Section 4 - Suicide, Bad Boys, Tattoos
Page 5 of 6
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.
Edit DeAk, Mike Robinson & Paul Dougherty
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.
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 Magazinefeatured 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.
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.
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).
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.
Punk Art Exhibition Catalogue
Copyright © April 23, 1978, Miller & Ringma and Washington Project for the Arts.