Anyway, I went to talk to him, and he was probably a young man then but he seemed, of course, very old to me.  I was 21 or 22.  And I asked him if—I said, "If I were to show you what I'm—the idea of what I'm working on and you were to be sufficiently interested in it, would you be willing to do some translation from the Dutch, so that I can get some original sources in English?  Because I don't know how to speak Dutch."  He said, "Young lady, let me look at it."  So I left it with him.  It was just one page.  "Come back in a week," he said.  So I went back to see him. This is so silly.  I was just talking about him with someone last week.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It'll come to you.

MS. PASHGIAN:  It'll come to me. I went back to see him and he said "Ach," he said, "I agree with you."  He said, "I think my colleagues in Holland are wrong."  It was an iconographical interpretation that was not the prevailing interpretation.  And he said, "I agree with you.  I think that you should come here.  I'll get you into my Ph.D. program.  You come here; I will be your adviser for your Ph.D. and we'll work this out."  But I knew that if I went to Harvard—because I knew from others—it would be 10 or 15 years before I would ever get out of there, and I was sick of academia.  I wanted to get out of school and experience the world, and so I turned him down.  And I told someone this last week and they gasped; they said, "That's crazy.  How could you do anything like that?  I mean, that would be the chance of a lifetime because you could have taught or gone into any museum in the world after that or whatever you wanted to do." And I said, "I'm aware of that now."  I, at that time, I just couldn't take any more intellectual activity.  I was really tired of it.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  What year was this, do you think?

MS. PASHGIAN:  In the late '50s.  In 1958, probably.  In '57, '58—Fall of '57 or '58. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, that was something I really did have to ask you about while it is here.  I will do so.  I have written—made a note to myself, and I know this will probably all be in your CV but just for the heck of it—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, in the back of this, there's—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  There are no dates. There are no dates though.  What is the date of your graduation?  And you can get this to me later, if you'd like.

MS. PASHGIAN:  From Pomona?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes, you don't have the dates here.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, '56?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  For some reason it's a very date-free catalog.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But aren't there dates for the?—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, there's no date for your—any of this.  So, your B.A. from Pomona was what year?

MS. PASHGIAN:  In '56.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And your—went to—then you went to Columbia in '56?

MS. PASHGIAN:  In 1957 or, fall of '56.  Wait.  Yes, fall of '56 to—for that year.  So that would be—


MS. PASHGIAN:  And then I think I spent a year—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And then to Boston.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, then to Boston in the fall of '57.  So, I was there, then, for seven or eight years.  I don't remember exactly how many.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So '57, for seven or eight years.

MS. PASHGIAN:  About seven years, I think, six or seven years there.  It's a little foggy in my mind.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  About.  So, when you were in Boston, you only were in school at BU for one year.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Right, right.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And then you didn't end up doing your Ph.D. work with this professor.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, what did you do for the remaining six years you were in Boston?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Then I worked for an architect, then I—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And who did you work for?

MS. PASHGIAN:  The name of the firm was Strickland, Brigham, and Eldrige—a very tiny firm.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you work there a long time?

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, a few months.  And I was trying to—I didn't have much direction then.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Can you just spell that firm for me just really quickly?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Strickland – S-T-R-I-C-K-L-A-N-D; Brigham, B-R-I-G-H-A-M.  I think Brigham was a friend of mine.  His wife was a friend of mine.  And Eldrige.  I think it's E-L-D-R-I-G-E, maybe, probably.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Now, they were on—they were in Boston.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what did you do for them?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Secretary.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And that was, like, 1958?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, probably, for three or four months.  And then I worked at a variety of jobs.  I worked, for example, for the—I've forgotten a lot of them.  I worked for the Fogg Museum as an underling, sorting slides in one of the sub-basements.  That was a dreadful job.  [They laugh.]  I hated it.  I said to myself—now, this is way back—I said, "I'm never going to go into another museum again.  It's so boring and stultifying and terrible."  But I do remember one thing about those two weeks.  On my lunch break, I noticed that there was a huge Monet show that the Fogg Museum had on display.  And when I say huge, there were about four or five big paintings about 15 feet high, and these were the ones of the cliffs somewhere in the South of France that he'd done at 8 o'clock a.m., 8:10, 8:20, 8:30.  Do you remember those?  Those real big ones?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Mmm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MS. PASHGIAN:  They were on display then.  I remember sitting on the floor and looking at them for the whole hour instead of eating my lunch.  Then I came back every day and looked at them every day.  And they were all about light.  And everything that I saw in those days—very disjointed things—that were about light had an impact on me, but I had no idea why.  It wasn't defined at all.  And then the last three years that I was there, I eventually got a job at a Harvard program in Newton, Massachusetts, teaching at a junior high school.  But it was a pilot program for Harvard School of Education. And that was for three years.  And it was quite interesting because the students were very smart and I took three of the boys one weekend to New York, for example, and we looked at certain things they wanted to see; certain architecture and certain paintings.  We went to the Met, we went to the Modern, we went here and there.  So, that was fun but I got tired of that—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  How long did you do that?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Three years. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, three years.  So, you taught for three years.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what years would those be? 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know.


MS. PASHGIAN:  It was into the ‘60s, like from '60 to '63 because I think in '64 I came home.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Because by that time I was living a very wild life and I was tired and I wasn't very healthy and also I was tired of teaching.  I do remember one thing that is pivotal to the current.  My third year of teaching—I was teaching, because it was partly art history and partly applied art.  I was teaching clay and I was teaching glazes.  The children were working with transparent glazes and I remember we had lots of blue and green glazes.  I don't remember any other colors.  And they were putting them on their little disgusting ashtrays and little pots and whatever things they were doing.  But I remember after the kids had left class that I was looking at those glazes and I started fooling around with them and I was fascinated by the transparency of these glazes.  They reminded me of water.  They reminded me of—but that's all I remember.  Again, it was about light but it didn't resonate with me in any particular way.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  By the way, how old were these kids?  What grades were these children?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Seventh and eighth. No, seventh and eighth grade.  The time of life when they're not children and they're not adults yet; they're in between. And so everything coalesced and I was tired of the East, I was tired. I was homesick for California.  I was—there'd been too much of everything.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And you didn't have a significant relationship throughout this?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I had a significant relationship with somebody who I think wanted to marry me then and I didn't want to marry him.  And it was all part of the thing of life being too much for me, and I was not grounded in anything.  And these were all fabulous people that I was involved with, many of them.  And I also still know that gentleman; we bumped into at Harvard a few years ago.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But you didn't want to get married.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Not to him.  [They laugh.]  Oh, well, wait, and I'll go to that.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In the late '50s, I mean there would have been, I would have thought, a certain amount of pressure to get married.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, yes, pressure, but not from my mother.  You know, she wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do.  My father wanted me to get married and come home.  Marry a nice judge and live in San Remo and have five children.  But I think—and I didn't know this until probably in my 40s.  I think the fact that my brother wasn't well mentally made me scared of children.  I had nothing against marriage but I was afraid. I liked children a lot but I was afraid that if I had a child—there was nothing wrong with me, but what if they had an accident, or what if something happened to them?  I knew I wasn't equipped to handle a child that wasn't perfect mentally.  And so every time I'd get engaged or come close to someone, I would just fly across the country or run away or do something, which is what I did at that—in that instance. And I came—but also, I missed the eucalyptus trees, all the sensual things.  I missed the eucalyptus trees.  I missed the California light.  I missed the California light.  That was the overriding thing.  And I missed the warmth.  I was much skinnier then.  I was cold all the time.  We used to say there are four seasons in Boston; three of them are winter.  [They laugh.]  I don't know if you've ever lived there.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Never lived there.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But, oh, boy, is it cold.  And it was a freezing cold, muddy day in March when I decided to come home.  So, I came home, and that was it.  And I go back a lot because I have friends there.  I love to visit.  But I'm a Californian.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you moved back in 1964.  Did you move back in with your parents?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  They had moved to Laguna Beach, and I was in very bad health then.  I weighed about 100 pounds, I was very thin, I wasn't well.  I'd burned the candle at both ends for too long.  I needed to get my grounding back.  So I stayed with them for a year.  I walked on the beach at Crystal Cove every day, my old haunts.  And I started painting—something I'd never done.  I stretched a few small canvases and I got some oil paints and I started painting.  This is probably a good time to stop.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, maybe not, not yet.  [Inaudible] where you were.  Let me just check the amount of time here.  12:30. We are—we're okay.  We should be fine.  Carry on.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, so I started painting, and I was—so I saw nobody with my parents.  I didn't look up any old friends.  I just wanted to reacquaint myself with California and paint.  And that's all I did for about a year.  I got my health back quickly.  And I didn't want to paint anything realistic, but I wanted to paint light and water.  And so—but I didn't know how to paint because I'd only had one painting class.  I'd had a few figured drawing classes; I'd had a few classes at the Boston Museum School.  I'd had different, you know, different art classes.  But with the oil paint, I wanted to make very thin glazes.  So, I put a thick impasto of white on the canvas.  Unfortunately, I never let it dry long enough.  And if I'd gone to a decent painting class I would have learned that.  But I didn't.  I was too anxious.  So, then I got some linseed oil and some turpentine and I mixed them in unusual ways—like, a lot of oil and a tiny bit of turpentine and vice versa.  And then I mixed the color in them, and I'd pour them and paint them on the canvas.  And they'd run or do interesting things, and then they dried quickly because the oil sealed, you know, it's sealed in the coat, and then I put another coat over it.  And I—it was partly painting and partly pouring.  And they—there was some luscious light—these were just experiments with light, and they were very interesting, and some of them had sort of overtures of rock pools.  What I wanted to do was looking down into something.  I didn't know how to do it very well.  And I look back on those paintings and they're really terrible.  I have one somewhere.  And not only were they terrible, but they all pretty much disintegrated because underneath the white paint, which wasn't dry, cracked in about 10 years.  So, you have this crackle underneath the paint above.  But I had a show of some of those early paintings then. Soon after, I moved back to Pasadena and for two years I lived with a friend of my parents', who were also friends of mine—a dean of engineering at Caltech.  And they were—they lived in—had a great, big house near Caltech, and they let me paint in their ballroom.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So, they – you moved – when you moved back to Pasadena from Laguna Beach – and this would be now 1965? 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know the dates.  I don't have any idea, but it might have been '55 or '56.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, '65, about.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, '65, yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you moved into—

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, no, before '64.  So I must have come back in '63.  So I must have come—because I remember I had a show in 1964, at the end of '64 with Rex Evans' gallery.  Do you remember him?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I do, and I know about that show, so you probably came back in '63, and then by '64 and then moved—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, before.  I had a few paintings.  And I had a friend who—my friend, Gretchen Van de Kamp—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, before we go to that part, just—so you were living in this house with some friends of your parents' for how long?

MS. PASHGIAN:  For two years.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, for two years.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Then I got a place of my own.  And then I didn't have a studio, so I worked in my little, tiny, tiny, tiny house.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Can you just tell me about the friends who you lived with for two years, their names?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, Lindvall.  Frederick, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick—Dr. and Mrs. Frederick L-I-N-D-V-A-L-L.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Correct.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And they lived in a big house and you basically rented a room from them?

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, they let me live there and for two years, which was terrific.  I didn't have any money and I didn't have any—I didn't know, you know, I was kind of still—and I never—during those years, I was very private.  I came to a few events at Caltech with them, but I didn't call any old friends.  I was just insular, which was not the way I had been.  You know, I'd been outgoing, I was a cheerleader in high school, I was this, I was that; I was always the center of attention.  Not now.  Now I was very quiet.  I was into myself.  I was exploring painting, I was thinking.  I spent a lot of time alone thinking, which I still do.  And you could say I became an introvert for that—during that period of time, until—and now we go to my old friend Gretchen Van de Kamp married the son of a movie actress, Jane Wyatt.  Chris Ward.  You probably know Jane Wyatt from Beverly Hills.  She was terrific.  And her son Christopher Ward married Gretchen Van de Kamp.  And I got to know him.  I got reacquainted with the Van de Kamps, who I'd know all my life and our parents had known each other all our lives—their lives.  And the Van de Kamps were an old Pasadena family.  Not nearly as old as the Pashgians,  [laughs] but they were an old Pasadena family.  John and I go way back.  And Chris Ward was obsessed with art.  They were starting to collect.  They lived in Claremont; he worked for Kaiser.  They were at the beach, at Crystal Cove, and so he started telling me about La Cienega and the galleries and said, "Helen, these paintings are really nice, these little paintings.  You ought to go up and start taking them around to the galleries."

Now, Hunter, bear in mind I am the most naïve kid on the block.  I didn't know how to get to La Cienega.  I'd never been to that part of town [they laugh] in my life.  And so I was—so while I was still at Laguna Beach, but I was a person of action.  You know, if I was challenged I would do it.  I took lots of risks.  It's amazing I'm still here when I think of the risks.  [Laughs.] And so, when I was still at Laguna Beach, I loaded—he told me the names of the—some gallery people he knew and he said, "Just go to all of them."  So, I thought, "Well, this will be interesting." So, I rented a U-Haul and not only had I done these little paintings, but I'd done some great big heavy things on wood of rocks that I'd collected.  I glued them on with Will-hold glue on angles.  They all fell off.  They were terrible.  [Laughs.]  But I thought they were pretty good then, so I brought—I loaded them into the U-Haul, which I put on the back of a car, and I drove from Laguna Beach to La Cienega.  I finally found it on the map.  I plotted it on the map.  And I got there.  But I was so nervous when I got there before I went to any of the galleries, that I remember stopping at the gas station on La Cienega and Melrose Place and throwing up for a while.  [They laugh.] 

