Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bruce Conner: a bombhead of a backstory

When I graciously accepted as a gift his painting Bruce from the Salt Lake City filmmaker Trent Harris, I had no idea it has an illustious backstory involving the great artist Bruce Conner, whose Bombhead I have borrowed from Magnolia Editions to illustrate Trent's bombhead of a backstory.


Letter (actually, FaceBook message) from Trent Harris

Hi Chris ... just to let you know why the word "Bruce" is on my paintings


I arrived late to a sushi house in Los Angeles, 1982. Bruce was already there and mad. Three or four sakis later he went face-down on the table. Seems his liver was not his friend.

I didn’t know Bruce and I knew nothing about his work. A mutual friend, Larry Roberts, had brought me to dinner that night because he thought Bruce and I should meet.

Some months later I was at Mount Rushmore. I bought a rubber tomahawk and sent it to Bruce with a note reading, “Dear Bruce, use this to shave your ass.” I am not sure why I did it, but I did.

My gift confused Bruce and that made me happy.

Then Bruce started sending me things that I didn’t want, a terrible movie about Bigfoot, handwritten notes about astrology that made no sense, and a really awful UFO flick that he said he loved.

This back and forth went on. I almost always misspelled his name on the packages I sent, Connors, Conor, Coneres, etc. To this day I have to look up how to spell his last name. For some reason it just doesn’t stick.

1988 and I am in South Africa working on a story. My hotel has been bombed, my girlfriend has dumped me, and our mutual friend, Larry, is dying of AIDS. I managed to get Bruce on the phone. He was at some opening of his art. I told him about Larry, and Bruce dropped everything and immediately contacted his old friend. I liked Bruce for that.

It is something that has come back to haunt me lately.

Bruce started calling me in the late '90s. He was mad that Warhol had gotten famous off his ideas, he was mad that people wanted him to sign his paintings, he was mad at his galleries for not selling his work, he was mad that his various assistants kept walking out on him because he acted like an old cranky bear. He was mad that his body was giving out. He could only work a few hours in the morning.

I began sending Bruce painting and photographs and collages. Some of them teased him; I kind of made fun of Bruce’s famous artist role. I think he liked that. He wrote me once, “Your paintings are mildly insulting,” and I took that as a compliment.

2006 and I go off the deep end. I am on the Burma border doing another story, and I am paranoid. I am certain that I am going to be locked up in a little cement room with one light bulb and then beaten senseless with a rubber hose. This is not an unfounded fear, given where I was and what was going on.

In any case, the stress got to me in a big way. My drawings and notes to Bruce changed. They were, well, paranoid. I sent him a series of photographs that I called still life. They were photographs of other photographs that were surrounded by pill bottles. And there were cryptic messages scrawled on postcards that were also included in the photographs.

Bruce’s response to my work was different. He had studied the photos trying to figure out what medication I was on. Turns out we were on the same drugs. Then he called. He left a message that was truly kind. I think he felt my pain and wanted to help.

2007 and I am in Tanzania doing another story. I find out that my love of ten years has left me for a married man with two kids, and I start to get really nutty. I don’t eat, shower, sleep … and then I am sent back to Burma. I send Bruce a few postcards that I scribble while drunk in some dive in Bangkok. I tell him I have gone mad.

2008 and Bruce calls me. I am too weird to pick up the phone. He calls again. I am still too weird to pick up the phone. He calls again, too weird… A few weeks later I read in the paper that Bruce has died.

No comments: