Many a visitor at the San Francisco Art Association’s recent painting and sculpture annual mist have been as impressed and amused as I was when confronted with a large untitled collage constructed out of wood, tin and cardboard by a young artist named Bruce Conner
I was even more amused (not to say surprised) to discover while visiting a one-man show by Conner currently at the East and West Gallery that this was a collage with two sides. The strictly balanced wood, tin and cardboard construction displayed in the annual is back by a wildly phantasmagoric arrangement of photographic reproductions – classic nudes from the old masters, unclassic nudes from surreptitiously arty magazines, and genuinely surrealist half-tones from avant-garde periodicals that have survived their period – all scissored up, pasted together and punctuated with hortative printed signs of all descriptions.
The bathroom humor on the reverse side of Conner’s collage is in strange but interesting contrast to the studied subtlety of the obverse – with its formalized shapes and textures achieved with materials that can only be described as debris. The duality in the collage – even though Conner may have meant it as a double edged joke – still points up a duality of purpose and of practice which is evident in the other paintings in the show.
Among these are some highly original oils mainly, as I remember, in creamy white tones, which look like nothing so much as framed cross-sections of prehistoric crustaceans embedded in limestone. There is also a luminous and richly painted torso which almost looks as if it were meant to be an illustration for Rilke’s sonnet about an archaic torso of Apollo. And there are other paintings which in their painterly but mystically disposed swirls remind one of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law – as laid down by that M. Blavatsky of the easel, Odilon Redon.
In other words, Bruce Conner is a highly talented and skillful young artist–in fact, one of the most commanding young talents that has appeared on the local scene in recent years. He is not beholden to residential deities at the California School of Fine Arts, either in the ancient abstract expressionist catholicism of Pope Clifford the First or the neo-realist protestantism of Elders David Park and Elmer Bischoff and their whole congregation. He seems to be his own man. But to get back to the two sides of the collage: I hope he will decide rather soon whether his art should amuse us with deftly contrived trifles or move us with serious force.