But then I got my courage up and I went, first, to Felix Landau.  He threw me out.  Then I went to the next one up the street.  Then I went to something called Heritage Gallery.  He was awful.  He actually threw me out on the street.  He said—he probably said, "This is shit," I don't remember.  And I remember sitting in the car and crying.  I mean it was so terrible.  I had no idea the cruelty.  You know, I was just—I went up the street to almost all of them because I promised Chris I would.  And I came down the other side.  David Stuart was there.  I guess Pharos was there at that time.  And then I left.  And they all said, "It's all terrible work, forget it." So, but, so I came back and I told Chris it was just awful, a terrible experience.  I was never going through that again.  He said, "Well, but did you go to Rex Evans?  I told you about him."  I said, "No, I didn't, he was back in an alley upstairs."  You know, one of those little alleys.  He said, "I want you to go back and go to him because I think that he would like them.  He's showing one other California artist." Chris knew them—"named Don Bachardy."  That's when I met Don Bachardy.  He was going—he had gotten connected with Christopher—and he was doing little tiny drawings, about this big, of little drawings of heads.  And I met him in there one day, and I thought, "Those are beautiful."  He was a sweet, cute, little gay guy.  I thought he was darling. Anyway, so, I went back.  I went back, and I only went to Rex Evans.  By now, I'm toughened up a little bit.  I went back and I showed—I only took two paintings.  I went in the car, I took two paintings, I carried them in. They were about this big.  And I went in to—I said to Rex Evans, I said, "I'm Helen Pashgian.  Christopher Ward sent me to see you."  "Oh good," he said.  "What do you have?"  I unwrapped them, put them on the floor.  He said, "Hmm."  You know, he weighed 400 pounds.  He was a great, big—he was a character actor, and lovely guy.  And he said, "Hmm, interesting, I like those."  [They laugh.]  I practically fainted.  He said, "Those are quite interesting."  He said, "Come back in three months with some more."  I said, "Okay," so I left. And he introduced me to his partner, Jim Weatherford.  And, of course, the other thing I didn't know anything about—


HELEN PASHGIAN:  [In progress] –innocent little—they were all—this was the gay world.  I didn't know anything.  When he said his partner, I didn't know what kind of partner he meant.  You know, I thought, business partner; that's nice.  And I didn't know anything. However, I went back and worked and worked and worked and in three months I came back with more pieces.  He said, "Great, I want to have a show for you."  In those days those shows would just be kind of—it was kind of willy-nilly.  He said, "I think I have time in three or four months so in September we'll have a show.  Give me about 10 pieces."  So I quickly turned out 10 pieces and we had the show.  And my parents came and Christopher—the Wards came and Jane Wyatt came and her husband.  And his clients came.  And he actually sold two. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  My father nearly fainted that somebody spent real money, like $50, for something that he didn't understand that his little girl had done.  [They laugh.]  Anyway, that was the beginning.  And I showed at another show with him and then he died.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And then I showed with Felix Landau.  I had one show with Felix Landau.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, by this time—so two years had passed.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Now, but this time I'm into doing the spheres, because I showed the little spheres.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Before we go on to Felix Landau I think it's important to find out how you made this transition.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But I want to tell you one thing about Rex Evans.


MS. PASHGIAN:  This is very interesting. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  This is how I learned a little bit about the art world.  Rex Evans—all of those galleries were unique.  And remember—which now when I think back on it, is very interesting.  In those little alleys that went back in, remember—Rico Mizuno was back on one at the time and Gagosian was in one.  And he was selling—I remember because we're the same age, and he was selling little tiny—I went in there one day—little tiny prints and posters of Monet and Manet and Courbet and all that, framed for $15 framed.  And everyone laughed at him, but nobody noticed that he was selling them all every week and bringing in new ones.  I mean he was a genius.  He was selling crap, but he was a genius.  And now we look back and I mean it's so interesting what's happened.  Anyway, one reason none of those galleries would show my work—and another thing I did know—was because I was a woman.  There were no women showing anywhere. 

So to get back to Rex Evans, he was very fatherly and took me, this little 20-something.  And I met Don Bachardy and we talked, and then Rex started inviting me to luncheons.  He was a great cook and he had these great gourmet luncheons and he invited lots of people.  So he invited me to the first one.   And, Hunter, I have to tell you this.  I don't know if anybody else would be interested in this, but it's very funny to me.  We might take this out.  But he invited me to the first one, and so I thought, I'm going to—in a big city I'm going to a luncheon; what shall I wear?  And I thought, I knew exactly what to wear in Boston, so I wore my tweed suit, which came below the knee and it was baggy.  It was rough tweed, which I would wear there.  So I drove up—now I'm living in Pasadena.  Now I had to find out how to get from Pasadena across to—you know, and where to park.  In those days you could park right on La Cienega, no problem.  So I went to this luncheon on a Saturday and I climbed the stairs.  Well, I couldn't have looked more out of place.  He had the beautiful—they had an apartment up there.  It was a weekend apartment.  And in the dining room there was a long table with beautiful food and drink and someone offering me wine and champagne.  And there was an older lady sitting—now, I'm in my early 20s—sitting in the chair—very elegant, beautiful older lady. And Rex said, "Helen," he said, "I'd like you to meet Dame Judith Asquith [ph].  [They laugh.]  I said, "How do you do?"  And so he was in the acting world and in the British world, and he knew everybody.  And so then Don Bachardy was there and Christopher.  I already knew Don Bachardy, thank goodness, but then he introduced me to lots of movie actors and different people, and I was so terrified.  And then in came André Previn with this then-wife, Mia Farrow.  He introduced me to them.  And I remember she said, "Oh, are you an artist?"  And Rex said, "Oh, she's a wonderful artist.  She's going to have show here soon."  You know, and it was all like that.  I remember being so scared, after he was taking me around by the arm to meet everyone—they didn't know me from a hole in the wall but I knew who all of them were.  Then I got my food.  I remember sitting in a corner in my tweed suit eating my food because I didn't know what to say to any of them.  I, who had never been at a loss for words, and it was the party girl of the party girls, was terrified.  [They laugh.]  However, I got over that.  Then I went to other—lots of other things.  And it was really nice.  Then I didn't see Don Bachardy until we became adults.  And I saw him somewhere at a show, I don't know, 40 years later.  And I said, "Don, it's Helen."  "Oh, I remember you."  We both showed at Rex Evans.  But I hadn't seen him since then and he'd gone on to great things and so forth.  Anyway, then I started making sculpture.  And so then that's a huge shift.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So when you—you actually met—just to pause for—


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Just to pause for a moment, you had, I think, three shows at Rex Evans. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Three?  I think I had two.

[Cross talk.]


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Two.  I'm sorry. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Two.  No, three?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Three shows, '65, '66, and '67.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And so during that time, what did Rex Evans have to do with your transition from these paintings to—

MS. PASHGIAN:  To sculpture.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —your interest in sculpture?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, he had nothing to really do with it.  I mean, he was the opposite of someone like Douglas Christmas, who was hands-on with his artists—he's into them and what they're doing every second—so that I have become very secret with him.  I don't tell him much or show him much until it's done, because he's a frustrated artist.  And that's fine.  I mean, lots of dealers are.  But Rex Evans was just a facilitator and a wonderfully helpful advisor to me.  And then he died—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But during that three-year period—

MS. PASHGIAN:  —suddenly.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —how did you happen to make the transition from painting to acrylic sculpture?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I must have been making that transition —in fact, I must have been—and I don't remember a lot of this, but I must have discovered somehow because now everyone talks about this and lectures about this.  The Getty has written about this voluminously.  All these line and space artists discovered these materials independently of each other, which is true.  And I must—I might have discovered—and I say "might" because I don't know for a fact if I discovered polyester resin from someone at Caltech who may have been experimenting with it, or whether I discovered it elsewhere, but it wasn't anywhere within the art sphere.  I don't know where it was, but somehow I came upon some polyester resin.  I might have wandered into a craft store where there were little vials of it and little vials of—you know, pints of it and little vials of dye. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, what was your first project with it? 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know.  I mean don't think people haven't asked.  [They laugh.]  They've been asking for years.  I don't know.  The honest truth is I don't know what the first project was. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But when you showed—

MS. PASHGIAN:  But I might have found some of the material because I would have had, in my little tiny house that I lived in, a back room which I turned into a little studio, and I put an air fan in the ceiling and a thing in to expel the air.  So I was starting to work with toxic material because I knew I had to get the smell out of that room.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, this will be a clue.  You were working on the little paintings—





MS. PASHGIAN:  And also in Pasadena.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In Pasadena, and then when did you get the little house on your own?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Then after two years with the [inaudible]  I got a little, tiny house on my own, a rental.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And where was that?

MS. PASHGIAN:  In Pasadena.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But what address?

MS. PASHGIAN:  It was on Marguerita Lane.  I don't know the address. 


[Cross talk.]

MS. PASHGIAN:  And I lived there.  I don't remember how long I lived there.  But while I lived there I got this little room of my studio there, because this building was owned by my father.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay, let's pause for Marguerita Lane for a second.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In Pasadena.  You're renting this house, and that probably would have been about—did you get that house in '65, '66?

MS. PASHGIAN:  You'll just have to figure it out. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  I have no idea.


MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't have any idea.  And so I was there for a couple of years anyway.  No—yes, and then I moved to a little tiny, tiny one-room.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And while you were there for a couple of years—

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, while I was there for a couple of years I didn't have this place.  I was working in a little, tiny room in the back.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  While you were there for a couple of years you had the little room in the back with the air conditioning, with the air system—the air filtering system. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  With the air filter system.  And I was starting to work with polyester resin.  So here's what I think happened, and I could have bumped into a little tiny half-pint of the material and some dye and brought it home and started mixing it carefully.  And I smelled it and I thought, I can't—I knew this is bad stuff.  And so I think—but I was a smart kid and I was curious, and I probably went back to this little store, if that's where I got it, and looked on the bottle and found out that there was a manufacturer of this material.  And I probably found that manufacturer, not the one who made the resin but a bigger manufacturer that sold it.  And I probably went to them and asked them about how it behaved chemically.  And that's how I probably met the guy at Hastings Plastics, and DeWain Valentine, who I worked with later, and the guy at some plastics place over here.  And there might have been a plastics place here but that's very, very foggy in my memory.  Then I do remember wearing a great, big mask with dual filters.  And when I had that tight on my head. It was a rubber mask, and when I had that tight on my head I could breathe through it but I couldn't smell the fumes, so I knew that it was cutting them out. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And so you were really doing your earliest plastic work in that little house. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  In this little back room. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In the back room of the little house.  Do you have any of that work?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Of the earliest works I don't think so.  I think they either self-destructed, because they were no good and I threw them away.  I made some little tiny pieces by pouring them.  I found out—I do remember early on, not this stuff but—not this plastic, but polyethylene was inert and you could pour anything into a polyethylene mold.  And that's what in those days—and still many salad—the things you put the salad in to shake the lettuce leaves, and drinking cups and other stuff, were made out of polyethylene.  So I'd go to the grocery store and I'd buy little polyethylene cups and stuff and pour the resin in.  And I'd take it out; it was damn beautiful.  I mean it was transparent and gorgeous.  At the same time Peter Alexander was doing the same little experiments, and DeWain and other people.  But I had no knowledge of that.  And I was seduced by—I will admit—by the material.  I had no clue what to do with it so I threw all that stuff away. But to answer your question, I do remember, in that house, making—having somebody—I have no idea who—make some little acrylic boxes for me.  Maybe I got some white or black acrylic and had them cut it to 8 or 10 inches and glued them together myself.  I went to a craft store probably and had somebody saw some acrylic and probably glued them together.  And I do remember I made a black one and a white one.  I have no knowledge of where they are.  And in one of them I put—I cast a little circle.  I must have had a round mold or something roundish, and I cast some polyester resin in there.  And when I took it out and I sanded it—by this time I'm into sanding and wearing a paper mask for sanding, and gloves.  And then I got polishing equipment in that little room and I got vices to hold—it was all pretty small stuff.  But I learned—I taught myself how to sand correctly, what kind of grades of sandpaper, then how to polish, what kind of polishing compounds.  And so then I turned it and turned it until I made a perfect little round thing that was cast.  And I glued it somehow into—it probably fell off, but I glued it into the center of this box so you could look through it like an old camera and see this round thing.  And I remember one of them was white in the back.  I think they all self-destructed.  I think they all fell apart, because I didn't know what I was doing.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you ever exhibit them?



MS. PASHGIAN:  No, I felt they were all failures.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, you thought they were failures.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Terrible failures, and they were failures and they fell apart.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So they weren't shown at Rex Evans.  This is—


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  This is after the Rex Evans—

MS. PASHGIAN:  They were never shown anywhere. And then I made a bigger box like this.  I may have had somebody make the box for me.  I think I was smart enough to know I couldn't do that, because there is a glue for that kind of acrylic.  And then I cast another piece of polyester resin, put it inside.  And then I got tired after two boxes or something.  I think I sold one for $15 to someone and they broke it, I think.  If I ever find one—listen, if I ever find one it will be in a retrospective, but I doubt if I'll ever find one. 

Then I lost interest in acrylic and then I started creating bigger balls.  Then I did a clear sphere in clear resin—sanded/polished, sanded/polished the whole thing, made it round.  And then I cast that into—I went and got some kind of pitcher for lemonade from the, you know, store.  It was polyethylene.  I cut off the top, used that for a mold and put the clear ball into it.  And then I poured around the bottom.  Now you're putting something round into something that's a cylinder.  You're putting a sphere into a cylinder.  Then I poured, let's say red, into the bottom.  And I took it out and the red—if this is a circle, the red came up to the middle.  And by this time it had no color, but it was red in the corners around here.  And I thought that was kind of neat. So then I took it out of that mold, threw that away, bought another mold.  I'd cut it with a razor, throw the mold—now I've got another thing of the same size.  Now I turn it upside down and put the sphere with the red ring around the top at the top.  And I put it in there again, or I poured a little bit of resin—I'm starting to learn to measure things now—measured it.  And for some reason all the air bubbles came out of the resin I think by themselves, but I was pouring small amounts.And then I very carefully put now this piece into it.  And it cured, got really hot.  And while it was curing the smell was foul so I'd go out of the room, close the door and turn the fan on.  And the fan would push all the foul smell to the neighbors.  [They laugh.] 

