Happy Friday! Might we suggest some art, design, and culture goodies shared by the SVACE faculty and community?
Happy Friday! Might we suggest some art, design, and culture goodies shared by the SVACE faculty and community?
“I mean you watch that blue detergent blob run on the plate, watch the grease cut – well, it can be a real trip.”
That line from Slouching Toward Bethlehem could describe the material heart of The Joshua Light Show. From 1968-71, founder Joshua and the original members were the resident artists at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East, illuminating shows by the Who, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Chuck Berry, and Iron Butterfly. The group disbanded, but returned in 2007 when Nick Hallett brought them to The Kitchen. Still led by Joshua White, The Joshua Light Show has recently headlined high culture landmarks, including The Hirshhorn Museum, Lincoln Center, and LACMA.
One could ask: what ingredients fueled The Joshua Light Show’s ascension up the cultural ranks? Is it the pure, self-evident relevance of projecting colored shapes, liquid lights, and ethereal “lumia”? Is it this medium’s kinship to the canon of abstract painting? Is it the compelling affinity to performance art and relational aesthetics? The collapse of high/low culture walls? Some current demand for more 60s?
One could respond: it’s probably all of the above, and we are glad it’s happening. Anyway, the climb continued last week, as The Joshua Light Show phased into an academic presence, setting up shop at NYU’s Skirball Center. For four nights, The JLS dazzled a seated audience with the vibrant, emotive, and delicious projections that have demanded a JLS resurrection even after more than three decades of relative inactivity. (Just like acid!)
The Skirball series lined up The Joshua Light Show with an eclectic roster of musicians, including Dame Evelyn Glennie and Zeena Parkins, Terry and Gyan Riley, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT, Debo Band and Forro in the Dark, and an avant-super group: John Zorn, Lou Reed, Bill Laswell, and Milford Graves.
This collection of acts checked off an array of genres, generations, demographics, distributions, and demands. For example, the MGMT night was “like a rock show,” and “full of college students,” according to my friends. On the other hand, I overheard numerous professorial attendees at the Terry and Gyan Riley night, discussing the history of Terry Riley and his formal connections with La Monte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Jarvis Cocker was at that show, too, and he did look professorial.
The two nights I attended were like fire and ice. With Terry and Gyan Riley, the mood felt cool and introspective. With Forro in the Dark and Debo Band, the roof was on fire, hands were in the air. In advance, I chose those nights because Terry Riley had always sounded trippy to me, just like The JLS; they seemed like the closest synaesthetic translations of each other. And Forro in the Dark and Debo Band might come closest to recreating “a rock show” because they were bands with lead guitarists and amps. In the end, The Joshua Light Show gave me a spectacle to passively enjoy, while also offering me a prompt for creatively shaping my experience: just what I wanted, and just what I needed.
Terry Riley alternated between a grand piano and a Korg Triton, while his son, Gyan, accompanied on guitar. “Detached” (though “lively”) is how I’d describe the Riley recordings I had heard prior to this show, but this live performance felt warm and genial. Maybe it’s the father-son relationship, or the relaxed confidence of the artists, or the jokes during a technical lapse, or maybe…maybe it’s the lights! The performance of Terry Riley’s classic A Rainbow in Curved Air sounded like a twinkling, pulsing sensation, and the light show seemed most alive through those moments.
Forro in the Dark got my head nodding, and the ostentatious fists of the zabumba player reminded me of the hands controlling the dancing lights behind him. As for the music, here’s Richard Gehr of the Village Voice: “Guitarist Guilherme Monteiro added an acid-rock flair, tossing off dub effects as easily as he did a Chet Atkins-inspired country solo. Locked into a second-line rhythm at one point, Monteiro prowled the stage, occasionally gazing meditatively into the multicolored cosmic eyeballs looming overhead.”
Debo Band’s fusillade of horn-powered blasts, Bruck Tesfaye’s stamina, and of course THE LIGHTS got people out of their seats and into the aisles. A front-row dance party quickly grew, then lasted till the show ended. Tesfaye kicked and hopped on stage over the dancers; kaleidoscopic rhombus shapes and scarlet scatter bombs beamed over Tesfaye.
Further describing those light effects, Gehr writes, “Slowly dripping oils suggested emerging oceanic life forms, slitted sheets of laminated plastic splintered white light into galactic replicas, blue neon clouds blossomed overhead, and a Helen Frankenthaler blob of orange expressionism briefly suggested a gigantic grinning Halloween pumpkin.
