In a career that spanned five decades, most of them spent in San Francisco, Bruce Conner (1933–2008) produced a unique body of work that refused to be contained by medium or style. Whether making found-footage films, hallucinatory ink-blot graphics, enigmatic collages, or assemblages from castoffs, Conner took up genres as quickly as he abandoned them. His movements within San Francisco’s counter-cultural scenes were similarly free-wheeling; at home in beat poetry, punk music, and underground film circles, he never completely belonged to any of them. Bruce Conner belonged to Bruce Conner. Twice he announced his own death; during the last years of his life he produced a series of pseudonymous works after announcing his “retirement.” In this first book-length study of Conner’s enormously influential but insufficiently understood career, Kevin Hatch explores Conner’s work as well as his position on the geographical, cultural, and critical margins.
Hatch finds a set of abiding concerns that inform Conner’s wide-ranging works and changing personas. A deep anxiety pervades the work, reflecting a struggle between private, unknowable, interior experience and a duplicitous world of received images and false appearances. The profane and the sacred, the comic and the tragic, the enigmatic and the universal: each of these antinomies is pushed to the breaking point in Conner’s work.
Generously illustrated with many color images of Conner’s works, Looking for Bruce Conner proceeds in roughly chronological fashion, from Conner’s notorious assemblages (BLACK DAHLIA and RATBASTARD among them) through his experimental films (populated by images from what Conner called “the tremendous, fantastic movies going in my head from all the scenes I’d seen”), his little-known graphic work, and his collage and inkblot drawings.
About the Author
Kevin Hatch is Assistant Professor of Art History at Binghamton University.
“Kevin Hatch’s study is an overdue corrective to the near absence of Bruce Conner from the major chronicles of contemporary art. The book captures the singularity of each aspect of the artist’s heterogeneous oeuvre and convincingly situates it at the very forefront of transformative practices in postwar art.”
—Bruce Jenkins, Professor, Department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
“At long last, a book that seeks to come to terms with the remarkable accomplishments and the pervasive mystery of Bruce Conner’s art. Engagingly written and effectively and copiously illustrated, Looking for Bruce Conner is both tribute and analysis. Until now, the achievement of Conner’s immense body of work has been lost through its dismemberment into cinema, assemblage, drawing, collage, inkblots, pranks, and so on. One can only be grateful to Kevin Hatch for re-membering the continuities of this achievement. Looking for Bruce Conner is chock-full of interesting and useful information about Conner’s thinking and his working process; it will be an important resource for years to come.”
—Scott MacDonald, Professor of Film History, Hamilton College; author of A Critical Cinema and other books
“Bruce Conner has been a notoriously difficult artist for critics to come to terms with, and his wide-ranging influence on contemporary art and popular culture is only beginning to be understood. The brilliance of Kevin Hatch’s approach is not just his intelligent, deep engagement with Conner's work and persona but the insightful and respectful manner in which he lets Conner simply be what he was—a remarkable, ornery, elusive master, impossible and inappropriate to categorize.”
—Mark Toscano, Film Archivist and Curator