Lowell Darling: THIS IS YOUR LIFE

Lowell Darling Fat City School of Finds Art

Lowell Darling - Rubber Stamps Darling for Governor

on view February 25-March 24, 2012;
opening reception for the artist Feb 25th, 5-8 pm
Special event: Interview/conversation with Darling
by artist Dale Hoyt, March 17th, 4pm.

Krowswork is very pleased to present Lowell Darling: This Is Your Life featuring videos, ephemera, and stories by this stalwart of the California conceptual art scene of the 1970s. Coinciding with the Pacific Standard Time exhibition State of Mind at the Berkeley Art Museum which includes several works by Darling, the show at Krowswork will focus on representative vignettes from Darling's entire career, including the eponymous "This Is Your Life" saga, Darling's 1978 run for governor against Jerry Brown, and his very popular Fat City School of Finds Art, which offered free Master's degrees and PhDs to art students and luminaries around the country. This exhibition will also screen for the first time the oft-cited but never shown 1973 interview-cum-performance with Darling by curator, publisher, and impresario Willoughby Sharp, co-founder of the influential Avalanche magazine. Lowell Darling: This Is Your Life celebrates this smart, meandering, and highly entertaining storytelling agit-propist, whose art and life, politics and morality, conversation and chance effortlessly intertwine as a captifying paean to the artist/citizen.

Lowell Darling & Willoughby Sharpe

Lowell Darling & Willoughby Sharp, Hollywood, 1973

For the show at Krowswork Darling will also create a new editioned piece, a print featuring the three TIYL stamps and made on-demand. The number of prints sold will be the number of the edition.

The specific story behind the title track of this show, "This Is Your Life," is a circuitous, chance-driven, hilarious, poetic tale, ever-balanced on a moral pivot particular to the artist. Darling, an inimitable storyteller, and for whom the story is the key ephemeral residue of the act, writes the TIYL account in full below:

(I Remember Seward Street)

I moved to Seward Street in 1972. This was the processing center for Hollywood feature films (when they still used film). My neighbors were Woody Woodpecker and a dildo factory. Jon Hall walked his ancient wirehaired terrier beneath my window every day. Peter Fonda’s Pando was down the block, where he sat beneath a still fresh Easy Rider poster. Next door lived the wrestler Tiger Joe Marsh, a member of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a group of retired boxers and wrestlers who Ilene Segalove worked with as Hollywood Anthropologists.

Hanna-Barbera was three buildings down the street. Production companies arrived in economy cars with Minnesota plates and drove away in brand new Beemers and Benzes. When they got lucky. Larry Hagman, pre-Dallas post-Genie, popped in often while Mai designed their Alamo in Malibu. When Henry Fonda asked for something harder than wine I offered him a stone. He told Tom Hayden he would never get used to him. This was Seward Street.

Many artists, musicians, comedians came and went. Annie Leibovitz took a photograph of Professor Irwin Corey and me in my Seward Street living room. She was with my pal Lloyd Ziff. I never saw the photograph, so I must not have been Really Famous. Just famous enough to prove I was an artist to the IRS. Plus I didn’t want to crash the Jerry Lewis Telethon with them. 

I later made Gossip Collages with my diaries from this time, after hearing Allen Ginsberg say candor for one’s self doesn’t require snitching on one’s friends. So I won’t mention stuff like…

There are 110 of these collages. Made with non-archival materials so the art will return to gossip. But not until after the subjects of the gossip are dead.

Two blocks from my flat sat an abandoned film stage. Cinema General Studios. On Lillian Way. Above its unused stage door a sign read “This Is Your Life.” On the door someone had spray painted the words “Fuck you.” Exactly my sentiments at the time.

This Is Your Life. Fuck you.

The site became my shrine for the next few years. More like a mantra. I couldn’t sell my work because of a quarrel with the IRS, now in the third or fourth year. They argued that I couldn’t deduct art expenses because I sold no artwork.

“You are not in the trade of business of sculpturing.” The work in question were exhibited in Jack Pollock’s gallery in Toronto, my first show (and the last for many years.) Salt glazed ceramic sculptures called Baby Machines, with wind up keys, penises, vaginas, and babies’ faces pulled from plaster casts of abandoned dolls.

In retaliation to the government’s insult I began dealing with world problems like over-population in other ways, first nailing down the town where I was a student. Carbondale, Illinois.

If enough newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasters called me an artist, how could the government deny it? I set out to become a recognized artist, making News instead of objects. Appearing in the press but not in galleries. They always called me an Artist. Artist’s Proof….

Then in 1972 or early 73 the government poured salt in the wound by sending me a check for $3000. From the NEA for being an artist. I took the check to the IRS and threatened to eat it. One branch of the government was giving me money because I was an artist, another branch demanding money because I wasn’t. They were driving me insane and it was a long hard ride.

Then the art historian Aimee Brown Price told me that her husband was starting a new pro bono legal service for artists. He was looking for cases. This was the Advocates for the Arts. Monroe E. Price was the lawyer. He took some magazines and a pile of articles written about my art in newspapers, often on the front pages. Public relations, advertising gimmicks applied to political satire. All labeled ARTIST.

During the years when I couldn’t enter art museums, one of the ways I stayed in touch with other artists was through the mail, and I started Fat City School of Finds Art in 1971. Over the next few years I conferred thousands of  MFAs at graduation ceremonies on campuses or wherever invited, and whoever sent me art in the mail relieved a diploma in return. (Dudley Finds was my mail moniker, the Head of FCSOFA, the largest degree granting art institution in America.)

Art in America, Rolling Stone, and a few other magazines printed my MFAs so readers could confer themselves. Susan Subtle did an article on the Decadance, an international gathering of Correspondence Artists, The Eternal Network, dedicated to Robert Filliou, in Esquire. All this was Artists Proof for the IRS.

