A singular artist, Bruce Conner pursued the mysteries and absurdities of modernity through assemblage, photography, film, drawing, and conceptual art. Working for more than fifty years at the margins of the mainstream, Conner's body of work has come to be championed as one of the most defining of the 20th century.
The artist has the role in our society that the madman had, that the fool had, that the prophet had … he’s a protected fool. The fool with his bells says foolish, stupid things, but every once in a while he also comes out with the truth.
Auction Results Bruce Conner
Slides from light shows with the North American Ibis Alchemical Company (8)
Slide from light shows with the North American Ibis Alchemical Company
Five Things to Know About Bruce Conner
Conner cites an experience he had at eleven as the origin of his artist practice; lying and watching the sun through a window, he experienced an altered state of consciousness. "I changed conceptually, and it took hundreds of years ... in worlds of totally different dimensions."
His first film, A Movie (1958), was made before he owned a camera. It is made entirely from found footage and includes a small strip (the first he collected) from a girlie movie he acquired as a teenager out of a friend's sock drawer.
In 1967 Conner exhibited a series of collages he had made at a gallery. Dennis Hopper: One Man Show attributed all the works to Dennis Hopper, a close friend of Conner's.
Conner often refused to sign works and would use a fingerprint as a signature or various altar egos including "Anonymous," "Anonymouse," "Justin Kase" and "Emily Feather."
Conner was known to pass out "I am Bruce Conner" pins at gallery events, allowing him to leave early and still fulfill the obligation of being at the event. He also sent these, along with pins reading "I am not Bruce Conner," to other Bruce Conners.
I was hoping and dreaming of a situation [that] would revolutionize the whole way that people would see movies and how they would relate to them .... For me, I always thought of it as a big celebration.
I am interested in the moment of wonder, of not comprehending all of my experience in an adult context....We confront this total unknown entity in the world....I like to re-create the moment when you are confronted with something that is a surprise. It is a delight, a mystery, maybe an unsolvable mystery. Unsolvable mysteries are much more attractive to me.
Bruce Conner 1933–2008
Bruce Conner was born in McPherson, Kansas in 1933 and died (by his own account) several times, after spending fifty years creating one of the most idiosyncratic and interesting bodies of work of the latter half of the twentieth century. Never content to work in one medium or mode, Conner explored moments of chaos and order, grief and ecstasy, our private and collective experiences, through assemblage, photography, film, collage, drawing and conceptual vagaries.
Conner once called Kansas “a place to be from,” and, like many young creative people of his generation, he was eventually drawn to the west coast. He studied literature and art at several schools, including Kansas Art Institute, Wichita University, University of Nebraska and briefly, Brooklyn Museum School. He later admitted his perpetual enrollment was largely to avoid the horror of being drafted. Painting was the first medium he explored seriously, citing Modigliani, Paul Klee and the ethos of Dada as early influences. Though he was painting at the height of abstract expressionism, and in an abstract mode, he found very little kinship with the style, its disciples and New York, calling the city “a rat maze, going from one little box to another little box … to get from one safe haven to another.”
In 1957, Conner and his wife moved to San Francisco, where he became part of a small, tight-knit artist community that included poet Michael McClure, whom he had known since grade school, Joan and Bill Brown, Jay DeFeo, George Herms and Wallace Berman. Unlike New York, there was no established market and galleries were fluid sites that were largely community nexus points for arists, rather than venues to sell work to collectors. During this time, Conner had already begun to work in his diverse and prolific manner, creating assemblages, paintings, collages and his first film, A Movie in 1958, with found footage before he even owned a camera.
Throughout the next decade, as pop art and social unrest dominated people’s attention, Conner was quietly creating an extensive, obsessive and singular body of work, driven by, among many other things, a perpetual fear of being “pinned down” by a recognizable style. While he resolutely operated outside of the mainstream, even “retiring” from the art world for a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of Conner’s work is responsive to the countercultural currents of the era. His assemblages of the late 1950s and early 1960s speak to postwar anxieties, the shock of the atom bomb, the tension of private and public expressions of sexuality and rising consumer culture. Films like Vivian and Cosmic Ray are quick-cut found footage assemblages that tell of the advent of music videos and short attention spans and deconstruct the formal qualities of film. Intricate all-over drawings from the 1970s are meditative, obsessive, influenced equally by the rise of hippie and drug culture and the popularization of eastern philosophies in the west. His collages made from eighteenth century engravings are dense, lyrical and surreal. He photographed the San Francisco punk scene of the 1970s, made celestial photograms of angels, inkblot drawings that speak through symbols and pulled off a good deal of conceptual pranks and fits. Conner’s body of work is stunning in its range, its unwavering commitment to artistic integrity and unending search for new challenges and mysteries. He has been described as a "cosmological artist," creating “indecipherable missives from a self-contained universe.” (Hatch, Looking for Bruce Conner)
Conner’s work was the subject of major retrospectives at Walker Art Center, 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II in 1999 and, after his death in 2008, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Bruce Conner: It’s All True in 2016.
What can I present to view but a series of acts, arts and crafts to deceive my audience with ingeniously constructed illusions?...I perform events that I report to others….i think my reports are my activities….I would like to dance all the time. I wouldn’t like to have to sign my name and go to banks.