Joe Brainard. New York, NY., Digital ID 1661124, New York Public LibraryJoe Brainard was born in 1941 in Salem, Arkansas and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A gentle, unathletic stutterer, Joe exhibited artistic talent from an early age. It was his way of dealing with the outside world of the public school in a working-class neighborhood. “Artistic” was a wide range of things, including designing his mother’s dresses. He won practically every art contest he entered.
Dayton Art Institute gave Brainard a full scholarship, but Joe attended only for a few months, running off to New York City (late 1960 or early 1961). Here, reunited with his high-school friends Ron Padgett and Dick Gallup, as well as having made friends with many a literary and artistic stars, he began producing art at an astonishing rate. His breakthrough came when in 1964 Larry Rivers picked him as a companion artist for his show at the Finch College Museum. A few months later, he had his solo exhibit at the Allan Gallery, then MoMA, the Whitney, Yale University Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
In 1964, Brainard began a close relationship with Kenward Elmslie (writer, performer, editor and publisher), that was based based on mutual artistic admiration and deep companionship and lasted to the end of his life (despite other lovers, including actor Keith McDermott).
Drawings, collages, assemblages, paintings, book and albums covers, theatrical sets and costumes, Brainard did very well, with bold simplicity, casual elegance and humor, which set his style apart as unique and inimitable. When it comes to his writings, they fall into several categories: memoirs, dairies, PopArt, short essays and verbal-visual collaborations (with other poets and himself).
I Remember is probably one of the books Joe Brainard is best known for as a writer.
Ingeniously simple in its concept, I Remember is a recollection of things from his childhood in the '40s and '50s in Oklahoma, and his life in New York City in '60s and '70s. Not a traditional memoir, I Remember is a series of statements (each starting with “I remember”), some interconnected, some completely unrelated, some general and banal, some very personal and revelatory.
“I remember daydreams of dying and how unhappy everybody would be.”
“I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.”
“I remember that life was just as serious then as it is now.”
“I remember the sound of the ice cream man coming.”
“I remember once losing my nickel in the grass before he made it to my house.”
“I remember ringworms. And name tags.”
“I remember the first erection I distinctly remember having. It was by the side of a public swimming pool. I was sunning on my back on a towel. I didn’t know what to do, except turn over, so I turned over. But it wouldn’t go away. I got a terrible sunburn. So bad that I had to go see a doctor. I remember how much wearing a shirt hurt.”
The Nancy Book, a very naughty and humorous, mischievous and poetic, surreal and even absurd interpretation (and appropriation) of the classic comic strip character Nancy (Nancy and Sluggo by Ernie Bushmiller). Placed in various scenarios and spaces, Nancy will never be the same...
By early 1980s Joe grew very dissatisfied with his art: he set his standards higher and higher to the point where he could not reach them anymore. He stopped producing art, but continued to read and go to exhibitions.
He died in 1994 of AIDS-induced pneumonia.
Ten Imaginary Still Lifes you should read right now. Yes, silly. Just follow the link. Enjoy. The pure genius of Joe Brainard...
Check out www.joebrainard.org for goodies, including Joe’s bio, some samples of this visual work, things that critics have had to say about him and his creations.