Photographers Unknown, Strange Astounding Plots
“After a white reception in the crystal room of the Hotel
Kenmore, Mrs. George Eustic (Patricia Hays) and her husband
left on a wedding trip to the Pocono Mountains, Pa. They will
live in good old Noodleville.” (Home.)
Where the friendly purple heart is.
I like to do things. I like to eat, and things like that. I like
the things that go on around me. People are nice. And, really, I
like this place I live in. However, some people don’t.
Sick at heart, the trembling girl shuddered at the words
that delivered her to this terrible horrible fate of the East.
“Nasty!” How could she escape from this oriental monster
into whose hands she had fallen–this strange man whose face
none had seen.
It is only a little picture,
In a little silver frame,
And across the back is written
My darling mother’s name.
Pink and purple and orange ones with Venetian rose buds
Imported from Venetian
In eleven thrilling volumes
I heard a shot—I saw him run—then I saw her fall—the
woman I love. My leg was broken—and my gun was gone! I had
only one thought—(tee hee!)—his strange, astounding plots
must be avenged—he must die for a coward at my hands! He had
the courage of a lion and the cunning of a rat. He came running
towards me when—suddenly, I—
Forgetting the ripped lace, $35, green violence, & free samples.
“I always run when I hear 3 rings!”
. . ..and remember those swell picnics in Birch Grove?
Joe Brainard, Picnic or Yonder Comes the Blue, The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, 2012 The Library of America
Born in Salem, Arkansas in March of 1942, Joe Brainard was an American writer, poet, and artist associated with the New York School, a group of artists and writers who drew inspiration from the contemporary avant-garde art movements. His innovative body of work included paintings, collages, assemblages, album and book cover designs, as well as, theatrical costume and set designs. As a poet, Brainard was a pioneer in the New York literary movement for his use of comics as a poetic medium.
Brainard spent his childhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma where, during his high school years, he became friends with future poets Ron Padgett, Dick Gallup and Ted Berrigan. He worked as the art editor for five issues of the high school’s literary journal, “The White Dove Review”, published in the 1959/1960 school year. Brainard had a modest solo exhibition of his artwork, which included some of his first collages, at the small local art center The Gallery. He briefly attended the Dayton Art Institute in the autumn of 1960 before his move to New York City.
After reuniting in New York City with his high school friends, Joe Brainard shared an East Village apartment on East 6th Street with Ted Berrigan. The city’s many museums, art galleries and movie theaters became a source of inspiration for him. By September of 1961, Brainard had enrolled at the Art Student League and was studying under portrait painter Robert Brackman who was known for his large figurative works. Despite his financial struggles, Brainard continued to produce collages and small assemblages in the city and, later, in Boston during his ten-month stay in 1963.
In late December of 1963, through the assistance of Ted Berrigan, Brainard began sharing an apartment on East 9th Street with the poet Tony Towle. The assemblages he created in 1964 at this new space went into his first New York solo exhibition at the Alan Gallery in January of 1965. Brainard became a member of both the artistic and literary circles in New York. Among his circle of friends were poets and writers such as Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery, and artists such as Alex Katz, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, and Fairfield Porter.
Joe Brainard began his art career during the early Pop Art movement; however, the wide breadth of his work resists categorization. As a unified whole, the same qualities are apparent in everything he produced: bold simplicity, accuracy of execution, humor, and a low-key sense of the ordinary as sacred. Brainard was able to find the essential details in life experiences and, both vividly and spontaneously, express them in his work. In essence, he was able to locate the extraordinary in the ordinary, as well as make the extraordinary seem ordinary.
During his lifetime, Brainard was the author of five personal publications and collaborated on an additional nineteen publications with other poets and writers. The best known of the personal work are his “I Remember” volumes that were radical departures from the conventions of the traditional memoir. The 1970 “I Remember” depicts his Oklahoma childhood in the 1940s and 1950s as well as his life in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. His life stories, told through a stream of consciousness, list remembered moments prefixed by the phrase “I remember. . .”. Two sequels followed: the 1972 “I Remember More” and the 1973 “More I Remember More”.
Joe Brainard produced several comic book collaborations with poets and was well regarded for his work as a theatrical set designer and visual artist. Among Brainard’s many New York School friends was poet, author and publisher Kenward Gray Elmslie who became a long-time partner. Elmslie’s Z Press published many works by the New York School, including works which combined Brainard’s art with Elmslie’s own poems. Elmslie also collaborated on operas with Jack Benson and Ned Rorem, and also worked with lyricist John Latouche.
After his success as an artist and poet, Brainard retired from the art world in the early 1980s and devoted his last years to reading. He died in New York City, at the age of fifty-two, on May 25th of 1994 from AIDS-induced pneumonia. Brainard’s art can be found in many private collections and in the public collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Note: An article “Joe Brainard in 1961-1963”, written by his friend and fellow poet Ron Padgett, contains photographs of Brainard’s early works, many never seen by the public. This article can be found at: https://www.ronpadgett.com/Joe%201961-63.pdf
Top Insert Image: Pat Padgett, “Joe Brainard, Calais, Vermont”, 1992, Color Print, Private Collection
Second Insert Image: Joe Brainard, “Hot Fudge Sunday”, 1965, C Comics No. 2, Boke Press, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Joe Brainard, “48 Squares”, Date Unknown, Gouache, Graphite, Ballpoint Pen, Felt Tip Marker and Paper Collage on Paper, 34.3 x 27 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Joe Brainard, Untitled (Still Life), 1968, Watercolor on Paper, Private Collection