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Jacket 16 — March 2002   |   # 16  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |    

Joe Brainard feature

Ron Padgett: About S

Photo of Joe Brainard

In mid-August of 1963, two months after our marriage, Pat and I returned to New York, where we sublet a small one-bedroom apartment on 88th Street just east of Broadway. The $90 rent was on the high side for us, but the apartment was in a quiet, well-maintained building. In early September I began my senior year at Columbia. Pat found a job as a private secretary for a realtor near Washington Square. My mother was sending me $25 a week for living expenses.
     In September or October, Joe came back from Boston, where he had been living for about a year, and moved in with us, sleeping on the living-room couch. Neither Joe nor I cooked, and at that time Pat was pretty shaky in the kitchen herself. Breakfast was coffee and, on good days, a Pop Tart. The dinner menu rotated through three or four main dishes. One standby was macaroni and cheese, the boxed variety from Kraft. We washed it down with Pepsi, and for dessert we had chocolate pudding (Royal), followed by coffee (Maxwell House). That dinner for three came to a little over one dollar. Our true basic fuel was coffee and cigarettes. Joe smoked Tareytons, whose pack, with its vertical red bars, appeared in many of his works over the next few years.

Joe Brainard image from

     While I was in class and Pat at work, Joe roamed the city, especially the art galleries, museums, and junk shops, usually alone, sometimes with Ted Berrigan. There wasn’t enough room in our apartment for him to set up a work space.
     For entertainment the three of us talked, read, listened to records (folk music, classical music, and jazz), or went to galleries or across the street to the New Yorker theater. The price of admission was, if memory serves, 65 cents before 6 p.m., $1.25 after. The wonderful programming included a lot of film noir, Busby Berkeley musicals, Preston Sturges and W. C. Fields comedies, foreign classics, and an occasional oddball festival of, say, Hammer horror films. We also watched television, but not much, on a portable black and white model.
     It was on 88th Street that Joe and I did a collaborative series of small works, which we called S. The name came from a flat metallic gold s that one of us glued onto the lid of a small pasteboard box, the kind that greeting cards come in, into which we placed the finished works. These were on pieces of card stock, typing paper, and tracing paper — drawings, words, and collaged material, much of it rather cryptic and hysterical, some of it erotic, some of it appropriating images from Dick Tracy, L’il Abner, and Nancy comic strips. Joe and I were twenty-one and goofy. Pat was a few years older and in any case far more mature, but she joined in on a few pieces. Our working method was highly collaborative; that is, Joe also added some words and I added some images. Using the limited media and materials at hand, we worked spontaneously, at a kitchen table in the living room, passing the pieces back and forth, drinking coffee, and smoking. Over four or five such sessions, we ended up with around forty pieces.
     We never showed or published S. When Joe found an apartment of his own, he left S with Pat and me. Over the years I have taken it off my bookshelf and gazed at its contents, delighting in some images, cringing at others. Joe would probably think I’m crazy for showing such juvenilia to the world.

Two of the works from S are reproduced here;
one above, and one below.

Joe Brainard, image from

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