Monsters of Drawing and Writing Matter: Larry Rivers and Frank O'Hara's Stones (1957-58)

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Collaborative work between painters and writers was a common activity among the New York School poets in the 1950s. Its popularity was a combined result of circumstance and choice. Artistic collaboration served Frank O’Hara and his New York School colleagues in their attempt to oppose a (homo)phobic Cold War culture and escape from the academic orthodoxies of New Criticism, the latter decreeing the autonomy of poetry and the harmonious integration of form and content in a signifying poetic whole. By experimenting with the interplay between poetry and other artistic genres, their collaborations with painters seriously tested the limits of the poetic and “what a poem can be” (John Ashbery).
One such experiment is poet Frank O’Hara and painter Larry Rivers’s series of lithographs Stones (1957-58). This paper will focus on how poetry as well as drawing are brought to their generic limits in these works through and around the theme of textual materialization. At the same time as O’Hara and Rivers investigate the often conflicting powers of both genres to incarnate the reality of the material world (especially the human body) in their respective media, they also playfully foreground the materiality of artistic/poetic text as so much drawing and writing blending with each other to form new monstrous shapes. This double strategy contributes to a re-inscription of poetry and drawing as sheer physical matter and means of artistic production within that world which they purport to represent in the first place. Thus, it seeks to point to the complicity of both genres in the material processes of cultural production, where reality produces art as much as art produces reality. Central to the cultural production of O’Hara and Rivers’s lithographs is a monstrously transgressive re-production of classical American images and discourses. In that perspective, I shall attempt to extend my discussion and conceptualize the two artists’ collaborative work of art and poetry within the theoretical framework of Jacques Derrida’s notion of ‘monstrosity’ in order to suggest that in its own monstrous textual materiality it metaleptically realizes a gay minority culture’s utopian vision of an alternative America.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2009
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event20th Annual ALA Conference 2009 - Westin Copley Place, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Duration: 22 May 200925 May 2009
Conference number: 20


Conference20th Annual ALA Conference 2009
LocationWestin Copley Place
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBoston, Massachusetts


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