I THE DETROIT ARTISTS'' WORKSHOP, AN INTRODUCTION
The Detroit Artists' Workshop was a small universe. A multimedia,
interracial art collective reaching into many areas of creative production.
The Workshop practiced in the areas of poetry, visual arts (painting,
photography, film making), music, politics, and education; often overlapping
areas, breaking barriers, experimenting, building small networks locally,
which grew in influence and inspiration on a national and global level.
Collaborations between the Artists' Workshop and other avant-gardes
such as the Black Arts Movement in Harlem, the Once Group
in Ann Arbor, The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
(AACM) in Chicago, and the Black Mountain College in North
Carolina, helped to spread public awareness of the new arts, poetry,
and avant-jazz movements here in Detroit and beyond. The mouthpiece
and connecting thread between these groups were the small mimeographed
poetry journals, newsletters, underground newspapers, and portable
reel-to-reel tape recordings. Performance spaces were few and limited.
It was a network created by "people power" and hand-delivered.
Both anarchy and discipline were welded together in the Workshop.
The group's energy came from a belief in the city, a neighborhood
and cultural center surrounding Wayne State University that gives
meaning to this sense of place called Detroit. The Workshop put ideas
about artistic freedom into action, in a space that encouraged self-expression
and constant experiment. Hand typing stencils, cross country trips
to gain interviews, and underground recordings, collating and distributing
poetry books and anthologies by hand, everything done in the name
of art and passion with little or no outside recognition or fanfare.
There was a total devotion and discipline to the newness of
it, the recognition and satisfaction of doing-it- yourself.
In the sixties the popular phrase was to "dig yourself"
-- the individual in service to a high creative ideal was at the same
time serving the community and raising consciousness.
Worldwide avant-garde movements have all sprung out of urban neighborhoods.
Montparnesse, Paris in the 1890s was one of the first and best known,
setting a pattern that multiplied throughout Europe and Russia. In
1902 in New York City, Alfred Stieglitz published anarchistic articles
and revolutionary art and literature in CAMERA WORK, this later evolved
into the arts publication 291. Francis Picabia published his Dadaist
answer in 391 and later edited the zine DADA with Tristan Tzara. Minotaur
and Documents became the mouth organ of surrealism, centered
around the poets and artists of Paris in the twenties and thirties.
The abyss of World War II left a long gap in publishing until the
European avant garde once again landed in America. The aesthetics
of The New Poetry movement was largely filtered out of the
Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
In the 1950s and early 60s, the Greenwich Village area in New York,
Laurel Canyon of Los Angeles, and North Beach in San Francisco were
centers of abstract expressionism, beat culture, and emerging pop-art.
The most successful art communities are those which were able to put
their shared vision into action. All of these avant-gardes had a support
system in the form of small presses, which was the most accessible
and spontaneous way to spread information about the growing scene.
The Artists' Workshop in Detroit developed its own highly organized
and unique practices. It was a communal, pay-as-you-go, dues paying
organization. A five dollar donation showed your commitment to the
group and gave you a spot on the masthead. Coming out of Moteith College,
the Workshop put education at the top of its priorities, opening a
"Free University" within its first few months. November
1, 2004 marks the 40th anniversary of the Workshop.
Web surfing is a close relative to the multimedia actions practiced
by the Workshop, but the internet leaves out the one essential ingredient
of groups coming together and forming creative organic
living collectives at the center of the urban experience. It is said
that the invention of the telephone ended the art movements of the
café society of Montparnesse. Artists no longer needed to meet
together and discuss the issues of the day, they could just pick up
the phone. What the café was to the early avant-garde, so the
mimeograph was to the culture of the early 1960s, a low-tech hang-out
for the beat generation. This essay will explore one facet that helped
define Detroit's first avant-garde, the Detroit Artists' Workshop.
II THE GESTETNER MASSAGE
"What we are witnessing is a delicate shift of total consciousness
in America-it won't be done through publicity or propaganda, articles
or any form of -brainwashing persuasion - it will occur as a response
to altered history scene."
~ Gregory Corso
Many of the radical small journals in the early 1960s were printed
on Gestetner mimeograph machines. This allowed cheap and reasonably
readable copies to be made and distributed quickly. The mimeograph
was a large, heavy, solid metal machine. Before a copy could be run
off, a stencil needed to be made first. Most stencils were usually
typewritten on, and then strapped to the machine drum. A hand turned
crank (later replaced by an electric motor) would put pressure between
sheets of paper and a cylinder as ink was forced through openings
cut into the stencil. The entire process went smoothly for professional
printers, but for most users (i.e., the do-it-yourself crowd) it was
a messy business with torn stencils, ruined ink-stained clothes and
smearing ink on the pages.
