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Victor Coleman

The Summer of '72
Image Bank, Dr. Brute, et al

artscanada, December, 1972
[ 2,214 words ]


The invisible fulcrum of this piece, as it concerns 'art' on the West Coast in 1972, is a special issue of The Coach House Press magazine IS. [ pronounced eyes]. It was my intention to give space in this magazine to a number of artists who, for one reason or another, had only been shown, through their own, usually sporadic, mailings.

The phenomenon of Correspondence or Mail Art is unrooted. Materials for this new art run all the way from Kindergarten scrapbooks to film and video. The important thing is that the artist has a list of correspondents, usually other artists, to which s/he can mail either single collages, photos, recipes, ideas in the form of postcards (see the National Gallery's travelling exhibition of Post Card Art, put together by Image Bank) or single images reproduced by offset or xerography which go out to the artist's entire mailing list.

The artists themselves are loathe to refer to such activities as 'Art'; manifestations are more often than not called 'trips', a term which defines definition, coming as it does on the crest of the psychedelic wave. Trips constitute any given fix on the image at hand which reaches out consistently from the persona of the individual or group 'inventor' extending through the fabric of post office systems to the receiver (inventory).

Cross-referencing is clearly evident in the following seven 'trips' - what won't be evident is that the cross-referencing goes beyond the small, tightly-knit Vancouver art movement throughout the world. The most complete picture of this movement (the Image Bank request list and address book) is now being prepared for publication and should be available in the new year from Talonbooks in Vancouver.

The picture I'll first give will necessarily be impersonal: it involves only the seven different trips that are documented in the Magazine IS., which is published in limited edition of 500 copies, and it would be largely impossible to reproduce it all in a magazine with the space limitations of an artscanada.

The second group are artists with whose work I'm familiar but who are not included in the issue of IS.


the seven heavens, or positive strokes

1. - The Image Bank: Excyclopedia Project
The first projection of 'excyclopedia', from Image Bankers Michael Morris aka Marcel Dot aka Marcel Idea (Miss General Idea 1972) - & Vincent Trasov aka Mr. Peanut, consists of mostly photo documentation of a wide range of 'pieces'. Mr. Peanut's documentation of all the various 'fire pieces' & Peanut imagery seems central to the excyclopedic concerns; all of which will eventually lead to the publication of the Image Bank Excyclopedia in 26 volumes with index in 1984.

Cross-reference here with just about everybody else.

Note: Do not confuse IMAGE BANK with Art Bank: think of Jesus kicking the moneylenders out of the temple.

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2. Chicken Bank: Chickenbankyogodevelopment
At the apogee of an occult is a kind of 'popular silence.' Warren Knechtel aka Sally Peanut has been totally successful in transforming The Doctrine of Signatures into rubber. Chicken Bank houses the Image Bank archives. Mary Beth Knechtel née Estok aka Myra Peanut, Sally's wife, is a scholiast of the highest order, finally nearing completion of her rather cloistered studies; consequently very Nothing by Mouth. I predict a long life in the art for Myra and anxiously await the arrival of first evidence. Sally's contribution to IS. is a semaphore alphabet performed by Chicken X on the roof of Sally's garage in Point Grey. So far the most ambitious Alphabet project I've seen to date, to be part of a larger collection of Artist's Alphabets being collected from around the world by Mr. Peanut.

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3. Art Rat, Element County Sheriff: Dead Letter Funeral
Like most of these pieces, the FUNERAL is only self-explanatory. Seeing is believing. Touching is belonging. The only time I saw the Rat all summer was while driving from Chicken Bank one day along Broadway to the New Era Social Club and Art was crossing the street. He waved. A picture of careful elegance, as always, in his heavy Rat's head, Art was busynessing at The Granville Grange. The glow of the Philosopher's Stone could be seen to emanate from this artist. The Funeral was attended by dead letters sent to element County from across the continents. Cross-referencing here leads one into thinking beyond the purposes of this paper.

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4. New Era Social Club:
Minutes from the Little Hot Stove League
Glenn Lewis aka Flakey Rose-Hips is potter turned ceramicist turned sculp-tor; his new piece, a Statue of Grin, harkens back to the classical, but relates through the personal to the present: the dog had belonged to [Robert] Rauschenberg. Much excitement has greeted his mural commission for Ottawa, a calendar covering 365 years, each of which will be represented by a small plexiglass box containing items relating to the date on that box sent in to Flakey from his correspondents around the World. Flakey's last big commission, another Wall piece, this time for the Canadian pavilion at the Osaka World's Fair, was suppressed and is now in the courts. It seems there was much democratic discussion in Osaka by pavilion employees and not enough of them were for erection; an interesting comment on the whole 'big art' scene, and one which underlines why artists here in Vancouver, as well as elsewhere, are returning to the simpler, less expensive modes for their expression.

The Little Hot Stove League met regularly, sometimes over food expertly prepared by Flakey Rose-Hips. Cross-referencing is complete in this instance. The New Era Social Club was headquarters for Intermedia until just recently and general resource centre for many of the artists involved in that grouping of energies, which, alas, seems to have gone under recently due to Art Bank product orientation. Something here akin to the smoke-filled backrooms of city politics. Always room for more.

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5. Dr Brute: Banal Beauty Inc
Eric Metcalfe aka Dr Brute offers brutish Banal Beauty in the form of found and personally executed imagery. As one of the more careful observers to the making of Brutopia in coastal B.C., Dr. Brute acts as president of Leopard Realty, assuring us always that the Brutopian vision approaches reality in all its horror, more every minute. Most of the Dr.'s imagery is 'brutish' & unpleasant. Since beginning work at The Granville Grange studios, under the Granville Street bridge, Dr. Brute has been working on his Wooden Orches-tra; probably the most ambitious project to date aiming at Popular Silence. The Dr. has completed a half dozen smoothly polished Saxophones so far, each with an inset kazoo/mouthpiece. The Dr. intends to construct an entire orchestra with these instruments. Begin to cross-reference Music. With the help of his lovely Lady Brute aka Kate Craig, the Dr. should 'have his Shit together', as they say, quite soon.

