Poetry News

Kevin Killian on Rene Ricard, Monstre Sacre, in San Francisco

By Harriet Staff

Kevin Killian writes for SFMOMA's Open Space about New York poet and artist Rene Ricard ("a semi-secret hero of American art and culture," as VICE wrote about him last year); the idea is to bring Ricard's work to a San Francisco audience, which the Highlight Gallery has done with its new show New Paintings. Oh and btw, if you live in Brooklyn near Unnameable Books, we did see a copy of Ricard's Love Poems there the other day (published by Richard Hell). Y'know, FYI. From Killian:

...Now I’m thinking that a large percentage of my readers won’t know who Rene Ricard is anyhow, so I should make an intervention into my own stream of consciousness to state that he is a 60something artist and poet who once hung out at Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory, who later wrote up downtown artists for Artforum, and people credit him with popularizing Basquiat and Haring. Itemizing a man’s life isn’t going to explain why he has cult status, but perhaps more to the point is that he is said to be a terrible terrible person, like Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, or the character Rachel McAdams plays in Mean Girls. I’m sure he’s actually lovely like so many other monstres sacres.

Anyhow I called the number on the release and gallerist Amir Mortazavi answered, confirming that yes, Rene Ricard was mounting a show of new work here in San Francisco. I like to keel over as my aunt used to exclaim. Mortazavi invited me to the opening; and then I began to goggle a little bit—there was a crack in the world and I had slithered through to the other side. Then he mentioned that Ricard had come down with pneumonia and wasn’t going to be able to attend the opening. It was the same night as the DeFeo show at SFMOMA so I went there instead but believe me, if Ricard had shown you can bet your ass I would have been there with bells on, as that same aunt used to say. Well, the next thing that happened was Hurricane Sandy, and Ricard was trapped on the 9th floor of the Chelsea Hotel, and loyal friends brought him water and candles and pneumonia-related supplies. “Gee, he might as well have come to San Francisco,” said I acidly, but a day or so later I made my way to the Highlight Gallery and there I drew in my breath and am lightheaded still.

Words twist across the surfaces of Ricard’s painting like clotheslines woven from military ribbons, striking attitudes, deft and sassy. Or like folded tubes of toothpaste squeezed into angles and bends. There must be two sorts of people, one who sees the image first, the other who postpones “seeing” the image until the words are deciphered. I’m one of the latter, I guess, one for whom the pleasure is seeing what happens after the sentence has unfolded itself from its disguise of paint. It’s often a joke, a quip, something like the Algonquin wits of ninety years ago used to fling at each other. That’s New York for you, one version of it. But he’s not merely a Dorothy Parker or Calvin Trillin, there’s something savage about his hatred of war and of the colonial structures that still pervade our culture. That the art world, perhaps the process of making art itself, is itself deeply entrenched with colonialism, is part of the point. And sometimes it’s not a quip, but a woolly non sequitur that first makes you think that Homer is nodding, which is always possible; then you get back and see the whole mass of the picture, of which these colorful twists of words form only a part. Under the words we see a painted version of a photographed image, I suppose, without Francis Bacon’s cruelty or obsession but getting there. One gallerist I spoke with described Ricard as hilarious and sunny on the one hand, “but then at the next moment he’s capable of driving you to tears. To madness!”

Rene Ricard himself has already commented on Killian's post, and in so doing provides an illuminating read of Magritte's ceci n'est pas une pipe, rendering it "this is not a blowjob." Read it all here.

Originally Published: November 27th, 2012