John Dobbs was raised in Boston and Washington. He taught at the Brooklyn Museum and John Jay College. Dobbs and his wife Anne raised two sons at Westbeth.
After the army, I came back to New York City in 1954. The art scene in the mid-1950s was changing with the Abstract Expressionists, Jackson Pollock and the Cedar Street Tavern crowd. I wasn’t taken by the Abstract Expressionists. I was brought up in a different way. I was a figurative painter and went after the figurative painters. A lot of my contemporaries thought I was crazy, that figurative painting was dying. I didn’t care for the new thing. I thought it was a bunch of ink spots painted by space cadets. In a sense, I picked the losing side. Non-objective art didn’t interest me at all. I don’t like the word “abstract.” Non-objective art means there is no reference to anything but the inner voice. Somebody once said that the inner voice is easy to fake. Objective art you can’t fake.
The older figurative painters were glad to see me because the younger painters were going off in a different direction. I made friends with them and they still had a lot of clout. They gave me a lot of assistance and helped me get my first shows.
We lived in France for much of the sixties. In ‘72, I got a job at John Jay College. I taught painting and drawing there until 1996. It took very little time and paid a lot of money.
By 1960, I was attracting private collectors. I started showing at the ACA Gallery in 1965. I’ve sold a lot of paintings. Success to me was whether my paintings were any good, from my own opinion.
I work from ideas and feelings. Since 9-11, I feel the country has been out of whack. Our country has lost its way. Everything we talk about has a false feeling. We are on a tightrope and we are out of balance.
I was opposed to Westbeth at the beginning. I thought it was a bad idea separating the artists from the rest of the people. Artists are a lot better off if they don’t hang out together. However, the rents were right at the time. I was 39 when we moved in. We had two small sons. We met interesting people and made friends that we still have. They expected more turnover with Westbeth, for people who became successful to move out. But to move where?
Edward Hopper painted three or four paintings a year, sometimes less. No gallery would be interested in him today. Some successful artists go into production mode. You have to be able to supply galleries with 100 paintings a year. Also, the galleries are not too happy with changes. I always got in trouble. I’d have a show that would sell out, then two years later, I’d have another show with different, new work. The gallery owner would say, “This is not what you did before.” I’d say, “I did that before. I am doing this now.”