DISTANT HORIZONS

 

Pioneers of Psychedelic Art
Isaac Abrams, Ira Cohen, Tony Martin and USCO
June 16 – September 16, 2017

Carl Solway Gallery presents DISTANT HORIZONS: Pioneers of Psychedelic Art: Isaac Abrams, Ira Cohen, Tony Martin, and USCO, an exhibition curated by Carlo McCormick. It features paintings, sculpture, photographs and multi-media works from the 1960s.

Curator's Statement

They are travelers all, from faraway cultural shores, still looking beyond and seeking within. Itinerant in their wandering, with no map but uncanny in their sense of direction, they carry songs from beyond like minstrels and can tell you stories so exotic they seems spun of dreams. They are funny and serious, full of wisdom yet wonderfully curious like children, masters of a kind of abstract thinking that finds substance and sustenance in the elusive and impermanent, conjuring in refractions and riddles the essence of experience. Isaac Abrams, Ira Cohen, Tony Martin and USCO belong to a long and largely overlooked lineage of visionary art, for indeed they are wrestling with the cosmic viscera of metaphysics, but their reach is more demanding and determined than genre allows, their grasp too inclusive for reductive terms.

Each of these artists found their voice during the Sixties at a time when social upheavals and a progressive spirit of enlightenment in our society made their work central to popular culture. This moment, radical and transitory like lightening in a bottle, has been labeled Psychedelia for the seminal role that psychedelic drugs played in the musical, visual and spiritual developments of that era, and while etymologically relevant in that it describes what is mind expanding, or more properly "mind-manifesting," it falls far short in terms of articulating the diversity and individuality of expressions within its purview. Psychedelic Art, much like its equally unwieldy companion Visionary Art, is not a style. To presume the work of these four artists is dipped in some puddle of drug-induced hallucinations is to misrepresent the broader wellspring of ideas informing their work or the profoundly intellectual rigor by which Abrams, Cohen, Martin, and USCO come to directly query the phenomenology of self and perception rather than simply settle on the cloying kitsch of pictorial effects.

Calling across time, manifesting a truly disruptive and utterly experiential re-vision of space, nothing about this exhibition is at all retro. This is foundational art, built upon the rhapsodic poetics of Beat and Funk art, the myths of ancients, the subversions of Surrealism, the mesmeric immersions of expanded cinema, the derangements of mystics, the transpersonal psychology of ecstatic awakening, the future science being unleashed by media theory and an emergent picture of a new global paradigm on that distant horizon where a vastness was yet unfolding in ways that would humble the scope of humanism.

As a curator and critic no art could be more personal or profound for me. I have gleaned more from these artists than I could possibly articulate, their fearful alchemy something far beyond words, and yet still their art continues to inform in ways that will always question the very knowledge it imparts.

Carlo McCormick

Biographies

Isaac Abrams (1939-) began producing drawings and paintings in 1965. An early pioneer of psychedelic art, his densely painted canvases depict organically bio-morphing hallucinogenic landscapes. Multi-colored or dot matrix-like in composition, Abrams paintings are explorations into man's interior and exterior worlds.

Abrams work was included in the 2016-2017 exhibition Hippie Modernism Search for Utopia, curated by Andrew Baluvelt for the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, and traveled to the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Rim Archive.

Past exhibitions include Traces du Sacre, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Psychedelic, Visionary and Optical Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, Sous influences, la Maison Rouge (Paris), Summer of Love, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and Tate Gallery Liverpool.

Ira Cohen (1935-2011) was a photographer, filmmaker, poet and publisher associated with New York's downtown underground scene. He made phantasmagorical films and mesmerizing color photographs of figures reflected on the surface of mylar. Jimi Hendrix likened the effect in the famous Ira Cohen photograph of him to "looking through butterfly wings." The exhibition will include a selection of his photographs from 1966-1967. In 1968 he created the film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda using his mylar technique. It has become a cult classic

Cohen was born in the Bronx in 1935. He wrote countless poems and was associated with many other writers including William Burroughs, Paul Bowles and Gregory Corso. In the 1960s and 1970s his travels took him to Morocco and Nepal where he lived for extended periods of time. In Katmandu, he started a hand-operated press to publish manuscripts. He returned to New York in 1981. Cohen described himself as a multimedia shaman and compared writing to "pushing a peanut with his nose."

Tony Martin (1937-) creates visual compositions using processes of pure light and imagery in motion. His love of painting-in-time," and his life-long involvement with music began in the mid-1960s with his renowned multi projector and pure light installations and performances at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, of which he was a founding member, and Bill Graham's Fillmore West. One of the first artists to create overhead projections with oil/water, inks, dyes, and various solvents combined on large glass plates, Martin is recognized for these unique projections, as well as his still and motion camera work and his "hands-on" and electronic methods of joining imagery and sound. Martin has worked with such composers as Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick and David Tudor. His seminal
light sculpture, You Me We, will be included in Distant Horizons. It was first shown at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1969, the preeminent gallery at the time representing artists such as Nam June Paik who combined art and technology. Martin, USCO and Gerd Stern shared close friendships Paik.

