“Out of the Box: Full Disclosure Revisited”
First Street & Rodeo Avenue
By John Held, Jr.
I rented a car and got my sorry ass out of San Francisco/Dodge and sauntered out to Rodeo to see my old friend Lowell Darling, who is many things to many people. For me, he’s a pioneer of Mail Art, and I’ve been following his path in the arts for almost forty years. I guess most would classify him as a conceptual artist, and he is that, having been included in the Berkeley Museum exhibition “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970” exhibition (February 29-June 17, 2012), part of “Pacific Standard Time,” which opened at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2011.
He himself decries such labeling, having recently declared (SFAQ, Issue 10) that, “I use myself to make my art. I guess I am the art, though I hate the corniness of that idea and have always sort of fought against the little movements art critics give us. I’ve been called a conceptual artist, a video artist, a performance artist, a media artist, a correspondence artist you name it, even a ceramist for Christ’s sake. I think I may have even started a few. But I’ve always been only Lowell Darling. I’m not a member of anything. I’m simply just another lousy human body with a lot of ideas trying to escape.”
One of his more notable accomplishments is his role in encouraging political art, notably his run for governor in 1978 to unseat then California Gov. Jerry Brown (detailed in his 1980 book, “One Hand Shaking: A California Campaign Diary” [Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980]), and his public adversity with the IRS, who refused his deduction to write off art supplies, declaring him unfit to be an artist due to lack of sales.
In the early 1970s, Darling was the darling of Mail Art, helping to organize the Los Angeles based “Deccadance” in 1974, one of the first gatherings of postal based artists. Previous to this, he organized the 1969 Mail Art show, “Mail In Mail Out,” at the Chicago Art Institute- one of the very first Mail Art shows. Lowell was famous for giving out certificates to his “Fat City School of Finds Art,” his fictitious diploma mill. This dude’s been around…and he’s got the archive to prove it.
It’s all available for inspection to the general public in Lowell’s latest exhibition, “Out of the Box: Full Disclosure Revisited,” at his studio in Rodeo. Darling exhibited closed boxes full of artistic ephemera in his 2010 exhibition at Gallery 16, “Full Disclosure.” In “Full Disclosure Revisited,” the box’s contents are laid bare to the interested, all the while regaled with running commentary by The Master himself. Along the way, you will find tidbits of artistic discovery concerning such artists as Robert Arneson, Bruce Nauman, General Idea, Ed Ruscha, Ant Farm, Tom Marioni and Ray Johnson. Just a peak at the mailing list of Darling’s Fat City School of Finds Arts brings back all the excitement of the era. Hopefully one day all this will be encapsulated in some research facility. For now, it’s yours for the asking.
Lowell is above all else, a life artist. His interview with Griff Williams in Issue 10 of San Francisco Arts Quarterly (August –October 2012) is the most honest, raw and open interview I’ve ever read, one in which he ponders careerism, suicide and mortality. In it, Lowell states that, “My work, the ART I made in caps, has always been my way of coping with the world and so…My life has always been one long art performance. I don’t remember being anything but an artist…Of course I chose to show up more outside the normal art venues rather than inside.”
The father of two daughters (Sophie and Ruby), Lowell would entertain them by encouraging them to draw, and then overnight, expand upon their drawings by adding color and representational details. These are hung on the studio walls along with other drawn works by the supposedly conceptual artist, opening up yet another path to the artist’s unknown, sadly unexhibited and certainly unheralded secretive drawing oeuvre. There’s more than enough work in the studio for several shows – his shadow drawings, abstractions, black and white landscapes. This latest show gives you two for one: a peek at the past half-century of avant-garde Californiana; and his latest works, which hopefully will be subjected to increased public scrutiny and appreciation in the future.
During January and February, Darling’s studio will be open every Saturday and Sunday between 1PM and 6PM, on the corner of First Street and Rodeo Avenue in Rodeo. It’s about a forty-five minute drive from The City.
Arrange your visit by calling (831) 325-6979, or emailing the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org