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6. Bum Bank: The John Dowd Fanny Club Fanzini
John Jack Baylen aka Bum Bank has been researching FANZINI in the wilds of the Sunshine Coast at Garden Bay, B.C. High above Lake Yogo in his high-ceilinged wood-frame mansion, John Jack has been carrying on one of the most furious correspondences of all time with just about everybody you could think of. Regular meetings of the John Dowd Fan Club have been held all year, with a particularly strong concentration in the Summer of '72 and culminating on November 1 with the arrival of John Dowd on the 'Bumshine' coast up until then there always had to be a fake John Dowd. The minutes of these meetings constitute Bum Bank's contribution to IS. Another almost complete cross-referencing here also. The high point of the summer was the giant Corres-Sponge Dance on Lake Yogo with the Image Bank colourbars and synchronized swimming by visiting artists and a few local chickens. Much colour documentation and video taping of this event. The prototype FANZINI is an experiment in genre art unmatched in some time.

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7. Anna Banana: Eat a Banana
Anna Long aka Anna Banana, until recently, was self-appointed town fool of Victoria, B.C. She lived in Sooke, on the beach, and made costumed forays into Victoria regularly, culminating in her winning first prize in the Victoria Day Parade for best comic costume. Anna's art is as a mediator between observer and the magic reality she invokes, but unlike most she manages to include the personal, hence admitting the split, but letting both halves create a balance. Able to put our bodies in touch through massage, Anna thus creates a third dimension in her living media persona; that of contact through observers' bodies. The closed observer will find much here to be critical of; but the criticism performs its opening too, as the critic reveals himself in his negative responses. Anna Banana is a positive stroke clear through, giving light to much of the heaviness that precedes her.

Outside of the context of the issue of IS. (pronounced I's) there were a number of events / situations happening on a Wider scale than the aforementioned heavily cross-referenced activities.

a-- AL NEIL's Show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, called WEST COAST LOKAS consisted of a number of collages/constructions in which the main element was light, or glass, materially representing the passage of illumination. The catalogue to the show, put together by Christos Dikeakos and Dennis Wheeler, was recently published by The Vancouver Community Press and includes a number of Al Neil's writings. The element of hermetic shamanism one sees in Mr Neil's work is best exemplified in terms of his first visit from the new NDP government's welfare caseworker who, upon observing Mr Neil in his Tibetan drag, recommended that he be declared unemployable. Mr Neil has had continuing difficulties with the processes of survival merely because he refused to be Nat King Cole, or be anything but the most contemporaneous being.

b-- GERRY GILBERT'S film HEADS (1965-67) is a three-screen 8mm mindfuck of magical proportions. Given the limitations of his materials, having, like Mr Neil, never crossed the boundaries onto the rich soil of institutional art, Gerry Gilbert aka Slim Flowers aka canada's national magazine has created one of the most complete pictures of an age that I've ever run across. Recent falling off in interest in what were once called 'underground films', a leader of that movement's refusal to show HEADS at the Art Gallery of Ontario's Centennial film competition and that same person (Jonas Mekas)'s appointment to his own Cinemateque in New York, have let this obscure Canadian film classic slowly gather dust on the eyebrows of the few who've actually seen it. The Slug does continue. Mr Gilbert's poetry continues to defy its own terms and leap off the page or go beyond the simple vehicle of voice to crowd out your tired perceptions in exchange for his reductio sensibility. Fog prondle pop.

c-- CAROLE ITTER's LOG piece for the Vancouver/Halifax exchange during the Spring of '72 was one of the most talked about conceptual pieces of the year. Far from being an ephemeral gesture, the transference of the log, cut up into 'personal luggage', from the beaches of British Columbia to the beaches of Nova Scotia, by train, strikes me as being the most interesting and relevant piece of landscape art since Cezanne. The black & white docu-mentation of this event in book form, THE LOG's LOG, is long awaited. Ms Fisher is also rubber stamping her Robert's Creek Barnyard Memoirs.

d-- BRIAN FISHER is one of Canada's better known and more successful younger painters. The only word I can think of to describe his output is OPulent. A technician of the highest order, Mr Fisher is fortunate enough to not be in a terrible hurry about what he knows. I've heard a few complaints about his relatively static visual outlay and I think the complainants are not really seeing the seriousness of Mr Fisher's investigations into all three dimensions of scale. His current series of paintings are small (for him) (4' x 4') canvasses hung diamond-shaped by one corner with straight lines in two colours on the background of a third. The colours scale from intense at the centre to highly screened at the edges, almost feathering off into the corners of the background colour. The effect of the paintings on the viewer's eye is astonishing; there is no focal point immediately and when one is found the colour's scaling seems to revolve around that point, continuously shifting no matter how hard the eye strains to make it stick. The two basic colours then mix, more in the mind than on the painting's surface, creating an almost hallucinatory clarity of mixed colour. Mr. Fisher did not feel he had even scratched the surface in this new series when I talked to him; but there is definitely a new direction in this artist's production.

e-- ROY KIYOOKA is hard at work on his Tom Thompson writings and as far as I know hasn't picked up a paintbrush since he left Montreal some years ago. Currently teaching in the Fine Arts Dept. at UBC, Mr Kiyooka's photography has been of note for some time and his sculptural attempts, although not entirely successful, all added to his stature as one of Canada's most varied and unpredictable artists.

artscanada, December, 1972

Text: © Victor Coleman. All rights reserved.


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