Monday, 25 November 2013

Beat Bruce

Bruce Conner (1933 – 2008) was a draft dodger artist who fetched up in San Francisco in 1957 and fell in with the beatnik and experimental art crowd. He founded the Rat Bastard Protective Association. It's name derived from slang that beat poet Michael McClure had picked up, from the Scavengers Protective Society (the SF garbage collectors) and from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB, like the Rat Bastard's RBP). A parody of art societies and movements, it's members were entitled to use the RBP seal of approval on their work.
Bruce in his studio midden, 1959
Bruce is probably best known as a film maker, being pals with Stan Brakhage and similar folk, but he learned his chops creating assemblage sculptures and collage in the late 1950s and early 60s. Here all kinds of detritus is combined into spooky compositions, sometimes morbidly erotic, sometimes anguished, or both.

Collage From the Dennis Hopper One Man Show, c.1961

Rat Back Pack, 1959. Conner carrying Sammy Davis Jr.?

Ratbastard, 1958. The original man-bag

Black Dahlia, 1959
Portrait of Allen Ginsberg, c.1960-61
It's a dark vision in which recognisable objects are removed from their everyday use and drift into a dream or nightmare world, to the order of violence or vision.
Couch, 1963

Child, 1959
One of his most arresting works, Child (1959), shows the mummified corpse of an infant frozen in torment. Sadly the sculpture no longer exists. It was so fragile that it literally disintegrated during MoMA's efforts to conserve the wax figure.

Untitled, 1954-62
When asked about this period of his work Conner said:

"I think one of the themes of the work is an assumption that the creature is good. That the society which we have is alienating to the animal. It expresses power and violence and death and that's its main structure. And the signs of that are in the symbols we see all around us in the art, in the clothes, in the roles that people play in society. That people have to deal with this crucifixion of the spirit all the time; and that how well they shine through that is the triumph of those individuals".

Bruce Conner (right) chanting with Ginsberg and Michael McClure at Ginsberg's pad, San Francisco 1965
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