Remembering Robert Delford Brown
Published April 7, 2009
Robert Delford Brown was born in Colorado in 1930 and received his BA and MA from UCLA. In 1959 he moved to New York City, and became enmeshed in major (and fringe) art activities and movements alike –Pop Art, Happenings, Correspondence Art, Performance and Fluxus. In 1964, he “founded” the “First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, Inc.,” establishing its headquarters within an ongoing architectural experiment he entitled “The Great Building Crack Up” On West 13th Street. Around the same time Brown was preparing Meat Show, which consisted of thousands of pounds of meat in a locker in New York ‘s Washington Meat Market. That work doubled as the First Grand Opening Service of The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, Inc.
Robert Delford Brown died Sunday, April 5, at the age of 78, of presumed accidental drowning while scouting locations in Wilmington, North Carolina. Brown is too little recognized for his contribution to performance art or his revolutionary motto, “Everything is art, everyone is an artist; there is no not art.” Interview remembers the artist via this interview from November 1972, conducted by critic and sometime hat designer Lil Picard:
Fetishism, 1. belief in or use of fetishes. 2. Psychiatry: the compulsive use of some inanimate object in attaining sexual gratification, such as a shoe, a lock of hair, stockings, underclothes, a neckpiece, etc 3. blind devotion. Also, fetichism-fetichistic. Adj. (American College Dictionary)RDB (Robert Delford Brown) says: “The end of everything today is Anarchy.”
When RDB came to London from Juan les Pins, where he had his brown hair dyed dayglo pink, nobody even looked at him. But when he redies the hair his natural color, borw, the waiters in his London Hotel said: “Oh, Mr. Brown, you look so much better in brown. Bob brown is a natural. A natural Dadaist. The color of his hair is brown, but his humor is black. RDB looks great. He is a tall man and somehow he reminds me of a drawing on the cover page of a Grove Press pocketbook, the famous “anonymous autobiography story, of a wealthy Victorian who lived for sex alone…”, RDB looks very much like the Author of “My Secret Life”….
His secret and not so secret ART-Life is devoted to Fetichism-and it is about Fetichism he talks, sitting in the kitchen in his “Masterpiece”, the Great Crackup Building 251 West 13th Street. His wife Rhett, keeps us company, cooking a deliciously smelling diner, while Bob is smoking, laughing, coughing, talking and being his own surrealistic crazy self…
On the wall, next to the efficient super modern kitchen are four screen prints pinned up. Part of his newest work and edition of 200 prints, of a down to earth fetichistic nature. They represent women images, female figures in bright colors, with overlarge breasts, exposed, building out form clothing, bound with strips of leather and clothing, and small drops of a white liquid (Milk) are glittering like rhinestones on the pink skin of the plump breasts. A male hand is seen on one of the prints milking the fluid out from the nipple’-even a glass is there, into which the milk is floating. The half nude victims of the photos, which RDB used for his works of Fetichistic Art, seem passive-and somehow the effect of the colored images is only artistic and not at all pornographic, not even erotic. The prints have-at least to me, only an artistic look, they are colors and forms in space…and not any more porno-photos used for screenprints to show Fetichism in Art. They are part of a one man show, which opened October 14th in the Crack-up Gallery place-a building that looks from the outside like a nineteenth century library or a church, and on the inside more like a boat, than a house. Everywhere one turns are surprises. Gangways, platforms, staircases, brick walls, partitions, a tremendously high ceiling, a roof garden, tapestries, art objects, goblins, sculptures, ceramics, quilts, paintings, materials draped, ropes and strings and cords strung in the second floor in space…any moment one expects that a happening might take place, dancers might appear or something very daring, unusual, wild and surreal might happen. And in fact it sometimes does, because RDB is an old hand in Happenings, he did many in our famous Happening-“happy sixties,” and he appeared in Allan Kaprow’s directed “ORIGINALE” by Karlheinz Stockhausen in the role of the “PAINTER” (1964).
