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THE BEGINNING OF MAKING A DIAMOND
By Clayton Patterson
Mail on April 11, 2019
A rough draft of one facet of the ACKER diamond.
I am sending this to this small group to help me work out a larger idea, leading to something substantial that can carry on without me. Helping put my head in order. And this is only one edge of, what I hope will become a precious diamond. This is one facet. Stepping back to get to the larger version, another way of looking at it is a multitude of dissimilar tributaries, starting from different sources and locations, flowing along but all eventually converging together to form one large community called the ACKER Awards.
The ACKER Award is developing into an abstract community made up of many of the creators whose energy and imagination made the underground/avant-garde culture percolate and grow and possible. Recipients can be people who run venues, publishers, artists, poets, puppeteers, and so on. Different from one theme awards, for example, Obie Awards theater
Beyond the community, which is a substantial enough motive to have the Award, but another reason is because of how difficult it can be to find out information on non-mainstream creators, the more publically obscure and isolated underground or avant-garde creators. This wild mix is, for the future, a reservoir to help research a subject. The hope is the larger context will make it easier to find information and place it in a cultural/community context. Subjects and themes tend to get stuck in specific categories. Looking for information related to theater go to the theater district. But the LES was special because the whole community fed the culture. LES was overstuffed with so much variety. For example, Thelonious Monk played at the Five Spot.
OK, we can find other names associated with the Five Spot, but few background details like Monk used to hang out at ►Lionel Ziprin’s on 7th and D when waiting for the show to happen. Hmmm an Orthodox mystical Hassidic Jew, whose visitors included Harry Smith musicologist/experimental filmmaker/magician, and Bill Heine, musician, magician, artist. All 3 have a small pinch bio in ACKER booklet, but is a place to start. So did Monk go to Tyler’s? There is a tattoo reference that Harry went to Tyler’s. Harry’s bio in the ACKER booklet was written by John Szwed a biographer who has written books on musicians like Billy Holiday, Sun Ra, and is now constructing a biography on Harry Smith. One of my hopes and dreams is that Szwed’s book will shed a little light on how important Lionel was to Harry’s intellectual growth. A larger researchable picture is developing.
One reason the LES was such a magical creative crucible was the community was made up of a myriad of differences, for example, film: avant-garde, narrative, animation, nonlinear, experimental, and so on. The soil was fertile and rich because of the seemingly endless variety of cultural impute and the overlapping of creative impute with no walls separating the differences. Yes, one had to learn to penetrate the scene but most was open and without borders. Areas like music, poetry, politics, venues, cafes, galleries, madness. Then supplies. There was a variety of places that sold a vast array of, often not thought about until seen, inexpensive materials to use to make creative projects and so on. A mainstream, easy to see the example is LA 2 and Keith Haring got the raw unfinished fiberglass Statue of Liberty, King Tut’s sarcophagus, Venus De Milo at Industrial plastics on Canal Street. Industrial was a place to find all kinds of inexpensive unexpected, ingredients for an art project - for 100’s of artist. With the ACKERS, it should be possible to get a fuller understanding of what made the artist tick and the roots of the work. All kinds of researchable connections a researcher may not think about. For example, take John Kelly and developing his Phil Sparrow performance - Sparrow, gay, professor, writer, intellectual, tattoo artist, and sex.
John Kelly as a point of reference related to the ACKERS. This information in an attempt to explain another possibly with John Kelly, 2019 ACKER recipient, another point of the ACKER Awards, the part of trying to build a community to help preserve the Downtown & LES culture and, in this case, gay history and tattooing. Or at least a chance to open a dialogue. The history of gays in tattooing is a subject which has been pushed extremely deep into a history territory few have ever been willing to stick their hands in. Or there are the few who still know, but see the information as their coveted secret history. Great? Stupid? Becomes taboo knowledge not just for researchers but what about those isolated gay kids who are curious and think differently? Isolation is a form of death. And can even lead to death.
You can start by looking in the booklets.. there is deVita (ACKER recipient).. his work was championed by Ed Hardy (a formidable tattoo artist, probably the most important tattoo artist in America’s 20thcentury.. public knows him better as a fashion designer). deVita's ideas changed Hardy's life. Ed was inspired and taught by Sparrow. Cliff Raven (mentored by Sparrow) was also influenced by deVita. Include with Raven and Sparrow, no only leading artists, but both were out with their gay lifestyle - can draw lines to the leather community, Kirk, Rex and so on. Another context is deVita straight, yet, in the early 1970’s he and a small number of other tattoo interested creators would meet in the West Village, including Hardy, when Raven and Hardy (straight) was in town tattooing. Remember the tattoo world was extremely macho. Gay was taboo.
Although the information I have gathered is sparse, much of this info is going to be in the NY tattoo anthology I am attempting to finish. Maybe it will be possible to have something from John Kelly on his Sparrow play? If so I can see if I can plant this content into tattoo history… make this connection. BTW, another facet, there is a tattoo history stream in the ACKERS. The hope is to open a dialogue and save some history.
