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PETER CLOTHIER

HOW I STUMBLED UNAWARES
INTO THE STRANGE WORLD
OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Including a recollection
from Gary Lloyd


Here’s how it was. This was way back in the very early seventies. I had recently arrived in Los Angeles from Iowa, where I had been completing a doctoral program and working in the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City. I was a poet. I had never taken much interest in art—though I was educated enough, of course, to be aware of “modern” artists like Picasso and Matisse. I had even, at my boarding school in England, enlarged a blue Matisse flower cutout to reproduce as a mural on my study wall—to the considerable consternation of my “housemaster”. But though I had lived in London for three years in my early twenties, I had not stumbled across anything that would qualify as “contemporary art.” Then at the University of Iowa, the Art Department was, to my knowledge, mostly traditional, under the firm hand of the lithography master Mauricio Lasansky.

Then… Los Angeles! The shock of the new! My eyes were opened, first, by my soon-to-be wife, Ellie Blankfort—she of the Ellie Blankfort Gallery fame--during those years in the early seventies. Soon after we met, she landed a job running the Art Rental Gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum, and she was meeting the younger set of artists she was soon to represent in her gallery. I, the poet, observed nervously from the sidelines, somewhat befuddled by the strange things some of these artists were doing.

I was not deeply offended, however, until the day we went out to see an exhibition at the Orlando Gallery in the San Fernando Valley. I arrived there to find hand-made, primitive axes protruding from the walls; books mutilated with cuts and slashes, their pages stuck together with unidentifiable goo; mysterious—but definitely unpleasant—stuff growing in mason jars; and Vaseline smeared unceremoniously on the white walls of the gallery… And then there was an inscription somewhere in bold, childish lettering: WHEN I WAS A SMALL BOY, BOB WENT HOME.

That was it. I was appalled. Appalled that someone could create this kind of… hideous mess and call it art. I went home angry to have wasted my precious (poet’s!) time on such frivolity.

And yet. . .and yet. . .I could not get it out of my mind. To my distinct annoyance, the images kept playing around in my head, refusing stubbornly to leave. The indignation continued to rile. So I did what any writer does, I assume, when confronted with the unknown: I started to write about it. At the risk of irritating those who’ve heard me say it a hundred times before, my guiding principle as a writer is that old adage: How do I know what I think ‘til I see what I say? I couldn’t begin to sort out my ideas and feelings until I had them down in words.

So I sat down and began to write. And I wrote and wrote. Judging prose, in those days, to be a little bit beneath a man whose lofty calling was to be a poet, I wrote it all as a poem, and the poem turned out to be some thirty pages long. Evidently I found that I had quite a lot to say, and much of it had to do with the growing realization that this “mess” of an art show curiously resembled how I felt about my life—and how I managed it—when I was seven years old. Life then was an impenetrable mystery. Nothing was as tidy as it was supposed to be. Nothing ever fit quite right, not even my clothes. I was clumsy, inelegant. I used to spill ink on the desk and smudge my fingers, and then the exercise books in which I had to do my arithmetic.

It was the struggle between the unruly, rebellious reality of the inner self and the discipline that others want to impose on it from without—the classic struggle for individual freedom in the face of despised and feared authority. Eventually, it proved to be a losing battle for the child and a victory for the teachers. Inky fingers and all, I was forced into submission to the rules.



Gary Lloyd and Peter Clothier, "Bob
Went Home," 1974, mixed media.
WHEN I WAS A SMALL BOY. . .This art was talking about me! No wonder I was so angry and uncomfortable!
Later, when the writing was done, I met the offending artist, Gary Lloyd. He loved the poem I’d written, and proposed our collaboration on a book. We made it--a cumbersome volume with a hatchet handles for a spine, a battered aluminum cover, and pages rendered illegible by layers of mesh and grease-proof paper, and smears of Vaseline. We spent hours in Gary’s Culver City studio putting this thing together. We even sold some copies to respectable collectors. The Los Angeles County Museum has a copy.

So there you go. This was the great epiphany, for me, the initiation into the world of contemporary art. It came about through anger and indignation, a reaction so strong that I was unable to ignore it. It came about because I had the intuitive wisdom to listen to that contrarian voice and heed its challenge. In the months and years that followed, I continued making my first few tentative steps into writing about art. I even discovered that prose could prove a satisfying medium. I began to write pieces for Artweek, first, then for Art in America, Artforum. . .I had found a calling.



BOB WENT HOME REMIX

Dear Peter,

A poem was left by you at the gallery for me in response to having seen the work.

I was immediately engaged with the absolutely uncanny depth of your perception.  It was as though you were having my dreams and that we were in the dream together--without ever having met.

I called you and asked if you would care to meet and discuss making a book with me, and you accepted.  We met at my studio and began to explore possibilities.  I created a maquette that evolved slowly over the weeks that followed.

We began to work together screening ink on gasket paper, forming sheet metal covers, spilling, tearing, carving, destroying, gathering, dispersing, abrading, defacing, cutting, hammering, crossing out, turning upside down, inside out, drilling, screwing, kicking, spitting, drinking, smoking, painting, cutting asbestos, sharing stories, ruining, rummaging through “Janes Fighting Ships,” and all the while fracturing the fecund and dispersed images of creation, destruction and horror that was my reaction to the Viet Nam War, the Reagan Star Wars defacement, and inner planetary imbalance.

Adam and his turd was disinterred and became the glue for an expression equal to our times.  A time of meddling in the lives of people we couldn't know and sure did not respect.  A beautiful people we advised and destroyed with our B52's and bullshit.  My draft card was runneth over by the band of pirates calling themselves politicians.  Donnie Rumsfeld was just a little shit then, and tricky Dick was plotting his path of autobiographical deception.

"Articulate," a funny word that we shared and shredded.  I knew I had met a great poet and was fortunate to enjoy your company, wisdom and wry acerbic wit.  We created “BOB WENT HOME” together when the world was coming apart.

Gary Lloyd
Photographs by Gary Lloyd:



The Venetian Cotai, Ltd. Casino Tower, under
construction as part of the $44 billion Cotai Strip
development, Coloane Island, China.  The hotel
will include six acres of painted sky by SKY
ART Karen Kristin (MACAO) Ltd., Gary Lloyd,
creative director and site supervisor.










Poster of the layout of the Cotai Strip
development.  The Venetian is the
horseshoe shaped building at the lower right.  
Digital rendering by Venentian Cotai, Ltd.










“Shrine of the Four Buddhas” located in front
of the Grand View Hotel, Taipa, China.