Summary of Bruce Conner
Defining himself as a critical opponent of mainstream American society, Conner was a versatile, restless artist who played a major part in the San Francisco Bay Area Beat scene in the late 1950s. Having made his early reputation on the West Coast for his monstrous sculptures, he became associated with the rise of Neo-Dadaism. The art critic Alex Greenberger described Conner's sculptures, however, as much more than simple "Robert Rauschenberg knockoffs". Indeed, Greenberger observed that his works, which represent America as a "wreckage of a bombed-out society", were generally "much darker" than the Neo-Dadaists "combines".
Conner turned subsequently to avant-garde filmmaking and is credited with inventing the new genre of "film assemblage". On the back of his breakthrough 12 minute film, A Movie (1958), he came into the 1960s as a major avant-garde filmmaker, and, as a self-proclaimed "thief", his films were constructed from a complex montage of original and found materials drawn from sources as wide ranging as war documentaries, soft-Porn, Hollywood westerns, and disaster footage. A diverse oeuvre, tied together by the themes of political disillusionment, consciousness and spirituality, his other key works include a series of intricate mandala drawings, photograms (of his own body), ink-blot drawings, and photo-collages.
- Conner was a key player in helping transform mainstream culture into something political and anti-authoritarian, an attitude that give rise to the full-blown counterculture movement of the 1960s. Though he distanced himself from the idea that he had self-consciously attached to any particular movement ("absolutely nobody had heard of Dada in Wichita, Kansas" he mused), his early assemblages have been widely discussed as Neo-Dadaist works (that is an "anti-aesthetic" process of collage, assemblage and found materials) that conveyed a sense of anger and foreboding at the anxieties of the uncertain Cold War times in which they were produced.
- As the inventor of "film assemblage", Conner took over the mantle as America's First avant-garde filmmaker from Maya Deren. His dynamic arrangement - assemblage - of shots, many drawn from the well of popular culture, brought an energetic, free-wheeling, spirit to the filmic avant-garde that would have a profound impact of the subversive American Underground scene (which attracted the likes of Andy Warhol) of the early-mid 1960s. Many observers cite Conner in fact the first pioneer of the MTV music video generation.
- During a period of retreat in Mexico, Conner produced a series of patterned sketches. On his return to the United States, Conner took these sketches and turned them into mandalas (concentric and geometric shapes that contained allusions to the spiritual world). His mandalas series, produced around the mid-1960s, were emblematic of the religious and spiritual aspects of Bay Area psychedelia that would be taken up as the aesthetic of choice for the nascent international counterculture movement.
- Conner has cited the Surrealist Max Ernst as one of the major influences on his assemblages. Like Ernst, he made picture collages based on incredulous juxtapositions including machinery, and plant, animal and human life. These works stood on their own terms but Conner brought them together (in what might be justifiably considered a Dadaist gesture) in a series which he insisted should be attributed to artist/actor Dennis Hopper. Conner was asking his audience to ponder the complex philosophical issue of authenticity and authorship thus bringing a further conceptual dimension to inform on his work.
Biography of Bruce Conner
Bruce Conner, the eldest of three children (a brother and sister), was born in McPherson, Kansas. When he was four years old, the Conner family moved to Wichita where his well-to-do middle-class family settled into an affluent neighborhood. Conner would reflect on growing up in Kansas, calling it "a place to be from"; by which he meant that there was little opportunity to grow and flourish artistically. He has also described Wichita as "a repressive place [and] the kind of town where anybody who deviated from the norm was ostracized".