In tattooing, deVita broke in ACKER recipient Nick Bubash. Nick is also an intellectual fine artist and tattoo artist. Nick's father was one of the people who worked with Jonas Salk in the discovery of the polio vaccine. His mother was a singer. There is ACKER recipient Rev R.O. Tyler. Tyler, a multi-talented artist who also tattooed. As a sidebar, for the tattoo history book, ACKER recipient Keith Patchel, wrote an article on the undiscovered music of Tyler – could be an incredible discovery. Tyler shared a building with deVita and shared common ideas. Recipient Mike McCabe tattoo education was mentored by Tyler. Tyler was instrumental in the early career of Claes Oldenburg. McCabe, Columbia University anthropology, has published a number of books on the tattoo. Tyler was photographed by ACKER recipientStanley Stellar (in the booklet). Stanley has photographed every gay pride parade since the beginning. He photographed Ethyl Eichelberger back tattoo by Ruth Martin. McCabe, a friend of Martin, tattooed recipient Kembra Pfahler. Ruth worked with Marcia Tucker who started the New Museum. In 1976 Tucker wrote the intro to a Spider Webb book Heavily Tattooed Woman (this is mid-70’s!! a museum creator, curator, interested in tattoos?? And gay’s and tattoos? ). Spider worked with ACKER recipients Annie Sprinkle (SF have to change this to NY), Veronica Vera – School of Boys Who Want to be Girls (Veronica wrote a piece for the NY tat history), Candida Royal feminist, pornographer, sex worker (her box ended up in a Harvard library along with her papers). Annie had a mid-town salon which was sexually oriented. Fakir Musafar (body modification and piercing) used to visit the salon. Spider tattooed there. Photographer Gatewood documented the scene. Marco Vassi gay erotic writer was a part of the group. Gatewood in SF, introduced Fakir to ReSearch publisher which lead to the book Modern Primitives which changed the whole course of underground body art related subject matter… A highly influential book. Charles Gatewood is one of the recognized photo masters of body art and related sex topics (SF gay photographer Michael Rosen handed in the Gatewood article). The Annie/Spider group produced a number of important tattoo books. Next generation body art related photographer, a recipient, Efrain Gonzales starting in the early1980’s documentation a number of scenes in the sex, gay and bisexual world. Recipient Carl Watson wrote an in-depth article on the history of Phil Sparrow.
And so on. these are not all the tattoo connections or gay history, but what is mentioned here gives enough information for people to follow many paths... otherwise very hard to put together obscure information that most people would not find the connection to. Sometimes the proximity and names is enough to open doors. There is much content that will take a researcher into other areas. Back to Kelly and ACKERS, outside of gay, if one is researching him, there are numerous performer recipients, for example, from the Pyramid Club, LaMama, and so on. Actors from all Downtown theaters. Culture publisher and writers, like Hershkovits Paper magazine, Leonard Abrams EV EYE, Carlo McCormick writer who has covered many of these scenes.
Can take a small portion of this history and follow various paths - for example the Pyramid... and drag - Ethyl, SUNPK - Brian Butterick, to Transexual creators like Brian Belovitch & Eddie, Red Ed, now Carol Ann Braddock, and so on...
Cut short... There are many overlaps with this collection of names - and we appreciate finding information is easier to get to if there are connections, associations, pathways. Otherwise, often we have a form of tunnel research and would never think of the connections which can take one to where they need to go..
Cut short – as the creator of the NY ACKER Awards, there is an overlap with my books, photos, videos, and ephemera - in terms of the underground, outsider, obscure history there should be many ways to make discoveries. Next, overlap this with HOWL! Happening… Elsa and I were blessed to have a show at HOWL! See HOWL! list of exhibitions and shows. Brain Butterick was on the HOWL! board and so on. HOWL, brilliantly and thankfully does catalogs with shows. Hope they are building an archive, because of the history of shows they have created and because it is a venue, a place to see the actual art and performances. ACKER recipientTed Riederer director of HOWL! is an accomplished artist, and also, connected to the Antagonist Movement – leading to ACKER Ethan Minsker. To the ACKER box which contains real examples of the recipient's work. The box contains the bio booklet. Is like a time capsule. A mini library of sorts.
None of this would be possible except for some blessings I have received. I have truly been blessed with help.. seriously amazing helpers and writers.
I have more than a couple of hundred thousand digital photos and have a museum-educated lady who is working to make a workable system to make order out of the loose chaos. Why Elsa and I were a good team. I am chaos and visions and she was practical and had an orderly mind. Add in she was gifted, bright, and highly creative.
Then another really serious blessing, of mine, is Dietmar Kirves and the NO!art site. Dietmar is a brilliant, incredible, dedicated, organized archivist and website expert. This facet is mostly art and politics, but much content can be found on this site.
There are many facets to the ACKER Awards. This is just the beginning. If BTW, although I am desperate to get into print, anyone has any ideas of connections to gay tattoo history or are interested in writing something I may be able to squeeze it into the anthology. Lesbian history is the most obscure... sadly.
This is a rough draft and has to be edited. It is the beginning of a clarification.