Sunday, August 20, 2006

False memories

History of a 'zine (circa '02) that never was. More fun than the trouble of actually writing it:


I began RASP out of my parents’ garage in the summer of 1997. I had just finished high school and was prepping for the big move to college when I got a frantic call from Tall Dan. Tall Dan was a local purveyor of curios. He had a shop on Pearl Street and 15th. Right between Wax Trax and the Snake Pit called Shadow’s Gifts. He said he'd stumbled on a few old journals at an estate sale and he thought I might like to have a look at them.

Tall Dan knew I was interested in art brut and lit brut (outsider art and literature made by the insane, the uneducated, the imprisoned, the handicapped) and he knew this cache would really appeal to me. The journals were from a disabled Vietnam vet. A guy named Bill who languished in a nursing home for most of his adult life. Bill wrote about his past. His family. His loves and losses. But the most spectacular bits were Bill's attempts at poetry. I say attempts but I don’t mean to degrade the work – it was fantastic. Very concrete. Very rhythmic. Very obtuse and very, very strange. I took it home and sat at my lap top and took bits and pieces and typeset them, edited them (his spelling was rudimentary at best) and then printed it out. That was the first copy of RASP. Xeroxed and stapled and then distributed on campus. I charged a dollar and sold fifty copies. The next issue, comprised of work mailed in by readers, was published my sophomore year and was distributed nationally at Tower Records. I sold 300 copies of that one.

Most of the work that has appeared in RASP over the years has been commonly referred to as ‘outsider nonfiction." Writing by people who neither consider themselves writers nor have what is commonly referred to as ‘talent’. I’m talking about snippets of writing. Those ephemeral bits of meaningless prose that glut our society: grocery lists, graffiti, instruction manuals, diaries, journals, assignments, memos etc… Let me give you a few examples of what has appeared in RASP.

This first piece is a personal favorite. It is a small poem found on the wall of a urinal in the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver by poet Coolidge Klein. It’s so brilliant I assumed he’d made it up. He assures me he didn’t. This appeared in the March 1998 Land and Cattle Issue:

Public Urinal:
Wreath of

Here’s another example this time from the May 2000 Lift Issue. This is a list of cleaning products for a pool found on a bus by Juan Gilbert, a frequent collaborator with French art-brut artist Percy Revielle. It is entitled “Ox” (I particularly like the ending comedic salvo):

Chlorine shock
Calcium increaser
Black algaecide – 2 prts
Shimmer (spa gloss if abs.)
Go Brom (go go go!)

In my second issue I placed a few of my dear friend Tom Maverick’s record credit pieces. Tom has been obsessed with album credits (the listing of producers, musicians, assistants, etc on the inside sleeves of records) for years and he began, in late 1998, to create some of his own. The people he listed were real - actual producers and musicians - but most of them had never worked together. The whole project was essentially a fan fantasy. But one of the most obscure kind. Here’s an example from the September, 1998 Cuckold Issue:

“respect to gil fornoire produced by nils lodger and technical assistance by roger sherwood no thanks to the punks that stole our shit in detroit the metro thanks to colleen chris cosey larry at burn studios recorded in lakeside at burn studios and in effiel at crash technical assistance on the track burning by jeff green”

Most of what I receive for RASP winds up being published unless it is clearly ‘fictional’ or ‘forced’. (While I consider Tom Maverick’s credit lists to be ‘made up’ they are certainly probable. Tom has done his research. He knows that the people he lists could very well work with each other at some point. That bends the rules a bit but they are some of the ‘zine’s more popular pieces and… the editor rules.)

As most of my readers are aware there is another ‘zine that publishes ‘street ephemera’. Hermexcules is put out by Alfonso Sims a regular in the letters columns of Brutarian and Slex. Alf has a good book. It’s filled with street poetry and homeless fiction but it’s a very academic affair – he is, after all, a PhD candidate at SUNY Stonybook in something called metafiction studies. Your guess is as good as mine.

Lit brut. A quizzical cock-of-the-head is the usual response. It's the misshapen offspring of art brut popularized by the art of the insane.

1945 saw the first public displays by marginalized persons: prisoners, the insane, retarded. All work practiced and produced outside of social norms or what is generally considered to be the establishment. Work produced by people with little or no training. Work produced either for pathological reasons or merely to bide time. The most 'popular' art brut artists are always the most marginalized - once they come crawling out into the spotlight or somehow embrace fame they are no longer brut. Makes sense.

A quick sampling:

Willem van Genk: stuck in a flat in The Hague, rotund. Collects black raincoats and paints detailed and colorful works that resemble graffiti. He will not sell his work, even for outrageous sums of money.

Cesar Villagas: Born in Mexico, now in Detroit. Finger paint and charcoal of skulls and birds.

Andre Robillard: lives in a hospital in Fleury-Les-Aubrais near Orleans. Creates strange tools and weapons and vehicles from flotsam. Has a menagerie.

Stanislaw Zagajewski: lives in Poland. Makes strange sculptures. Very popular.

Louise Bonner: Daughter of Senator Bonner of Florida. Prolific in 1970s making nudes with clay. Rainbows.

Louis Soutter: Swiss 'alien' artist. Black and flat figures.

August Walla: calligrapher, signs and landscapes. Marked his territory with painted creatures.

Paul Masters: African American inner-city prison. Made sculptures with rat bones and dried banana peels.

Carlo Zinelli: block shapes, Italian, all pictorial sentences. Repetition and numbers play a large role in his OCD artwork. It is, for all intents and purposes, communication.

Jean Dubuffet: primitivism and shock and awe.

Gaston Chaissac: rural French

Gabrielle Marzipan: Autistic and blind. Horses with trunks and gas masks.

No comments: