by Art Chantry:
most people try to link my thinking to andy warhol. i get that. my stuff looks a lot like andy’s work becasue we’re both pulling from the same galaxy of americana. he and i had a lot in common even before i ever knew who he was. surprisingly to many, in reality, i never really liked his ARTWORK so much as his loved his IDEAS. i always thought his images were a bit of game, a “cop-out” of the bigger ideas he played with that were much much more dangerus. i alwys prefered the really SCARY aspects of warhol’s ideas. as a result, i was a much bigger fan or robert rauschenberg. yeah, i’ve always been a ruaschenberg guy, not a warhol guy.
this image (or lack thereof) i ‘show’ you is an object created by robert rauschenberg at the very dawn of his career. it’s offifical title is “an erased de Kooning drawing.” it’s from 1953. at that point, rauschenberg was a stark newbie on the NY art scene. an amercian (a brash crude texan) startup in an art world dominated by abstract expressionsim, his work was definitley struggling to find something younger and newer to say. he shared a studio in an unfashionable part of town with his lover, jasper johns. they were creating images that were (though often created in the same sloppy drippy uncontrolled style/media of the abstract expressionists) definitley leaning toward the PICTORAL, even though it a garbage strewn pictoral of flat discard meaningless iconography (old adverts, american flags, empty beer cans). these guys were at the forefront of what was to be called POP art, the style that would take the country by storm and lock the abstract expressionist lions firmly in the cages of the past.
the position of willem de Kooning at that point was that of the grand master hotshot. he was respected and admired by both camps – the abstract experssionists and the young turks. his work, ‘woman 1″ (the first abstract expressionist style painting in a decade to depict a human figure, thus pointing the way away from AE’s dominance), had just been purchased by the museum of modern art and he was now offically a “made” man. he was still struggling financially, but his future was now assured. prior to then, he was the toast of the hipster artists in NYC. his salons (manly beer drinking at a tavern) were THE place to meet other artists and discuss what you were thinking with like minds. de Kooning was the intellectual giant of the gang. he was THE artist, the wizard, the philosopher king. his brilliance and unsurpased painting skill was uneqaulled by either camp – the old AE masters and the young turk pop art pioneers.
so, when robert rauschenberg went to visit de Kooning to ask for a painting to destroy (erase) it was not a littel request – it was really big deal. de Kooning at first (after a couple of shots of jack daniels with ‘bob’) respnded to his request with dead silence. but, then he said, “i understand what you are doing.” de kooning ceremoniously started to dig into his existing pieces and said, “i want it to be something i’ll miss.” in other words, he wasn’t going to give bob some little scrap doodle, but a REAL and IMPORTANT piece to erase. he also said, “i want it to be difficult for you to erase, too.” he eventually chose a mixed media piece (charcoal, pencil, oil, gauche, the whole shebang.) it took rauschenberg an entire month and many many erasers to erase that drawing.
this was a changing of the guard, and “oedipal” murder, a sea change moment in modern art. by destroying a de kooning masterpiece, rauschenberg erased abstract experssionism as THE dominant art style of america. it launched a new era of mad experimentation and struggle and debate that eventually erupted as the pop art movement of the 1960′s. in a big way, america symbolically switched gears at that point in time (it shifted into fourth.) nothing was quite ever the same again.
about ten years ago, a young hipster rock poster artist named jermaine rogers approached me about collaborating on a poster project. this isn’t uncommon for me at all. over the years, i’ve collaborated with dozens of young designers and illustrators on projects. i enjoy it, they enjoy it and it results in peculiar and interesting results.
jermaine and i talked at length about what to do. his work is primarily illustrative (he actually uses an icon of a toothy/fanged teddy bear that shows up in his work a lot). my work is, well, whatever it s – and it’s very very different. so exactly how to collaborate is always a problem in these situations. as we talked i told him about an old idea of mine that i’ve always wanted to try – but never found a client who was interested or willing to try it. the idea was simple – design a poster and then print it ON TOP of other already existing posters. like a cancelling tag of a street gafitti artist. cancelling out the other poster artist’s work and replacing it with ours was a challenge on many levels – from frank declaration of war to intellectual philosophical questioning. jermaine loved the idea.
we put together a poster to promote a “built to spill” concert. then i dug into my flat files and started to pull out old posters to print on. the majority of the samples i chose were (of coarse) MY old poster art. the trick to be taken seriously with an idea like this is to sacrifice percieved personal value. we needed to be “equal opportunity’ in sacrifice to assure softening personal offense. as a result, i seeded the selection with some very rare and valuable posters from my career.
i also pulled out dozens of posters of OTHER people’s work that i had collected and saved and admired. i also sacrificd rare exotic collectibl
sters from back as far as the 1950′s to be ‘cancelled’ with our cheezy built to spill gigposter image. the whole challenge was to make a snotty rejection of everything that came before. what we were doing to ending an era and starting the ballgame over again in symbol. we were erasing de kooning – an “etch-a-sketch moment.”
as it turned out, jermaine is a notorioulsy voracious poster collector and most of the posters i sent to him to print over ended up in his persoanl collection of rare posters. his excuse was that they were too old and the paper fell apart when printed on (which is ridiculous). instead, when i was sent my samples to file away, i ended up with a huge number of copies of reject set-up and test posters from jermaine’s extensive catalog of old posters. so, these things really look like a jermaine poster through and through. he also sold a great number of the posters to his collector base, thus sort of erasing the whole concept of a street poster cancelling out other street posters (since none of these were ever actually posted on the street like a real poster – at least to my knowledge).
so, the whole thing pretty much cancelled itself. jermaine got some serious traction out of the idea and the action (even giving his own name to the project, which used to market samples to his collector base). but for me, it was a sort of failure and even a bit of a disaster. two of the other poster artists whose rare collectible artifacts i sacrificed from my personal collection to be printed on top of threatened to sue me for plagerism and copyright infringement. they were SO OFFENDED by the act that they felt the need to discuss the situation with their lawyers and threaten ME with chaarges. i got all the anger and threats, jermaine got all the product and the money and nobody ever got the joke. fail.
i sure ain’t no rauschenberg….