MvH: Oh?! Really?
JS: Joseph Beuys once said to me during a dinner with Heiner Bastian (a collector and curator) as Heiner spoke of collective guilt, [Beuys said to me] “There is no collective guilt. I am guilty.” And I thought: “That’s true.” When something – something that I made – is good, then I’m the one responsible. And when something is bad, the responsibility is still on me. It’s like that.
MvH: Very “German”, this collective guilt thing.
JS: Beuys was a very unusual comrade – he was truly cool. He was right. I made the film Basquiat after some “filmer” came to me to interview me about Basquiat. I thought to myself, “ok, I’ll help him”. Then I noticed that he was a tourist/amateur, he did it incorrectly, he didn’t understand anything. I bought the rights from him and made the film myself. Good people helped me out with it – Dennis Hopper, who was my friend, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, everyone played along. They knew my paintings and wanted to be in the film. Dennis watched me and said “do you know what? It looks like you’ve been making films for forty years.” I received a really great education.
MvH: And investors, who came through for production costs, don’t they want a say?
JS: Basquiat cost $3.6 M to make. I took one million of my own money and the rest I borrowed from collectors who took my paintings as collateral. People learn in the movie business to never put their own money on the line but I didn’t do that, because if I did, the film would never have gotten made. I’ve once said “Hear everyone out, but don’t follow their advice”. Reinaldo Herrera said “We learn every day, but never put these learnings into practice. I find myself in the middle ground of these two positions.
MvH: When one listens to you, one gets the impression that you know nearly every important person on the planet. And, also interestingly, everyone knows you. How is this so?
JS: Yes, for example I’ve known Gianni Agnelli or Stavros Niarchos. Let’s just say those were very intense living people. People who thought it was important to be at the center of attention. Why were they interesting to me? I think it had to do with the fact that art, for whatever reason, took the place once held by religion. And it was a reflection of the fact that all of a sudden the art world became so important. Naturally there are many people who have a lot more money than me or any other artist, but they cannot participate because they cannot do what I do – namely art.
MvH: But therefore they can buy your pieces and the works of other artists.
JS: Yes, they can buy the works. But they cannot buy you – unless of course you sell yourself. But when you’re not hugely interested in money, they have nothing in their hand that they can use against you. Tom Waits said: “Money’s just something you throw off the back of a train”.