Process Art of the 1970s
In 1968, a year or so after receiving a BFA from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, I relocated to San Francisco for a change of scene and to pursue an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. After taking a few classes there, I opted instead to begin working on my own and soon embarked on the series that I called “Adharma.” This is a Sanskrit word meaning the opposite of dharma or “that which is not in accord with the law.” I had just gone through the initiation ceremony of TM (transcendental meditation) and had come across the word while exploring the origins of this discipline in ancient India. I also was breaking with tradition (the laws of proper painting).
In essence, the work involved ripping a stretched and primed canvas into strips of various widths. After removal from the stretcher frame and prior to ripping, the primed canvas was subjected to some rough treatment. This resulted in a pattern of wrinkles and creases that became visible when the strips were soaked in a subtle acrylic-dye mixture. Finally, the painted strips were assembled and attached to a horizontal support (first canvas-covered wood, later bamboo) so that the ends extended onto the floor.
When the “rippings,” as I called them, were first exhibited in the early 1970s, critical notice and awards followed as did group and solo shows in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The allied “Soul Totem Pole” series came about after I had propped one of the rippings, with the canvas strips wrapped tightly around their support, against the studio wall in preparation for delivery to a gallery. I liked the look and soon after began producing pieces that would be displayed unceremoniously in this way.
I was unaware at the time that my work was part a California offshoot of the larger post-modern “process” art (for lack of a better word) movement of the 1970s. It became clear when my work was included in a landmark exhibition at the Oakland Museum in 1971 entitled “Off the Stretcher.” The show featured young painters in San Francisco and Los Angeles who, like me, had abandoned tradition (the stretcher bars) and were making unusual and ground-breaking objects.