And then I took it out, and now I had a cylinder that had a red circle at the bottom and a blue circle at the top.  And I didn't know what to do with that, so I left it around I think for a few months.  This is a little—but then I do remember wondering what it would be like if you took the cylinder and put it into an even bigger sphere.  So I went and got a nice, round or roundish thing like this that you shook the lettuce in, brought that home and poured clear into that, half of it.  No, I know what I did.  Yes.  I poured clear into it partway up.  And then—no, I poured clear into the bottom part and then I took it out of that mold and there was a ring around here, which I sanded off.  Now I have a cylinder with a rounded bottom.  Now I put it back in another mold, same size.  Now you have the bottom and the cylinder.  Then I taped—I bought another lettuce thing and now I taped it around the top and made a hole in the top, and I taped it around here.  Now I mixed more clear and I poured it in very slowly and it filled in all the crevices up to the top.  And when it was cured I cut the polyethylene off and I had a fairly ugly roundish sphere about eight inches in diameter.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Using salad bowls as molds?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Or any kind of mold that was round.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Hemispherical.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Hemispherical.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Or semi-hemispherical. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  Then I had to—because they probably stood up, so I had to shave off the bottom to make it a true hemisphere.  So now I had a sphere, and I shaved it off and made it round and so forth and so on.  And then I sanded and sanded and sanded it.  And the first ones were pretty bad.  I threw them away.  There were air bubbles somewhere, or it was cracked inside because I didn't know about how much catalyst to use.  And that takes me into another story later on at Caltech.  But that was how I began with the spheres. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you really became—

MS. PASHGIAN:  And the first ones pretty much failed, but I got a few good ones and I took them into Felix Landau.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And he said, "I've never seen anything like them, and I'm sure nobody else has either.  I like them."  [They laugh.]  And he said, "How do you do it?"  And I tried to explain.  And he said, "We're going to show those."  And I knew nothing about Felix Landau except that he was a very good gallery.  I did know that much.  And so we had a show of them.  Right after the show closed he went back—he closed his gallery.  He went out of business. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So this would have been—?

MS. PASHGIAN:  It would be easy enough to find out when he went out of business.  That one should be in there. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It's not in here.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Was it a solo show?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, but he had a couple of rooms.  It might have been in one room.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It's in a group show.  It's listed as a group show—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, a group show.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, well, maybe it's a group show. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But it was in 1969.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But I thought it was before that. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But that would make sense, actually.

MS. PASHGIAN:  So but then he closed. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So it really must have taken you a year or two to develop this.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, at least.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  At least, because like really your last show was Rex Evan's '66, '67.

MS. PASHGIAN:  At least a year or two, but during that time—now, '69 and '70 is when we all started showing together.  And then I met Peter Alexander.  He was working on his little tiny things.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Let's pause for a second just for chronology.  So you only showed the paintings with Rex Evans.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay, so they—

MS. PASHGIAN:  So then I was working on my own.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In '67 and '69 you started working on your own.

MS. PASHGIAN:  And I do remember this:  I remember taking one of the spheres—they've very heavy—and wrapping them up in flannel, taking them to show them to Felix, put them on a table.  And he looked at it and he said, "Let me have it."  This is how it began.  He said, "Maybe I'll show these."  I think he wanted to test the waters.  And in less than a week he called me up and said, "I sold it."  He just called some client or he showed it to somebody who was in for another show, and they loved it and he sold it.  So I thought this was the right place.So then he said—after the show—and I only had three or four so they were probably in that group show.  And at that time he was showing Oliveira.  He was showing Richard Diebenkorn.  He was showing some of the Claremont artists.  He was showing Roger Kuntz and a lesser-known one that I knew, Doug McClellan.  No, wait a minute—half San Francisco and half L.A.  But he had very, very—and George Baker, the sculptor, he showed him.  He had some very, very good shows.  And had he not—because in the divorce he lost the gallery and his wife Misty [ph] took all of that.  And then that was sad because he was at his peak then, and then he left, went to Europe.  And I saw him once when he was back here but he wasn't really dealing anymore except privately in Europe.  That really broke his heart I think, the end of that gallery. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, losing his gallery to his ex-wife?  Yes, I'm sure it must have done. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  He was hurt.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, when you were doing these pieces, how long would it take you to finish one sphere?  Months?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, a long time. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Months?  Because you were hand-finishing each one. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  And I would try to work on more than one at once.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Were you working at a job anywhere, or was this all you were doing?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Let's see, was I working in a job?  I may have been working in some—part of that time I was teaching—was it that time?  I taught at Occidental College for two years part time, so I was teaching there but I don't think it was—no, that was in the ‘80s.  The early days I had a little bit of money.  I had a little rental from my father and I had a little tiny bit of income, just enough to eat and to buy resin.  It was pretty tough going.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So your father gave you one of his rental properties to manage or—

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, he had to manage it.  He wouldn't trust me with anything.  But I had a small income from a part of it, a portion of it, I think.  I'm not sure about that, but I had enough to live on. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So your parents were helping you. 


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Your parents helped you.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But it was meager. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, did your parents think of what you were doing as—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I don't know.  They were very diplomatic.  They didn't say much.  I think they were horrified.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But they didn't discourage you actively.  They just—

MS. PASHGIAN:  No.  My mother—now, see, this plays into what I told you about her,  she wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do.  There had never been an artist in the family before.  Nobody knew where this came from, least of all me.  But I was following it.  I was smart enough to—I was really passionate about it at that time.  I was fascinated by pursuing this, and what would happen with the light.  And I had learned from failure after failure after failure, and one success and 12 failures—I had learned that I had to control it, that it was a very seductive material but I couldn't let it seduce me.  I couldn't let it lead me off, you know, to never-never land.  I had to have an idea.  It had to be extremely simple or I would, you know, let it lead me.  It had to be very, very—I had to be the master of that material.  Otherwise I would be sunk.  So I would plan and now I began to pay attention, and that means I began to measure carefully.  I began to write everything down and keep notebooks.  I don't have those old notebooks.  And I made drawings in my notebooks, and I started to write down proportions, different proportions of catalysts for resin, and to become a little more careful about what was going on.  So is this a stopping place?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I have no idea how to read this thing.

MS. PASHGIAN:  It seems like it's been a long time.  My voice is getting bad so maybe we should—


MS. PASHGIAN:  We better stop.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So we've probably been talking for an hour and fifteen minutes, but we can take a break if you want. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, let's talk a little more about that and then I'll take a—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Do you have water of your own?  Would you like to—I can pause this.

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, I have a glass of water and a glass of water for you.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I have water. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Let me get some water.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I'm just going to pause for a second.




MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  There we are.  We are recording again.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, in fact we're talking about the spheres.  I want to tell you about the artist-in-residency at Caltech. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I want to talk about that, but before—all right, go ahead.  I was going to say—

MS. PASHGIAN:  What?  Before that what?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No, go ahead.  Let's talk about the artist-in-resident scene at Caltech, which happened in 1970.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, because that is when—oh, and also, to go back to some of the previous things, right from the beginning both Rex Evans and particularly Felix Landau.  I was shocked, happily, that these were salable works, so I was making some money.  I mean, bear in mind that everything sold for nothing then, but everything was cheap to live too.  So I was making enough money to be self-supportive then, which was terrific, and except for teaching two years at Occidental College, which you know, then I had enough sales to keep going, which was great. Okay, so in 1970 —'69 to '71 at Caltech—I knew a lot of people from Caltech and they—Caltech had had a number of abortive attempts to have an art gallery and an art program, and they tried this and that.  They were somewhat competitive with MIT, which was much larger and had a big design program, an art program.  And so there was someone named David Smith at the time who was involved with humanities, and he wanted to have an art program, and the wife of the provost was also interested.  So they established some fledgling thing.  And they invited me to come, and did I know anyone else?  So I invited—and they thought it was interesting because I was working with materials that were unusual and that were chemically based.  And they thought that went with Caltech and so forth.  And I said I knew Peter Alexander.  I'd met him at that time.  I asked Peter if he'd be interested and he said he would.  He was rarely there at Caltech but he made some of his long splinter shapes, wedges there.  The idea was that we would come—there were two other people, Bob Bassler and Dave Elder.  So there were four of us.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Can you spell the names of those two people?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Robert Bassler –


MS. PASHGIAN:  B-A-S-S-L-E-R.  And David – Dave Elder, E-L-D-E-R.  And Dave Elder at the time was married to Connie Zehr.


MS. PASHGIAN:  She was a much better artist. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay, so you all were artists-in-residence at Caltech. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and I'm the only one who lived in Pasadena, so I was there most of the time, and the others came over.  And we were—the idea was it would be a two-year program, during the course of which we would get to know Caltech professors, postdocs and different people who were involved with polymers and dealing with—theoretically with polyesters.  And we were doing empirical research with polyester resin, and this would be a wonderful marriage of, you know, art and technology, which was also a hot subject.  Remember the L.A. Art and Technology Show was in 1969. Okay, well, unfortunately for Caltech, they hired someone—he will remain nameless—who was not a good facilitator for this program.  And I don't want to say much about him because he was eventually deported, and I don't think anyone is interested to discuss him.  But because he not only did not fulfill his duties of getting the artists together with people at the institute, he was sort of blocked—nobody knew about it.  Part of his job was to make it known that these artists were working there, and different people could seek us out.

We worked in an old, defunct botany building, which was scheduled to be torn down for a new chemistry building.  And so they didn't care what we did with it.  I had a great, big laboratory about this size, and the fan that I have in the other room came from there.  Because I was working with these terrible fumes, they put a fan in.  And they had a whole group of men, about 12 of them, that came to find out exactly where I had to work in front of the fan for it to pull all the toxic fumes out of the room. But the interesting thing about those two years, which I consider mostly a failure was that I found a wonderful guy who was head of the chemical engineering department—or I think he was the head of it—Nicholas Tschoegl.  And I don't know how to spell his name.  T-S-C-H-E-R-G-L something like that.  Nicholas Tschoegl was very interested in what I was doing, and I would go and talk with him and show him I was working on the big discs by that time.  And I was working on a huge five-foot disc, which was stolen from Caltech.  That's another story.  The idea was that at the end of the two years we would have a show in a new gallery called Baxter Art Gallery, which they had devised in the bottom of one of the humanities buildings.  Somebody had given money for that.  And so everybody at Caltech and in Pasadena was excited about this.  So we did have the show at the end of two years, but in the intervening time, Nicholas Tschoegl invited me to a luncheon seminar.  Once a month he had a luncheon seminar with Caltech people and people from JPL, Jet Propulsion Lab, scientists that were working on the moon projects and so forth.  And there were going to be about 20 or 30 of them in a seminar room in the chemical engineering department, and asked me if I would come and bring a couple of the spheres, the physical spheres, and slides, and discuss with the men what I had done.  Have you heard this story before?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes, but you have to keep telling it.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay.  And so I went there and I was—there were about 20 or 30 of them.  And I showed them the pieces and we had lunch.  And then after lunch he introduced me and said I would discuss them.  So I discussed, in as much detail as I was able to, the making of them from the inside out.  All of these guys were really interested, or at least they expressed tremendous interest, except for one.  And this man was visibly angry and very annoyed with every word that I said. It annoyed him and made him angrier and angrier.  And finally he said— it's—


MS. PASHGIAN:  Finally he said, "Well, you may say that's what you did but obviously that isn't what you did, because it's impossible.  You couldn't make this happen without cracking them.  Either you would under-catalyze part of over-catalyze part.  If you under-catalyzed then it wouldn't set up and it would become hard.  If you over-catalyzed it would crack.  There is no way that you could put a hard-edged cylinder into a hemispherical, rounded space, because at that point it will crack." And so some of these men started tittering and they said, "Well, she's done it.  You could see it right here.  If you'd turn them all around you can see that."  He said, "Well, I don't care what she says.  It won't work," whereupon he got up, walked out of the room and slammed the door.  So I told Dr. Tschoegl that I was very upset.  And I said, "I'm very sorry that I've offended Mr. ‘So and So,' or Dr. ‘So and So.'  What did I do wrong?"And Nicholas Tschoegl said, "Hell, what you have done is you have totally undermined his entire doctoral thesis"  [they laugh]  "which is on this very subject.  But he's—theoretically, the way he worked it out, he was correct, but empirically what you have done is also correct, and you have done what he said can't be done.  So it negates his entire—"  And so that's why he was so upset.  [They laugh.]  I said, "Will he lose his Ph.D.?"  He said, "No, he won't."  But he said, "This is" —so the whole point of telling this is this is the first time that I came up against—I've told this story many times to many people, many museums come up against the science because everyone was in love with the idea of science and art merging or melding, and technology and art.  It never really did meld and merge very well.  There were many trials.  But actually theoretical scientists work from a different starting point and a different ending point, and artists do the same.  We make something out of our ignorance.  We find what we need to know to make that object, let's say.  But we are making essentially a useless object for other purposes.  The scientists are making a useful object, and it's a totally different starting and ending point in both cases.  The thing that is similar that I found out is that artists and scientists work alike.  The creative process of deduction and experimentation is very similar, but the beginning and the ending points are quite different.  During that two years I was a good friend of Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate, and he was also a fledgling artist.  He had two Nobel prizes, I think.  And he was a wonderful guy.  We were close friends.  And he had a little studio next to mine, and he was painting fleshy nudes and so on, and we'd talk in between and go out and have a beer and talk things over.  And he was very interested in what I was doing. I was working in a small room in one place where I could sand this big five-foot disc, and the whole room was covered with sand in the air.  I had to work in a private room so that the dust wouldn't seep out to the rest of the building. 

But I was also working on the spheres, and he said, "Look, why don't you come over to the high-energy physics lab" —which is another building, in the basement.  "We have a lathe and we're making spheres that are perfect within a thousandth of an inch that are going in the moon shots."  Some of those capsules had to have spherical things in them made out of steel and metal and things.  And he said, I don't know why you couldn't work with plastic."  So he said, "You talk to so and so and tell them I sent you."  So I went to the high-energy physics lab and I talked to Dr. so and so, who ran it.  And I took the sphere and I said, "This is in its rough state and I need to make it round before I can sand it or polish it.  And Dr. Feynman said perhaps I could use the lathe."  And he said, "I'll show you how to use the lathe and you're certainly willing [sic] to use it."  I had long hair, which I dyed dark in those days, down to my waist.  And he said, "Get that hair into a ponytail or get it off your face because if the hair gets in the lathe, it will pull your head in and you'll be cut into a thousand pieces."  I said, "Oh, I'll get it out of the way.  Don't worry."  [They laugh.]  And so I learned to use this lathe, which was very highly—I turned it by hand.  And the machine—I mean, I don't remember how it worked, but it was cutting all the time.  And I would keep turning it by hand until I got it round or at least round to the eye.  And it was hard work because it was very heavy.  I was very strong.  My arms were very strong then, and I could turn it around, turn it around and turn it around.  And then I'd look at it, turn it around, turn it around.  And so I was in there working on it by myself.  And they'd turn it on and turn it off for me.   But that was very interesting because it was another thing—another way that I was using a high-tech—one of the highest-tech instruments for a very low-tech purpose.  It was an aesthetic purpose.  I was not using this machine for its actual purpose, which was to do things that would go in the moon shots.  So I found that to be fairly interesting, and all the time of talking with Feynman and so forth was very interesting. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Why don't you conclude by telling the story about what happens after the exhibition at the Baxter Art Gallery?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, wait say that again?  Well, we had the exhibition at the Baxter art—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You had the exhibition and—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, and we had the exhibition and it was a huge success.  Everybody from the Pasadena Heart Alliance, everybody from the Pasadena Art Museum, you know, everybody from Caltech came.  There was a great new curiosity.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Your work along with the work of Peter Alexander?