The mimeograph is now a dead medium, replaced by high speed copiers,
computers and ink jet printers. There are no longer parts made for
mimeograph machines which make their by-products as rare as handmade
daguerreotypes. The art and knowledge of this arcane medium is dying
off, known only to those who were its early practitioners.
Many of the beat writers produced works on mimeograph machines. Poet
Allen Ginsberg self-produced first edition copies of Howl,
his major work as a mimeograph. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Diane
di Prima published their Floating Bear Press journal out of a back
store-room of the Phoenix bookshop. di Prima named the press after
the name of Pooh's boat (an accidentally overturned honey-pot) in
Winnie the Pooh. di Prima recalled the mimeograph operation;
"After the editing was over and done with, the rest of the work
was chiefly in my hands. I typed the material onto green Gestetner
mimeograph stencils with my ancient, heavy IBM typewriter
mimeograph stencils was painful and painstaking. You applied a liquid
plastic, also green, which closed over the typing as it dried, making
a new plastic "skin". You had to make sure the schmear of
fluid didn't adhere to the stencil's backing sheet, or it would tear
off again leaving a big hole in the stencil just when you were ready
to print. Then, too, the correction fluid needed to be neither too
thin (wouldn't cover the previous typing) or too thick (you wouldn't
be able to get the new word to "show through" when you typed
in the correction). Painful and nerve-wracking, it was the worst part
of the process and makes it clear to me that computers came none too
soon."1 di Prima points
out how the natural division of labor split their duties and although
they both co-edited the paper, "it was Roi's press."
Baraka expressed the public response to Floating Bear: "(it)
was coming out regularly and became the talk of our various interconnected
literary circles. It was meant to be "quick, fast, and in a hurry."
the publication had real impact and influence and was greatly
talked about. And though it had a regular circulation of about 300,
those 300 were sufficiently wired for sound to project the Bear's
presence and "message" (of a new literature and a new criticism)
in all directions."2
The mimeo format gave the press an immediate response time and a spontaneous
nature that reflected the poetry it reprinted.
III FREE POEMS / AMONG FRIENDS or THE DETROIT ARTISTS' WORKSHOP
"We need an electronic stencil-making machine, they cost
$2000.00! PLEASE HELP US!!... If you want to sell the SUN at your
school and think you can get away with it, stop by the office and
pick some up... We also owe the Gestetner mimeograph people over $400.
And we can't get any more supplies from them until we pay the money.
PLEASE HELP US!!!" - Classified Ads from the SUN
In Detroit, Monteith College was an experimental school set up on
the campus and within Wayne State University. It was founded by a
group of disaffected sociology professors from the University of Chicago.
Otto Feinstein, a maverick leader in the anti-nuclear and peace movement,
arrived in Detroit from the University of Chicago in 1960. A fighter
and survivor against fascism and the Nazis, Otto Feinstein would lend
great support to the Detroit Artists' Workshop press, allowing them
use of school paper, supplies and mimeograph machines. As Otto later
would say: "The University must learn to understand that not
only are there a variety of ways to learn, but there are also a variety
of people to reach. Kids, are not the generation X, the social and
political lazybones, and idlers. It is the institutions not responding
to nor creating opportunities for kids that are the generation x,
the slackers."3 In His
Book, Building Civic Literacy and Citizen Power, Otto encouraged
students to participate in democratic actions and express opinions,
outlining specific ideas and suggestions to achieve empowerment.
Sinclair and Michael Donofrio were both paid assistants to Feinstein
when he was the editor of New University Thoughts, a leftist
quarterly at Wayne State that was highly influential in radical circles.
"If it wasn't for Otto, I couldn't pay the rent, or work on
the Workshop press. It was his support that allowed it to happen.
There was a printing press at the Monteith Student Center and the
policy then was to allow students free access to print whatever they
wanted. This helped to get things started. Later we bought our own
mimeograph machine and were able to print in colors. John did all
the typing. Later, Robin Eichele brought in a large offset lithography
press, which he learned how to operate from scratch. Otto's philosophy
was "taking the University to the community"-he was an academic
but loved and admired what we were doing-we were breaking the mold
and creating a new structure for learning. We were the living proof
of his theories. His support was essential to our cause."4
Monteith and Otto Feinstein provided many of the building blocks for
the mimeograph revolution in Detroit.
THE JOURNAL was a mimeographed 'zine published through the auspices
of Monteith and Otto Feinstein, and served as a prototype for the
Workshop press. Many of the first workshop members appeared in The
Journal; Bill Harris, Jerry Younkins, Robin Eichele, John Sinclair,
Ron English, George Tysh, Bill Hutton, James Semark and Magdalene
Arndt (Leni Sinclair).
