Feb 14, 2017
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Bruce Conner: A Filmmaker/Artist’s Cracked Vision
by Doniphan Blair
Seemingly self-centered, Conner's big, bold titles are one of the most striking things about his first film, A MOVIE, being viewed here at his major Manhattan retrospective. photo: D. Blair
“SAN FRANCISCO IS DEAD," SAID THE
older, bearded guy, driving a push-button gearshift Valiant, who picked me up hitchhiking in Oregon, one December evening in 1971.
“One big bummer—we’re all trying to get out of there,“ he explained, hardly what a 17 year-old wanted to hear as he finally "made the scene" four years after the Summer of Love.
I found out for myself the next day, after we "crashed" on his catamaran at a Third Street dock, and motored over to the epicenter of hippiedom: Haight and Ashbury Streets. As far as the eye could see, some sort of war, a drug war, perhaps, an atomic acid bomb, even.
There were hordes of aggressive panhandlers in bizarre dress, blasted on speed or smack. Every SINGLE shop on Haight Street was boarded up. Almost every one of those boards was drenched in graffiti, an orgy of angst so addled and oversized it often ran down the wood, onto the sidewalk: introspective poems and shrieking cri de coeurs, peace signs and the endless “acid art” of concentric circles, disembodied eyes and manic doodles.
Except for the occasional, well-rendered cartoon, like a copy of Robert Crumb’s “Keep on Trucking Man”, or a rock show poster by master illustrator Rick Griffith, the entire rainbow farrago was devoid of high art.
The problem is: high art—of the figurative, not literal, sort—obliges a certain unity of vision and follow-through, faculties not facilitated by Promethean doses of lysergic acid diethylamide, methamphetamine or heroin—
The rock and roll wheat-paste poster emerged as the biggest visual art form of the '60s, along with comic books, squeezing out public space for other art. photo: D. Blair
San Francisco’s hippie heyday produced excellent musicians, performance artists, community organizers and Eastern philosophers but, unlike the beats of barely a decade earlier, it was one of the few cultural revolutions in history with little relevant high art outside of R. Crumb, a few others AND this crotchety and eccentric but also outgoing and well-dressed—indeed, a bit of a dandy—Midwesterner, who not only created VERY fine art—he was first recognized for his sculptural assemblages—but mind-blowing movies.
who died in 2008 at 74, made 24 narrative shorts and two documentary shorts, including “The White Rose” (7 min, 1967) about Jay DeFeo, another one of those few fine artists, her ten-foot, one-ton and thickly-impasto-ed painting of the same name and their eviction/removal from her Fillmore apartment. Along the way, Conner invented three genres, starting with his first film in 1958, also an assemblage, which he edited from footage found in a garbage can behind a film distributor in San Francisco. When I finally saw
three years after my bum trip in Haight-Ashbury, across town at the flourishing San Francisco Art Institute, it also confused and outraged me, especially the overblown titles. A MOVIE and BRUCE CONNER were not only rendered in screen-filling block-letters but repeated at random during the film.
“How arrogant can you get?” I fumed, storming down the school theater’s steep steps and past Conner himself, who, it finally dawned on me, was the cowboy talking to filmmaker James Broughton (Pauline Kael’s secret lover, I later learned).
Then, about a year or two later, out of the blue, one day—or perhaps in the middle of the night, I snapped to attention: “I’ll be goddamned! A MOVIE was, in fact, the essence of ‘movie,’ a condensation of the entire cinema experience, distilled down to a mere—and massive—12 minutes!”
Another non-sequitur but evocative shot from Conner's A MOVIE, 1958. photo: B. Conner
Along with its repeating titles, A MOVIE is composed of black and white footage of cowboys on horses racing—cut to Indians on horses racing, or World War One tanks racing, or the Hindenburg blimp burning, all accompanied by soaring music, climax in a can, as it were, which triggers a Pavlov’s Dog response. It also subjects the entire Hollywood edifice/artifice to a metaphorical takedown or “deconstruction,” although we didn’t use that word until around 1980.
“In 1959, I saw A MOVIE by Bruce Conner and it was like someone ripped a veil off my eyes,” said photographer and art collector as well as actor/director, Dennis Hopper, see the mini-doc “
” (2008, MOCAtv).
“The way his editing, his sensibility, the way he was using his name, the way he was using film as film, it overwhelmed me. His films influenced me, [notably] the acid trip in ‘Easy Rider’,” Hopper elaborated. “In my opinion, Bruce Conner is the most important artist of the 20th century.”