MS. PASHGIAN:  The four of us.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  The four of us.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Peter too. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  We all had this and this in a fairly—not very large gallery.  And it went on for about a year or two and then went defunct.  And it never worked at Caltech because Caltech is not MIT and they didn't have that many people interested in it.  And the problem was that by the time we had the show—and a lot of graduate students came to the opening, and a lot of other people from Caltech.  They said, "Oh, this is terrific.  We want to come to your studios and talk to you about this process."  And we said, "Well, unfortunately, our studios have been disbanded.  The project is over.  We've been working here for two years but the project is concluded."  And so they were very disappointed because they didn't know we were there.  The whole thing was a big mistake. However, the interesting thing after the opening came, then people came and looked at the show.  It was up a month or so.  Five days afterwards my Great Sphere was missing. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And it's, like, five feet tall?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Five feet in diameter.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Five feet in diameter. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  About like this.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Very heavy.  Very heavy. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So someone stole—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Four or five men to lift it.  So it was stolen.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It took four or five men to lift it and someone stole your five-foot-diameter—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Disc, out of the—it was in a base and they lifted out the base.  And it was locked in the gallery.  It was stolen one night, because the young woman who ran the gallery came in the next day and called me on the phone and said, "Helen, I have some strange news for you.  When I walked in this morning I had a premonition that something looked a little different but I couldn't say what.  And then I realized what looked different was that something was missing, and it was your huge five-foot sphere."  And I said, "That's impossible."  Because that's the time that Peter—well, I said, "It's impossible."  She said, "It's gone." So I went over –

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Was it made of resin?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Polyester resin.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Polyester resin?

MS. PASHGIAN:  It was gone.  It's never been recovered.  It was some inside job.  We have no idea what happened to it.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  An inside job by whom?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Who knows?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That guy with the Ph.D. thesis?  [They laugh.] 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Maybe.  Who knows?  Maybe it will turn up some day.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you never had any inkling who did it?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I'm getting ready to make another one for Michael Rhode [ph] wants to see the first one that I made.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But did you ever have—did you ever have a suspicion of who it could have been?





MS. PASHGIAN:  Somebody wanted a nice coffee table or something.  I don't know.  It's very strange.  Caltech made a concerted effort to find it but they never had a clue.  They never—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did they compensate you for the loss?


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No?  I don't suppose they had insurance for that kind of thing.

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, no, they didn't, and I didn't say anything.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  When you were an artist in residence, were you paid?



MS. PASHGIAN:  It was an honorary thing.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So what you got out of it was essentially a studio.

MS. PASHGIAN:  The experience.  And it was supposed to be the experience of working with the scientists.  What we did do, one day [inaudible] at Caltech we invited, at my instigation and Nicholas Tschoegl also, and Michael Smith, who was the head of the program—we invited one of the vice presidents and a few of the chemists from Dupont and Rohm & Haas, some of the companies that made the resin, and they came in their suits and had lunch with, I think with a couple of us.  And we talked with them and they gave us some resin.  And they also I remember going out to one of the big factories somewhere in Torrance or somewhere and working with one of the chemists.  And he taught me some fine-tuning about some of the resins.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did that come out of working at Caltech?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, because it was at Caltech that we invited them to have lunch.  And they came—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And they came because it was Caltech.

MS. PASHGIAN:  And because it was Caltech.  They wouldn't have come otherwise.


MS. PASHGIAN:  So I got to know some of the biggies at some of those companies. And the other thing—what else came out of it?  That was all.  There wasn't very much.  But what was terrific for me was two nights before the opening I was still trying to sand—there's a picture of me somewhere in a catalogue Caltech put out—a picture of me standing on this big pile, which was this mound on the floor, sanding it with a heavy-duty sander.  And I knew it wasn't going to be finished in time.  And Peter Alexander said, "You know, Helen" —he was over there that day and he said, "I think I know somebody that can help you, because you're never going to get it done in time."  He said, "This guy in Venice, who's helping me with my molds."  His name was Jack Brogan.  Nobody ever heard of Jack in those days.  So I said, "Great.  I'll go and see him tonight."  So I drove to Venice.  I called Jack Brogan on the phone.  He said he'd be there.  And I met him that night and I explained to him what had happened.  And he was great.  And he said, "Tomorrow morning I'll come over with a truck and my guys and we'll pick it up and we'll bring it out to Venice.  And I have all the equipment."  And he had the—it was almost finished then.  It was ready to be polished.  And he said, "We have the polishing equipment" –they used water polish– "and we will work on it."  And I went out, and Jack and I and his man worked all night the night before the opening.  And then he polished—got it dried and polished it, went through all the grades of polishing and got it all done.  And then he and his guys wrapped it up and brought it back the day of the installation of the opening.  So nobody ever saw that piece except the people at that opening, because it disappeared. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And I'm curious; did he charge you?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Jack didn't charge anybody much in those days.  I paid him something for it.  But he knew nobody had any money, least of all him.  And he was working with Irwin and he was working with—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  With Robert—he was working with Robert Irwin.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Robert Irwin.  He was working with Frank Gehry on the cardboard furniture that was starting. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  And he was working with Peter.  And I think he may have met Larry Bell by then.  I don't know his history that well.  The Getty has all of that.  But he was kind enough to help me.  He didn't say this was a stupid idea.  He didn't say there's no way to do it.  The thing about Jack, and the thing that everybody—this isn't about Jack; this is the reason everyone loves him so much and has worked with him and continued to work with him for all these years is because he never has ever laughed at an idea or said it won't work.  He's always said, "Well, that's a good beginning," you know. And then after that I worked over at Jack's place on the smaller spheres and he taught me to polish them.  I made them but he taught me to polish them.  And I got to know Irwin.  He and Irwin were drawing plans on the backs of—which became Irwin's spheres.  And maybe he had done his sphere before, but became other projects.  And then Frank Gehry would come in at night.  And it was quite an active place.  But Jack was very quiet.  He was from Tennessee.  And he would come over to me.  The thing I remember – and I said this in the Getty interview, in the Getty panel we were on—he would come over and he would look at what I was doing.  Jack has very large hands, and he would take his thumb and he would scrape it off because I was working with this wet sander.  And he'd scrape it off.  And then he would look at it carefully and he'd say, "Hmm, not good enough.  I can still see scratches."  And I would say, "Jack, it's the best I could do."  He'd say, "No, it is not the best you could do."  So I'd work for a few more hours and then he'd come over.  He'd put his thumb over and he'd look at it, and he'd get down and look at it with a light and he'd say, "Good.  That's better.  You need to do a little more."  But to my eye, I couldn't see what he could see.  But the thing that was so funny, he always, said, "Now, Helen, I told you.  I told you to make it nice."  And I said, "He's the only person I've ever met that could take the four-letter word "nice" and make it into three syllables." 


MS. PASHGIAN:  But he was—artists would come to him with crazy ideas.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Is that how you met Robert Irwin?


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You met Robert Irwin through Jack Brogan.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative], because he was in there every day practically.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And did you meet Larry Bell that was as well?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I can't remember.  Probably.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you kind of—did you—

MS. PASHGIAN:  And I worked there for two years and then—or more—and then some young artist there, Laddie Dill, came in.  He was a little bit younger.  Jack turned him on to working with concrete, and they were doing that.  And he was working with Peter's bowls [ph].  And while I was there I remember Irwin made the great big 33-foot prism that went into Northridge and I think is being redone to go someplace in Washington D.C. or somewhere now.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So it's really at Jack Brogan's workshop that you met Venice light and space artists. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  And then we were all showing together, though.


MS. PASHGIAN:  By that time.  And I think in 1970 and '71 there were 35 shows.  That doesn't count the ones that were in New York and other places.  I wasn't in all of them.  I had a long four-hour lunch with Jim Turrell four years ago when he had a show at Pomona.  We had a long talk about the old days.  And he said, "You know, Helen, you were in a lot of those shows, but a lot of those guys wouldn't let you into some of the biggest shows just because you were a woman and because you lived in Pasadena, and they had a prejudice against both.  I mean, equally—they were equally bad.  You wouldn't live in Venice."  "I didn't have a place to work in Venice."  "And they thought, you know, Pasadena is rich, WASP, you know, and snobbish people, and you were a woman."  And Jim Turrell was also from Pasadena, so we could talk about it in those terms.  But he said, "There were a lot of major shows you weren't—" I said, "Well, I didn't feel that prejudice then."  He said, "That's good that you didn't but it was there."  You know, they're still very macho.  Now they're nice to me, very nice to me, but it was—and I'm good friends with some of them, but they're still very—it's still a very macho group—not so much the light and space but people like Billy Al and people like, you know, Michael Heizer was around there in those days, and of course Moses.  They were all very—no women were going to—the only women they had were the ones they were screwing at the moment.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  When did you meet Michael Heizer?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't think I've ever met him.


MS. PASHGIAN:  I know he was around with the guys.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  He was hanging around with the guys at the same time. 



MS. PASHGIAN:  And the only—and this was later, though, but the only woman artist that was around with—and was a good friend of Jack's that was around there, and eventually took over that studio from Jack, was Alexis Smith.  She was later because she was an early conceptual artist. And somewhere through it all—not at the beginning but a little bit later on—Mary Corse was working.  I never knew her until recently.  But she was working quietly on her own up in Topanga Canyon or somewhere else, and she didn't hang around with any of them.  And she would be in some of the shows but nobody knew much about her.  She was private, you know.  And I kept my private life very private too.  I was over here and I saw a totally different group of people.  But I did get to know all the guys.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, did you ever then—have you got a boyfriend yet?  Did you have a boyfriend at this time?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I'm not going to talk about any of the boyfriend stuff.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  No relationships?

MS. PASHGIAN:  There were lots of relationships.  I'm not going to discuss any of that. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But you weren't with any artists or anything?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Never artists.  I never wanted to go near any of them.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Not with their egos.  No, I had lots of boyfriends through all of that but they were never artists.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So at this point—and you still—

MS. PASHGIAN:  So I didn't hang out with any of them.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So did you ever marry?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Not yet.


MS. PASHGIAN:  You want to wait and see how they're going to turn out.  You don't want to rush into these things.  [They laugh.]  Let's quit and go and do something else. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  I've got to get out of my chair.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I don't blame you.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP: This is Hunter Drohojowska-Philp interviewing Helen Pashgian at the artist's studio in Pasadena, California on July 11th, 2012 for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, card number two.

And, Helen, you and I are up to about 1970, '71.  You've just finished the residency at Caltech.  And I'd like you to talk to me now about some of you relationships with a couple of the other so-called light and space artists.  And we were just talking about Jim Turrell, so tell me about how long you've known Jim Turrell.  He wrote the catalogue.  He wrote the introduction for your catalogue of your show at Pomona.  It seemed like you know each other fairly well.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, that was his idea to write that.  He asked permission to write that, which I was very pleased with.  Jim Turrell and I, had we been closer in age—we're about seven or eight years apart—would have been very close friends all our lives, because as it turns out our parents knew each other.  My mother worked on a project post-World War II with his father, who was principal of my high school, a fabulous person, Archie Turrell.  And Jim and I went to all the same schools, including college, and to the same summer camp at different times.  So I never really knew him until much, much later. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And where was that summer camp?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Balboa Island, California, at Newport Beach. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That was boys and girls—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Separate.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, so I didn't know him there.  But thank you for mentioning that, because when I had lunch with him about four years ago we had a very long lunch talking about the old days.  He even married—his first of three wives was a camper of mine at that very same camp who I'd known, and her parents were very close friends of my parents.  She was a beautiful harpist and she figured into one of his pieces in Venice when she played the harp.  And she and I are still friends.  Anyway—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Can you just tell us her name?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I'm trying to think of it.  Oh, Elizabeth Elgin was her name.  So when we were talking about all of this, we were talking about this great camp that we went to, which was right on the waterfront at Balboa Island at the widest part of the bay, a very interesting place.  It was built—it was the second structure on the island built in 1919 by Mrs. Gamble.  It was owned by the Presbyterian Church, and Mrs. Gamble was very prominent in that church.  The Procter & Gamble Gambles that build the Gamble House in Pasadena.  And she gave this house for young ladies to come and be by the ocean, presumably to be closer to God, I would think.  Anyway, then later it evolved that there were boys' camps.   And so James—as he now likes to be called—James and I were talking about the camp, and we were talking about various things, and I happened to ask him an unusual question.  I said, "When you were a little boy as a camper there" —because I think he went for many years, as did I— "did you ever get up early, before all the other little kids were up, about 6:30 or 7:00, and go outside, on the days that weren't foggy when the sun was going to come up, and all the sky was pink and the whole bay was pink presunrise, and when it was always very, very low tide at that time of day.  Did you look at the beach and all the barnacles on the piers and all the little creatures in the light across the water?"  "Oh, yes," he said.  "I did that.  I did get up early and I would go out there and look at those things."  He said, "Did you do the same thing?" 

And we were really mutually fascinated that we did something that none of the other kids did.  He said, "You know, perhaps that's why we became artists that deal with light, because way back then, even though we weren't consciously aware of it, we were aware of light."  And it was light in nature, and both of us have been very much aware of light in nature.  And it's interesting that our work is very different and very similar at the same time, because we've had so many of these same experiences.  And at this lunch he was there with his computer engineer.  He was installing a major permanent sculpture at Pomona College, and they were going out to do the final tweaking of the lights.  And he said, "By the way," he said, "do you remember the camp song?"  And I said, "Yes, I do."  So we both started singing, in the restaurant, the camp song.  And he has a beautiful voice, unlike mine, and we sung it fairly loudly. And his assistant, whose name was Ben, was so humiliated he said, "Both of you stop that.  Stop singing."  And, "That's terrible."  And Turrell said to his assistant, "Well, Ben, if you're embarrassed just get under the tablecloth where no one can see you."  And Ben thereupon quickly left the room.  [They laugh.]  And he said, "Now, Helen, after that interruption shall we begin again?" [They laugh.]  Anyway, we had a lot of good laughs that day. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, you also told me that he gave you the heads up about your role as a woman among all these artists. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, yes, he said—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  He said something to you that you hadn't heard of.