FREE POEMS/AMONG FRIENDS was another mimeographed journal edited
by Leni Sinclair for the Wayne State University's Artists Society.
It was published weekly in editions of 400-600 copies by the Detroit
Artists' Workshop Press for the WSU Artists Society, a university recognized
student organization, and given away on campus and at various businesses
around Detroit. It was an idea that caught on regionally in Detroit
and nationwide, "The FREE POEMS/AMONG FRIENDS - movement is spreading
around Detroit as well as other places of the country
. It is
easy to start such a movement. All one needs is access to a mimeograph
or hectograph machine and a few active poets in the area
possibilities are infinite. No society ever suffered from too much
poetry, I'm sure, but it is possible that many died from a lack of
The Detroit Artists' Workshop produced over 20 single titled
poetry monographs and just as many one-shots, anthologies and numerous
newsletters and bulletins.
The DAW continually improved their technologies and ways of delivering
their cultural wares. When Trans-Love Energies appeared as the next
incarnation of the Workshop, around 1966, mimeograph technology was
replaced with off-set litho machines and the psychedelic silk-screened
poster became the new citadel of art production.
Artists' Workshop produced free jazz concerts and poetry readings
every Sunday afternoon and on Friday evenings at their headquarters
on West Forest in Detroit. John Sinclair gave a reading the day the
workshop opened on November 1st, 1964. Workshop members worked in
a state of innocence and compassion, learning by doing. Being influenced
by Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" and the NEW AMERICAN
POETRY anthology; they sensed the comradeship and ideals of a
"national community of artists". These open community "rap
sessions" and poetry discussions would develop into an identifiable
"Detroit School", but that was furthest from their minds
at the time.
The monthly newsletter GUERRILLA grew out of the demise of the jazz
journals CHANGE and WHE'RE. A "monthly newspaper of contemporary
kulture" that was edited by Allen VanNewkirk and John Sinclair
GUERRILLA was a tabloid that followed the publication of WORK #4 in
1966. Visually Work #4 sported an intense Gary Grimshaw cover design,
an early psychedelic masterwork that could be considered a transition
"The beautiful thing about the whole "movement" here
in Detroit is that we all started equally-we were literally "nowhere,"
and we have somehow been able to make a very precise place for ourselves
in this city, solely through our efforts, making all the "mistakes"
we had to make, taking all the chances we didn't even know were chances
The DAW publications showed a dedicated devotion to new music and
its "fine spirit of genuine exuberance."7
The magazines and newsletters were all manifestations of The New
Thing, a sense of revolutionary music, art and poetry becoming
a powerful force and direction for unity, the bricks of a utopian
"This would then be Black Music-a cry of freedom; an utterance
so powerful that it shatters the ears with pure Brute Black emotional
force. A force that is more powerful than the decibels that make the
energy (the sound energy) surrounding the nucleus of this utterance.
A wave of energy that refuses to remain hidden in the depths of the
Black mind. Being propelled by the force of its own energies.
Raw in its emotions
fresh in its forms
profound in its aesthetics
The New music
The New Wave." 8
IV OBSERVING THE PEACE EYE
"I wanta do do do the
gob gob gobble
do the gobble all night."
--Ed Sanders & Ken Weaver, THE GOBBLE
John and Leni paid a visit to the Peace Eye bookstore sometime in
1966. Sanders had become an early influence and supporter to the Workshop
who saw their causes as being aligned. The Detroit Artists' Workshop
press was already publishing their own work in a series of journals
and poetry chap-books. In an effort to help them pay bills and promote
programs, Sanders and the Fugs allowed them to freely reprint THE
FUGS SONGBOOK9, which
became a small bestseller for the Workshop.
Sander's produced fugitive pamphlets of poetry and prose from his
apartment and bookstore. Among of the most notorious was Fuck You,
A Magazine for the Arts! One of the early voices of the mimeograph
revolution, it's notoriety inspired hundreds of do-it-yourself zines
across the nation. There were 13 issues of Fuck You, A Magazine
of the Arts!, printed from 1962 through 1965. He published Allen
Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones, Charles
Olson, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Diane Wycoski and many others.
The bookstore became a famous psychedelic hangout, hosting book parties
and art happenings. It held perhaps the first exhibition of comic
Sander's describes the bookstore and his early association with Fug-mate
Tuli Kupferberg: "I rented a former Kosher meat store on East
10th Street in late-1964, with groovy tile walls and chicken-singeing
equipment which I transformed into a vegetarian literary zone called
the Peace Eye Bookstore. I left the words "Strictly Kosher"
on the front window. Next door above the Lifschutz wholesale egg market
lived Tuli Kupferberg, a beat hero who was featured in anthologies
such as The Beat Scene, and who published several fine magazines,
Birth and Yeah, which he sold on the streets of the
East and West Village." 10
In a recent conversation with Ed Sanders, he remembered those Mimeograph
days, and connections with the FUGS and the PEACE EYE bookstore to
the cultural revolution of the 60s and the Detroit scene:
V YOWELS, EXCORISMS & ELECTRIC STENCIL CUTTING: A SHORT CONVERSATION
WITH ED SANDERS 9/07/2004
meeting John Sinclair
CL: when was the first meeting between you and John ?
ES: He started mailing me the Artists' Workshop Newsletters
around '65 and I didn't always read these things, but what I liked
about it was, it was condensed
it wasn't blather, it was REAL.
He talked about McCoy Tyner or Amiri Baraka and about POETRY and I
somehow learned he was working on his masters degree about William
S. Burroughs and Burroughs was a friend of mine, we used to hang
out a lot and I published some Burroughs pieces, and so I heard about
a guy in Detroit that was writing his master thesis on Burroughs,
and so we got along, we spoke the same language, and both of
us read at the Berkley Poetry Conference in the summer of 1965.-those
were groovy times. But physically our meeting must've been around
'66 -- John brought us (THE FUGS) in to play at Wayne State University,
then we'd go hang out at the Workshop
We always had a great
time in Detroit.. later we'd play the Grande Ballroom, and
bands like Sly & the Family Stone and the Psychedelic
Stooges would open for us. We always did well in Detroit
it was a HOT TOWN for the FUGS.. I remember one time, John and I even
wrote a poem together driving to the airport in May of '67
just as we were getting to the airport we saw our plane taking off
CL: do you still have that poem?
ES: I do.
CL: any chance of publishing it?
ES: I'm not sure I'd wanna publish it
it is A WORK OF ART
but you gotta know when to print 'em, and when to squint 'em.
CL: squint 'em? -- haven't heard that before.
ES: I just made it up. .. but anyway, we did hang out a lot, first
at the Artist's Workshop and later when they moved to Ann Arbor..
In Chicago I made arrangements with the Chicago parks department to
get power for the MC5 concert (at the '68 Democratic National
Convention) It was the only musical event that happened there. The
MC5 drove in, set up, and I took the plug and plugged 'em in
to the sound system at the kiosk in the park
and they played
with an American flag on their big amps, REAL AMERICANA
the best qualities of an often good nation
and then they did
their gig and were on the road headed out of town, which was lucky
for them, 'cause that meant they didn't get tear-gassed or WHOMPED.
On The Peace Eye Bookstore & Fuck You/ A magazine
of the arts
CL: how did you come up with the name Fuck You Press?
ES: well, it was a catchy title; it got right to the point.
CL: what was the comic show like?
ES: that was at PEACE EYE, when we moved to the Avenue A location,
we moved into the East Village Other offices... that
was one of the first ever underground comix exhibitions, it
occurred in November, '68. We had Art Speigelman, Robert Crumb,
Kim Deitch, Bill Beckman and Spain Rodriguez
did the TRASHMAN series, he was the only Marxist comic book artist
a brilliant artist, still around I think,
the sign for PEACE EYE
and he also did the sign for the FREE
STORE around the corner. We always had artshows going on
one we showed works by Gregory Corso
we did a book party for
Abbie Hoffman's Revolution for the Hell of It.
CL: and the mimeograph work was done there?
ES: I had a FREE mimeograph print center in the bookstore -
where anybody could put out anything-it was a community free
print center, and we printed thousands of flyers and poetry booklets
we'd print anything for anybody. I had the only electric stencil cutter
CL: was that your drawing on the cover of Roosevelt After the Inauguration
(William S. Burroughs, Fuck You Press)
ES: well, Ginsberg drew that, I supplied him with a primitive light
board and some cutting instruments. It was an ARTFORM cutting stencils.
You had to have a whole bunch of tools to do it well-which I still
have. In fact, I still have my mimeograph machine in my garage
'cause if Bush.. if they ever open up CAMP ASHCROFT, I can
start printing leaflets almost immediately - I don't need electricity,
I got ink. I got stencils. And I got my 1966 GESTETNER mimeograph
what did Kerry say, "I will be reporting for
duty" - for mimeograph duty if CAMP ASHCROFT opens.
CL: I heard they don't make parts for mimeograph machines anymore.