With accolades like that and both being from Kansas, they quickly became friends. Conner even did a series of collages out of old etching, a bit like the animated movies of his friend Lawrence Jordan, but oddly titled: DENNIS HOPPER ONE MAN SHOW, 1971-73. Instead of putting his own name in all caps and center-stage, as usual, Conner assigned authorship to Hopper, which confused gallery owners and cast the 26-piece series into obscurity.
(By the way, Conner insisted his titles be rendered in all caps, with no quotes, reversing cineSOURCE’s style sheet, but we’ll happily indulge the micromanaging old master, previously covered in the 2008
In addition to film, sculpture and other media, Conner explored a near-endless variety of styles. When he discovered the felt-tipped pen, invented in Japan in the early ‘60s, he embarked on a series of Pointillist mandala-esque images so inked-up and laborious, amphetamine use seemed self-evident*, along with intense meditation and vision (* the Conner family informed me that that supposition was incorrect).
Conner's CHILD (1957) stunned the SF Chronicle, which ran the headline 'Murder', and the NY MOMA, which bought it but hid it away. photo: courtesy B. Conner
Then there are the inkblots, the etchings, the word art, the political buttons, the regular paintings—even souvenir rugs from Mexico. The largest series, by far, however, is the assemblages, either flat “windows,” as he called them, or stand-alone sculptures, created from found objects—porn, women’s nylons, broken furniture, outright garbage—to which he added regular sculptural elements.
“His stuff was kind of creepy,” I was told by Jack Fulton, a photographer and mountain man, dedicated to the translation of the aesthetics of nature into fine art, who knew Conner from the early ‘60s Canyon Cinema shows. Conner was an early member of Canyon, although his Pointillist logo for the indie film distribution group was rejected by its main founder and other Bruce.
“Thru the years Bruce Conner and I would meet,” noted Bruce Baillie, who was also popular in the underground film scene of the day, and ultimately accepted Conner’s logo. (Alas, after 50 years, Canyon’s new board of directors nixed that logo, over ongoing support from film-makers and -goers and the fact it was a Conner.) “He'd sometimes hand me a few dollars, probably realizing the money situation with fellow artists. One time, he passed me a hundred dollar bill (which perhaps lasted me a lifetime).”
“One night, in recent months, I had a dream,” continued Baillie by email. “I was visiting Bruce Conner in his ‘halfway haven’ (‘halfway to Heaven’?)… He had a sort of shady summer cottage… latticework, vines, screened front porch, quite comfortable it seemed. He was busy at work [but] there was an MG roadster available to visitors, which I drove about some, wondering if I would have time for an eventful visit with Bruce Conner. However, pleasant this ‘haven,’ I thought finally to depart [without a visit].”
“The hippie era was peace and love and trying to do good,” ruminated photographer Fulton, as he tried to parse “why [Conner] had his creepy point of view, which we see in ALL the movies today, like about guys who make methedrine. [Perhaps because] he spent a lot of time in Mexico taking drugs.”
“We just adored how he was so anti-war," Fulton continued. "He was interesting because he [also] drew and the films were secondary to his structural, spidery, creepy [sculptures]!”
Filmmaker Bruce Baillie at a Canyon Cinema show (Sep, '16) with the old, Conner-designed logo, which they retain on the Canyon bag. photo: D. Blair
Fulton was not alone in finding Conner creepy or Hitchcock-esque. Conner’s assemblage CHILD, when displayed at San Francisco's De Young Museum in 1959, elicited the SF Chronicle headline, "It's Not Murder, It's Art". 11 years later, when the NY Museum of Modern Art acquired the notorious black wax figure, seated in a high chair, swathed in Conner’s signature torn stockings, which drape like cob webs but obviously reference sex and seductresses (as he acknowledged), it was whisked away to storage and NEVER shown, due to deterioration, according to some, but probably your basic transgression.
Thankfully the child-corpse piece has reemerged at the center of BRUCE CONNER: IT'S ALL TRUE, a retrospective at NY MOMA so large it seems second only to the recent Picasso exhibit, though it garnered more mixed reviews.
“Conner was one of the great outliers of American art,” according to R. Smith (NY Times, 6/30/16), “a polymathic nonconformist… a master of Conceptual Art pranks… shaped by the clash between the intense emotionality of Abstract Expressionism and the sardonic worldliness of Dada.” But Smith concludes: “the assemblages tend to look dated.”