MS. PASHGIAN:  We were talking on the way back.  He said, "I know that we're all friends with some of" —and maybe not so close to some of other light and space artists, but way back in '70 and '71, when this became a phenomenon all of a sudden, and everyone somehow got together, and a few museums and a few galleries got us together for group shows there were many, many of those—he did say that—this was before Mary Corse was part of it.  He did say that, "Because you were the only woman, there were many shows that were denied to you that the guys didn't want you in them because you didn't live in Venice, you weren't one of the guys, and so you weren't admitted to some of them."  I told him at the time that I'd never really felt that, although I was slightly conscious of it.  I just felt grateful to be in as many as I was.  And he said, "Well, it would have been nice if they'd had a little different attitude."  It's all different now, many years later, but that was the way it was then.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I did want to ask you—I mean '70 and '71, the women's movement in Southern California and Los Angles—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —was really wrapping up, you know, Judy Chicago and Miriam—

MS. PASHGIAN:  At that same time.  Judy Chicago and—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Miriam Schapiro and—

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right.

[Cross talk.]

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you know about this happening?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, yes.  I'll tell you my side of that one.  I knew Miriam Schapiro.  She and her husband Paul Brach lived in Pasadena for a while and I knew them.  They were renting a green and green house actually, and I went and saw them there and we had a really nice time.  They couldn't get over all the green lawns in Pasadena and how bourgeois the place was, which—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Because they're from New York.

MS. PASHGIAN:  They're from New York and they didn't get it.  But they did love living here.  They did enjoy the peace and quiet and the calmness and the serenity of the town. Anyway, I liked her a lot.  Not so much for Judy Chicago, but we won't go into all that, although I did have a conversation once with Judy where she tried to tell me what women's subject matter should be the woman's body and various parts of that and I told her I was not interested.  I further told her that I didn't see why men and women couldn't work together.  And I remember her saying quite distinctly that I didn't get it.  It just showed that I didn't understand any of it, certainly none of the politics of it, that, "Obviously you can't work with the enemy," and the men were the enemy.  And I said, "Well, that's the way I am."  And she said, you know, "And the trouble is that you like the boys."  And I said, "I do.  I mean I work with them.  I like them.  I appreciate their work.  I appreciate the work of women, but I don't hold your views."  And so we parted.  And the feminists rejected me, which was great, and the guys in Venice rejected me, which was great.  So I worked alone all of those years and I developed everything myself, which I think is a great thing for an artist to be.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you not get included in shows dedicated to women artists?


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  As they came up in the '70s?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I may have been in one women's artist show, but I never was in any of those because I was, you know, to them, a turncoat.  I was one of the boys.  I wasn't, you know, I didn't get it as far as they considered what was important.  But, you know, I had already been working for many, many years and I developed my own—what I was interested in exploring on my own.  I wasn't interested in their kinds of politics.  I'm glad they did what they did when they did it.  I think it was an important thing in many ways, but I was never part of that and I certainly was not going to be dictated to about what my subject matter should be, being a woman.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I think it's also interesting that, you know, you were talking about being at camp on Balboa Island with James Turrell, and then another light and space artist that you came to know later was also at the Crystal Cove Beach where you were growing up.  Tell me about Peter Alexander.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, he wasn't at Crystal Cove.  I met him somewhere.  He told me once that his father was involved with the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, and it may have been the yacht club where I was taken with my parents.  I don't remember the actual place but it was around Balboa and Newport—


MS. PASHGIAN:  —where he grew up.


MS. PASHGIAN:  I thought—we just clarified this recently.  I thought his family had just summered there, but he told me he grew up there and he had his sailboat, his little sailboat, and he was looking at the same things I was but from out in the ocean or from this sailboat—the light on the water, the light under—he's always been captivated by things under the water too.  He did a whole series of work about looking down into the water at night.  And although our aesthetic is different, it's very similar. So I met Peter and his brother Brooke when we were little, maybe just once or twice, but I don't remember anything about it except that we did meet.  And I remember being quite captivated by his brother.  I don't remember Peter as well.  [They laugh.]  I don't think he'll like that.  But then we met up again in some of these early shows, and particularly at Caltech.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Of course I should clarify that his brother is Brooke Alexander—


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —the art dealer in New York.

MS. PASHGIAN:  And I got into this Caltech program.  We saw each other there, and he connected me to Jack Brogan, who became very pivotal in the technical part of my work and has been a friend ever since, as has Peter.  Both of us have been through many different iterations in our lives, you might say.  And although I don't see him very often, I feel we're compatriots in many ways, not just aesthetically.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you ever discuss with him what you—?

MS. PASHGIAN:  But speaking of Crystal Cove—


MS. PASHGIAN:  Speaking of Crystal Cove—


MS. PASHGIAN:  —it was near Laguna Beach, although it was one of the northernmost outposts, where people would come and put up their easel and draw the ocean.  But also there, Richard Diebenkorn was a classmate—excuse me, he was a roommate, at one time briefly at Berkeley, of Jerry Payne [ph], who had a house at Crystal Cove.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And now they're 20 or 25 years older than I was so they were a totally different group.  But he came down and painted there.  And I remember that.  I think it may have been during his period—because I saw some of the paintings.  They were figurative—some of them were figurative of the houses.  And also Wayne Thiebaud painted there.  And I remember that, and I discussed that with a collector friend of mine, Gerald Buck in Laguna Beach, and he remembers the way Thiebaud painted there, although I talked with someone who is instrumental in Wayne Thiebaud's traveling shows around, and he said he never painted Crystal Cove, but that isn't true.  He did paint there also.  And so we've had—and there were many others.  And then the whole group of Claremont people came down.  Roger Kuntz painted there.  Many of his most famous paintings were there.  And then he painted the Freeway Series, his last series before he died, very young.  But he invited all the Claremont artists down, so Douglas McClellan was there.  And there was an artist from Maine that came out for a while and stayed.  I've forgotten his name.  A number of artists came.  They were not just the Sunday painters painting, you know, waves on velvet.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, did you go to Crystal Cove after your young childhood?

MS. PASHGIAN:  All my life, every summer.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  All your life.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Because your parents would have a cottage there?

MS. PASHGIAN:  They rented a cottage.  My father was too smart a businessman to buy a cottage, because you couldn't own it because the whole cove was owned by the Irvine Ranch.  The Irvine family was planning to keep it and use it for themselves someday, but they waited too long and the state of California grabbed it and made it into a state park. And now it's a state park and half of it is doing very well and there's been some money pumped into it.  They've restored some of the cottages.  They've added a nature center.  They have a great restaurant and other things.  The other cottages at the end where we stayed are falling into disrepair.  If and when California ever gets any money, the plan will be to repair those houses. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, just for the record, the reason people from Pasadena and Claremont would go there is because it's hot during the summers—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Very hot.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —in East L.A., or the eastern part of L.A., which is Pasadena, Claremont—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, close to the mountain range. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And of course everyone would go down to the beach in the summer.  And would you stay for a month, two months?

MS. PASHGIAN:  We would stay for a month.  Jerry [ph] painted all the houses, so he would stay there.  And the houses were just little shacks. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  They were nothing.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And when I was a little kid there was a boardwalk.  And we had iceboxes made out of wood, and the iceman would come and deposit 50 pounds of ice.  And you'd put it in the icebox and pile the vegetables around it and hopefully, the freshly caught fish and the watermelon.  And then after about three or four hours it would start to leak and this ice water would come running out on the floor and right out the front door.  And there were no telephones on the beach, so if someone stepped on a stingray they'd have to be rushed to the hospital.  The Coast Highway was briefly small, four lanes.  It was a very quiet, tucked-away place.  The California coast, when I was a very, very small child, was not the place in these beach communities where one would stay after Labor Day.  They were pretty much deserted in the winter and everybody would go home and then come back the next year.  Nobody knew the most wonderful part of the year at that place was in the winter.  And now of course they have grown exponentially.  They are 10, 20, 100 times what they were then as far as population, and the four-lane highway is an eight-lane highway at least.  And it's way, way, way too overrun.  And I think unfortunately the initial charm is gone, and Crystal Cove, a beautiful, natural cove, with natural coves on either side of it that have never been developed, is a wonderful place still to walk and hike.  It's very much a family beach, and you can walk for miles and miles just on the coastline.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, just to get back to—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Anyway—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —as you and Peter evolved in your discussions you and Peter evolved in your careers, so to speak, as artists, did you ever discuss what you were doing? 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I went to visit Peter once early on.  I don't remember how we met.  At that time we were both starting to work, about 1969, 1968, in polyester resin.  And we must have bumped into each other at an opening or somewhere, and he invited me to come—he lived in his grandfather's Victorian house near East Adams and I went to visit him there.  Over the garage he built the wonderful studio.  I was very impressed because it was all white and clean and exquisite. And we talked about our work.  We talked about the material, problems with working with it.  I was very impressed with those first little cubes that he was doing at that time.  And then he may have come to visit me or may not have.  I don't remember.  But I didn't see him very often.  And then, much later, when I got to know Jack Brogan, I would see Peter there.  And he was working on his wall piece—long, thin wall pieces, and I was working on other things.  But we were always very simpatico, and I consider him a good friend today. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, as the ‘70s progressed, I think you said at one point there were, like, 35 shows—

MS. PASHGIAN:  I counted them up once.  I've deleted some of the less interesting ones, but there were about 35, 40 shows.  One or two were in New York.  Most of them were in California, somewhere in Northern California.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Shows dedicated to plastics, resins.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, all about plastics.  And I don't remember where the term "finish fetish" came from, but as I'm on record saying many, many places, you know, the artists disliked that term even more than they disliked the term "light and space," which they don't like either, but we're stuck with the latter.  The trouble with—just to tell you quickly if you want to hear this—the trouble with the term "finish fetish" —apparently John Coplans coined that—is that it's all about finish.  And if you think of the current, just over, Pacific Standard Time show in San Diego and La Jolla, which had almost everyone in it, it's all about finish in that the work is so minimal that if there is a tiny fly crawling on one, or a speck, or a tiny, tiny scratch on the surface of a McCracken piece, a Kauffman piece, a Valentine piece, or any of the artwork—even the huge installation by Wheeler, if there had been one scratch on the floor or right on the piece, that's all you would see.  That's why we had to pay attention to the finish.  But as I said before, we've all felt it was a slightly derogatory term, as though we had some strange affliction and that  really, the surface was only important if the work was transparent insofar as it enabled us to see through it and to see its relation to its surroundings.  And if it was translucent, the same thing, it was very important.  And you couldn't have one little tiny speck on the Bob Irwin disc because that's all you would see.  The subtlety of these pieces necessitated their being beautifully crafted and beautifully finished.  But I would say none of us have appreciated those terms.  We're probably better just to have called it light, Southern California—just the light artists, or something.  And I think we all feel a kinship in a way with the light artists of Holland in the 17th century, such as Vermeer and so forth.  I mean they were a group.  We were a group.  But anyway, we're stuck with those terms, I'm afraid.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  What about—now, Peter has been very outspoken about his sort of feelings about minimalism as it was practiced in New York and Europe. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  As opposed—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  What do you feel about the minimalist artists who were evolving at the same time that you were and interested in reductive shapes and forms?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I was interested in them, and we saw a lot of them out here.  Particularly at the old Pasadena museum there were shows of color field painters.  There were shows of more minimalist like Ken Noland, Ellsworth Kelly, of course.  And there were a lot of shows of Morris Louis.  The color field painters, Frankenthaler and all of those, we saw quite a lot of those.  And one of our major collectors, Robert Rowan, collected those, and then lots of them were shown around.  And so we saw a lot of the actual pieces.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes, the Nicholas Wilder Gallery showed a lot of that material.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right.  And the museums showed a bit of it.  And most of us went to New York in those days and we saw the shows in New York also.  I was very interested in some of the color field painters, particularly Frankenthaler and Morris Louis because of the translucency and because of the layering of thin paint over other paint and of the way the colors came through.  And I was also very curious about when you moved in front of them, how they changed, because I'm very interested in that concept now:  As you move, how does the object change and alter your perception about its space and your space as a viewer?  And I think those minimalists were thinking of that too. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what about people like Donald Judd, who—

MS. PASHGIAN:  I was very enchanted—Ferus showed Judd, and I saw a lot of Judd shows in New York.  I haven't been to Marfa and seen that, which I hope to do, but I saw a lot of his work.  And I particularly liked his boxes on the floor looking into—I love—talk about material and talk about finish.  I mean the polished steel ones, the polished aluminum ones, and the perfection of the colored acrylic, they were really, I thought, extremely beautiful.  And I thought his work was closely related to the California work as far as perception goes, particularly—and I'll give you a direct example.  One of the collectors, Melinda Wortz, had one of the stack pieces that had orange acrylic on top, but you didn't see it.  As they progressed up the wall you didn't see the acrylic.  But when it was lit you saw the glow of the acrylic.  And the Californians were dealing with that same kind of afterglow with their work too. So there was an affinity—I wasn't as closely—I wasn't as attentive, I think is the right word, to the work of the painters that were more opaque, because they were very, very minimal and the canvas was just divided, interestingly divided, but they didn't hold my attention the same way as the rich-layered Morris Louises. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Did you relate to the painting more than the sculpture that was emerging during the '70s—the '60s and '70s? 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I'm trying to think what was emerging—Robert Morris and the felt pieces.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I would think of—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Who were you thinking of?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Richard Serra, Robert Morris.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, the early Serra, yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You know, Dan Flavin.

