[click through for larger image size. Images courtesy of ADA Gallery]
This morning I canned the better part of a NYTimes style obituary I wrote for George Kuchar, an artist who’s campy films and illustrations influenced everyone from John Waters to Robert Crumb. The original probably would have served the blog’s readers better in the ways that these sorts of news articles do, — that he died at 69 after battling prostate cancer shouldn’t be buried in prose — but I was pretty sure Kuchar himself would have felt ambivalent about a factual account of his life accomplishments. I wanted to write a piece he would actually like were he able to read it (in so much as anyone would want to see their own obituary).
This probably means throwing few jokes in this thing, which makes me a little nervous. Although I never met Kuchar personally, everyone who has, describes him as ridiculously funny and appreciative of the like. There may be a future in which his obit will consist of solely of youtube homages made by former art students and bloggers, but that’s at least one long month of Internet development away.
A New Yorker so far as upbringing goes, (Kuchar lived in San Francisco from 1971 on but retained his Bronx accent), Kuchar’s sensibility was defined by an early interest in Hollywood and through his collaboration with his twin brother Mike. George and Mike went to see movies daily before their mother got them their first 8 mil. camera. They were 12. They began making films immediately, by the end of the 50’s garnering the title, “The Mozarts of 8 mil. cinema.”
Only a couple years later, Mike and George deemed their respective aesthetics too different to continue working as a team, though they remained quite close and continued to contribute to each other’s movies. Whereas Mike’s sensibility leaned towards the painterly, George had a great love for on the fly, do-it-yourself aesthetics. Dog food that could be modeled to look just like turds, extensive use lighting filters that casts shadows and patterns known as cuculoris, and a seemingly endless stream of untrained actors, were each hallmarks of the artist’s filmmaking.
“No one works harder than George Kuchar”, his gallerist John Pollard told me, explaining that he regularly edited in the studio until 3 or 4 in the morning until he got sick. Speculation that both the work and the work ethic, were at least partly driven by loneliness was not unusual, though George himself described the movie making process as a giant party. In any event, George died a single man, his most significant partner, Curt McDowell, dead of AIDS in 1987.
George was so extraordinarily prolific that many of his colleagues interviewed in the 2010 documentary, “It Came From Kuchar” claimed no one knew how much work he’d made. When interviewed, Josh Kanies, Kuchar’s teacher’s assistant, gave an estimate Kuchar’s productivity being about five films every fifteen weeks. He didn’t even bother counting the illustrations, which were also continuously made through out his career. When I spoke to his gallerist at ADA this winter during VOLTA, he too mentioned that it was unclear how much work existed. His booth was filled with 3-D photographs, short videos, stills, and comic book drawings with captions.
Of the better known early films, “Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof”, “Sins of the Fleshapods”, and “Hold Me While I’m Naked” are amongst my favorite titles. Hold Me While I’m Naked (1965), his first 16 millimeter film, is a virtual cornucopia of Hollywood tropes, holding to a loosely autobiographical structure: An independent filmmaker becomes increasingly frustrated as he tries to make a movie with artistic merit. Later he produced videos he refers to as diaries; dramas completed with his film students and portraits of places with living things. These included “Vile Cargo”, “Fill Thy Crack with Whiteness”, and “The Kiss of the Veggie Vixon”. He also wrote and starred in a porn-horror movie directed by Curt McDowell called Thundercrack and authored a book of memoirs and filmmaking tips titled, “Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool”.
Many of these movies were shown alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas, while his cartoons and his dynamic personality reached other creative fields. Cartoonist Bill Griffith cites Kuchar as the inspiration for his famed cartoon Zippy The Pin Head, and of course, his comics reveal a direct lineage between him and R. Crumb.
Given the depth of his creative impulses, perhaps it’s not too surprising that P. Adams Sitney, a founder of Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, told the New York Times earlier this week that, “His influence is incalculable — the whole world of YouTube is where you see it. He was a guy who just wanted to keep making films. I don't think he even wanted to be 'discovered' by Hollywood.” Indeed, earlier this year, I described Kuchar as the “ultimate artist's artist; respected greatly by his peers, but largely under known and under appreciated by collectors.”
As it happens, in that same post I awarded Kuchar and his representing gallery ADA, AFC’s Golden Fag Award, for best New York Art Fair booth. Writing this post, I struggled to come up with a still greater title to bestow upon the artist for his lifetime of work; The Guilded Fag, The Lifetime Fag, The Golden Fag Award x2. None had the right ring, a problem I decided to leave alone when I remembered AFC had yet to award its first Honorary Doctorate in Proctology. Sure, it’s no Golden Fag x2, but I’m sure where ever Kuchar is he’ll be able to make good use of it.
“He was so fun, I think that’s the main thing.” John Pollard, ADA Gallery