Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Devo and the Punks of Letterpress

We finally were able to track down a complete set of this collection of broadsides issued for the Kent State Creative Arts Festival. I'd been searching for it for several years. We'd wanted to include it in our Art Terrorism in Ohio exhibition, but weren't able to find a copy in time, which is a shame. Not only does the portfolio link the underground poetry scene in Ohio to the Bay Area poetry scene via the Zephyrus Image, it also connects it to the New Wave and avant punk scene, featuring perhaps the earliest printed work by a band that was still a few years away from taking over the world.

Devo - The Waltz. 1, 2, 3. . .

The members of Devo were closely linked the poetry scene in Ohio. Various members contributed to different little magazines, especially the great Shelly's, which was published from Shelly's Book Bar and which acted as a magazine incubator for the group [Art Terrorism in Ohio #25]. Bob Lewis also had a book published by Tom Beckett's Viscerally Press. 

The Kent State Creative Arts Festival was created as a reaction against the Kent State shootings, which is often cited as the formative impetus for Devo. The band's first public performance had been at the festival the year prior, and their performance at the festival in 1974 was one of their earliest, featuring the line-up of Bob Lewis, Mark Mothersbaugh, Jim Mothersbaugh, and the Casale brothers. 

The Michael Myers bee linocut which graces this and several of the other broadsides was created in San Francisco and brought to Kent, where the broadsides were printed. Zephyrus Image were probably involved in the event due to the agency of Ed Dorn, who was on faculty at the time. The pairing of Myers' delicate and inimitable linocut work with the quirky pathos of Devo is sublime. The text instructs the viewer to supply their own waltz rhythm as the piece is read, making it a DIY performance piece - a broadside where you, the reader, are the band. 

The portfolio also contains broadsides by Jennifer Dunbar, Ines Brolaski, Joanne Kyger, Barbara Einzig, Ed Dorn (2), Joel Oppenheimer, and Samuel Fuller. All are beautiful, especially those by Dorn, where each line of the work is typeset in a different font, and film-maker Samuel Fuller, who contributes a haunting text on the relationship between between typography and cinema which begins, "The language of type moves with flesh today." The text is overlayed onto a photograph of someone pushing a lawnmower (Johnston identifies the figure as Bing Crosby).

Samuel Fuller

In the past I've often been dismissive of fine printing, thinking that it couldn't match the immediacy of mimeograph or xerox. After the recent exhibition we did on the Zephyrus Image, and after spending time with Alastair Johnston's excellent bibliography of the press, I've had to revise my opinion. Myers and Teter were masters of their craft, but were able to employ it to react with quickness and humor to the political and social events of their day, and in the case of this portfolio, were even able to take the show on the road. Were Michael Myers and Holbrook Teter the first punks of letterpress?

Zephyrus Image. 19 Kent State 74 Creative Arts Festival. Kent, Ohio: Zephyrus Image, 1974. First edition. 9 1/2 x 13 5/16" folder, illustrated at the front panel after a photograph by Eileen Mann, housing 9 broadsides of varying dimensions. Broadsides all fine; folder near fine with some light marginal creasing and a couple of small faint stains to rear panel. Johnston pp. 199-200, 79-81. SOLD

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Irritable Tribe of Poets

Only three issues of Theo were published, but it still took me a couple of years to track down a complete set. I'd been fascinated by the magazine ever since I first ran across a copy of number 2, which has a rather unique design; the covers are stapled off center, so that the fore edge is layered; the front wrap ends before the first leaf, so that the name of each contributor is visible, and the rear wrap extends past the text block. 

The editors had a sly sense of humor. The foreward to no. 1 notes that the name of the magazine "derived not from theology, but from Theo van Gogh, the tolerant brother of the insane artist." After the demise of Theo, co-editor Murphy went on to edit a magazine called "Vincent: The Mad Brother of Theo."

By the second issue the tagline evolved into "An honest collection from the irritable tribe of poets" (a nod to Horace). The description is an apt one. Much of the work in Theo shares something of a common rough-and-tumble aesthetic,
 and there seems to be a definite focus on poets working away from the more urbane coastal scenes, including the Cleveland Scene. There is also work by a significant number of female poets. Number 1 includes a contribution from the African American artist Hart Leroi Bibbs, who will be the subject of an upcoming exhibition at Division Leap.

Other contributors include George Bowering, Kirby Congdon, Judson Crews, John Keys, Gloria Tropp, Jack Micheline, Erik Kiviat, Irene Schramm, Gerard Malanga, Duane Lock, Serge Gabronsky, George Dowden, William Wantling, Walter Lowenfals, Carol Berge, Paul Blackburn, Larry Eigner, Lynne Banker, Fred Bannon, Bob Blossoms, C. C. Chamberlain, Matteo Degennaro, Carl Ginsburg, Barbara Holland, Allan Katzman, Andrew Keiser, K.K., Amon Liner, Jim Mosley, Wayne Oaks, S. A. Osterlund, D. M. Pettinella, Ottone Riccio, Rai Saunders, Sid Shapiro, Susan Sherman, John Tagliabue, Tracy Thompson, L. S. Torgoff, Stephen  Tropp, & Alex Weiner. 

Issue no. 1 is an association copy, inscribed by George Montgomery to Joan Jonas. Montgomery was a contributor to all three issues of the magazine, and the afterword to no. 1 thanks him for making the publication possible. 

Murphy, Frank & Jonas Kover, editors.  Theo Nos. 1-3 [All Published]. New York: Theo Publications, 1963-65. First edition. 8vo. Mimeographed; saddle-stapled wraps. Association copy, with issue no. 1 inscribed by George Montgomery in the year following publication, with a Chinese character drawing. Some soiling,especially to no. 2, and some minor insect damage to the cover of no. 1, still a very good set. $250. Inquire.