MS. PASHGIAN:  I didn't see as much of that.  I was curious about Flavin, but I didn't really get it until much later. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  Carl Andre. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  I didn't really get particularly Flavin until he had the huge show in the Los Angeles County Museum six or seven years ago.  That was a knockout, partly because it was so all-inclusive and partly because there were pieces there where I couldn't make out the source of light.  It had magic, and some of the others I had didn't have that. But I thought it was interesting that all of us were working out here but none of our work was visible there, although the New York artists were certainly visible here.  There was a strong dichotomy about who the big guys were and who the little guys were, and we were certainly not the big guys.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Does it feel that—when you were actually working during the ‘70s did you actually feel as though it was hard to get traction as a Southern California artist?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, it's interesting.  Let me answer it this way:  I had two shows in New York, 1969 and 1971 at Jill Kornblee Gallery.  And this was the height of that.  I had gone to New York with two little tiny, tiny pieces, smaller than the spheres, two little egg-shaped pieces, and I showed them.  Robert Rowan introduced me to Leo Castelli, and we all had lunch and talked this over and Leo Castelli was not interested.  It wasn't for his gallery.  He sent me over to see Jill Kornblee, who was a close friend of his.  She loved the work, said, "I want to show it."I also, through a friend in Boston, had an appointment to see Allan Stone.  I went to see Allan Stone.  I was a little bit afraid of him.  I met him before.  He was a roommate of an old friend of mine at Harvard and I had met him before, and he was kind of wild and crazy and really—and he was interested in it.  So now I had two offers.  And I didn't know what to do and I wanted sleep on it and think about it.  And I made, in retrospect, the wrong decision and decided to show with Jill Kornblee.  She said, "I can do much more for you than anyone else."  And Allan Stone had a very eclectic gallery and was very strange.  And he did have one artist I was impressed with, Wayne Thiebaud in California, but he was all over the place and I didn't know what to do.  But anyway, he would have been—he lived a long time and recently died and he would have been a fabulous dealer for me.  Jill Kornblee, as it turned out, wasn't a fabulous dealer.  She was a nice enough woman.  She didn't understand the work.  She wasn't interested in it.  She also showed Robert Graham at the time.  He was the only other Californian.  He was doing little, tiny wax figures of nudes.  She didn't understand that work either, but she showed it.  She was willing.  She also had Michelangelo Pistoletto, another New York artist, Malcolm Morley.  And she tried to steal a lot of my work, which wasn't very nice.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  How did she do that?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, she just didn't return it when I wanted the work returned, and I had—somebody went in and saw it.  She said, "Oh, I guess I'll put that away."  But it worked out all right.  It got put into auction, some of these.  Anyway, then after the second show I left her, and she died a number of years later.  The 1971 date is important regarding California art for this reason:  There were three shows that occurred in the winter and Jack Brogan went back to install all three of them.  One was mine at Jill Kornblee.  The second one was Robert Irwin at the Modern in a tiny room.  And the third was Laddie Dill at Sonnabend downtown.  And it turned out that the opening was the worst blizzard in 50 years in New York.  Nobody came to any of the openings.  But a little bit of time passed and I discussed this with a writer at the New York Times when I was in Chournier [ph] Gallery recently.  And I said, "Someone from the New York Times did discover that these three shows were going on and they were all by Southern Californians and they all were related to each other.  They all dealt with light."  And so someone wrote about them, reviewed them.  And they called it, in quotes, "California art."  And they said, "It was absolutely terrible.  It wasn't art.  It was just atmosphere.  It was nothing.  It was nothing."  We've all laughed about that a lot because things have changed in New York since those days, but the New Yorkers didn't like them at all.  And I remember Brent McGill [ph], a dear friend of mine at that time who was working for the New Yorker, came to my show in the snow.  He had trudged over there.  He walked all over New York all the time.  And he came to my show.  In a big, booming voice he said, "Helen, I like your balls."


MS. PASHGIAN:  Because these were the spheres.  I was so embarrassed.  The only good thing that came out—for me came out of the Jill Kornblee show was I met Greta Garbo, who was a friend of hers and came in all the time and they talked things over.  So that was interesting. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That's pretty fabulous.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But it was a very strange time.  And Leo Castelli's wife, Toine Castelli, was in there every day.  And she and Jill Kornblee were friends.  And so it was a very interesting time in the New York art world because Catelli's uptown gallery was a block away and I was over there all the time looking at shows.  And it was a very exciting time, but the reception of these artists—oh, and then Robert Irwin put a little tape recorder that was hidden in the room, and in his show he put a scrim at the top and had Jack Brogan put a wire across the wall from one wall to another, install it in the wall.  And then he had this hidden tape recorder.  It was a room that you walked through to get to another exhibit from one exhibit to the next, so he taped what people said when they came in.  And invariably they would come in and there would be silence.  So you'd be looking around and then someone would say, "Well, there's supposed to be a show in here, an exhibit, and they forgot to put it in.  We'll have to complain."  And they didn't see anything.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  They couldn't even see it.

MS. PASHGIAN:  They couldn't see it at all.  So the early days as far as the New York art world goes—and there are many, many other examples—was not perfect.  [They laugh.] 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But you carried on and you continued—


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —doing the work—the works.  How would you describe the evolution of your work in the ‘70s to the ‘80s, because—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I continued making the spheres.  And there are no more of those left.  They're all gone. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You mean they're all sold?

MS. PASHGIAN:  They're all sold.  They're in museums. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  They're all in collections.

MS. PASHGIAN:  They're in museums.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes, because in 1975 you have a show at the university—at the gallery at UC Irvine. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Oh, yes.  Now, that was different—with Peter Lodato?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It's a solo show—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, there were two solo shows.



MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And other solo show at UC Santa Barbara.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Those were '75 and '76.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, I'll tell you then how I evolved.  I can tell by the shows.


MS. PASHGIAN:  By this time—'75, '76—I was working back on the wall in flat pieces.  However, they were cast out of polyester resin.  And you saw one of them—a great big 6-foot one that was dark blue, nearly black, with a ribbon shape in La Jolla.  But that was shiny.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  In the Phenomenal exhibition—



MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  It was sprayed black—sprayed flat.  But that piece—I was very interested, after doing the spheres and all the transparency and the light that they encapsulated and throughout, was very interested in getting to much more subtle work.  So the work became dark.  I would have a single image like—which I would cut in a mold, and image like an arc or sort of what I call a ribbon shape, that would turn in on itself.  And I would cut that as far as depth was concerned about a quarter-of-an-inch deep at the deepest place and nothing at the other end.  And then I would seal it with many layers of different kinds of sealant and then I would wax it.  And then I'd put another mold release on and pour the polyester resin into it, into this very, very shallow mold, which means I had to deal with issues of working space that was totally flat at all times and so forth.  And then I would pull out this object, which was very, very thin and clear material, and then it would be laminated on a bigger piece of acrylic or wood or something, and then other colors would be poured over it.  They went on the wall, like a painting, but they were not paintings. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, where were you actually working at this point?  Where was your studio?

MS. PASHGIAN:  In Pasadena.  I had a studio, a small studio, in Pasadena—probably that little room in there. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Right where we are now?



MS. PASHGIAN:  Part of this building.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So when did you start working out of this building?  What year?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know but it was probably the—


MS. PASHGIAN:  —middle.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Probably middle '70s.  And I had a small portion, 20 by 20 feet, not very big.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And just to clarify, the whole building was owned by your father at one point?  This is a hundred-year-old building in Pasadena.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, for one point, but he didn't—I don't know how long he owned it, but when I was working here it was rented to a car upholsterer.  And then part of it was rented to someone else that never came.  So it was cut up in spaces.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And you got one of the spaces.

MS. PASHGIAN:  I got a small space, and then eventually those people left and I got a little more space.  Then I put up a wall, that wall, and closed off some of the other space that was open.  And now I have—and then for many years I needed to rent part of it, the largest room.  And then that came to an end and then I took over that space.  So it's turned out to be a wonderful studio.  I had no idea I'd be here this long.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It has sort of vaulted wood ceilings and old brick walls, and it's one of the—it's an unusually, you know, historic building for Southern California anyway. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  Yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Anyway, we were talking earlier about that.  And so faithfully you've been in this space more or less since the mid-‘70s.

MS. PASHGIAN:  A long time, yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And so as your work evolves to show at UC Irvine or at UC Santa Barbara into these wall pieces, which curators are you working with at that point?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I worked with Phyllis—was it Phyllis Plous that was at Santa Barbara?  No.  Maybe.  I knew Phyllis Plous.  I'm trying to think.  It's so long ago I can't remember how the Santa Barbara show came up, but I worked with Melinda Wortz, and then she was at Irvine. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That's what I wanted to ask you next—


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —was Melinda Wortz the curator at—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and she organized that.  And these—particularly the piece at Santa Barbara was shown.  It was a 3-foot square piece, very, very deep midnight blue with one image that curved over.  And what they did was fascinating.  It's never been done since, but needs to be done.  They put a very big Hollywood type of framing projector on it, a movie framing projector.  And it was in a room all by itself, and you walk through the door and over your head was this big framing projector.  The piece was in front of you 20 feet away.  And they got the framing projector framed so that it hit right at the edge of the piece.  And it was a very strong light right on the piece.  Now, bear in mind the piece was very deep blue and absorbic.  It was a matte finish, so it absorbed a lot of the light.  But because the light didn't spill onto the wall around it, all the walls around it were dark.  You know, usually when you go into a gallery museum there's light spilling on the wall everywhere.  But with this technique we were able to pull the light in right to the piece.  So what it looked like—not only did this curved shape look like it was coming out towards you, but after you looked at it for a while it looked like it was retreating into the background.  So what was ostensibly a flat, say, half-inch cast piece on the wall now looked like a very deep box, like a 3-foot-square-deep box, or even deeper.  But you had to look at it for a long time to make it do that.  And the fact that it was alone with nothing else in the room and there were no distractions, because there was no light on the wall, you looked right at that.  And I think that is one of the best shows of that—my work ever because of that one, whoever curated that—I didn't know anything about lighting in those days, still know very little—knew exactly what to do with that.  And it was the first time I'd seen it have that deep dimension.  I know James Turrell always says that you have to look at his work for at least an hour before you get it and before it begins to move and change.  Most people don't give it that amount of time.  We live in a world where if they don't catch it in 30 seconds you're gone. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  But these are like Turrell and like many of the light and space artists, this work I would say is very contemplative.  People ask me if I had to label it with one word—most of the work through my entire working time has been—I've been attracted to—I went through a Baroque period, which was in the ‘80s, very different work, but I've come back to very minimal, very simple single image usually, contemplative work that appears to move as you move around it, and appears to change.  I'm very interested in the fact that you can't see the sources of the imagery usually, so that they appear to hover.  I'm interested in all those issues, never more so than at the present moment with the 8-foot-tall columns that I am preparing for a major show in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, just to get back to Melinda Wortz in 1975, because you were friends.  Melinda Wortz was a big figure in this history of Southern California but not everyone knows who she was.  She was—

MS. PASHGIAN:  She was a critic.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —Melinda Terbell.  She was married to Thomas Terbell.  They were art collectors.  He was on the board of the Pasadena Art Museum.  She became a curator really known for her support for the light artists.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right, and she knew them all very well. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And she knew them all.  And then she became friends—and she was friends with you, I understand.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and during that time she was a critic, a curator, head of the Irvine—the new Irvine museum.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And she was—I should say she was divorced from Thomas Terbell and she married—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Ed Wortz.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —Ed Wortz, and became Melinda Wortz, and that's when she really became known as a curator and writer. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And so she did your show at UC Irvine. 


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Could you tell me what was in that show?  Do you have a memory of that?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, they were two solo shows.  One was Peter Lodato and one was—and they were in different rooms.  They were separate.  And in that show I had again, like, the dark wall piece, but this time they were deep red—the same imagery—deep red matte surface with a pale green counter color into it.  And I showed in that show a triptych.  Each of them was 6 feet long by 3 feet high.  And I showed them lined up in a long—


MS. PASHGIAN:  Each piece was 6 feet.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That's quite a lot.

MS. PASHGIAN:  So it was a long piece.  And then eventually—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So it was 18 feet long.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  So yes, and longer, because they weren't touching.  They were sort of—I think they were separated a little bit.  And then a lot of the pieces at that time; this is when the corporate art began to come into play, the middle ‘70s and all through the ‘80s. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You mean corporate art collections.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Art collections.  Corporate art consultants, of which there are many, began to blossom.  There were one or two great ones but they began to blossom and appear everywhere.  And then the corporations would buy the work and put them in their offices in various parts of the world and never to be seen again, [they laugh] usually.  Some of those big corporations went broke and some of the collections were sold to other corporations.  And recently someone said, "Oh, I saw one of your pieces in the window of, you know, Bank of America in San Francisco or Seattle."  And I've long since even forgotten the piece.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh, my goodness. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  So that was another phenomenon that was coming at the same time, the feminist art, the light and space art, and corporations were buying a lot of this work.  And then other art was going on too in Southern California.  But the difference between the light and space artists during these years of the ‘70s is that it was a group and it began to be known as a group.  Whether you liked them or hated them, we were known as a group. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And did that benefit you, do you think?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know.  I would say probably it was more positive than negative.  I was sort of a loner and stayed to myself, had a different private life away from them.  But I think it benefitted me, and I think certainly in the present it's become sort of the defining group of that time in Southern California.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And then there is the gap.  As we go into the ‘80s there isn't really a solo show again.  After 76 there's a five-year gap before you have a show at Stella Polaris Gallery.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, now this is when I'm in my so-called Baroque period. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Your Baroque period.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's when I started working on a canvas.


MS. PASHGIAN:  But I was casting with—now I had discovered—okay, I had left polyester resin.  It was too dangerous.  I had been working with it too long.  It was—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You mean healthwise it was dangerous.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Healthwise it was very dangerous.  It was also very—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It is true that a lot—

MS. PASHGIAN:  And also I should say that everyone else stopped using it too.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Yes.  I was going to say everyone realized suddenly that it was extremely toxic.


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And most of these artists stopped working in resin.

MS. PASHGIAN:  They did, all of a sudden.  And I think that was going on because a New York artist died and that really scared us.  Also, besides the fact that healthwise it was treacherous, it was very messy and difficult to work with. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But it didn't seem difficult to work with for half-a-dozen years by the time you—

MS. PASHGIAN:  I know, but we were tired of the messy and difficult.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  [They laugh.] 

MS. PASHGIAN:  And of most of them went to something else.  I, on the other hand, went to something that was much less messy and not toxic, which was a kind of epoxy.  And I worked with many, many epoxies.  I remember DeWain Valentine saying to us, "Well, Helen, you and I can't work with epoxy because it yellows and gets really dark brown and looks disgusting, as opposed to the polyester that stays pretty light."