Regardless, people were packing those portions of IT'S ALL TRUE at the NY MOMA, where it just closed, and will undoubtedly do so again when the show re-opens on October 29 at the SF MOMA, which, incidentally, was the show’s main organizer (take that Manhattan!) as well as the editor and publisher of the spectacular 375-page catalog.
As if just for Conner, the SF MOMA reopened in April, after a three-year, $305 million reconstruction. In addition to redesigning their logo, which they did improve, they replaced the Supremacist, Aztec temple-like, central staircase with people-sized, flow-friendly stairs that vary floor-to-floor. They also increased the gallery space to the second largest of any museum in the US, providing even an even bigger area to show Conner—and freshly painted, which he would appreciate.
The Conner show continues to January 22, 2017, allowing plenty of time to creep out as well as around his anything-but-dated reflections on the modern condition.
A bit like Hitchcock, who also dealt with difficult imagery and was dismissed by critics until being hailed as one of the greatest, Conner has confounded critics and curators. Indeed, he has had only one other major retrospective, “2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II”—bizarrely titled, especially the absence of caps, which was mounted by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1999, probably because Conner was from Wichita, Kansas, only 600 miles away. Despite his immense avant-gardity
Conner, more than any other artist, iconized the nuclear mushroom (note museum goers to right: classical hippie look). photo: D. Blair
had a classical middleclass and Midwestern upbringing. While he recalled bullying and anti-Semitic taunts, for being a nerd with a Jewish-sounding middle name, he was raised in the best of both worlds, corn-fed Americana AND fierce intellectual and actual freedoms.
Right in high school, he was encouraged to pursue creative interests by a sympathetic art teacher. He also helped form the Wichita Vortex, an art group including poet Michael McClure and publisher David Haselwood, which started the city's first art gallery and was heralded in Allen Ginsberg’s anti-war poem, "Wichita Vortex Sutra" (1966).
Conner continued this spirit of collaboration, community and artist support (showcased by his gifts to Baillie) in San Francisco, where he moved the day after marrying his wife, Jean Sandstedt, in her home town of Lincoln, Nebraska, 1957, because:
“Where the hell else could I go?”
In point of fact, Conner had already gone to New York, in 1956, to study at the Brooklyn Museum and schlep his portfolio around, garnering a small show. But, "When I was in New York it was like a maze, a rat maze, going from one little box to another little box and passing through passageways to get from one safe haven to another," he is quoted as saying. He opted for the obscurity, wide-open spaces and outlaw status of an Artist of the West.
Of course, McClure was already in San Francisco, having burst on the scene at the seminal beatnik “Six Gallery Reading” (1955), then as a character in Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” (1958), and finally at the famous hippie Be-In in Golden Gate Park (1967), leading to his coronation as "the Prince of the San Francisco” and a decade as the Magic Theater’s in-house playwright.
Conner’s art, on the other hand, was utterly incompatible with hippie aesthetic, which often was expressed in rainbow-hues, peace-and-love images, gentle surrealism and, of course, aggressively colored psychedelia. In contrast, CHILD, A MOVIE and almost all of Conner’s work—save for a few pieces, like LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1967), a film shot in Mexico with Dr. Timothy Leary—was monochromatic: greys, browns or black, itself a striking comment on the ‘60s.
A stunning Conner portrait, undoubtedly by a Conner friend. photo: from
Nevertheless, after inventing "the appropriated film" with A MOVIE, Conner went psychedelic, as well as sexy, in the black-and-white but hallucinatory BREAKAWAY (5 min, 1962), a few years before LSD came into common use in the mid-‘60s.
Featuring only Toni Basil, a musician and bit-part Hollywood actress (including Hopper's “Easy Rider”, 1969), Conner has her dancing seductively, sometimes nude, often double-exposed, “marrying the rhythm of the editing, movement of the body and the camera [and the music, on which Basil sang] to a beautiful effect,” according to its
Conner’s fixation on the female form hearkens back to his early window assemblages, some collaged entirely from scores of small magazine pin ups, or his ubiquitous nylons. Still, he remained married to Jean his entire life; they had a kid, Robert; and Bruce was not known for stepping out, which might have been hard with his all-consuming studio schedule.