ES: well, they do what they do for old Dodges. You need a loner, they're
out there, there are still people today who mimeograph as an artform.
In my youth, I was sort of the WILLIAM BLAKE of my era, 'cause I could
draw on the stencils, pretty well actually. So I trained myself, and
got these real small engraving tools which I used on the stencil film.
CL: those lost technologies are kind of fascinating.
ES: yeah, ya see, they didn't keep William Blake's heavy stone
press he had, they just got rid of it. They should've kept it
and his engraving tools - there just isn't anything around. They all
got dispersed and sold.
CL: that's great you kept everything.
ES: whatever University winds up with my archives has to have
my mimeograph machine, that's gonna be part of the deal.
on midwest presses & the best minds
CL: I was thinking how many of the best ideas in the sixties came
not through individuals, but through very small groups and scenes
that brought people together-just like earlier avant-gardes. Were
you in touch with any other Mid-western presses like the one out of
the Asphodel bookstore?
ES: D.A. Levy bought a letter press in '63 and through '66,
until his suicide he printed really brilliant books-he mimeographed
and letter pressed. He worked out of the ASPHODEL Bookstore (after
a William Carlos Williams poem). His press was called THE RENEGADE
PRESS and it printed hundreds of small poetry booklets. He printed
one of my first books in '64-a letter press book with his own artwork,
he also printed an early underground newspaper called THE BUDDHIST
THIRD CLASS JUNK MAIL ORACLE.
CL: that's great.
ES: it was quite a beautiful collaged tabloid, that ran ads. He also
printed THE MARIJUANA QUARTERLY. He was in trouble all the
time in Cleveland, with the law. He came once to New York, to my bookstore-D.A.
Levy was a really great, underrated poet, but to get to your point
- it comes out of the first line of Ginsberg's poem HOWL:
"I saw the best minds of my generation
" - everywhere
people tried to find the best minds of their generation-so that in
Detroit, John hooked up with Charles Moore, Robin Eichele and George
Tysh, and later there was the Cass Corridor scene and a confluence
of music and writing and poetry and publishing and leftist politics.
And the mimeograph revolution was a great statement from the left
and John and I and D.A. Levy and others were brothers and sisters
under those banners, so it came about during an era of a lot of war
money, the Vietnam war, so the livin' was cheap, art was affordable,
it was very affordable to put out these things.
CL: do you recall any other mimeograph presses?
ES: In New York City there were a lot of mimeograph presses, ANGEL
HAIR, and YOWEL, there was THEO, and TELEPHONE BOOKS-a whole group
of mimeograph presses. At poetry readings in the Lower East Side,
there was a guy who came around and published a magazine right on
the spot, he had his equipment right there and wrote down the stuff
and got it printed-there was the instant quality-the instant
gratification to be able to instantly put together a magazine
or a broadside. In San Francisco there was BEATITUDE and a
bunch of others all over. I don't have the specific memories of other
presses but there are University libraries that specifically collect
this stuff, the Labadie Library at University of Michigan is one of
them, also Brown University and the University of Texas. but what
quickly came about beginning in 1964 and really 1965 was the underground
press movement, which was all over America. There were these web presses
that could very cheaply print newsprint-like The NATION, tabloid style,
you could print a 1000 copies of an 8 or 16 page newspaper in half
on the exorcism of the Pentagon
CL: I really love the ads done for the PEACE EYE. Did you do those?
ES: It was an actual bookstore, that did very well actually, so I
had a staff, a lot of the ads were done by managers and people working
there. I was on the road a lot with THE FUGS and was doing many other
things, as in community activism, working on demonstrations and the
EXCORCISM OF THE PENTAGON in October '67.
CL: was that the event where people circled the Pentagon and put daisies
in the rifles?
ES: Tuli and I bought the daises.. THE FUGS just played the
Ambassador Theater in Washington, and we were flush with cash, so
we bought a whole bunch of daisies..
They were our flowers
people, including myself, stuck
them into the barrels. Originally, we made arrangements for a small
plane to fly over the Pentagon (!) and drop the daisies, but the plane
was seized at the airport.
CL: you were going to drop the flowers over the Pentagon?
ES: not me personally, but we made arrangements. We also had
a cow that was painted in psychedelic paint with a lot of occult symbols..
like the goddess HATHOR, the Egyptian goddess of education and
schools. We were gonna bring it in, but the cow was stopped
and our plane was stopped.
CL: there was a famous photograph taken there that won the photographer
the Pulitzer prize. It appeared in Life Magazine-it shows a
long haired kid stuffing a daisy into a rifle pointed at him. It turns
out the kid in the picture was HIBISCUS, a student of Jack
Smith and Irving Rosenthal. He was on his way to San Francisco
with Irving. They formed a commune together and Hibiscus later founded
the performance group THE COCKETTES.