MS. PASHGIAN:  Because many of these materials, to interject, were from the aerospace industry, as I've said, and they were used strictly for airplanes or bombs or something else, and they were all classified.  When they became declassified, there was no information about them, about how they were to be used, because they had all used them for munitions or for structures of some kind as adhesives.  They didn't care whether they got yellow or got brown or black or got gritty or whatever.  We were using them to do these exquisite, clear works of art.  Nothing could be more different than its original use.  It just happened that it worked for both things.  But simultaneously on the market there appeared all kinds of materials.  Some have been declassified.  We were now in the plastics age—the famous movie about get into plastic.  What was it, midnight—


MS. PASHGIAN:  The Graduate.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Right, advising Dustin Hoffman to get into plastics.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Into plastics.  That was it.  Plastics were big.  And they were particularly big in a climate like California that was very dry.  You couldn't work with them well in a humid climate.  They wouldn't cure.  They wouldn't do that.  So they proliferated out here.  Also the industry proliferated in Southern California where you could make the materials and they wouldn't go bad on you because it was a dry climate, and because it was sunny most of the year and it was fairly temperate.  So lots of epoxies came on the market and I started experimenting with epoxy despite what DeWain Valentine told me.  And most of the early epoxies did not work.  And most of the people that made them did not want to work with artists.  At one point, a little anecdotal story comes in here, I found some epoxy at a local plastics market somewhere, and it was made in Visalia, up the coast about three hours, three-and-a-half hours.  No, not the coast; up the inland part of California.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Right, Central California.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Central California, not easy to get to.  Anyway, so I worked with it for a couple of months and I couldn't make it work at all.  And I've been working with chemicals for a long time and I couldn't make it set up properly or it would crack or it would get gluey or parts of it would get hard and other parts wouldn't.  And when I put the colors with it they would change after three or four days.  When I put it in the sunlight to test its compatibility with ultraviolet rays it would change color or it would get a different surface.  It didn't work at all.  So there was no one that could really help me.  This was a specific—probably it was a craft material that I got in some craft store, but it was not toxic and I didn't have to wear a mask.  This was a great relief.  Or it may have been toxic but I couldn't smell it.  Anyway, I didn't know enough about the material.  So I looked at the bottle and there was a telephone—there was a name of the company in Visalia, and I barely knew where that was.  So I called information one morning very early, about 7:00, and I got the telephone number.  And so I called them on the telephone around 8:00.  They were there and someone answered the phone, so and so company.  And I said, "I'm working with your epoxy number 105B and I'm having quite a great deal of trouble with it."  "Are you a scientist?  Are you a chemist?  What are you?"  And I said, "I'm an artist"  "Oh, we don't" —and this person said, "We don't deal with artists, honey."  I'll never forget that.  I've used that in a lot of lectures.


MS. PASHGIAN:  I said, "Oh, really?"  I said, "All right."  So I hung up.  I was shaking with rage. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  I took some of my failures and I took the material—I mean the half-used material—and I took the catalyst, and I took some of the colored dyes and I packed the whole thing into my car.  And I took off right then and there for Visalia.  I took the map and I went right up 99 into Central California until I came to—it was way out in the field.  Visalia was a small town and this was way out outside the town, a little one-story industry.  I got there around noon.  It had taken me close to four hours.  I walked in with these little paintings on canvas with their material, and I said, "I would like to speak with someone about your material."  I said, "I've been experimenting with it."  "Oh," they said, "that's interesting."  I said, "I called you this morning.  Did I speak with you?"  And this man was so embarrassed.  He said, "Were you the person?"  I said, "Yes, and I've driven up here because I'm not taking no for an answer.  I want you to look at this and I want to talk to your chemist."  "Oh, all right.  Just a moment." 

So he took me in the back room with these terrible little things I had that had blackened and darkened and cracked, and the material.  And I talked to the chemist, who was very nice.  And then another chemist came over and another chemist, and they said, "Oh, you're doing it all wrong.  That's not the way you're supposed to do it.  You're supposed to add so many drops, so many—do this.  And you can't add the color until—" Anyway, I was using it all wrong, but I was using it the way I usually use the other polyester resin.  And so they did a total about-face.  They were so nice.  They kept me overnight at their expense.  They put me up.  They fed me, and the next day they worked all day with me in their laboratory teaching me how to use this material.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Do you remember the name of this place?


MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  [Laughs.]  Okay.

MS. PASHGIAN:  I never saw them again. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  The epoxy company in Visalia. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  But they were very—they said, "Oh, if you get a good one we'd like to have one."  I said, "Mmm hmm."  [They laugh.]  Anyway, but it just shows you that in those days, especially if you were a woman—it might have happened if you were a male artist too, but you weren't taken seriously as a woman artist—but that it was difficult to get any information that was adequate even as a starting point.  You had to really forage and keep looking and keep looking.  And this tested your seriousness of purpose because it was hard.  It was difficult.  And you had to keep working.  Other artists have different stories.  DeWain Valentine has his own story, which is very well known now, about how he came to work with a plastics company himself, and then at his own plastics for his own purposes.  So it's all very interesting, but this was an interesting story where I discovered that in companies, large or small, if you could really talk to the chemists that made the material, they had a vested interest in it whether it was used as an adhesive between steel or whether it was used to actually construct something, or whether it was used for artistic purposes.  It didn't matter as long as they took pride in the fact that they wanted—I'm not saying this well—they were very proud of the fact that they were able to teach one how to use it properly and that they were glad that they put me on the right track and I was able to move forward.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But it was ultimately so frustrating you decided to work in canvas, or did you use the epoxy on the canvas?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I used canvas on wood but first I had wood on the canvas—


MS. PASHGIAN:  —to support it.  Then I put canvas over it.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And part of the reason was because many of these early ones failed and I didn't want—I wanted to be able to rip the canvas off and throw it away.  I didn't want to ruin the entire wooden structure, because they got big —5 by 8 feet, 6 by 6 feet–

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what did they look like?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I cast some very small pieces that were very intricate, very different than the [inaudible] pieces, little pieces.  Or I cast a very thin quarter-inch curved piece that, say, that fanned out like this.  And then I cut them in strips before it was completely cured, and I'd lift them off the mold.  So now I had strips that wiggle up and down, that were wavy.  And then I would laminate a dozen on those strips in one direction, separated from each other, fanning out.  And I'd laminate them to the canvas, which had already been sealed with white epoxy.  I had put white opaque dye in the epoxy, poured it on the canvas after damming up all the edges around the side.  That was another thing.  All these materials leaked.  I'd come to the studio after pouring some great big thing, gallons and gallons of material, only to find that overnight it had leaked all over the floor and the piece was ruined.  And once it leaked, or once something was wrong, there was no way to go back.  You can't scrape it off like you can an oil painting.  It was finished.  So I got to be a better and better asset to others about being careful and being very, very careful about preparing molds and preparing things.  Anyway, I would tape it, and then I would laminate these pieces on the white background.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And then I would pour a color on it.  And let's say I'd pour a brown—very, very small—this is thin, a very thin layer.  And then over that I would pour another color going in a different direction.  So it was freeing to do this, from the other work, which had been very tight and very minimal.  And then I'd pour another layer.  Then I would—liquid reaches its own level, as you know, so then it would reach its level and there would be these light areas underneath.  And because I'd laminated on pieces that were solid, it would refract the light and reflect the light.  Then I'd pour laminate on some more of these little pieces, or a great big piece that was splintered and broken into splintering pieces.  Then I'd pour a different color over that.  Then when I stood it up and it was cured and dry I'd put a light on it and they would be very brilliant.  I don't think—have you seen pictures of those?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I've actually seen that work. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  And at Stella Polaris I showed—had a show of that, but there were never very many made, and most of those went to big corporations.  One went to Okinawa of all places.  They usually went into banks and the banks were worldwide, and they would send them other places.  And some went into private collections.  Some have been sold a number of times, I think.  And most of them have been lost to me.  I don't know their whereabouts.  Do I have any left?  I don't even think I do.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, after Stella Polaris you had a show at Modernism Gallery. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and that was in San Francisco.


MS. PASHGIAN:  The same thing.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And you were showing those there.  And then you have a long run of showing with the Works Gallery down in Long Beach.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and those were the same kinds of things.

MS. PASHGIAN:  But after a while, after a few years of working on these very, very brilliant, lit, going in all directions in one piece, then I'm starting to return to a single image, or two images, but still on canvas on the wall.  And I would put maybe one or two pieces underneath and pour a color on, and then I would put some over that and pour another color.  But it was simple—it was becoming more simplified again.  And those I showed at a number of Works Gallery shows.  And then I became gradually back to the more and more minimal pieces all through that.  I do remember the last Works Gallery show and they showed all the light and space artists, and others.  They were all—and Works Gallery was owned by Mark Moore and based in Newport Beach.  And then he had got a gallery in Long Beach.  And I remember that because he had a huge museum-quality show. Did you see that, in many rooms?  And it was a beautiful. I mean once in a while you see a show that is an incredibly beautiful show and you know that you're in the moment.  Well, this was one of those.  Whether it was his choices or his choices of location or lighting, or a combination of all of them, I don't know what, but at the opening, which was in a downpour in the winter, 500 people came.  He also had a panel discussion.  On the panel discussion there were, from left to right as I recall, Larry Bell, Helen Pashgian, Eric Orr, Peter Alexander, Lita Albuquerque, and a sculptor—Mike Davis I think, six of us.  And we were in a back row and then we all walked out.  And we were on a dais and we were at a table, and we were all supposed to talk.  Well, Larry didn't say much.  He told a couple of dirty jokes.  I tried to say something, but it fell flat.  I can't remember what Eric Orr said.  Peter Alexander wouldn't talk at all.  Lita Albuquerque talked about her dreams.  And Mike Davis, I forgot what he talked about.  But the whole thing was—the panel was disgusting.  [They laugh.]  And it was totally uninformative, but we came to realize that people were like this, all 500 of them.  We could have heard a pin drop.  They didn't care what we said.  They just wanted to be in the presence of these great California artists who they'd never seen before. 


MS. PASHGIAN:  Anyway, the sad thing about that show was it was a fabulous opening.  Many people put down money on—in fact, almost all the pieces were sold, or promised to be sold, both to private collectors and museums.  And then the wall hit financially in 1990, in that fall, and nothing sold.  Everybody took the money away.  Pieces that were promised, you know, they got their down payment back.  They said, "We're terribly sorry."  People panicked.  And that's when the whole art market hit the wall, and then it was dead for a number of years financially.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Because of the great—the last great recession—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes.  That was it.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —of the early ‘90s in Southern California.

MS. PASHGIAN:  1990 it was.  I think it was the fall or winter of 1990 when that happened.


MS. PASHGIAN:  Anyway, that's the last time any of us showed with Mark Moore.  Then Mark Moore had a great deal going both in Orange County and in Long Beach.  And then he decided to change.  He decided to move to Los Angeles, and Santa Monica to be exact, and he dumped all the artists and we never saw him again.  And we all went our own separate ways elsewhere.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, it's the same Mark Moore in Bergamot.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, and he wanted to show different kinds of work.  He didn't want to show different kinds of work.  He didn't want to show this kind of work anymore.  I think that he—for him maybe it was a very wise move because his work was so well known by that time and so many people had shown it.  But at least this last show that he had—as sad as it was that it didn't turn out maybe for him as well as it might—was a great show.  And people are still talking about that show.  I talked to an artist last week who had just come out here recently from New York and we were talking about the show you just mentioned in San Diego, the—


MS. PASHGIAN:  Phenomenal show, which he saw a few times.  And he said, "That show, both venues" but particularly the one in La Jolla because it looked like the museum had been built around the work, "that show was as good as the de Kooning show in 1984 at the Guggenheim, in my view," he said.  "There have only been two or three great shows.  That was one of them."  And when you have a show—and Mark Moore's was another.  And when you have a show that for some magical reason all the elements come together in a way that even you, the person doing it, can't predict, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts and it lives on in memory.  And then of course a shows comes out, is dismantled, and maybe you photograph it and maybe you haven't.  Maybe it's been documented and maybe it hasn't.  But people remember them. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  They have an effect.  After that you had—I believe you take a hiatus around that time.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Then I took about a 10-year hiatus.  At the same time I was involved in many other things.  I was on a number of boards.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, what sort of prompted this hiatus?  Was it the economy?  Was it just being tired of working?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I had worked very hard for many years and I was tired.  And also I was interested in branching out into other things.  But I was struggling, I was coming back to doing wall pieces, and I wanted to do some free-standing pieces.  And so I started thinking about them.  I talked to a few fabricators, not just Jack Brogan, but some others, and they didn't have any idea about how to begin.  I tried to make some drawings.  I even tried to make a few little very small maquettes to explain to people what I wanted to do.  I wanted to do something in a double elliptical form, which is what I've done now, but I didn't know how to do it or what materials to use.  I wanted it to be transparent or translucent.  I wanted them to be tall.  I wanted them to relate to the human body.  I don't know why.  And I wanted them to have that quality that I would get when you walk back and forth in front of something on the wall, but I wanted to be able to walk around them and have that same quality that you see something and then you wanted to see more, and it set up a tension between the eye and the brain.  And so as soon as you moved around to see more, it disappeared.  So it took me 10 years at least to get my ideas formulated correctly.  I did some other pieces.  I wasn't entirely without working at that time, without making art, but I did some other pieces, but always I was drawing and trying to visualize in my mind. I did a lot of just sitting in the studio and thinking, and trying to visualize. I would put up shards of plastics, shards of—pieces of wood, pieces of metal, relate them to each other and move them around to try to get my ideas churning.  Sometimes it worked.  Often it didn't.But gradually I came to an idea and sort of a synthesis of what might work.  And then I found a wonderful—somewhat by accident.  I was working on some other pieces and I found a fabricator east of Pasadena.  I had been going to a plastic place in Santa Monica and I—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Carry on.  Have some water by the way. 

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, I'm going to.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Carry on.  We're good.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay.  Are we okay?


MS. PASHGIAN:  How much time have we talked this time?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Almost an hour.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay.  So I talked to—I was working—

[Cross talk.]

MS. PASHGIAN:  —and that person, which is uptown near Pasadena, and that person was making some pieces for me, helping me work out some smaller pieces, and then they got interested in doing just mass-produced stuff and they weren't going to work with me.  They said, "Why don't you talk to X," who was somebody east of Pasadena.  So I went to see him.  It was a very small operation.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Do you remember his name?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, because he's a person I work with now.  His name is Lance Willis.


MS. PASHGIAN:  And he has a very small operation with two helpers, that's all.


MS. PASHGIAN:  W-I-L-L-I-S.  And I had him do a very small project for me, having almost nothing, very small.  And I was so aghast at what he charged and I never went back.  I thanked him, but I knew I could never deal with him again.  So time passed and time passed and in finally got an idea of what I wanted to have done with acrylic, because not many people will fabricate this material.  I mean it's very, very few and far between.  So I went back to the people in Burbank and they didn't have a clue about how to do it.  So I was forced to go back to talk to Lance.  And I did, and eventually we decided to work together.


