I first met Alan Suicide (Alan Vega) when he was exhibiting his sculpture at OK Harris Gallery in the early 1970s. The gallery looked like a junkyard for electronic trash, with barely functioning electrical gadgets and circuitry piled chaotically on the floor emitting ominous sounds and light. Amidst it all sat Suicide, wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses, drinking from a bottle of whisky. In 1973, Alan's emphasis shifted to music when he teamed up with the synthesizer-player Marty Rev and formed the two-person group Suicide. The group performed regularly at CBGB, eventually producing numerous records and becoming known internationally. Over the years Vega cemented his reputation as a pioneer of Punk both as a musical and artistic phenomenon with exhibitions at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Deitch Projects and other art venues.
I think the best thing to do as an artist... I mean what else can you do?... is to go out there and say "Hey man your building is burning down. Get off your ass and do something. Get out on the street. Do something!
- Alan Suicide
My sculpture is an example of Punk visually, a not-give-a-shit attitude about just piling up a load of garbage and proving it could look good too... I found TVs in the street... I would go into these light stores and shove lights into my pockets... occasionally I throw in radios... four or five radios playing different stations... People won't get close to the sculpture... there are lots of broken wires, smashed bulbs, chains, broken glass, and other kinds of things that just threaten people.
- Alan Suicide
Edit deAk and Mike (now Walter) Robinson were the co-founders of Art-Rite magazine, a cheaply produced newsprint periodical, that covered the newest directions in art. Issue #13 was a collaboration with Alan Suicide who selected an assortment of images reflective of his view of the modern spirit. Edit and Mike along with video artist Paul Dougherty also created a film to accompany "Frankie Teardrop," an 11-minute song by Suicide. Done before the advent of the cable television program MTV, the film is an early example of the music video genre. Both Mike and Edit became influential art writers: Edit at Artforum; Walter at Art in America and Artnet.
"Frankie Teardrop" is a homicidal Punk epic. It's a working-class ballad about Frankie who's working from nine to five and can't survive. His solution is to kill off his family and then himself. But it's not done in an angry way. It's done in a frustrated way so the film implies this frustration.
- Edit deAk
The film is death oriented. The Thanatos instinct instead of the life instinct. Instead of being overt there is the use of end-of-civilization symbols like the corpse and sunsets.
- Mike Robinson
We dedicate this issue to the average American searching for excitement. These images, punked out from the ambient culture, are the touchstones of a new sensibility, icons of the dissipations and strengths of the modern spirit. Let the way of life idealized in these pages bring into your home the romance of the under-culture: horse racing, white trash, greasy rock 'n roll, muscles, motorcycles, and the end of civilization.
- Dedication from Art-Rite #13
Directed by Paul Dougherty and Walter Robinson.
Produced by Edit deAk. Red Star Records. 1978
One of the first people we approached about participating in the Punk Art Exhibition was Marcia Resnick, an energetic young photographer who was also finding creative inspiration in the emerging music and club phenomenon. As part of the downtown gallery scene, Resnick had created clever self-referential photographs and picture books rooted in conceptual art; then, in conjunction with the new nightclub and rock music action, she turned increasingly towards the more traditional genre of portraiture. With distinctive flair, Resnick's series "Bad Boys" featured many of the new rock stars and other scene makers who visually manifested "badness." A small spread of her "Bad Boy" portraits in X Magazine featured three women artists with "Bad Boy" style: Pat Place, Leslie Schiff, and Ruth Marten. All three participated in the Punk Art show. While Resnick's photographs were not specifically created as photojournalism, as interest in the punk scene grew, she found a ready market for her pictures in magazines and newspapers.
There are people like Christopher Makos who are photographing in a more violent way. I used to photograph like that... I had a tiny camera and I would photograph under my leg and throw my camera up in the air and slam it around and not aim... But now I'm really conscious about what I'm photographing. I'm really a control freak. But in a way Punk is fascist also... in its obsessiveness with itself, its insistence and its drive, its loudness and repetition. The gear of Punk — the leather, spikes, bondage clothing — has a certain aura of fascism... I don't identify with the anarchistic element of Punk and the photographers that don't aim... but I do identify with the fascistic element.
- Marcia Resnick
A major attraction at the opening of the Punk Art exhibition was Ruth Marten's live tattoo performance. We first learned about Ruth from Marcia Resnick and then from the musician Helen Wheels, who had three tattoos by Marten. Like other artists in the exhibition, Marten operated in a gray area between high and low art. She was a fine art painter and a commercial illustrator, as well as a working tattoo artist. Marten made the case for tattooing as a serious art form with real conviction by incorporating different ethnic traditions into her tattoo repertoire, exploring new imagery, and staging tattoo performances in art settings. Some of Ruth's tattoos adorned well-known downtown personalities like the rocker Helen Wheels and the drag performer Ethyl Eichelberger. In the years following the Punk Art show, however, Marten de-emphasized her tattoo work, in favor of commercial illustration and fine art.
I could sit in a studio for the rest of my life and make pretty pictures, or I could illustrate record jackets and kiddy magazines and make a living and float like a raft at sea for the rest of my life. I want community, I want connection. Tattooing brings me into intimate, physical relationships with people... A tattoo is all about the idea of commitment. It's not a drunken night on the town and it's not something to regret or hide behind a turtleneck sweater. It should be blatant and self-important.
- Ruth Marten
Pat Place had a strong presence in Downtown New York as both a visual artist and musician. In the late 1970s she played guitar in The Contortions, a group with particularly strong connections with the art scene. In the early 1980s she helped form the Bush Tetras, an all female group that had a club hit with their song "Too Many Creeps." Pat continues to exhibit her art, most recently at Jane Kim/Thrust Projects (2009).
I was making art first, painting. Then I started doing these photographs when I started playing the guitar... My photography has to do with Sci-Fi and all those films that are coming out, like Star Wars. I want my pictures to look spacey. I think that's related to the whole Punk thing. It's the most modern thing going on today. It's the future. It's plugging yourself in... and electricity.
My pictures show these weird slimy little animals. All of a sudden they come together and there is this big war, a battle of the lizards... It's off the wall. It's sort of "what is it?" Why would you want to see a photograph of that? I like reaching the point of vagueness... confusion... why this? I think Punk deals with that too. It's just kind of crazy. It doesn't make sense. It's sort of pushing something to its limits.
- Pat Place
Leslie Schiff moved from Chicago to New York in the early 1970s. Much of her art involves collage and the Xerox photocopy machine. Her images are rooted in her personal psyche and have an intuitive meaning that is not always easily understood. In exhibitions, Xerox sheets are combined and displayed decoratively on the wall. Schiff has also created books; and made video and sound tapes.
Tell me about the collage in the exhibition.
People used to compare me to James Dean, a weirdo with sunglasses and black leather jacket. I would always be standing in a corner and looking at everybody and then start dancing by myself... I liked James Dean because he went through the same situations himself, except that people thought he had style and grace. He just had this expression... this way of looking.
The first time I saw Blondie she had tape on her pants. I had never seen anyone shape their pants out. She was great. So I started taping my pants out every day. This collage came together very spontaneously. It sort of came together by itself. I had the picture of James Dean on the window for a while. Then one day I added the pink tape.
- Leslie Schiff