Nonchalant Radicalism in Print

The Following is a guest post by the artist and educator Michael Krueger. A version of this post was presented at the 2014 SGCI conference panel, Free Radicals. We attempted to keep the written form as true to the original lecture wherever possible. 

001 SF

Government, poster by The Diggers, c. 1967

THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO IS HEREBY DECLARED NULL + VOID!

*More information at the trip without a ticket.

(walks away from podium)

A radical idea that now exists only in print. It once existed in the minds and spirit of the Diggers, a San Francisco based group of activists in the 1960’s.

The print exists now as radical ephemera. It’s meaning has changed and it is now more about how we perceive the history of that time and nostalgia, AND clanging loudly about the medium itself. It is most likely a mimeograph print or possibly a verifax (an early form of Xerox).

For my contribution to this panel, I want to ask some questions about authenticity and original thought AND when does original thought and authentic action become codified, commodified and canonized.  How does this happen and what does it mean, and of course what is the role that printmaking and other print media play.

I am interested in the ‘authenticity of radicalism’ and how the unauthentic is manifest in print ephemera and popular culture forms of print. And the latent radicalism inherent in printed ephemera. How does a print assist or intervene in radicalized thought. And finally how are the aesthetics of radicalism preserved or diffused through printmaking.

The counter-culture movements of the 60’s and 70’s are really the modern models for radicalism in American. When we think of protest or instigating change we usually conjure images of longhairs, sit-ins, panthers and tie-dye.

And this is where I will start, and for better or worst being a radical at that time also meant separating one’s self from the squares, and being cool. Cool becomes a form of associative protest.

In Dick Fountain & David Robins book Cool Rules they trace the history of cool in America back to African slaves held on plantations, and assert that the kind of nonchalance posturing, dance and gesture of the culture are the roots of cool as we know it.

In the face of such extreme oppression the slaves projected an attitude, a demeanor of nonchalance and blithe lack of concern to their situation, in the way that they walked, talked and went about their lives while surveyed by their oppressor. A self-preservationist radical form of protest, which can also be thought of as being inwardly radical and a transcendent, composed cool.

So cool represents a paradoxical fusion of submission and subversion. Emotional detachment and irony  – cool continues to be an embedded mode of radicalism.

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News is, poster by The Diggers, c. 1967

Back to the ‘The Diggers’, the Diggers were a radical community-action group of activist and improvisational actors operating between 1967 – 68, and based in the Haight-Asbury District of San Francisco. During the mid- and late 1960s, the San Francisco Diggers organized free music concerts and works of political art, provided free food, medical care, transport, and temporary housing and opened stores that gave away stock. Among their happenings were the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, and Death of Hippie/Birth of Free. And opened numerous free stores in Haight-Ashbury, in which all items were free for the taking or giving.

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Digger Dollar by The Diggers, c. 1967

Giving things away for free remains a very radical idea. The battleground for what should be free to all is still a point of great controversy, from social welfare programs and health care to other basic needs like water.

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Digger, photograph, Gene Anthony, 1967

One could say that money is the most dangerous print of all, and subverting money is an act of compromising all political systems.

(With very little humor and lots of irony, in searching for images of actual diggers giving away free stuff, I came across this photograph of a digger handing out sandwiches – for sale! YES. You can buy a picture of a hippie giving away free food, radicalized thought / action- de-authenticated.)

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website screen capture / Digger Photo

From my interested in what hippies gave I way I became interested in what hippies might want to try to sell and buy.

The Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas has one of the largest collections of underground newspapers from the 60’s and 70’s. In mining this resource, one publication that stood out is ‘the screw’, partly because it was printed in Lawrence, KS but also because in addition to the expected radical points of view it also consistently maintained biting humor, irreverence and many back page advertisements. (image below)

007 screw cover

The Screw, cover, Number 3, Nov. 18, 1966 (cover drawing by S. Clay Wilson)

For example this (image below) advert pawing Allan Watts cigar butt, it reads –

“Featured above is a long promised exclusive Screw photo of the cigar butt that Allan Watts took from his enlightened mouth and punctuated some of his perceptive remarks with before butting it neatly in an ashtray in his motel room. The cigar butt, perfectly preserved and in original condition, even smelling faintly of Watts himself, is offered for sale for twenty five dollars payable to CIGAR BUTT, P.O. Box 16016 K.C. MO 64112. The earliest postmark check gets the butt.”

008 allen watts butt

The Screw, ad page, May 1, 1969

Allan Watts, an icon of the time and a philosopher, once said –

“Going out of your mind at least once a day is tremendously important. Because by going out of your mind you come to your senses.”

He also said –

“Ultimately, it is through the artist that we learn how to live, not
the preacher, not the teacher, and not the philosopher.”

Here is another ad for a 22” x 28” photo of Che Guevera that reads –

“Tired of those Hollywood heros? Get a bigger than life size picture of Che Guevara. Worship him, throw darts at him, whatever your political views are, no home should be without this portrait!!”

4-0ne-hippie-ragsThe Screw, ad page(s), date(s) unknown

(also of great interest are the following pages including ads for; printing that clearly ‘sticks it to the man’, not an ad at all but I could not resist a column called WEAK CRAP, and finally above George’s high groovy pizza & steak house ad is a little listing for WANTED STUFF: Donations of Miscellaneous materials needed for redistribution to underground ~such as it is~ for instance: mimeo machine, cameras, file cabinets, paint, paper, tools, clothes, just about anything USEABLE.  – all very reasonable and underground requisite stuff)

013 Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, concert ticket, Memphis, TN, Friday, April 18, 1968

I am also interested in the concert ticket, as a kind of cultural marker or memento of radicalized entertainment, as music of this era had links to protest agenda’s, radicalized thoughts about drug use, free expression and nonchalance or cool.

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Grateful Dead & The New Riders of the Purple Sage, concert ticket, Fox Theatre, (St. Louis, MO?) Friday, Dec. 10, 1971

015 dead pirates

Grateful Dead, concert ticket, Pirates World, Mar. 22 & 23, date unknown

Many of these tiny disposable prints have survived and are now cherished and commodified, sold on online auctions for hundreds even thousands of dollars. A price will be paid to own someone else’s authentic experience.

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017 grateful stub back no us

Grateful Dead, concert ticket, Bill Graham Productions, Jan. 15, 1978

TO me there is something very interesting about the ‘matter of fact’ness’ of the ticket stub, and how it brings a sameness and singularity of purpose to what otherwise is thought of as a historically important part of the movement. Today, it is hard to imagine that these concerts were a porthole for new experiences, and that participants taking psychedelic drugs where engaged in a very radical pursuit of self-discovery.

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Shake Down Street, Grateful Dead, audio recording, 1978

This led me to looking at the artifact of Acid tabs themselves as a relic of radicalized experience, of inward radical thought and subconscious immersion / emergence.

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Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

Acid tabs or blotter acid was often printed or embossed with images to identify different varieties or distributors but mostly for fun, humor or some sort of visual inspiration. Perhaps a modern day version of mini-master prints, in that they too provided intimate views into other worlds, into the unknown.

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Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

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Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

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Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

023 blotter

Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

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Acid tab art, artist & date unknown

Shifting gears for a moment I want a talk briefly about the history of blue jeans and the role these pants play in ideas of radicalism in America.

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American Miner, photograph, artist & date unknown

It was here in San Francisco in 1853 that the Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss created the first forms of work jeans, both pants and overalls. He used a durable material called denim, a twill made in southern France, and dyed the fabric indigo blue. They were nicknamed jeans after the city of Genoa, where sailors wore blue cotton canvas. The blue jeans were created for gold-rush miners who needed durable clothing for the rough work they where up to, the pants where quickly adopted by cattle ranchers and other labors.