On the strength of BREAKAWAY, he got a Ford Foundation grant and "became a filmmaker who dabbled in the arts." The next film up was REPORT (13 min, 1967), also ground-breaking and genre-establishing: the personal-as-political. Drawing on his extensive film archives, Conner overlayed odd, sometimes unrelated, shots with a radio report from John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
REPORT became another hit on the alternative film circuit, which was massive in the '60s as commercial television came of age, philosopher-critics pronounced on media and some people believed artistic shorts might displace narrative film or at least appear in theaters before the feature, on the one hand, and LSD, on the other, as the people's entertainment/enlightenment vehicle of choice.
About that time, Conner began a letter-writing campaign, lobbying the Pentagon to release to him—a self-described “paranoiac… impossible to work with” artist (as they would have soon found, when doing a background check)—arguably the most striking footage ever appropriated, given it was previously top-secret but now permitted to be released by the Freedom of Information Act of 1967.
Unrolling in luxurious slo-mo, some filmed from a B-17 bomber two thousand feet up, CROSSROADS (36 min, 1976) consists entirely of A-bombs going off and blasting a bunch of old warships at Bikini Island in the South Pacific, where the US detonated 23 bombs in the ‘50s.
Toni Basil danced in AND made the track for Conner's BREAKAWAY, a short film of psycho-sexidelia from '62. photo: courtesy B. Conner
Although CROSSROADS is not a new genre per se, given it combines Conner's previous three—AND what can possibly follow its majestic, flower-like unfolding of psy-chaos and bomb love, it is his masterpiece. This assessment is corroborated by the NY curators of IT’S ALL TRUE and their placement of a wall-sized frame from the film as their first image.
The SF curators adopted a different design, however, highlighting Conner's more mystical imagery. With almost a hundred additional pieces, including an all black room featuring side-by-side CHILD and COUCH (1963), the eponymous furniture with a corpse crushed into its cushions, and additional and larger screening rooms, SF MOMA's IT'S ALL TRUE is a noticeably more Conner spectacle.
Conner iconized the nuclear explosion more than any other artist. Through his efforts, the mushroom cloud became the icon of humanity gone wrong AND the exact opposite of the earth-from-space image, popularized in the '70s by the Whole Earth Catalog and others. Indeed, the bomb cast its massive shadow across Conner's assemblages, many of which seem burnt-to-death, even though he conceived CHILD as a sarcastic protest against capital punishment—a condemned baby in an electric high chair?!?
While R. Crumb illustrated the ups and downs of hippie life, with characters ranging from poor Flakey Foont to cool Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat (all of which came to him in a single night while high on—you guessed it—LSD), Conner was the high artist investigating the deepest angst and bum trips of the day. Instead of front-stage ‘60s fun, Conner covers the horror of execution, the abject fear of being sent to war, or having it come to you, the sorrow of romantics gone astray, completely awry, and finally cannibalizing their own—as I witnessed in the Haight, in 1971.
“You could call him eccentric, for sure, unpredictable, for sure, but to me he was a genius,” remarked Joan Jeanrenaud, a cellist in the renown Kronos Quartet (1978-99), by phone, who also considered Conner “one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.”
“He would offend a lot of people, ” she admitted. “But his work was pretty vast, his photograms, his black-and-white etching—all so meticulous. I walk past his inkblots in my house every day and I think—what patience. He was so dedicated to his vision.”
“He insisted [an assistant] destroy his [etching] plates. He was very controlling; he wanted to control his stuff even after he was gone, so it wouldn’t get into the wrong hands or be misused.”
“The thing about Bruce is he was not afraid to dabble in all these weird things,” d’Arci Bruno, an artist who worked for him, told me. Unfamiliar with his oeuvre before they met, Bruno was also creeped out, but came to admire Conner’s diversity and dedication and much of his work.
Another creepy Conner, COUCH, 1963, composed from the eponymous furniture and a baby corpse squashed in its cushions. photo: courtesy B. Conner
“He would do these tapestries out of collages that he would have made in Mexico or China,” she said. “They were kind of like souvenirs but they had his weird art on it.”
Conner’s tour-de-force is also on display in the catalog for IT’S ALL TRUE, itself a tour-de-force on everything Conner, from his dozens of styles, series and sets to dozens of essays on his history, ideas and effect, although the tapestry pieces and his anti-hippie aspect are missing.
Contradictorily, Conner was close friends with many hippie heroes, from McClure and Hopper to the Pied Piper-in-chief, Timothy Leary himself, who joined Conner in Mexico, where he lived for almost two years and made the movie, LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (3 min, Beatles soundtrack, 1967). 29 years later, he slowed it down and set it to a new track, by the new music composer
, also a close friend (the versions are very different but both interesting).