RDB Biography reads like a short story from a far out pop poetry book. Born 1930. Oct. in Portland, Colorado. Received B.A. 1952 at U.C.L.A. One man Exhibition at Ed Kelly’s Frame shop. Westwood, Cal. 1952, received M.A. at U.C.L.A. 1958. 1959, moved to New York City. 1964 performed the role of Painter in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Originale”, directed by Allan Kaprow, NYC. 1964 founded the First National Church of Equisite Panic, Inc. and began presenting “Grand Opening Services.” 1964 “Meatshow an Environment Washington Meat Market.” 1965 arrested for possession of pornographic material, Nassau County N.Y. 1965 Cow Lane Weekend during which Claes Oldenburg presented a strip swimming pool Happening and a strip pool Happening in Great Neck, L.I. 1965 “Out of Order, please use the toilet down the hall across the lobby,” an event at the Bel Air Sands Motel, West Los Angeles, Cal. 1966 the charge of possession of pornographic material was resolved with a plea of guilty to disorderly conduct, and a promise not to appeal. 1966″you are cordially invited to a cocktail party an event at the Hotel Negresco, Nice, France, 1966″ Free Striptease with drum and bugle corps accompaniment. Petticoat Lane, London, England, 1967 began the most ambitious Grand opening Service to date, The Great Building Crack-Up, an actual Collision between a 19th Century building and a 20th century building. It will be completed in 1982, at which time a hole will be cut into the roof and the entire structure will be filled with concrete-making the largest trompe l’oeill sculpture in the world. It will be given to the United States of America as a Memorial to the unsung heroines of American History-this Mistresses of American Presidents. 1971, founded the Great Building Crack-Up Gallery. 1971 Henceforth, all Grand Opening Services will be incorporated into a colossal Master Stroke-THE UNIVERSAL FESTIVAL OF PHARBLONGENCE
LIL PICARD: “What do you want to tell the Artworld and the public in New York with your latest show of Fetichistic Art?”
ROBERT DELFORD BROWN: Let me tell you, all that started 1965. I tried to get these fetichistic photos enlarged and reproduced. So I went to Jack Golden, who at that time, when he was still alive, did silkscreens for Warhol, Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers and many others…and he tried to get a photo lab for me and he asked six studios, but they all wouldn’t do it. They thought it too pornographic and therefore too dangerous to fool around with. They refused, because the lab had women working for them, and they didn’t want to upset people. So I went to Lawrence Alloway, who was at that time at the Guggenheim Museum, because I thought if I get a letter that I am a serious artist, and somebody of authority speaks for me, I will find a place to do the enlargements. And I found a very good place, “Modern Age,” they kept the negatives in their safe…but you see, times changes so fast, now those things of 1967 are really innocent stuff and nothing exceptional anymore, but in 1965 that was a bitch…
LP: What is it that fascinates you so much with this theme and subject matter, the freak photos of sex pathology?
RDB: I don’t know why I did them, I seem to be interested and fascinated by morbid things. The law saved my by a fate worse than death-I am telling you-because I was also at that time, when I was doing those Fetich-things, mailing away letters and checks to get rar porno Material and porno films-but you’ll see I do everything as an artist, just like the Great Building Crack-Up, I never think about the outcome of things. Whatever I do, I do as an artistic enterprise.
LP: What happened to you when you did the fetich-images, before the time when porno and sex became the daily lifestyle of the youth generation?
RDB: I got into trouble with the law’ they came and raided my studio and I was convicted of an offense, that’s not too bad, it’s not on the record, it’s less than a misdemeanor…just an offense.
LP: So you are not a criminal…just a Pornographist?
RDB: Yes, a pornographiste.
LP: Your ad in Art Forum, showed a Double Portrait of a male, it’s called the “Flasher.”
RDB: Yes, it’s a portrait of myself.
LP: Why is it called “The Flasher”?
RDB: He flashes for a moment his Genitals.
LP: Is that something you are involved with in your own personal sex life? I mean, would you go to the subway and open your fly, for a moment as a “Flasher”-Artist-porno-maniac-pornographiste?
RDB: No, of course not, I think it’s pathetic to do that!
LP: But it’s a well known fact, much written about in Sex Pathology books, like the ones of Krafft Ebing and Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld.
RDB: Of that’s interesting , le me jot down their names.
LP: What books are you mostly reading Bob?
RDB: The medial Dictionary…William Burroughs…I am fascinated by Burroughs-but the last five months I just read Time and Life Magazine….
LP: You said it’s pathetic if people do such weird things like exposing their sex organs in subways, or cuttings of their wrists or binding breasts, or whatever else strange thigns they are doing, but at the same time it fascinates you and you think it’s funny…
RDB: Yes, it’s pathetic and also funny.LP: It’s an obsession for the people and the only way they can reach satisfaction and relieve….
RDB: Sure, the human state is pathetic altogether, but eh artist is the observer in these cases, the artist is such a superior human being….
All those different displays of human functions are just extremely interesting, I mean that’s a fascinating way of manifesting your sex drive, to stand at a subway an dlet your pants down. I think that’s funny…I think it’s just as interesting to see that photo of the woman who cut her wrists off, because she felt guilty about masturbating, or the Fetich-“Hanging of a Woman,” I have in the show….