ES: It was a wild time, what can I say?
CL: have you decided where your archives are going?
ES: No. I use the stuff. I'm writing a 9 volume history of the United
States and I'm right in the middle of it. Three volumes have been
published and I'm busy. I just finished all four volumes of TALES
OF BEATNIK GLORY. I used a lot of my files for that and that should
come out by winter of next year.
CL: Will Black Sparrow continue to publish your AMERICAN HISTORY
ES: Yes, volume three just came out and four will be out in about
a year. Yeah, so I got something to do. I have my files and I visit
them, and I use them, I peruse them, I touch them, look at them
CL: What was Tuli printing then?
ES: He published BIRTH MAGAZINE and he published YEAH
In 1960, '61, '62, '63, '64, he self-published 1001 WAYS TO AVOID
THE DRAFT, he published a lot of small books and magazines, and would
sell them in Greenwich Village outside theaters.
CL: Is that how you met Tuli?
ES: yeah, I met him outside the Charles Theater, after a Ron
Rice movie, not QUEEN OF SHEBA, the one before, THE FLOWER THIEF.
CL: what's that noise in the background, it sounds like a parakeet.
ES: That's my Cockatiel.
CL: well thanks, you've been really helpful. I'm looking forward to
meeting you at the Workshop events.
ES: I'm happy to come out and salute John's leadership in artistry
in November. It's funny, I'm giving a talk on Yiddish speaking socialists
of the lower east side and then getting on a plane for Detroit. I'm
gonna bring some stencils and correcting fluid.
VI THE UNDERGROUND PRESS IN DETROIT
The Fifth Estate was founded by 17-year-old Harvey Ovshinsky,
and began publication in 1965. Ovshinsky was inspired by a short summer
internship at the first underground U.S. newspaper, the Los Angeles
Free Press. Published out of his parent's basement, in 1966, the Fifth
Estate moved to offices by the campus of Wayne State University.
The Fifth Estate was part of a powerful leftist tide of alternative
papers, an underground press revolution, which grew to over 500 papers
by the late sixties. Now run by Peter Werbe, a local Detroit
multi-media anarchist (see www.peterwerbe.com
) The Fifth Estate lays claim to being the "longest
publishing, English language, anti-authoritarian newspaper in American
In 1966, Sinclair interviewed Sun Ra for the first issue of
the Warren Forest Sun - one of the early underground presses
of Detroit. The Sun began as a mimeograph machine newsletter
designed by Gary Grimshaw for the next psychedelic evolution
of the Workshop known as Trans-Love Energies. Using multi-colored
inks and his tight hand-drawn liquid-dream lettering, Grimshaw gave
each issue an eye-popping sensibility. In describing their mission,
the staff wrote, "we feel that the artwork, interviews, reviews
and columns that are featured in the SUN are the news.
We are not "competing" with the FIFTH ESTATE, and
we think that should be clear by now
there are still many aspects
of the contemporary culture in Detroit and elsewhere that do not have
The SUN will concentrate on those aspects of the culture
that are most important to us: the music scene, the dope scene, reports
from inside people's heads, the writing scene, and of course artwork
to cool out your eyes. We want to make each page a total experience,
incorporating words, photos and artwork."11
The Sun was an extravagant yet simple journal, serving up supercharged
cultural-news for the community, and in this sense, an extension of
earlier Workshop publications.
VII MIMEOGRAPH CODA
In 1998 the New York Public Library presented over 400 publications
in the exhibition A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures
in Writing, 1960-1980. This exhibition included mimeograph and
offset poetry and journals by many of New York City's and San Francisco's
underground lit luminaries, including; William S. Burroughs, Allen
Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Charles Olson,
Diane di Prima and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka). Designs and original
artwork were often included in these short-run journals by artists
such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Alex Katz. A catalog
based on this exhibition was published by Granery books in 199912
. The New Yorker said in a review of this book, "Between the
end of the Second World War and the advent of desktop publishing,
the American literary underground had its own "little magazines":
small-circulation journals published on mimeograph ditto machines.
In loving detail, Clay and Phillips recount the history of nearly
a hundred such publications, ranging from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's
City Lights Journal to Ed Sanders's Fuck You, a magazine
of the arts. Their overview of the "mimeo revolution"
summons up an era when the forging of literary communities demanded
more commitment than posting a page on the Internet." 13
Also on display in the exhibition were two 1951 issues of Origin:
A Quarterly for the Creative, a journal published by poet Cid
Corman. Origin featured the work of many important poets, including
early poems by Charles Olson, who (with Robert Creeley) a few years
later created the seminal Black Mountain Review, published from Black
Mountain College where he was rector. Many of the teachers and
students of Black Mountain College would have a seminal effect on
art and the new poetry of 1960's.