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Genoa Sailor, photograph, artist & date unknown

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American Ranch Hands, artist & date unknown

In the late 1950’s blue jeans where coopted by the Beats and other counter culture provocateurs as a kind of anti-fashion, the Beats in particular wanted to be associated more with working class people and re-ground intellectualism and political awareness in the grassroots. Blue jeans at the time where very much a uniform of the working class and in some instances actually banned in public places such as movie theatres, and generally considered vulgar fashion.

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Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac, San Francisco in 1952. Photo: Carolyn Cassady

Blue jeans quickly became the fashion emblem for all counter culture and the later the hippie movement. Because denim at the time was produced to be a thick rough material design to endure long work-days and protect the flesh of the wear from constant abrasion, heavily worn ‘in blue jeans where not only more desirable because of the comfort but they also signified that the wearer had a certain history of hard work, and this became a new look of cool borrowed from the working class.

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Allen Ginsberg, Photo: Peter Orlovsky (attributed) c.1973

030 hippies

Hippies, artist & date unknown

Today, blue jeans are manipulated to appear worn ‘in in a starling number of ways, also as I discovered in Sky Mall.. One can now obtain a printed version of well-worn, comfortable blue jeans. Here printmaking as interjected in the dialogue of radicalism and cool to offer a complete simulation of the real, I would argue in a very unfavorable way but nonetheless worth noting. Printmaking is not making your jeans groovier as these tights suggest.

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website screen capture / jeans lounge pants.

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website screen capture / jeans lounge pants.

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website screen capture / jeans tights.

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website screen capture / jeans tights.

 

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Jackson Pollock. Photo: Martha Holmes, 1949

Jackson Pollack and many other artists of that era also wore blue jeans, perhaps as less of an anti-fashion statement but for the more practical purposes of hard work. Pollack would often get paint splatters on his blue jeans. Pollack’s radical idea to eliminate the touch of the brush from the canvas made the splatter itself a symbol of radicalism in art. This wonderful new product from croc.. also acknowledges the significance of the splatter and by way of printmaking conveniently removes all the mess.

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Jackson Pollock Crocs

This is the shopping portion of my talk.. please enjoy all of the zappos views of this post-radical print product.

 

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Jackson Pollock Crocs

Lastly, I will end with Wallace Berman, Semina Culture and William Burroughs.

040 Wallace berman

Self Portrait Crater Lake, Wallace Berman, 1955

Wallace Berman was an artist associated with the Beat movement who could be considered to be the first artist to use photocopies as art and disseminate the first ‘zines. In these loose-leaf publications Semina he would invite poets and artists to create multiplies that would be complied in to mail art packets. Wallace Berman and his circle where deeply engaged in radical thought, not only politically but spiritually through fascination with the occult. Their use of printmaking was not only a convenience to disseminating their message but also a channel for the degradation of the image and a transformation of the image. Berman used a verifax to make these works of art, verifax was the predecessor to the modern day Xerox machine, in researching these works I discovered that his photocopy by Berman now sells for $70,000, illustrating how radicalized throught has become highly commodified. Other artists in Berman’s circle included Bruce Conner, Marjorie Cameron, Jay Defeo, Joan Brown and George Herm.

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Untitled #13, Verifax, Wallace Berman, 1964 – 1976

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Untitled (Al Nebulae), Verifax, Wallace Berman, 1970

043 conner right hand

Bruce Conner, Photographic Copy of the Right Hand of Bruce Conner, 1974

044 Marjorie Cameron

Cameron, ca. 1955 / unidentified photographer.

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Untitled, Gouache and ink on colored paper, c. 1962, Marjorie Cameron

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Jay DeFeo, ca. 1960 / unidentified photographer.

