Sculptor Robert Graham died this past weekend at the age of 70. If you've been to the L.A. Coliseum, you've seen his work. For the 1984 Olympics, Graham sculpted the pair of headless statues called "Olympic Gateway" near the Coliseum's peristyle end. Graham also created the large bronze doors outside Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. His public work included the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Duke Ellington Memorial in Harlem, and a memorial to Joe Louis in Detroit. Three years ago, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde spoke with Graham at a Beverly Hills retrospective of his work. The exhibit featured dozens of sculptures of women. Graham spoke about why he focused on women.
Robert Graham: It's just an accident of gender. If I were a woman, maybe it would be all men. One discovers, though, that opposite that attraction and everything that comes with it. The eroticism, the sensuality, one discovers a way of looking at the whole world through one figure.
So it's not unusual that I would be doing women. I mean, although I've done the Roosevelt Memorial, the Duke Ellington Memorial, and I've done a lot of portraits of men.
Kitty Felde: And you were telling me before we started taping that you really haven't changed all that much in 40 years.
Graham: I don't think I have. No, I don't think I have. And then you asked me if women have changed and I answered I don't think they have, either. So the question is, "who are these people?" They're not fantasy women, they're individual portraits.
The difference between even twins is tremendous, you know. You have to observe it and that observation, that focus is what allows you to get into that other door. It's like a very individual shape. If you look at this model and you look at this, and there's two different worlds there.
And that is the beauty of a kind of pose that somehow conveys personality, the kind of look of a person is really the thing that takes them through their whole life, how they look, how people perceive 'em, you know.
This is a piece that I did for the Duke Ellington Memorial many years ago and I decided not to use it. But as a portrait statue, I think it's really very nice and I'm very happy with it.
Felde: It's beautiful. She stands there, shoulders back, very large hands and feet and just a beautiful face on this woman.
Graham: Every one of 'em has a kind of a sort of space around them, if you just look at each one, you can see how different they are from each other. By the time we get to this stage, you know these models have gotten very comfortable and have gone through this idea of having to be there for a long time.
And so, you know, somewhere there is a kind of something that allows the model to be the collaborator in a real sense so there's a model, the artist on that side, and a collaboration is this thing in the middle. Again, it's sort of like a mirror in there, you know. It's like seeing a thing that's realized only through collaboration of both artist and model.
Felde: When I see your work in public or here in this gallery, I have a vision of what to me a Robert Graham piece looks like. The door at the Cathedral to me seems very different. Was it a different process for you as well?
Graham: Well, it's a different theme, you know. The thing about the kind of both spiritual and civic commissions, is that you know, they have to be in a way anonymous, they have to lack the authorship because it's about something else.
It's about the Olympics, it's about Joe Louis, it's about Roosevelt, it's about Our Lady of the Angels. That's the only thing that it has to convey. And so every one of those projects has to have a – somehow an authenticity to convey in that.
And when we're talking about these particular figures, they're the same and yet they're different because all that has to be is somehow is pay homage to the model and to be authentic about capturing what's in front of you.