HELEN PASHGIAN:  [In progress.]  And we had our problems at the beginning, because he's an engineer and I'm an artist, and we had to try to devise a language where we could actually talk to each other, and where we could actually come to some kind of conclusion about what we were trying to do.  This has been an ongoing conversation, which has taken place over a three or four year period.  But we have finally—and he is my fabricator for these current pieces, and I'm very pleased with him, and he's come to really like the pieces, as have his workmen.  And we've had our struggles and our misunderstandings and our battles, but we have come to be able to figure them out.


MS. PASHGIAN:  So they're enormously expensive, and I can't—we're not going to talk about prices in this little thing, but it's just, you know, it's breaking the bank, but I've managed to be able to make them so far.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So the—I'll go back a little bit to the hiatus.  So—

MS. PASHGIAN:  During the hiatus—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —did you—the columns, the first columns that you made, when did you finish the first columns that you're talking about, the elliptical, double elliptical columns like—

MS. PASHGIAN:  About—so it's 2012, summer—about three—about—let's see, when was the show at the Lawrence?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  It's 2010, I think—2000—I don't think they had a date on here.

MS. PASHGIAN:  I think it's 2010.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I think it's 2010, but anyway, yes, so—

MS. PASHGIAN:  So about a year before that—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Here, these columns were dated 2008.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, so I was working on them in 2008.


MS. PASHGIAN:  They took a long time to make.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —essentially, the decade of the '90s, like Works Gallery closed in 1992, and your next solo show is at Patricia Faure in 2006.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, so during that hiatus—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  That hiatus when you were working on how to do these.

MS. PASHGIAN:  —that's when I was working on—and the first ones I made were pieces that came out from the wall that I showed at Patricia Faure.  And that actually—that gallery had already been taken over by Sam Freeman, which became then the Samuel Freeman Gallery.  And he had—by the way, I wanted to ask you what happened to his partner, she—Heather Harmon?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Heather Harmon works—

MS. PASHGIAN:  She went to work for—does she still work for—?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  She works for Shaun Regen.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, Shaun Regen, okay.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now, just quickly—I want to just—before we get off the '90s, you said, in addition to waiting to make the call, because you were on a number of boards and interested in other things, what were you interested in that kind of hiatus period?  What were you—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, in the highest period, I was still—I had come off of making things that were on the wall, and I was trying to make them come out from the wall first, before I even figured out they could be free-standing.  As I made them come out from the wall, like the piece behind you, that piece.  I did smaller pieces about—most of them were vertical, six feet high, seven feet high and three or four feet in diameter, but they were close to the wall and they were put into a kind of box that was hollow with either a sprayed or a certain kind of sandblasted acrylic on the front, with the image inside.  And when I made those, I realized I was on the right track. And those were made by this current fabricator, Lance.  So—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But just to—well, I mean, what were the ideas that were coming through your mind during the nine months?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I was trying to get to more of a sculptural, simplified formula.  I remember I was coming full circle back to some of the early work I made 35 years before, but now on the wall.  So they were definitely on the wall, but they were wall pieces, but they were sculptural pieces.  But they didn't project out two feet, like some of them do now.  They were more like four or five inches, six inches.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Outside of your art, what else were you doing?  You said you were on boards and you were involved in a bunch of other things.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, so at this time, 25 years ago about now, I was asked—clearly out of the blue, I'm just a girl artist, right, and I was asked out of the blue if I would consider becoming a trustee of Pomona College, my college.  And they said, "This is a very serious commitment, it's lifelong in many ways."  So I thought about it carefully, and I mean, just—they just asked somebody to come and interview me and talk with me and I finally said, "Yes, I would do it."  So it was a very all-consuming thing.  I mean, we had board meetings every month, we met at the California Club, in those days downtown. We met at Pomona twice a year.  And it was very interesting.  And no, I'd never been in the business community much, I didn't know how these big CEOs behaved, for example. Frank—who else was there—president of Disney, he was on the board, and Richard Sieber [ph] who was a close friend of mine, was the president of Hydro Oil, a huge oil pipeline business, oil—not a pipeline, but a huge oil business in Texas, and one of the founding families of Southern California, he was on the board. I was quite into—there were at least two or three women on the board, about 38 or 40 men.  I was very intimidated.  It was a whole new world, and it was fascinating, and it was a way for me to reconnect with my college.

I also found out at the same time that there were no artists on boards of trustees at all, but I made a little search and I found out that, surprise, surprise, Frank Stella was on the Princeton board, where he had gone to college, and Helen Frankenthaler was on the Bennington board, where she had gone to college.  I think that's the truth.  I think that's true at that time, but very, very few, and they didn't know what to make of me, because I wasn't a CEO of a big business.  So I had to try to invent and define what kind of role I would play in the governing body of a small, residential liberal arts college.  So now I'm looking at my old college with a different pair of eyes, and for many years, experience it at a different thing.  And so I got involved with an architectural program; it was a fascinating thing.  I'm still very involved with them on some committees, and now I'm an emerita trustee, so I only go to the committees that I have time to go to, but I usually go to Fresno and some of the big cities, but that was really interesting.

I was also at the time, I got in the L.A. Master Chorale, which is at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and since moved to Walt Disney concert hall, and that was a performing art.  I used to sing in college choirs, I was very interested in the performing arts because it's so different than a solo art.  A poet, a painter, a sculptor, a writer: are all alone and work in silence.  In a performing art, you work—unless you're the playwright—even then, you work with the troupe on the stage, it's a group effort.  And I loved the Master Chorale, and I said, "Look, you were great," and I've served on that board for many years.  And I also served later on the Ojai Music Festival board.  I'm off of both of those now. And I'm not doing really as much with Pomona either. But this was quite all-consuming.  I mean, I did my art, but I did all these other things.  And the social life was totally different.  Here, I've been an artist working for all this time, I've been raised in Pasadena in a very social environment; I knew all the right things to do.  I knew what to wear at a christening. I knew what fork to use. I knew all of that.  But in the art world, none of that has any relevance whatsoever.  [They laugh.] However, now, in an odd way, I'm back in that.  I remember going to the opening of an opera and with the chairman of the opera, president of the opera and sat in the front row, wearing a long strapless gown and white gloves above the elbow and so forth.  It was a whole other world. So you know, I like the extremes that have nothing to do with the art world.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I have to ask before I forget, what—when did your parents pass away?  What years?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, my father passed away about 10 years ago.  My mother passed away in '83, so that was about 20-some years ago.  I can't remember.  Oh, I know, it was 1989, I think, spring of 1989; she was 83.  But my father lived to 99.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  My goodness, what year did he die?

MS. PASHGIAN:  He died four days after 9/11.  So it was—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Oh my God, the shock.

MS. PASHGIAN:  —2001. Yes, he didn't know about that.  He was already on his way elsewhere, because I tried to tell him—he lived in Santa Barbara and I tried to tell him about that, but he was already not interested.  So I thought it was—anyway, he—and the doctors of the college hospital in Santa Barbara said it was a medical miracle, because he was that age with no dementia and living.  You know, the three—four—about four or five days before he died, I went up and his housekeeper was there.  And I said, where's my father?  And she said, "He's down in the back with the fruit trees."  And so I looked over the bank and he's down there, four or five feet up in the tree with a saw, at 99.  I said, "Daddy, get out of that tree, quick, you're going to fall down and break your hip."  And he looked up at me and smiled this beatific smile.  And so he said, "So what?" 


MS. PASHGIAN:  And then the next week, he died.  Anyway, it was perfect for him.  And—but he was healthy.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  But do you still have a lot of relatives in Pasadena?

MS. PASHGIAN:  No, I don't.  On that side of the family, I don't.  I have my cousin and his parents have died.  And he—but on my mother's side, I've got a lot of cousins, but they're not around anymore.  They were at one time, but they're all over the country.  And so the family is all sort of dispersed.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  So you didn't have a lot of family duties?



MS. PASHGIAN:  But—well, my mother stayed for a long time, and I had family duties when they lived in Laguna, I had, you know, a very, very big, private life going on and then I go down there and spend time with them, take—help take care of her.  And then when she passed away, then I spent a lot of time with my father.  And it was quite interesting, because they were both powerful personalities; she was the more powerful. I told you about their lineage, and she kind of ran Pasadena in her day.  She was head of the symphony or the first vice president of the symphony and she was head of—well, if she had lived a generation or two later, she would have been a CEO of a major company.  She had leadership skills, and that helped.  And we were very close.  But when she died, my father and I had never been close.  I was never, I felt, the daughter he wanted. We never understood each other.  You know, I was this tall, skinny, unattractive teenager and he never understood me.  But when she died, she was always between us, because of the powerful personality—but when she died, then the two of us were together with my brother, who was still a problem.  And then he and I became very close.  And we had about 14 years, and to have, you know to have an old parent with all their marbles who is interesting, in fact, fascinating.  We drove—we went to Europe on a lot of trips.  We went and drove up and down the coast a lot.  He could tell me why the Sacto River flowed north instead of south.  He knew every—all the ins and outs and the skullduggery about the Owens Valley and the water.  He knew all the ins and outs.  He'd tell me stories about Kettleman Hills and how Mr. Kettleman didn't make much money drilling for oil; finally, in disgust, he gave up and sold it to a tiny company, in those days, called Standard Oil.  This goes back to my father's—he studied a lot of geography in school and he knew everything about everything.  And so driving up and down the coast in California, or inland, he knew everything.  So we became very close.  So it was quite a great loss for me when he died, because all that history and all that—although we did—I did go through all the family history and all the letters that went back generations from both he and my mother's family, I have all those, which I've never read yet, in notebooks, 15 or 20 notebooks, of all the families on both sides. But he and I were great pals, and he was very proud of me and of all the things that I'd done.  Even though he didn't really understand the art part very well, he sure understood being trustee of one of the most elite colleges in the country.  And he did, you know, he was reconciled that I was who I was.


MS.  PASHGIAN:  So he was like a friend besides being a father, and most people never have an older parent that's a lot of fun like that, because they have to take care of them.  And he was totally independent—


Ms. PASHGIAN:  —until he got sick, but he didn't get sick until he was, you know, 99.  Then he got a couple of kinds of cancer, but he never was in much pain, either.  He was okay and then—


MS. PASHGIAN:  So that was great, but he gave me—both of them gave me enough strength to pursue life on my own.  I had tremendous strength from both of them and from their faith.  And he said to me many times, Helen, you can do anything you want to, you just have to want to do it enough.  But you—there's nothing you can't do, and you know, when children get that—and he taught me everything he knew about business and—but when they get that early, then they have the strength to do it.  But when they don't, then they adapt themselves later on.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Now here, after he goes, then you have actually almost like a total—along with all of your friends, a kind of a—through—from 2001 to 2012—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Rebirth, yes.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —was like a decade of escalating interest—

MS. PASHGIAN: That's right.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  —in this work from the '60s and '70s.

MS. PASHGIAN:  That's right, and then we're all making new work at the same time.  Now, you may not know this, but this is very interesting to me, Hugh Davies sent all the work back to their museums—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You mean. Hugh Davies, who's the director of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Right, yes, he was. Hugh told me that he—and this may or may not happen, but what—all the work had to be dispersed in La Jolla.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Right, after Phenomena.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, right away, because some of it was planned to pay [inaudible] but he told me that what he hopes to do, because he's staying at that museum, what he hopes to do is reassemble it in a larger format with current works by artists. For example Irwin is doing new works, he's at the top of his game—some of the artists are not with us anymore, but everyone—he wants to do a larger show at a museum, either in this country or in Europe or Asia or somewhere—a larger show, more scholarly, with a very big book connected to it, so the scholars can study—kind of study this thing in its entirety, from way back to the present, which I think—and he said, "Would need to be the right museum." He's talking to people now—would need to be the right museum, committed to the—in a huge space, a number of spaces, so that each of us would be able to do the old work and the new work. Then all the artists—he said—I said, "What else would you do?"  And I said—he said, "If there were time, I'd have all the artists that are living talk about their old work and their new work, or just their new work, whatever they wanted to talk about."  That way, part of it, there would be all the bells and whistles and the videos and the books and so forth.  That's what he hopes to do.  Whether it will ever come to pass, nobody knows.  But because this show was a runaway success that nobody, even he, had imagined, he would like to do it, and many at the—already, museums were showing a spark of interest.  So—whether this will happen or not.  But so I'm telling you this because it kind of moves it forward into the present and then who knows what will happen after that.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Well, you're having a show at Ace Gallery in the fall of 2012, a few months away.



MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, there's a group show that's opening on Saturday, but I—in both venues. 

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Maybe I'm wrong about that.  I've actually—are you having another show at Ace Gallery?  I guess I should ask the question. Are you having one?

MS. PASHGIAN:  Well, I don't know about ongoing shows at Ace at the moment, but I'm sure that he is planning that, because when I talked with the owner a couple of weeks ago in the Los—in the Wilshire. They're both on Wilshire—in the Miracle Mile Gallery, he said—and we looked at his big space.  And then he said, "What would you do?  Just off the top of your head, Helen, tell me what you would do in this space."  So I gave an idea; he's interested.  So he's thinking ahead.  But right now, on Saturday, he's opening a show—a group show of his artists and some new artist.  And I don't know what that's going to be.  It's going to be in all the spaces.  But the only opening is at the Miracle Mile, but I don't have much time to develop any new work until I've had the show at [inaudible] in 2014, in the spring.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  And what will that look like?

MS. PASHGIAN:  That is a project with Michael Govan, just the two of us, then that is going to be—no, I'm not going to talk about that.  That's the museum show and I'm not to talk about that.


MS. PASHGIAN:  They don't want that discussed, but it's going to be a huge show, huge space.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  I mean, like—I mean, a single piece or a retrospective or—

MS. PASHGIAN:  It's—no, it's not, it's all new work.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  All new work, okay.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Yes, but I'm not going to say anything about that show, because that's their thing and they want to do it their way.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Okay, all right.  Is there anything you'd like to add that I haven't asked you?

MS. PASHGIAN:  I'll thing of it at midnight.


MS. PASHGIAN:  I don't know, I don't know.  But we can play with this and—

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  We can, but you—what happens is you can add things later.

MS. PASHGIAN:  Okay, and then we can revamp this a little bit.

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  You've been a sport. You've been a sport to go through as much as you've gone through.

MS. PASHGIAN:  [Laughs.]  But if it's unintelligible then we can play it a little bit, right?

MS. DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP:  Thank you, Helen Pashgian, and—

MS. PASHGIAN:  Over and out.






This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Helen Pashgian, 2012 July 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.