If you can kill a snake with it, it ain’t art
Selected works from the collection of North Carolina poet and publisher Jonathan Williams an exhibition by guest curator Tom Patterson.
If you can kill a snake with it, it ain't art is an exhibition of work from the personal collection of
acclaimed poet and Jargon Society Press publisher Jonathan Williams, a native North Carolinian.
Williams, who passed away in the spring of 2008, was a student at Black Mountain College where he studied with many of the great American artists of the mid-20th century. The more than 100 handsomely designed books that Jargon has published in its 55-year history stand as one enduringly significant testament to the range of Williams' visual interests.. While the books of the Jargon Society have been the focus of several exhibitions over the years this exhibition, which was first shown at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, is the first to focus on Williams' wide-ranging art collection.
The exhibition consists of more than 100 objects, including:
photography by Ansel Adams, Lyle Bonge, Harry Callahan, William Christenberry, Clarence John Laughlin, Roger Manley, Elizabeth Matheson, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, John Menapace, Guy Mendes,Art Sinsabaugh, Frederick Sommer, Doris Ulmann and others;
sculpture, works on paper and works in other mediums by contemporary artists William Anthony,Glen Baxter, Richard C., Gregory Corso, Jorge Fick, John Furnival, David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchen, Tom Phillips, Bernard G. Schatz (aka L-15) and others;
contemporary Southern folk art, including works by Vernon Burwell, Howard Finster, James Harold Jennings, Eddie Owens Martin (a.k.a. St. EOM), Gertrude Morgan, Juanita Rogers, Mary T. Smith, Edgar Tolson, Bill Traylor and others;
a selection of photographs by JW himself, including portraits of poets and artists, views of the graves of
artists and writers, views of outsider-art environments in the U.S. and Europe;
and a selection of limited-edition books that Williams has published under the Jargon imprint.
The exhibition's main title is a quotation William's attributes to photographer Orcenith Lyle Bonge, who was among Williams' fellow students at Black Mountain and is represented in the exhibition.
Guest curator Tom Patterson and poet Thomas Meyer will be present at the opening and will say a few words in homage to Jonathan Williams.
North Carolina poet Jonathan Williams (1929-May 2008) collected things that captured his visual attention and imagination for most of his life, and especially since the beginning of the 1950s, around the time he dropped out of Princeton University and found a more suitable educational niche for himself closer to home at Black Mountain College.
Before he began to establish himself as a poet and publisher closely tied to the Black Mountain school of writing (the Beat movement's East-Coast wing, in effect), Williams had spent a couple of years investigating the visual arts. He studied painting, printmaking and book design, first at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., then at the Institute of Design in Chicago. In 1951 he turned to photography, and his desire to study with photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind led him to Black Mountain, where they both taught that summer.
Black Mountain would only survive for another five years before closing its doors, but the friendships and associations that Williams formed there played a big part in determining his future. Williams thereafter began to concentrate much of his attention on developing his own poetic voice and--under the imprint of his pioneering Jargon Press--publishing the poetry of Olson and other avant-garde writers of the time.
But Williams also continued to make photographs and otherwise to maintain an active engagement with
visual art and artists.
Guest curator Tom Patterson is a writer, critic, independent curator and the author of several books on
contemporary folk art and artists, including the Jargon-published St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan(1987) and Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Watson- Guptill Publications, New York, 2001). As executive director of the Jargon Society and the director of its Southern Visionary Folk Art Project from 1984 to 1987, Patterson worked collaboratively with Jonathan Williams. He has enthusiastically followed Williams' work since their first meeting in 1974.