The title for this New York City mimeograph exhibition was also code
for the Peace Eye bookstore: a secret location on the lower
east side, was printed as the publisher's address in many of the Peace
Eye books. In 1966 the police raided Peace Eye and confiscated
and destroyed many publications they classified as pornography. The
Floating Bear also experienced similar harassments. Distribution
of these small journals were handled primarily through independent
bookstores or through personal subscription. Some journals like Floating
Bear were sent free to a select list of artists and writers.
VIII THE ANTI-GALLERY SYSTEM: MAIL ART & SEMINA
free distribution of artwork through the mails began with Detroit
artist Ray Johnson, who is considered the unwitting godfather
of the international mailart network. Johnson founded the New York
Correspondence School of Art, sometime in the early 1960s. Johnson
mailed out tens of thousands of artworks in his lifetime (many had
instructions to be "added to", or "forwarded on").
His ideas of communication and collage construction involved a small
inside community, an educated audience able understand the puns, allusions
and private jokes he constructed, whenever he wanted a connection
to be made.
Produced as unique works, collages or sometimes mass-produced in large
numbers, Johnson was able to connect and comment upon the most well-known
figures and cutting edge ideas in contemporary art through the mail
system (Johnson would later add the telephone to his methodology).
As early as 1945, Johnson, who attended Cass Tech high in Detroit,
was producing mail art pieces to his close friends. In 1948 Ray attended
the Black Mountain college and fell under the guidance of the chance
composition impresario John Cage. His magazine collages of
Elvis, James Dean, and Lucky Strikes in the mid-fifties are
considered the "Plymouth rock" of the pop-art movement.
In the early sixties he was associated with the Fluxus movement and
the Warhol circle.
On Friday the 13th in January of 1995, Ray Johnson performed a complex
number of actions that can be only viewed as his finest performance
piece, and took his own life. Recent activity about Johnson can be
seen in the still active ranks of the mail-art network, the retrospective
produced after his death, and in the recently released film documentary
on his life and death, How to Draw a Bunny. A quickly growing
web presence has developed around Ray Johnson, whose correspondence
school represents a three-dimensional anti-technology equivalent of
the web network. For Johnson, the network became a way to degrade
and lessen the importance and centrality of traditional gallery and
museum exhibition. It was a way to keep the art experimental and fresh,
to receive instant feedback and audience interactivity. Johnson was
able to keep the focus of his art purposefully directed, and always
played by his own rules.
A similar approach was taken up in the late 50s by the West Coast
based artist Wallace Berman in his Semina series. Semina
was a small arts anthology, produced in an edition of 200 copies,
finely printed on letterpress. A collaboration among artists and poets,
Semina was usually given away to other artists and friends
on Berman's mailing list, or sometimes sold in small bookstores like
the Peace Eye. The packaging of each issue was unique and often included
postcards, photos, poems and collages. Items were presented loose
in small unique handmade folders or envelopes.
IX DEAD MEDIA & DREAM WEAPONS
The study and appreciation of the mimeograph may seem slightly out-of-step
today, but a closer look at these dinosaur printing methods can put
a sublime spotlight on the way current and future media behave in
this delirious media-saturated world.
The speculative cyber-fiction writer Bruce Sterling maintains a website
devoted to obscure media such as the phenakistoscope, the Edison wax
cylinder, the stereopticon, the panorama, magic lanterns, the teleharmonium,
pneumatic transfer tubes (that riddled the underground of Chicago),
and early 20th century electric searchlight spectacles. These and
many other jurassic technology gadgets are the subject for a Popular
Mechanics type discussion blog. Sterling's mission is to throw
more light onto the ruins of technology, where our media ancestors
have gone to die an ignoble death. "What we need is a somber,
thoughtful, thorough, hype-free, even lugubrious book that honors
the dead and resuscitates the spiritual ancestors of today's mediated
A book to give its readership a deeper, paleontological
perspective right in the dizzy midst of the digital revolution."
Author Geoffrey Batchen15
postulates that the beginning of the digital revolution began in the
drawing room salon of Charles Babbage in the 1830s. As Babbage unveiled
the Difference Engine, (the first modern computer) Henry Fox Talbot
revealed his experiments with positive/negative paper photography.