Compare that to Laura Snoad, writing earlier this year. “The Light Show’s fantastic spectrum of colours brings to mind the most benign of acid trips – either imagined or remembered – but at times the light show is gruesomely visceral, conjuring up pulsing internal organs, Petri dishes and cell division. Its soft-focused abstraction allows audiences to project their own narrative: neon signs distorted by a rain-blurred taxi window, childhood motorway car journeys, blood draining from a murder victim.”
And compare that to Joshua White, speaking to Karen Day: “We have people coming up to us going ‘were there camels carrying giant bears?’ or something, and we always say ‘You saw that? Good for you!'”
That is, The Joshua Light Show forgoes steering anyone’s trip. It does not court the audience the way a DJ, with the right selections, teases movement from the crowd. While watching all three performances, I could see the musicians monitor and respond to each other. But with the JLS on the opposite side of the screen, I wondered how the light artists could follow the musicians. Weren’t they looking for visual cues? Didn’t the wall force the artists into a passive, dependent role? After the show, Joshua White explained to me that the group just responds to the sounds. Then the audience members can shape their own responses. “You put the conditions in place for the audience to synthesize something new?” I asked. “Yes, and that is how the synaesthesia happens,” is what Joshua told me, paraphrased. JLS’ Gary Panter, also an SVA faculty member, described it for the Bomb blog:
“It really is an equivalent to jazz in a way. Improvisational, fugitive performance where you’re responding sympathetically to the music, and then the audience fills up the gap. They provide the closure relating the music to the light. Their minds start organizing it, even hallucinating it. People see things in the show that we don’t do.”
Another Joan Didion quote: “Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast.” I feel similarly about recounting hallucinations on blogs, so I’ll spare you my visual assocations. But when The Joshua Light Show is back in town, we can discuss our trips in person, because I won’t miss it.
Great vintage photos at Cool Hunting.
Zap: Masters of Psychedelic Art 1965-74 is up until this weekend at Andrew Edlin Gallery in Chelsea. Curated by Gary Panter and Chris Byrne, the show selectively presents work by the magnificent seven original Zap artists: Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Robert Williams, and S. Clay Wilson. The original drawings feature hand lettering, Ben-Day transfers, collage, and meticulous white-out: signs of insistent, obsessive, and precise craftsmanship that remain unrivaled in the gallery world. They are relentlessly critical of the surrounding culture, defying the censorious, repressive status quo that made them necessary.
To learn more about Zap and its legacy, I talked with Gary Panter, the legendary artist behind Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the Jimbo comics, who also teaches at the School of Visual Arts.
MB: When I think of Zap, I think, “Masters of Counterculture,” “of Underground Art,” “of Comix” (vs. comics), and “of Drug Culture.” Of all these ideas, how did you settle on Masters of Psychedelic Art?
GP: The art of ZAP could be thought of many ways. To me the music, the light shows, the posters and hippie comics were the best psychedelic art. Most psychedelic painting was not so wonderful as these aforementioned means of expression. All those guys dropped acid and probably whatever else fell into their hands.
A second consideration was that Victor Moscoso, who was the spokesman of the group, was very insistent that we not call the show ZAP COMICS, because they are working on an anthology, which will have that name. A title is somewhat arbitrary and needs to do the job it is trying to do. The shittiest name for a comic show is ZAP BAM POW.
MB: In your opinion, what is psychedelic about this art? How is it psychedelic?
GP: “Psychedelic” means “mind-expanding,” so challenging the commonplace of the day and having an experimental aspect formally would make it mind-expanding to me. Crumb has written at length about his style evolving quickly even mysteriously under the influence of acid. Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso’s stylistic experiments in comics and posters suggested a mind altered state. Shelton, more than any of the others, made stories on the topic of licentious drug experiementation. To have a glimpse at Williams paintings or comics of that period, and not get the mind-altered aspect, would be pretty hard to miss. Spain was the most traditional graphically, as he was influenced by Wally Wood and Kirby, but he was also the most politically radical of the group. -This is a rhetorical question, right? If you are young, it might be hard to gauge the effect these comics had on the psyche of the 50s, to which they were responding.
