Roger Arvid Anderson
FUELED BY ROCK music and psychotropics, along with free love, hippie culture attracted throngs of followers to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." The Mecca for flower children in the '60s and '70s was clearly San Francisco, specifically the Haight-Ashbury district. Out of this atmosphere was born an alternative performance group, The Cockettes, whose creative, cross-dressing ranks included men and women of various sexual persuasions, sharing an acid-laced utopian vision.
San Francisco's Steven Wolf Fine Arts, relocated to an airy, semi-industrial space in the outer Mission, recently presented Roger Arvid Anderson's "Cockette Close-Up" suite of photographs, and Billy Bowers' mind-blowing "Walt Disney was Homosexual" assemblages. Anderson captured the performers backstage at The Palace theatre in North Beach in 1972. Bowers, a founding member of The Cockettes, is best known for his revolutionary costume design. Performers and artists including Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper and Salvador Dali eagerly sought his creations; and his fashion work has been recognized in publications such as L'Uomo Vogue.
Wolf started the year off with a bang offering a New Year's Eve reception where live models donned Bowers' wearable creations and put on an ersatz runway show. These costumes range from split-crotch jeans festooned with rainbow-hued Mardi Gras beads, plastic jester-heads in gold and violet, erotic photos, buttons and baubles to the red, white and blue patriotic frenzy of the 9/11 Jacket.
Trippiness, porn, fetish art and kitsch mesh in kaleidoscopic adventures in S&M, spiritualism/politics, confession and fantasy in Bowers' wall-mounted fabric assemblages. A memorable denim and fake fur quilt features faux tiger skin plastered with photos of body builders posing and/or having sex. On another tack, Stop au Genocide Du Peuple Tamoul uses an exotic batik background, images of Ganesh, and what looks like Leonard Nimoy in drag, to make a plea for compassion. While these works all seem far removed from the world of art-school theory, they are sincere and compelling one might think of Rauschenberg's "combines" or Jess' collages, or the wearable art of Nick Cave; Salvador Dali is even said to have attempted to claim Bowers' monkey-fur cape with rat collar as his own invention.
In the lounge, Roger Arvid Anderson's "Cockette Close-Up" offers large-scale, poster-sized prints. Grainy and oversaturated, the work bears a vintage, almost otherworldly feeling, presenting the Cockettes from a safe distance both chronologically and emotionally. We see them from a back-stage perspective, or as though we're peeking from the wings. We may ponder Johnny, a striking, platinum blond with glitter eye shadow and dense false eyelashes, her face reflected in an oval mirror, a can of Aqua-Net hairspray at her side.
Anderson shares some memorable, quirky images of a unique era and group of committed visionaries. Bowers, one of these, continues to pursue his passion for fashion, as well as transgression, creating a stir beyond the fringes of social acceptability. Taken on their own expansive terms, these images and objects give us a welcome and invigorating jolt of unsettling energy, as well as a bit of a blast from a very visceral past.
- Barbara Morris