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Persephone, Oil, Graphite, and Charcoal, 88” x 41”, 1957, Jay DeFeo

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Joan Brown with ‘Man on Horseback’, c. 1957 – 59, Photo: Wallace Berman

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Cover of Wallace Berman’s Semina no. 1, 1955, featuring Berman’s photograph of the artist Cameron.

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Announcement for “Roofle,” a Tap City Circus raffle in Los Angeles, October 30, 1966. Designed by George Herms. Letterpress, woodblock, and rubber stamping.

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Cover of Wallace Berman’s Semina 3, 1958,
featuring Berman’s photograph of the two peyote buttons, and containing Mike McClure’s “Peyote Poem.”

William Burroughs made visual art throughout this entire career, in the beginning largely in collaboration with Brion Gysin and later near the end of his life he produced dozens of works daily. He was interested in visual art as a true form of communication, as a truer and deeper communicator than writing – to quote –

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Burroughs and Gysin, 1959.  Photo: Loomis Dean

“The scrapbooks and time travel are exercises to expand consciousness, to teach me to think in association blocks rather then words. I’ve recently spent a little time studying hieroglyph systems, both Egyptian and the Mayan. A whole block of associations  – boonf! – like that! Words, at least the way we use them, can stand in the way of what I call nonbody experience. It’s time we thought about leaving the body behind.”

-William S. Burroughs

Burroughs and Gysin used various forms of printmaking early on including these little carved wallpaper rollers. They used the rollers in conjunction with collage elements and photograph. Like the Wallace Berman piece, they were meant as both experiential and radical moments in time, disruptions in the normal continuum of life, and like Berman these works of art now carry hefted price tags.

Towards the end of his life Burroughs used printmaking more and more, mostly in the form of stencil and spray painting but he also created different printmaker’ly tools for making images. As we look back at the things he made in the 1980’s and 1990’s, for me there is a distinct influence on contemporary art particularly the Mission School movement and contemporary abstraction.. and as I have observed at this conference there continues to clearly be a Burrough’ques influence in contemporary printmaking.

053 WSB Gyson roller

Gysin  / Burroughs printmaking brayer, c. 1960

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Brion Gysin, Self-Portrait Jumping, 1974, Gouache and photo-collage on colored paper, 14 5/8 x 10 3/8 in, 37 x 26.5 cm

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William Burroughs, Photo: Philip Heying, 1998

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Untitled, stencil cardboard and spray paint, William Burroughs, c. 1990

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Unworkable Machine, Acrylic and Spray Paint on canvas, 72” x 48”, 1993, William Burroughs

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Spatula, painting tool, William Burroughs

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Plunger and Bottle, painting tools (left), Untitled, stencil cardboard and spray paint, William Burroughs, c. 1990

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Wayne Propst with WSB Painting Glove, c. 1995

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Untitled, Spray Paint and Ink on Strathmore paper, 23” x 29”, c. 1989, William Burroughs

More than anything for my Burroughs work represents a kind of radical nonchalance, work that in many ways exists outside of any possible critique, work that is radically below the radar – perhaps the only safe zone for radical ideas.

062 39a WSB

City of Light and City of Darkness, Spray Paint and Ink on Strathmore paper, 23” x 29”, 1989, William Burroughs

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Categories: Critical Discourse, Interesting Printmaking, Print-related


One Response to “Nonchalant Radicalism in Print”

  1. Ed says:

    As a counter-piece to the painful irony of a commodified print of a hippie passing out free food, there is also the more Schadenfreude-laden irony that, with the passing of time, a novel by Ayn Rand, the high priestess of capitalist greed, has fallen into the public domain, so that one can download an Amazon Kindle version of Anthem for free. As the text explaining the Kindle version explains, “This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web.” (Of course, if the free version one reads is the Kindle version, one’s downloading / reading / highlighting / commenting data is immediately commodified again by Amazon.)
    http://www.amazon.com/Anthem-Ayn-Rand-ebook/dp/B0082RHM4A/