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

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