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New York Galleries Exhibit Painter Archie Rand's Collaborations with Poets

By Suzanne Trimel

A page from the Archie Rand-Robert Creeley collaboration, "Drawn and Quartered."

As a painter, Archie Rand, professor of visual arts in the School of the Arts, is known as a technical innovator who has explored diverse subjects from jazz to the Bible and Jewish history and has taken approaches both abstract and figural. His brilliance as a draughtsman has led to collaborations over several decades with major American poets, including John Yau, Robert Creeley and most recently, John Ashbery. Rand uses words like affection and faith to describe the creative process.

Collaboration is exhilarating, says Rand. "You lose your ego. You lose your individuality. There's a kind of release and at the same time, an intense freedom to create."

During May, Rand's collaborations with Yau and Creeley will be on display in galleries in Manhattan. On Saturday, May 4, through May 25, the complete set of hand-colored etchings from the Rand-Yau collaboration, "100 More Jokes From the Book of the Dead (Meritage Press, 2001)," will be on view at the Dactyl Foundation (64 Grand Street). Beginning May 9, Metro Pictures Gallery (519 West 24th Street) will exhibit 54 lithographs from the Rand-Creeley collaboration, "Drawn and Quartered," published by Granary Books last year. Rand's most recent project with Ashbery will be exhibited and published next year.

The etchings from "100 More Jokes…" are humorous vignettes and were created by poet and painter simultaneously and without revision. Rand and Yau worked side by side, as the flow of images and words emerged.

In viewing the final work, Rand says, it is difficult even for him "to recall which came first -- his words or my pictures."

Rand describes his "eye to eye" collaboration with Yau as a marriage, and like any partnership between strong individuals, each needs reserves of trust and flexibility to make the union last. "You choose your partner based on the shared passion that you have for the glory of this activity," he says.

A page from the Archie Rand-John Yau collaboration, "100 More Jokes From the Book of the Dead."

Because images, unlike words, tend to dominate, an artist working in collaboration with a poet "must be willing to pull back to give the words a fighting chance," says Rand. "If the artist works at full capacity and makes the most intense visual statement, then basically the poetry is going to be costume dressing," he says.

Poets and painters, Rand believes, are naturally suited to collaborate because they share a common bond as artists who work alone for long stretches and whose creativity doesn't receive an immediate response from another person. Unlike novelists who are engaged more fully with editors and publicists or sculptors who must seek commissions from patrons, poets and painters are more socially isolated and therefore develop a keener need to validate their creations through another person, says Rand.

"When you look at art, you are receiving affection from an artist," says Rand, who frequently draws on the theme of love and generosity in describing the basic impulse for art. "When you're working with a collaborator, you mutually validate each other's emanation immediately. It's comforting because somebody else has understood your language so immediately that they've been able to answer you. There's a completion. Because if one other person understands what you're doing, then you have created a viable language. You no longer have to wait for an audience where, even then, there may be no tangible evidence of a mutual response."

Rand was first represented by the Tibor De Nagy Gallery in 1966 when he was a teenager. He has since had over 80 solo exhibitions and his work has been included in over 200 group exhibitions. His drawings and paintings are represented in major museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

He first drew national attention for "The Letter Paintings" or "Jazz Paintings" in the 1960's, which incorporated the names of male and female African-American musicians on wall-sized canvases that challenged the political and aesthetic status quo.

For three years, beginning in 1974, Rand expanded notions of Jewish art when he painted the monumental 13,000 square foot interior of B'nai Yosef synagogue in Brooklyn, which remains the only completely muraled synagogue in the world.

Rand believes a true collaboration occurs "when two people sit down, look each other in the eye and say, 'Let's make a third thing.' " The creative product, he says, is neither drawing, nor painting, nor poetry but a third form.

Rand considers this "third thing" -- he has yet to find other words to describe it -- magical. "Both of us were quite amazed that we made something that has nothing to do with the words and nothing to do with the picture but has to do with something more enormous," he says of his work with Yau. "It is basically almost religious. You put a strain on the affection between the collaborators and the picture ends up being about faith because it has tested that relationship."

Published: May 01, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002


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