(It was seeing my mail on the cover of Art in America, January 1973, that most impressed the IRS, other than appearing this time with a lawyer talking while I sat across the room and watched. We were gone in ten minutes. Case closed.)



This was my life, and I was fucked. The sign said it all. So when Willoughby Sharp interviewed me for Avalanche in 73, I posed in front of my shrine for the piece. I also made a rubber stamp portrait of the sign to stamp my mail to the IRS, writing “fuck you” beneath it, like the Shrine.

On the day Monroe proved I was an artist to the IRS I found a blue plastic letter Y on the sidewalk at the foot of the shrine. The sign now read plural. (Fuck us all? I didn’t feel so alone….) Next to the broken sign in the weeds was a page torn from an LA phone book. The letter P for Price, Monroe E.  

Back in my studio I glued the Y to the phonebook page, signed it Dudley Finds, and gave it to Monroe. Pro bono art for pro bono legal service.

We held a party to celebrate, The Artists and Lawyers Ball. Hundreds of lawyers showed up and volunteered to work free for artists. Soon we even got our first copyright protection. But all my work was in the public domain, so this mattered little to me. Most of my videos are owned by ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC, PBS, Thames Broadcasting.

And then one day a pile of what appeared to be snow covered the sidewalk in front of my shrine. The This Is our Life sign lay at my feet, shattered into hundreds of fragments. It was a modern American frieze, as representative as the Parthenon is to ancient Greece. A portrait of the times.

An empty Safeway shopping bag lay waiting, open and empty. I filled the bag with fragments, took them home, reassembled them like a jigsaw puzzle. Then I hung it on my wall, something I hadn’t done as an artist in a long time. Without making art I had willed it into existence.

I made another rubber stamp portrait of the sign and cut away the now missing fragments. 1976.

This body of work, the pro bono public performance, was almost finished, if anything is ever finished. I had kept my vow. And I do make vows. Like not entering a museum for ten years after falling off the National Museum of Greece in April, 1964. Served sixty days and was officially banned from the Old City of Rhodes for life. (But I still hold a Lease nearby.)

So anyway, I moved to Vancouver in late 1976 and waited for what would happen next. I’ve never been one to make art just to make art. I’m lazy. Have to wait for the volcano, the Brain Storm. Like Clyfford Still taught, you go to the studio every day whether you make anything or not, and you wait for the angel to visit.

After a few months I announced the Campaign for Governor of California. As far back as 1972 I had considered running for President, it’s part of the public record, first reported in Madison, Wisconsin, December 1972.  The Decadance Party. The only thing that remains of this body of work is the press clippings, releases, off-the-air video cassettes of news appearances, and associated ephemera, mostly paper.

The Gubernatorial Announcement was made on the lawn of the University Museum in Berkeley on Valentine’s Day, 1978. This would be my last pro bono public performance piece, lasting three months. And it was the first time I performed at a museum, (but we were still outside. On the lawn.

The campaign was a successful failure, my forte. But the success belonged to artists throughout the State. To name them all would be impossible. Joe Rees’s Oakland benefit was busted by squad cars full of cops and a helicopter overhead. We were kicked out of Charles Christopher Hill’s LA benefit at the Larchmont Hotel. The Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco hosted a Thousand Dollar Plate dinner. Nobody paid except Tom Marioni. For the poster.

When my campaign memoir, titled One Hand Shaking, came out in 1980 I announced on Evening Magazine in San Francisco that I might run for President in 1985 (after we got rid of the year 1984 due to mounting Orwellian paranoia). Then I drove my campaign vehicle into a concrete embankment after most of a fifth of Jack and a pile of coke. No kidding. Going very fast. Like a comet I flew. 

When the presidential announcement aired a few days later, a bunch of friends got together to watch, but I couldn’t laugh. I had flown several feet from my car, perhaps through the windscreen, laid on the only other open lane. Amazingly no cars came around the sharp curve. The accident report states I was lying motionless except for “One Hand Shaking.” I’ve often wondered if that nice Highway Patrolman had read my book. He wrote that I said I was sorry several times. This marked the end of my career as a Pro Bono Public Performance Artist.

I recommend this way of working to no one.

In 1995 David Ross invited me to build the first Artists Web Site for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Jim Newman of San Francisco built the site with me, the design is his, the content mine. This was the first public work I’d done in fifteen years, since the Gubernatorial Campaign.

Following the website I made my first attempts to show in galleries. While in LA for the first Hollywood Archaeology exhibition at Sherry Frumkin, I drove to Seward Street and walked the old territory. On Lillian Way there was no evidence that this had been an important archaeological site. (I had sold the sign to run for Governor. The deal was that any resale of the sign would be split 50/50 with the artist. And then the guy vanished, an entertainment manager. LA….)

But to end the TIYL saga: at the site of the Shrine, on the sidewalk, I found a third rubber stamp. The same size and shape as the two made in the early Seventies. It was blank. The first was the Sign, which vanished. The second was the Hollywood found film project, a lifetime supply of gorgeous, poignant images. But the third, Three Rubber Stamps, this was pure magic. Plain and simple. Art that wills itself into existence, even as the artist is determined to give up the object.

I’ve been called a conceptual artist, a performance artist, a correspondence artist, mail artist, media artist, video artist, web artist, con artist, even a ceramist, not having touched clay since The First Annual Open Invitational Unfired Clay Exhibition:’70.

Since childhood people have called me an Artist, long before I knew what art is (not that I know now…..)

But I’ve never been anything else.

This Is _our Life.
- Lowell Darling, February 6, 2012

For more on Lowell's work visit: lowelldarling.com