Regardless, when the hippies’ drugs, sex and solipsism came back to bite them in the ass, Conner was already there, investigating that story, although a few years later, he moved on to a more like-minded audience, the hippies’ usurpers and antagonists: the punks.
Already in his mid-40s, Conner spent an inordinate amount of time shooting San Francisco’s punk rock palace, the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway. After seeing Devo, the seminal art rock band from Ohio, in 1978, he hustled down to LA with a rough cut of found and filmed footage to pitch them their first music video, MONGOLOID, see the mini-doc, “
Bruce Conner – MONGOLOID
”. They loved his odd brand of kitschy cross-cutting, as did Brian Eno and David Byrne, for whom he subsequently made films.
Eternally at the crossroads, mushroom cloud or plant, Conner lit the way, the radical artist's sweet spot, where the healthy flesh of visionary creation hits the cancer of self-indulgence, simplistic psychedelia and flower sour, as well as, of course, the disease of establishment horror—precisely what makes the personal SO political.
But, if this was one of Conner’s central insights, what was the man himself like?
When I emailed his oldest friend, McClure, about to turn 84, he responded within minutes, “do not contact me again[!]” When I perused the IT’S ALL TRUE catalog, I found, in the main, hagiography, panegyric and Great Man-at-a-Distance.
Shot of the band Devo, from Conner's MONGOLOID, after he "went punk." photo: courtesy B. Conner
“There was one time we went out to eat,” offered cellist Jeanrenaud, “me, Pat [her then-husband, the synthesizer pioneer Patrick Gleeson], Jean and Bruce. Across the way, there were these women having a social night out. At one point, they were laughing really loudly and Bruce started laughing really loudly, imitating them. That shut them up. He could be pretty aggressive.”
“Pat instilled in me, ‘Watch out for Bruce, you can never tell what he might do!’ I was always walking on eggshells until I realized he was not like that.”
“The first time I met Bruce,” Jeanrenaud recalled. “[I was in] this sleeping loft Pat had built and Bruce looked up and said, ‘Oh, the cat’s in,’ implying that [Pat] had this young girl in a cage. He was probably right. He would just say what he thought.”
“I wouldn’t call him fun-loving but he was a loving guy—he was always super-nice to me. Bruce was a really good harmonica player." After Terry Riley wrote a piece using Bruce on harmonica, Bruce even commissioned for Riley to write a piece for solo cello for Jeanrenaud, "Olde English” .
Conner was quite the practical joker, according to Jeanrenaud. “Terry used to live in a house were there were a bunch of steps. Bruce used to take these bricks, wrap them in cloth and mail them to Terry, so the postman would have to carry them up those steps.”
“He would always be very well-dressed, big hats, nice shoes,” Jeanrenaud continued. “He often had cars, a Cadillac, and it would always be pristine, a statement in itself, part of the whole look. Bruce thought about everything before he did it.”
“Before he was really sick [from liver disease], he used throw these really big parties in Bernal Heights,” recalled Bruno, the artist who worked for Conner.
Conner's BOMBHEAD, 2002/1989, continued his bomb studies, almost humanizing it. photo collage: courtesy
“Reilly and McClure would come and all these people. He and Riley played dueling pianos—that was pretty fun. We got to talking. I had been an artist my whole life but I never went to art school and I decided I wanted to treat myself and go to the [San Francisco] Art Institute.”
“He was, like, ‘All those people are rich brats.’ He was against the conformity.”
“Then I found out he hung around the Art Institute [and] was really good friends with Joan Brown, one of my favorite painters [who studied and taught there]. He gave me this book about the Rat Bastard Society [his first SF art group] and the Bat Cave, a gallery they had in North Beach [in the late ‘50s], which was all painted black.”
“I would go to Bruce’s house and do these jobs,” Bruno explained. “His house was funny, like an old person’s house—it had doilies, not what you’d expect from an avant-garde artist. He was using a cane and it would make marks on the wall and floor—he didn’t like that. Bruce liked everything PERFECT!”
“For $35 dollars an hour, I would take a little can of paint and a little tiny brush—he didn’t want more than just the dot done. It took me hours—he paid me a lot of money. He would follow me around and show me [the marks] and we would talk. It was kind of our thing.”
“I would also do stuff outside. His wife, Jean, is an avid gardener,” Bruno continued, warming to her recollections. “Jean was an artist in her own right. I kind of liked her art more than I liked Bruce’s, which was kind of creepy and heavy.”