MB: I guess it was a rhetorical question, but now that you mention it… When, where, and how did you first get turned on to Zap? How would you articulate the psychic effect of Zap comics on readers from (or around) your generation? I can only imagine the “mind-blowing” culture shock as well as formal/experimental upheaval of the otherwise familiar comic medium. In retrospect, can you compare it to anything else? Like hearing rock bands for the first time?
GP: Anyone in my generation will bore you with the excitement that ran through the 60s, but it was exciting. So many ways forward or new things to explore popped up every month or so that one was looking for the next Zappa, GTOs, Crumb, Oldenburg, Brian Wilson, T Rex,
Beefheart, Martin Sharp, Donovan, Frank Stella, Ed Kienholz, Eduardo Paolozzi…whatever would come out of the void. I was into modern art which at that time was about breaking new idea and style ground with the idea that design and ideas could make life better somehow. At
first it started with a few weird sound effects on a few pop records like the Hollies “STOP STOP STOP,” then totally went off the normal rails and in those days would somehow go straight to JCPenney. My mother and sister wore OP ART dresses and I was able to find the
paisley shirts I coveted. If I had had money I could’ve bought a VOX Phantom guitar. Records were about $4. Comics were 12 cents. Sold american. Even sold, the excitement wasn’t totally damped.
I first saw ZAP in miniature on the calendar poster that came in EYE magazine. Even at one square inch, my hair stood up and at the same moment a much younger Matt Groening was experiencing a similar effect upon seeing the same tiny image. Remember: back then, you could get arrested for saying “pregnant” on TV. There was a real battle to be fought for free expression or freer expression.
MB: What happens to women in this show? I don’t mean the absence of women artists in this show, because that seems circumstantial. But in the work exhibited here, they are either menacing drug fiends or they are dispensable casualties. Is that a fair assessment of the show – and of the Zap series in general? Were 1960s and 70s feminists responsive to Zap? Or were drug-addled comic visionaries off of their radar?
GP: I think that the behavior of hippie guys helped kickstart Feminism, because though they talked about revolution and formed communes, they still wanted women to cook and do the dishes. The ZAP guys were trying to break rules, mainly inspired by the insane intensity of SC Wilson, who seemed to have a lot of support form his family regardless of what he drew.
Some women cartoonists, for example, Trina were very offended by ZAP and hippie guy art. Other women like Aline Kominsky and Diane Noomin were at one with the guy’s rule-breaking and taboo-smashing and did equally “inappropriate” work. Personally, I am not pro-insensitivity, but don’t mind barriers taken down or challenged. I grew up with too many rules and so did a lot of my generation.
MB: And for part of the time Zap was underway, you were abroad, right? I’ve read that you lived in Belfast for a while. Did you get a sense, at the time or later on, why Zap happened in the U.S.? And not in the U.K. or France or whatever?
GP: I was in Texas in the 50s and 60s. I was a missionary to Belfast for a few weeks in the summer of 69. There were posters in Belfast for Pink Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Incredible String Band. In Texas, I saw the Rolling Stones, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix in concert. Texas turns out misfits who move away usually, in that time to San Francisco. It just happened to be happening in SF. A million kids ran away from home and traveled to California, including the ZAP artists. Moscoso was from NY. Crumb from Cleveland. Shelton from Austin. Rick Griffin from southern California. Williams from New Mexico, then LA. Wilson from Kansas. Spain maybe from Oakland.
Psychedelia spread rapidly worldwide (England, France, Japan, Holland, Texas, etc) in a couple of years, then fizzled. Nixon was elected, Mary Tyler Moore came on TV: kind of a future shock combined with hard drugs. The initial vision is still interesting to me. Not free love or heroin or back-to-the-land or panhandling. There is a book called SPACED OUT about hippie environments and architectural ideas which captures some of the excitement of the era that most books miss.
I work on light shows with Joshua White of the Joshua Light show and it is still a powerful improvisational medium.
MB: Why was it important to exhibit the original pages?
GP: I have always had as much or more interest in fine art as popular arts. Reading a comic in bed is a very different experience than standing in a quiet room with a drawing hung on a wall with space around it. I was interested in hanging a show of ZAP cartoon art that was purposely a small show, so that the drawing would be emphasized over the stories, because I think that this group of artists and their confluence was miraculous. They were extremely talented drawers and their drawings worked well together and can easily stand to be hung
next to masterful drawings from any period. And their vision is as strong and valid as any that came before. It would hang better with some work than others because of the intensity. I wouldn’t hang these drawings with delicate light works, but they would work well with
Blake or Picasso or Dali or Leger or Klee or Grosz, etc.
