Bob Branaman


“Smoking cigarettes / and watching Captain Kangaroo / that fabled damned of nations / prophecy come true . . .” What to do in 1966, the year that Allen Ginsberg wrote this line, in his poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” while watching neighbors and classmates drafted and wrenched into a senseless and ceaseless war, when there was nothing left to do? Collaging musings and snippets of radio on a tape recorder while traveling westward, the remainder of the poet’s vortex swayed away from Kansas toward the Bay area, with writers Michael McClure and Charles Plymell and artists Bruce Conner and Robert “Bob” Branaman among them.

Branaman cultivated a style of arranging words and images on film, canvas, and paper, and collaborated with William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg, among many others, though without reaching their level of renown. His early exhibitions at San Francisco’s legendary artist-run Batman Art Gallery and work with the Rat Bastard Protective Association uniquely positioned him to be both contributor to and chronicler of Beat history.

The works on view here span the 1960s to the 1990s and include a library of collaged journals and printed matter—the tie-dye-covered Young Stuff, 1998, made thick with taped photographs of his wives, friends, and hastily photocopied pinups or fliers—all protected by a handcrafted, ornately beaded aura duster. There are also found-object collages, displays delicately constructed out of bottle caps, shredded dollar bills, and angelic dolls powdered a ghoulish white. The gallery’s back room is a re-creation of his garage studio, showing paintings at various stages of completion, one of which was featured in early scenes of Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991), among exquisite porcelain masks and found photographs. A practitioner of Qigong and the Arica system of meditation, Branaman left the psychedelic tendencies of the ’60s far behind, but their spiritual promiscuity still germinates here.


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