Bruce Bickford at Seattle’s Flatcolor Gallery at 77 S. Main St. Near Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
A small exhibition of maybe about 50 works, depending on how you choose to count them in this neat little gallery. The pieces are multimedia, including clay models, colour pencil drawing, models made of card and faces cut into dried leaves by this most idiosyncratic artist. All objects highly detailed, intricate and phantasmagorical, some funny, some disturbing. The show is titled ‘Sacred and Profane’ for no obvious reason. Bickford’s video The CAS’L’ is projected on a wall.
I approached the show as a Zappa fan so that’s the main theme of this review. The show is good but it was disappointing to find only one mention of Zappa. This was on a highly intricate clay piece with Bickford ‘s hand written label saying:
‘In 1974 Frank Zappa wanted an audience for a scene of Camp Reagan, a takeoff on the Franz Kafka story… “In The Penal Colony”. It never got animated‘
The sleeve notes on ‘We’re Only In It For The Money‘ refer to this story about the track: ‘The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny’. The piece, (photo 1) represents a crowd on 16 levels of seating, with 16 seats on each row. The figures occupying the seats are naked, mostly male, some female, they look towards the action. In Kafka’s story, the action is: the Officer, proudly demonstrating the machine to the Traveller falls into the machine and suffers the torture himself intended for the Condemned Man . The victim is intended to find out what his crime is by having it repeatedly inscribed, deeper and deeper on his body by needles; so The Torture, for him, Never Stops; Bickford’s crowd sit riveted.
As far as I could see,that’s about as far as it goes for the Zappaologist visiting to the exhibition, but the artwork is stunning. The detail and surety of line are truly impressive. They have depth and precision using graphite and colour pencil applied to paper or brown paper bags each carrying the same feeling of obsessional attention to detail and using surfaces and materials that come to hand.
I was told by the gallery staff that Bickford occasionally dropped by but I wasn’t lucky enough to meet him. I would have liked a conversation about his association with Zappa.
Thinking of other guitarist to artist relationships – Zappa to Cal Schenkel; Bill Frisell to Jim Woodring; Robert Fripp to PJ Crook; Lou Reed to Warhol…err…Pink Floyd to Gerald Scarfe…it seems to me that Zappa is the only musician who was really ‘hands-on’ or with the artist appearing to get into the ideas of the musician. Zappa’s themes of taking down a facade to show the machinery behind it and self-reference are both evident in Schenkel and Bickford.