MB: Yes, they were extraordinarily skilled. Though Crumb has talked about how LSD drove out his technical skill – which he identifies as a good thing – making his work more iconographic. I can’t imagine that being true of Robert Williams, whose drawings in this show look supernaturally precise and insistent. Was draftsmanship really important to the Zap revolution? I mean, could Zap still have been Zap, even if the artists weren’t so good at drawing? Maybe the subject matter would have been sufficient?
GP: Williams’ work is totally perverse and deranged — DRUGS. Well, there were a lot of neat underground comics. There were shitloads of underground comics – hundreds of titles. Some were well drawn and some were drawn lousy and some of the crap ones were still cool. The ZAP guys were extra good and early and somehow their work looked good together. Most comics look like shit anthologized. Most comic shows today look like shit and are confusing and overwhelming. Zap was overwhelming and still looked neat.
I would love to see more shows featuring aspects of hippie comics; the second group of artists that emerged apart from ZAP; or shows that are focused on one title, such as BIJOU, INSECT FEAR, Gothic Blimp Works, YOUNG LUST, AIR PIRATES etc. There is a lot to explore and I would prefer it in small doses as opposed to giant crowded shows.
Back to psychedelic drugs for a minute. Doing a lot of powerful psychedelic drugs definitely has diminishing returns. One trip that undoes the filters is plenty and not for everyone. Psychedelic drugs were shattering and not so recreational. More drugs and more hippies
making comics didn’t make for a wonderful ever-evolving unstoppable comic history, but the first and serious visionaries, did have something to offer, if art has anything to offer humans.
MB: So hippie comics shows are best in selective, small doses; just like LSD trips. But for the pioneers – and their readers – the psychedelic, countercultural revolution in comics came out of nowhere, and then it was everywhere. Worked its magic and then it was done. And that coincided with poster design, music, and then fine art. But fine art gets a revolution with almost every generation, right? Has that been true of comics, too? Where do you see it happening now? And if you don’t, then what would it need to do? “Going digital” isn’t enough, right?
GP: Art is interesting to me, but idea-wise, it dead-ended a bit in the 70s, after which postmodernism came about, which was a movement more of combining the isolated ideas into mutant forms (that’s my own take on it); which is interesting still, but a kind of recapitulation. These days, Duchamp is king, which is fine, but people aren’t innovating as intensely as Duchamp — staying too close to home. Going digital in comics is another thing and not a lovely delivery method to me.
I don’t know where it will go. The French have been drawing like insane people, partly influenced by me and my experimental drawer friends for 20 years now and hardly anyone has noticed, maybe because the dose is too big.
This year has been something like the 60s as so much has happened this year. A cultural revolution might not be noticable anymore, only continually transformative, but I am still expecting some visible cultural breakthrough. There are scattered triggers from the past
laying around like benign landmines. Examples: Keiichi Tanaami, Bazooka (France), Shigeru Siguira, Donald Barthelme, Gilbert Sorrentino, etc.
All the cultural modes hang around. Punk is still about beginning. Hippie is still about looking for a new track. Who knows. Make it happen.
Curated by artists’ artist Keith Mayerson, the neo-NeoIntegrity (or post-NeoIntegrity) migrates from Chelsea to SoHo, where, 15-20 years ago, it would have been in the capitol of the art world. The first incarnation at Derek Eller Gallery in 2007 felt like the Justice League Satellite, a zero-gravity chamber of unimpeachable art that surely anticipated Reporta Smith’s recent summoning for “art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand.” And this show does, too.
Inside the gallery at MoCCA (the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art), the show seems as far from Chelsea as Narnia, Gotham City, or Krypton, despite the presence of the Chelsea canonized Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Ellen Berkenblitt, Carroll Dunham, and Peter Halley. And has the Whitney been by to see the Ad Reinhardt collages?
Visitors to NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition might recall recent “visitations” in Chelsea from this alien planet: Basil Wolverton at Gladstone Gallery (2009), R. Crumb at David Zwirner (now), Thomas Woodruff at P.P.O.W. (2008), David Shrigley at Anton Kern (2008) and many other shows of artists working in sequential imagery, grotesque countenance and figuration, and mostly pencil and ink. Keith Mayerson’s own mini-retrospective and end-of-empire narrative Both Sides Now at Paul Kasmin Gallery (2009) shuttled back and forth between these worlds.