“He was kind of heavy but he had this sense of humor. You could tell he used to be fun… and quite the looker. I thought he was kind of mean to his wife [but] she knew how to deal with it. He always wore a Stetson and he looked damn fine in it. I figured, in his day, he was a player.”
A book of McClure poetry, illustrated with Conner inkblots, which he sold his worker, d'Arci Bruno, and her receipt to him for retouching his walls. photo: D. Blair
“People would talk with this reverence. Everyone was, like, ‘Oh Bruce, Bruce,’” Bruno offered, after encouragement to plumb his Great Man-itis. “His assistants were these gorgeous women. They would be in the basement working and he would come and say, ‘Do this, do that.’”
“[When] Bruce would start to yell at me, I would say, ‘Bruce, I have one job, to take this fucking paint brush and paint those little dots. If you yell at me I am just going to go home because I don’t really like it.’”
“Then he would get really nice to me and follow me around. I wasn’t sure what to think. He started calling me up to go for walks. He would get all dressed up—he wore nice clothes: his Stetson hat, this beautiful three-quarter tweed coat and nice leather gloves.”
“The first time he drove, a big Cadillac,” although later she drove in her beatup Honda. “He criticized my driving the whole time. At one point, I pulled over and threatened to take him home.”
“He liked to go to 24th Street. We’d walk up and down, arm-in-arm because he was a little unsteady on his feet at that point. I was dressed in my overalls, my painting stuff, and he looked like a million bucks—right out of a [Hollywood] movie. We’d poke into shops, all the while talking. He liked to buy Jean mystery books.”
“He tried to pay me to walk with him but I said, ‘Oh no! We walk as friends or we don’t walk at all. The minute you start paying me you are going to start yelling at me. I don’t like to be yelled at!’”
Ahh, the great man, the genius, the enigmatic, the egomaniac. No wonder the NY MOMA opened their display, even before the logo-like nuclear mushroom, with a 25-foot tall wall, emblazoned with the words—in all caps, of course:
Conner, wearing a Conner T-shirt, at his lithographer, Magnolia Editions, in West Oakland. photo: courtesy B. Conner
“I AM AN ARTIST, AN ANTI-ARTIST…A FEMINIST, A PROFOUND MISOGYNIST, A ROMANTIC, A REALIST…”
While Ad Reinhardt insisted his all-black painting were the final word on aesthetic evolution, Conner’s complex assemblages and films conjure much more of our modern ideas, subconscious and reality. Rather than the blankness of nirvana or death, Conner’s art, culminating with CROSSROADS—his A MOVIE-like distillation of Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove” (1964), is filled with intense feeling and, ultimately, the personal power to see the truth and fight back.
Exploring hope is necessary but our immense capacity for destruction forces the artist to turn from beauty and balance to evil and personal responsibility, even as the public or critics cry out to shut up.
I will never forget the collapse of hippiedom I witnessed in ’71, even though everyone else has. When I placed a Craigslist ad, in 2014, looking for photos, movies or just memories about the "Dark Days of the Haight", I didn’t receive a single response and some people questioned the validity of my own recollections.
Indeed, you will never see that Haight Street horror in movies, history books or museums. Right downstairs from the NY MOMA’s Conner show, in fact, was a room covered floor-to-ceiling with '60s rock-n-roll posters—stunning in their day-glo colors, interlocking type and Aubrey Beardsley-like illustrations. Not one snap, however, of a skanky panhandler on a boarded-up, graffiti-smeared Haight Street.
'the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica', from the Conner's series he claimed was by his friend Dennis Hopper, missing his standard all caps titles (a possible transcription error). image courtesy B. Conner
on the other hand, predicted it, documented it, pushed it all the way to the finest of art of the day AND he kept on trucking, so to speak, evolving ever forward.
Indeed, Conner was one of the few artists to float effortlessly from sculpture and flat art to film, as well as kitschy tapestry, AND from beatnik to hippie and punk, even grunge, not to mention elegant old age, when he maintained, through vigorous cleaning and re-painting, his vision:
the burnt-black CHILD, the grey-grotesque nuclear mushroom, Basil in BREAKWAY bobbing and blurring seductively and psychedelically, and, of course, A MOVIE, its frantically-running figures reminding us that catastrophe is manufactured, in our minds as well as Hollywood.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Dec 23, 2016 - 11:04 AM