Lauren Barger | Dr. Sturm | Spring 2019 | ENGL 1102 - Poetry, Painting, and Film in New York City, 1960 - Present | The Georgia Institute of Technology

Joe Brainard

Brainard was always fascinated by the relationship between painting and poetry as a means of communication (People Magazine, Wohlfret 72). Visual art for Brainard was not only a way to communicate, but also allowed him to constantly collaborate and connect with others. Brainard was a frequent illustrator for many other New York School Poets, and was featured regularly in Ted Berrigan's “C” Magazine and even featured on the cover of ARTnews in 1967.

 

Brainard even found that challenging and shaping the ordinary and mundane in visual art could be an outlet to express extraordinary ideals and personality traits as just that - ordinary. The character Nancy, the cartoon and comic icon, acted as Brainard’s transitional object to the ordinary. Nancy allowed Brainard to challenge and investigate perception and materiality of an object - more precisely, how to express dreams and fantasy into something visual.

 

Even in Brainard’s writing, visual components are seen. Brainard wants the reader to visually connect what he is talking about in his writing. While the audience is reading, they begin to create a visual picture in their mind of what Brainard is talking about. Then, Brainard goes one step further to draw in a picture of what he was talking about. This is seen heavily throughout the Cigarette book, with various pictures of cigarette boxes he used as well as drawings of Nancy, bringing back that ordinary and mundane feature.

I Remember is probably the best representation of Joe Brainard’s writing without the aid of visual components. Even though I Remember doesn’t have any pictures or drawings, the reader is constantly reminded of their own memories as they read Brainard’s memories. This can be considered its own type of visual art, but one that that audience creates themselves.

 

Being a fan of Warhol and De Kooning, Brainard brought new possibilities to the Pop Art sensibility by way of his sheer prodigious output of assemblages, collages and works on paper. Brainard’s collage work was one of the biggest ways he was able to fully express his ideas when it came to visual art. His collages were never meant to be distant and require analyzing; in his world, things were meant to be concrete, tactile, and sensual (Lauderbach 15). Collages were a way to play around with more material that may not have necessarily clashed under normal tones. Brainard would combine things such as images from male pornagraphy and other risque material, and combine them with things such as the classic Nancy, or other materials he found that added a playful and almost humorous element to the work.

 

Brainard also took part in assembling mundane everyday items into miniatures. This meant taking items from around his studio - such as bottle caps, cigarette butts, cheap jewelry, buttons, and beads. For Brainard, these miniatures granted a way for him to get involved, and even described it as “The art is the involvement, the doing.” The fact that he could create and experiment was art in itself.

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