Generously funded by School of Visual Arts, a longtime fount of cartooning and illustration talent, Keith’s massive project includes over 200 artists and four or five times as many drawings, paintings, sculptures, and videos. Hot! The tiny gallery is packed from floor to ceiling, and you really have to watch your step, too.
The bifocals crowd might struggle with the abundance of 10-pt handwritten text extruded throughout the paneled pages, and there is enough black-and-white action to make any newspaper’s editorial page see red. But that just means that it’s even more of a knockout to see full-color from chromo sapiens such as Dana Schutz, David Sandlin, and John Wesley. An “Adults Only” section designed by artist TM Davy includes grown-up material ranging from suggestive homoeroticism and explicit T&A to downright obscenity – more, please! Here, you’ll find a really beautiful and moody package from James Siena and a multivalent Shel Silverstein that gazes inward, outward, and downward, all at once.
More pictures to come after the rain subsides, but the photos today are from the opening reception last week.
What if Stan Brakhage made comics instead of films? Curator Andrei Molotiu offers a response in Silent Pictures, a group show of comics artists working in the hinterlands of comics abstraction. Wait – comics can be abstract?
Silent Pictures brings to the James Gallery at CUNY Graduate Center some of the most vital imaginations found throughout a three-year call for entries. They come from North America, western Europe, and Australia. Many are American; almost none are women. In her catalog essay, James Gallery Director Linda Norden reveals that no women replied to the call. (Why have there been no great women comic-book artists?)
The show also displays selections from Art Spiegelman’s library of wordless comics; and it features a film program for those who really might want to dig for precedents of abstract sequential images.
But the segment of Robert Breer’s A Man and His Dog Out for Air, 1955, is absolutely silent. That’s because the film strips are unspooled and sandwiched over a lightbox. Frame by frame, we witness loose lines inch toward each other, until they amalgamate into a squiggly scribble that looks like an ant, life-sized. The restless line continues to transform, until it contorts into the image of a portly man walking a dog. The whimsical cartoon straddles abstraction and representation, something and nothing, like a time-based Kandinsky.
“A line is a dot that went for a walk,” said Paul Klee, whose ghost coexists here with Brakhage’s spirit, leaning against the wall that bears Billy Mavreas’ Border Suite, 2008. Reminiscent of drawings from Klee’s Bauhaus, the work looks like comic panels that imploded into fractal regenerations of themselves.
At a glance, Klee’s Bauhaus colleague, Josef Albers, is apparent in the polychrome plans of Squares within Squares, 2007 by Mark Gonyea. And Jason Overby, from Oklahoma, could be their diligent protégé. His studious, tiny notes in Apophenia, 2008 say things like, “A linear structure is created by an abstract binary opposition. Pencil lets flaws in and is not binary (unless you’re thinking conceptually).” Shazam!
Ibn al Rabin exhibits six comics from his collection, Cidre et Schnapps, 2001. They are hilarious and brilliant.
In Rabin’s pages, geometric shapes argue with each other, consume each other, and get ambushed in ruthless panelcide. Funny pages, but they also offer a study of the means by which they exist and the conventions that define comics, in general.
I would focus on other examples, but too many candidates are hung too high for much evaluation. Many of the drawings and inkjet prints are intimate in scale and rich in detail, so lord knows why the work is hung salon-style, climbing up the walls like your friendly neighborhood you-know-who. So the walls imitate a comics page? But the gallery walls already compartmentalize the space like panels on a page. Whatever; viewers are advised to bring platforms.
Renée French is one of the few women in the show, but her colossal drawing Straw Dog no. 44, 2009 is enough work for several people. If we accept it as multiple drawings, then that adds to the show 29 drawings made by a woman. And because the multi-paneled drawing echoes the window panes of the gallery, and vice-versa, the work echoes throughout the space.
Andrei Molotiu tells us in his catalog essay, “‘Abstract’ here is specific to the medium of comics, and only partly overlaps with the way it is used in other fine arts.” Still, Mark Stafford Brandi gives us A History of Composition in Abstract Comic Covers, 2001 – a collection of painted collages on masonite panels, one for each ism, trend, and movement from the last few milennia.
SVA faculty member Gary Panter is in the show. You can read more about his work in this Artforum piece by Andrei Molotiu.