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McGuire’s Liquid Liquid

Richard McGuire, artist, illustrator, animator, children’s book and comics author and graphics experimenter, was also a founding member and self-taught bassist of Liquid Liquid, a band dubbed “The Most Important NY Band You’ve Never Heard Of.”

A street artist as well, McGuire created the recurring “Ixnae Nix “avatar by applying spray-paint through a hand-made stencil, itself ripped from a newspaper sheet and surrounding this black, spectral silhouette with elliptical, hand-drawn poetics in crayon and all caps on different-sized newspaper sheets; ultimately, they were wheatpasted on the streets of lower Manhattan between July 1979 and early 1981. The prankster-like character’s name derives from the word “ixnae”––Pig Latin for “nix”––rendering his full full name a double negative; like the tag “Liquid Liquid,” it also doubles as a tautology.

Richard McGuire: Art for the Street – New York 1978-1982 at Alden Projects until November 18 “is a revelatory exhibition focusing on two strains of protean artist Richard McGuire’s early work: the Ixnae Nix street drawings and his original art created for band posters, including Liquid Liquid, the influential downtown post-punk band for which he played bass and co-founded.”

However, the work that was on view is also documented in a 144-page book published by Alden Projects, Richard McGuire: Art for the Street – New York 1978-1982. Edited by Todd Alden with a foreword by Luc Sante, this is the first monograph on the artist’s early work, including black-and-white photographs (1979) which McGuire commissioned his friend, Martha Fishkin to take alongside McGuire after periodic nights of wheatpasting in (formerly) gritty downtown New York, including St. Marks Place, Houston Street, and White Street.

Organized by Todd Alden in collaboration with Richard McGuire, the book recalls the early downtown New York artists associated with McGuire: Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Al Diaz, ESG, Bush Tetras, Konk, Alan Suicide, Y Pants, UT, Tseng Kwong Chi, John Sex, Test Pattern, and Samo Is Dead Jazz Band. This book is also printed in a deluxe hardcover edition of 100 boxed, signed, and numbered examples containing a unique painted and drawn work by Richard McGuire as well as two vintage pressed 7″ records self-published by Richard McGuire (1978 and 1980). To purchase the soft cover or deluxe hardcover edition, please email books@aldenprojects.com.

I asked McGuire, a valued friend, to tell us more about his life, art and period he inhabited.

Richard McGuire, 1980. Photo by Julie Wilson.

The Alden Projects exhibition and book is a record of posters you did when your band Liquid Liquid was playing gigs. The posters are a precursor to your work as illustrator and author. What makes them unique in terms of the work you’ve been doing since? The exhibition consists of the posters I designed for my band but also of the “street art” I was making at the same time. A few days after I arrived in NYC (moving from NJ in July 1979) I started pasting up original drawings on the street. I was in my early 20’s when I was making these stencil-drawings with spray paint and crayon. They featured an alter ego character named Ixnae Nix. Even though I was creating these drawings and the band posters at the same time and often pasting these up on the same night stylistically the two things were very different.

The posters were designed for walls, but you had a strategy for posting. Can you explain that? The band posters were usually printed in editions of a hundred or so. I usually wheat pasted them up in the neighborhoods I frequented: the East Village, SoHo, Tribeca. Thats were all the clubs and galleries were. I had a system for making the stencil-drawings, they were always in an edition of two, one for the street, and one for me to keep for my archives. Thank god I had the foresight to have them photographed in the street the following day after a night of pasting them up. They would soon be covered up by other posters in the course of the next 24 to 48 hours. The gallery produced a portfolio of these photos taken in ’79. It’s great to see them hanging next to the drawings I saved.

Photos by Martha Fishkin, 1971.

How do you feel about looking back retrospectively at such “young” work? All this work is pre-digital, I’m showing the mechanicals that the posters were printed from. Many are collages with hand drawn type, sometimes I’m using Letraset (rub-on) type which I don’t think exists anymore. Some of the posters are printed with silkscreen, others were are printed offset, I was unsatisfied with the result of xerox machines, I could never get a strong black. I found an offset printer in Chinatown that was inexpensive and could print small runs. What hits me the most when seeing this work again is the energy behind the mission I was on. I haven’t seen this work in years and never all together. It’s coming up on forty years ago that I came to NYC, I arrived on July 3, 1979, and two days after I arrived I started pasting these drawings up in the streets. The band played it’s first show at CBGB a month later on August 2nd. I was playing shows steadily with the band and also showing work in exhibitions that were mostly in clubs and alternative spaces around the downtown scene. I became friends with both Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat and showed with them in group shows. I think the work holds up.

What’s next for you? I have a few ideas for projects that have been brewing for a while. I have another exhibition up right now at the Aldrich Museum in Connecticut, that will be up until January 2019. It’s a collection of small sculptures I made over the previous year along with a six page “visual essay” that was made for the catalog. I would love to make another book, another film, maybe even record some music, there is always something that needs to be done.

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