Iconoclastic artist Bruce Conner churned out artwork with a speed and a whirlwind, anecdotal style worthy of his Beat-era peers, but unlike San Francisco pals Allen Ginsberg and painter Jay DeFeo, Conner never settled on any one medium. His work includes assemblages of found items, re-cut avant-garde films, pen drawings, and, beginning in the mid-’60s, printmaking—a dedicated, 40-year stint surveyed by Senior & Shopmaker Gallery at this year’s IFPDA Print Fair. Often irreverent, though just as frequently studied and spiritual, the collection shows the range of the restless contrarian.
Many of the images at IFPDA are expectedly satirical and anti-authoritarian. 1970’s APPLAUSE is reminiscent of the ominous blinking “APPLAUSE” cue, serving the illusions of mass entertainment by disciplining its audience, and the more recent BOMBHEAD is a blunt critique of militarism and modern science (its eponymous subject proudly dons the atom on its lapel). But it is perhaps more interesting to us today that the artist was as forward-thinking in his practice as he was in his subject matter. APPLAUSE is notable as a lithograph of a felt tip drawing, a newly-debuted medium at the time, and BOMBHEAD’s inkjet print, sourced from appropriated photographs, was utterly contemporary for 2002.
Other lithographs on display merge the artist’s embrace of felt tip pens with lesser-known influences. #121 in Conner’s “100 Series” of pen drawings is nearly tribal in appearance but offset by perfect, white circles. PACIFIC OCTOBER 9, 2002 - JANUARY 16, 2003 exemplifies the artist’s totemic ink blots and merges modern history with a historical and psychological murkiness. And, finally, 2003’s inkjet print NIGHT LIGHT simplifies the artist’s drawings and ink blots in both image and process, serving as a fitting near-coda for the artist’s printmaking career.
Not easily classifiable, and often pursuing juxtaposition, the prints at IFPDA are as influenced by the brashness of the 1970s west coast punk scene as by the Victorian (and even pre-Victorian) imagery of San Francisco’s past. Still, it is perhaps these modest-sized, intimate prints which allow us to get nearest to the artist’s restless muse.