LP: How long does your show last?
RDB: Until the end of December…Speaking about what’s primitive in Art, Sex and so on, Fetichism is a primitive Sexform. I heard about a guy who had this thing about touching women’s asses. He couldn’t keep from doing it-but his greatest disappointment was, when he touched a woman one day, she turned and smiled at him…All the other women always ignored him, that one didn’t, and he could not take…
LP: How about other themes, like f. i. the ones Kandinsky, Klee or Mondrian used, abstract themes?
RDB: What about it?
LP: Are you also interested in this kind of Art-I like to write an Art story, not only a personal fucking sex story. How do I now get your obsession into Art-History?
RDB: Ah…Art-History…it’s here on the wall. They are my latest screenprints, “all about breasts,” bound breasts, I used some rare porno-photos and they are, as you can see, in bright colors….
LP: Did you read about the latest book by Phillip Roth: “BREAST”?
RDB: Breast, that’s great, what is it all about?
LP: As far as I got it from the review, it’s the story of a man, who turns into a gigantic female breast, and the sex organ of the breast-man is the very sensitive nipple…it seems to be a kind of Kafcaesque short novel, written by the Portnoy Complaint-Million-Dollar-best-seller-writer Roth.
RDB: To me an artist is a special kind of person, he is fully aware, fully conscious, he observes…the sex thing is just fantastic, that’s where the real ingenuity comes out. Most people lead very uneventful, dull lives and don’t realize how adventurous real living is-but when it comes to their sex activities, they really become fantastically imaginative, they really do amusing, weird things, just like dropping their pants in a subway stations. The artist’s goal really is amorality. Somewhere in the future we will have Anarchy. And in order to have Anarchy we have to have Amorality.
LP: You really believe that we will have Anarchy in the future?
RDB: Oh yes, the real artist, the creative one is a visionary and has to be amoral, and amorality leads to Anarchy….
LP: Your large paintings the tinted Oil works are all depicting freaky scenes of sexual activities, they are, I think, taken from illustrations of Books of Sex pathology, or from photos of such kind?
RDB: I got some of them from a little old man, who only had half a face. He had his face operated, half o it had caved in. He got wounded in WW 2, I guess. He was a very sweet little guy and he gave me those photos for nothing-he had them for years-and some of the other photos I got in London, these are the Victorian porno-pictures, from a guy, who had them maybe for 30 or more years, and didn’t know how to get rid of them….
LP: They are black and white. How do you make your colored paintings from them?
RDB: It’s a complicated technique…really my secret…I use oil colors. In my secret technique, with a piece of cotton, it’s very tedious work….
LP: How much are those?
RDB: Oh, 1,000 or 1,500 dollars…at least so much, like the one of the woman how cut off her wrist, because she felt guilty of masturbating…
LP: Can you tell me a little more about your favorite philosophy: Anarchy and society. Amorality. Fetichism, Sex and human behaviorism?
RDB: You see the thing about sexual activity that interests and fascinates me, is like how-when you take an egg out of a seagull’s nest-the gull doesn’t lay another egg, it builds a bigger next. All these aberrations of sexual activities that people devise are totally useless, they are frivolous, they are undirected…aren’t you fascinated how people are always fucking around? …The thing is, I have something I call the “THEORY OF PHARBLONGENCE” & the ASCETIC SCHLOMOZZLE.”
LP: Is that Jewish?
RDB: It’s anglicized…”PHARBLONGENCE” means TOTAL CONFUSION.
LP: Is that a word often used?
RDB: I use it all the , because I INVENTED IT! I have to explain the whole thing’ I am a religious leader, you’ll see. I call it “THE ASCETIC PHARLBLONGENCE SCHLMOZZLE” in my Church the FIRST NATIONAL CHURCH OF THE EXQUISTE PANIC” of which I am the founder & LEADER, the President and the saint and there I say: “all human activity is guided by the law of Pharblongence, which is totally random; we think we have intentions, but we don’t, & “Schlomozzle” is the GOD we worship, and when SCHLMOZZLE accidentally invented the Universe he said : “UHPS! (or UUPS)”.
LP: So you think everything in our life is nothing but a big DADAISTIC UHPS?…and maybe the end of the everything at the dawn of the BIG BANG, is UHPS triggered by Schlomozzle?…and the end is here, so to say…
RDB: No, I think we still have a few hundred years to go…UHPS…with a big pharblongence hello to all of you..