Martin's works have been presented by Issue Project Room, The Clocktower, PS I, NY Studio School, Miller Theater at Columbia University, NYU, Redcat, Mills College, Brooklyn Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, LACMA, MCA Chicago, Milwaukee Art Center, and other venues internationally.

Martin's work was also included in Hippie Modernism Search for Utopia. Future exhibitions featuring Martin's work include shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum der Moderne-Salzburg.

USCO
Gerd Stern (1928- ), Stephen Durkee (1939- ) and Michael Callahan (1944- )

Working continuously since the early 1960's, USCO was one of the first communal art collaboratives. Their interdisciplinary approach to creating art includes poetry, painting, sculpture, and multimedia projects. USCO created early multi-media installations using light/motion and sound. The collaborative was included in the important art and technology group exhibition, Lights in Orbit, at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1967. USCO's work has been shown in museums and galleries in the U.S. and abroad including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Liverpool, Centre Pompidou, the Guggenheim, the Abbemuseum von Eindhoven in Holland and Vienna's Museum Moderner Kunst.

Gerd Stern proved a central figure in the development of the USCO narrative. A native of the border area between Germany and France, he was raised in New York City and arrived in San Francisco in the late 1940s, corresponding with the emergence of the so-called Beat Scene. Shortly after his arrival in the Bay Area, he took up residence on a houseboat in Sausalito, "in the middle of an alternative bohemian culture of poetry and art." Stern's first volume of poetry, First Poems and Others, was published in 1952, and was followed in 1966 with Afterimage. Gerd Stern and Michael Callahan first began began working together on Who R U and What's Happening in 1963, for which they assembled a collection of
words that were projected as a triptych of images across a screen. "The three-word lines, phrases, conjunctions, combinations," Stern recollected, "were an analogue of the glued paper word poem collages I had begun to assemble at the time." Michael Callahan, a native of San Francisco, was working as the technical director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. After moving to the East Coast in 1965, he became a vital contributor to USCO, given his considerable electronics expertise. Painter Stephen Durkee was an active member of USCO from 1964 through 1966 when he moved to New Mexico.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Professor Fred Turner, University of Chicago Press features USCO's work as does Alastair Gordon's Spaced Out published by Rizzoli in 2008, also Rob Chapman's recent 2015 book Psychedelia and Other Colors. An USCO strobe environment is in the collection of Seville's Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Stanford University recently acquired USCO and Gerd Stern's archives for the special collections library. USCO's work was included in the traveling exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, the Frieze NY 2017 Art Fair, spotlight section with Carl Solway Gallery titled USCO and Gerd Stern/ Works from the 60s and the solo exhibition, WHEN/THEN, at the Seton Hall University Walsh Gallery in 2015

 

Carlo McCormick (1961-) is a curator, writer and cultural critic living in New York City. He lectures widely and his writing has appeared in numerous publications including Artforum, Art in America, Art News, Spin and High Times. He is senior editor of Paper. McCormick is perhaps best known for guest curating the award winning exhibition, The Downtown Show: the New York Art Scene from 1974-1984 (in consultation with Lynn Gumpert and Marvin J. Taylor), held in 2005 at New York University's Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library. In 2006, the show traveled to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Austin Museum of Art in Texas. It was named the best thematic show in New York City in 2005-2006 by the International Association of Art Critics/USA. The exhibition examined the rich cross-section of artists and related cultural activities that took place between 1974 and 1984 in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Mayan Ruins
The sound of Cincinnati-based band, Mayan Ruins, incorporates Native American, Middle Eastern, African and Asian rhythms, shamanic and Tibetan chants, electric guitars, bass, winds and varied percussion instruments blended together to create psychedelic tribal music. They debuted as a trio on September 24, 2006. A collective of talents, Mayan Ruins performances are improvised, so each show is unique.

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ISAAC ABRAMS, The Serpent's Dream from DMT: In Search of the Golden City, 1967, 11.5 x 8.5 inches, Framed: 19 x 16 inches

ISAAC ABRAMS, Hello Dali, 1965, Oil on canvas, 84 x 61 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, Aprés Hello Dali, 1965, Oil on canvas, 56 x 41 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, Warrior, 1969, Oil on canvas, 36 x 26 inches
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ISAAC ABRAMS, Cosmoerotico, 1969, Oil on canvas, 46 x 71 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, A Golden Day, 1972, Oil on canvas, 36 x 54 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, Even I Don't Know (Love across the dimensions), 2011, Acrylic on panel, 26 x 31 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, Spring Again, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 51.5 x 51.5 inches
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ISAAC ABRAMS, Adam's Tree, 2014, Acrylic on panel, 32.75 x 30 inches ISAAC ABRAMS,Birth Cycles Revisited, 2014, Acrylic on panel, 40 x 46 inches ISAAC ABRAMS, Another Birthday, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 60 inches ISAAC ABRAMS,Tree of Life (Trip Ticket #3), 2007-2016, Oil on canvas (Triptych).
63 x 187.25 inches, total