Sir John Herschal who coined the photo terminology "positive
and negative" was also a close friend and confidant to Babbage,
and came to many of his salons. Talbot's early example of negative
lace photographs clearly echoed the modernist grid and future mapping
of the digital age. Perhaps through discussion of the photograph the
Analytical Engine (computer) could be visualized. In the moment of
that convergence of two 19th century Victorian inventor-entrepreneurs,
science and art came together in a revolutionary way. From Babbage
and Talbot we have a long trail of intersecting technologies and poetics,
a path that found expression in communication vehicles such as the
telegraph, telephone, chromolithography, photography, mimeograph presses,
zines, and offset presses. An examination of the origin story in each
technology can lead us to develop a vision capable of expressing and
understanding it. The grave markers of media can impart a clearer
understanding of current and developing technologies.
The new poetry scenes of the late 50s and early 60s helped support
various small presses and journals despite the odds of difficult distribution
and financial instability. By the early 70s, the energy and mind-set
of these networks were badly weakened and slowly dissipated. What
these renegade poets, publishers and artists had in common, besides
their independent nature, was the motivation and need to work within
small groups and ensembles, to share their discoveries on small levels
which might be considered insignificant by today's globally connected
Each of these small press mimeo-gangs participated in a small
"collage" aesthetic. Working as tiny collectives they experimented
patching new media together in unique designs and combinations. Presentation,
delivery, politics and authorship were challenged. The mimeo revolution
brought focus to these diverse trajectories. Ideas that were soon
spilling over into the contemporary art scene battled there way awkwardly
and beautifully through the pages of these small journals. Visually
there is a conservative, reserved and serious look to the early
mimeo sheets. Graphics were difficult if not almost impossible to
portray, but often this obstruction would lead to some fascinating
results. Binding was often the most utilitarian: staples. The limiting
factor of graphic design, led to a strong emphasis on content.
By the time off-set and web printing became standard and cheaply
available, it coincided with a newer more visually centered psychedelic
culture. Conceptual, psychedelic and distorted "mutant"
forms of art were created across all mediums. Poetry, underground
comix, posters, artist books, film and music were mixed and remixed.
A new visual language grew out of the language obsessed
late sixties cult magazine-in-a-box ASPEN (1966-1971) collected
recordings, artwork, stamps, postcards, posters, poems and sometimes
even films within each issue, edited by a guest artist. One of the
first multi-media, ultra-designed magazines, ASPEN was a physical
construction that reflected Mcluhans' information age (including some
of his own writings in issue #3) cloaked in the language of psychedelia
and pop-art. Just as Fluer Cowles' creation FLAIR represented the
extreme heights of art possible in magazines of the 1950s, ASPEN took
the lead in the 60s, becoming the most extreme example of visual design
Guest editors at ASPEN #9, included Angus Maclise and Hetty Maclise,
central figures of the New York loft scene who created a truly mind-blowing
Dream Weapon issue with psychedelic nude postage stamps by
Don Snyder, calligraphy by Marian Zazeela, scores by Terry Riley and
LaMonte Young, musical "spontaneous sound" flexi-discs by
Maclise and friends, Universal Mutant Theater color postcards by Ira
Cohen and Bill Devore, and poetry by Vali, John Cale, Gerard Malanga
and Lionel Ziprin. The Andy Warhol issue (ASPEN Vol. 1 #3) included
pop music trends recorded by the Velvet Underground and a Peter
Walker "love raga", a Music, Man, That's here It's At!
section in a separate folder contained an essay by Lou Reed, pop-postcards
with artists' comments on their paintings, a news portfolio composite
on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable made up of underground newspapers
flourishing across the country, an underground flip-book of Jack Smith's
forthcoming movie Buzzards Over Baghdad, and the Berkeley Conference
on LSD with texts by Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary. The entire
explosion of material was housed in a Warhol designed neon colored
FAB detergent box. ASPEN captured the attitude and vision of the 60s
within a box.
As John Sinclair expressed throughout his life and poetry: Look
on each action as future history. The journey of the Artists' Workshop
and other micro-presses was an expression of absolute freedom in the
arts. The underground comix and newspapers raised the banner throughout
the late 60s. Raw Books and Graphics headed by Art Spiegelman
and Francoise Mouly revived the scene throughout the 80s, bringing
an international flavor to the graphic novel. Raw widened the path
for neo-pop Juxtapose artists in the 90s
Mimeo publications and the early off-set presses were transformed
into the alternative press media-a media that expressed the changes
happening in our culture. The mimeograph revolution was a revolution
of the senses, a preamble to the full-blown sixties version and the
multi-leveled electronic media stew we swallow daily. The community
created by these artists and micro presses was part of the process
to create an alternative version of history.