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IRA COHEN, Jimi Hendrix, 1968, Photograph from the Mylar Chamber Series,
26 x 39 inches, Framed: 38 x 51.5 inches, Courtesy of the Ira Cohen Archive, LLC

IRA COHEN, Ed Cassidy, 1966, Photograph from the Mylar Chamber Series, 31.5 x 41.5 inches, Framed: 38 x 51.5 inches, Courtesy of the Ira Cohen Archive, LLC IRA COHEN, At the Court of the Golden Emperor, the Majoon Traveler and Lady Firefly appear in the Hall of Unconscious Magnetism, 1966-1970, Photograph from the Mylar Chamber Series, 41.5 x 31.5 inches, Framed: 51.5 x 37.5 inches, Courtesy of the Ira Cohen Archive, LLC IRA COHEN, Angus MacLise as the Methedrine Cardinal, 1966-1970, Photograph from the Mylar Chamber Series, 38.5 x 27.5 inches, Framed: 51.5 x 37.5 inches
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TONY MARTIN, Five Stanzas, c.1967-2003, Film converted to video, Edition of 5 TONY MARTIN, You Me We, 1968, Wood, aluminum, custom reflective glass, custom electronics TONY MARTIN, Poster for Howard Wise Gallery Exhibition, 1969, 7 x 26.75 inches, Framed: 9 x 28 inches color lamps, 120 x 40 x 8 inches TONY MARTIN,Game Room and “Invironment”, 1968, Signed poster from Howard Wise Gallery, 17 x 14.25 inches, Framed: 25.5 x 22 inches

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TONY MARTIN, E.A.T. Pavilion Drawing 1, 1969, ink on paper, 16 x 20 inches TONY MARTIN, E.A.T. Pavilion Drawing 2, 1969, ink on paper, 16 x 20 inches TONY MARTIN ,E.A.T. Pavilion Drawing 3, 1969, ink on paper, 16 x 20 inches TONY MARTIN, Three Lights, 2012, Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches
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TONY MARTIN, Plumb, 2012. Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches TONY MARTIN, Blue Interaction, 2012, Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Spheres-Time (Tabernacle Painting), 1965, Oil and screenprint on canvas, 112.5 x 110 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Shiva, 1965, Paint on canvas, electric lights, 108 x 108 inches
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USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Shiva (Detail), 1965, Paint on canvas, electric lights, 108 x 108 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Universal Spheres Blue and Silver, 1963, Oil and screenprint on canvas, galvanized aluminum, 72 x 90.5 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Silver Sphere1965, Oil on shaped canvas, 72 x 60 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Light Blue with Benjamin Franklin Weather Map, 1965-1966, Oil and screenprint on shaped canvas, 78 x 66 inches
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GERD STERN, NO OW NOW, USCO Two Mantras, 1966-70 / 2017, Vinyl, 84 x 84 inches, Edition of 10, 1AP

USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Blue Cross, 1965, Screenprint and oil on canvas, metal hinges, 36.5 x 36 inches USCO (Paul Williams), Traffic (View 1), 1966-1967, Custom electronics, incandescent blue and yellow, light bulbs, wood, 73 x 73 x 5 inches USCO (Paul Williams), Traffic (View 2), 1966-1967, Custom electronics, incandescent blue and yellow, light bulbs, wood, 73 x 73 x 5 inches
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USCO (Paul Williams), Traffic (View 3), 1966-1967, Custom electronics, incandescent blue and yellow, light bulbs, wood, 73 x 73 x 5 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Michael Callahan), Contact Is the Only Love, 1963/2000, Metal, concrete, rubber, custom electronics, lights, 30.5 x 21 x 10 inches, Edition of 6 USCO (Gerd Stern, Michael Callahan), Triple Diffraction Hex (View 1, 1965, Surplus IBM parts, diffraction gratings, circuitry, plywood, board, brass eagle, 32 x 20 x 18.75 inches USCO (Gerd Stern, Michael Callahan), Triple Diffraction Hex (View 2, 1965, Surplus IBM parts, diffraction gratings, circuitry, plywood, board, brass eagle, 32 x 20 x 18.75 inches
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USCO (Gerd Stern, Michael Callahan), Triple Diffraction Hex (View 2, 1965, Surplus IBM parts, diffraction gratings, circuitry, plywood, board, brass eagle, 32 x 20 x 18.75 inches USCO  (Judi Stern, John Brockman), HEAD Poster, 1968, Screenprint on mylar, Edition of 100, 39.5 x 25.25 inches USCO, installation view 1 USCO, installation view 2
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USCO, installation view 3 USCO, installation view 4 ISAAC ABRAMS, installation view 1 ISAAC ABRAMS, installation view 2
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ISAAC ABRAMS, installation view 3 IRA COHEN, installation view TONY MARTIN, installation view 1 TONY MARTIN, installation view 2