Richard Bruland and the Art of Bebop
By Genie Davis
Bebop Records is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a display of the shop and concert venue’s iconic posters. While live events are in the works for the future – spoken word and music – visiting the Highland Park shop Social Studies to see the poster display now is an excellent way to pay tribute to a Los Angeles classic.
“Our anniversary was July 22, 1982,” Bebop’s former co-owner and artist, Richard Bruland, relates. “So, it seemed like good timing when Katherine Ferweda, Social Studies’ owner, suggested a display.”
There are currently 200 posters in the shop’s windows, and they’ll be on display for several months. They depict not only a rich history, but serve as a stellar example of some of Bruland’s early art.
As to the history, Bruland relates that the shop ran from 1982 to 1990, a retail record store by day, an art gallery and performance space at night. It became best known for the latter, as a home to alternative bands that did not have the opportunity to play in larger clubs. It was located in the Valley, on the corner of Sherman Way and Reseda Blvd. and it became the place for Valley bands to play.
At first, the venue was run with Bruland’s business partner Rene Engel, but after three years, the business became Bruland’s for 5 years, and he established a still-missed legacy.
“It closed for two reasons. First of all, I had no entertainment license. I couldn’t have more than one entrance or exit in the store, and two were required to get a license for safety reasons. I had a tacit approval from licensing people who had come by when I only had a low attendance poetry reading going on. They approved me as long as I didn’t charge admission, but did donation only. But in 1990, someone else from the licensing department came back, and that essentially closed the store. The other reason it closed was because I am really a painter, an artist, I was before the store and I continued to be after. Bebop kept me from really pursuing that side of my life. Once I closed Bebop, I could produce the body of work that would get me a gallery, and now I am a full-time artist,” Bruland relates.
In fact, Bruland has just held his 4th solo show, Peripheries, at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Bergamot Station. Bruland also teaches acrylic painting at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
“I’m a contemporary painter. I think of my work as based in landscape or the real world, but most view me as more of an abstract artist. It is highly detailed work, so detailed that Peter Frank in one of his reviews was kind enough to point out that my work doesn’t photograph well – you can see it, but you can’t see the level of detail.” Bruland adds that “It’s all hand-done, I don’t do any computer-generated work. I use traditional instruments of paints and brushes and palette knives. People ask me how did you do this, and I reply that it’s a process that I developed that’s straightforward, involving sanding, texturing, layers of paint.”
During the Bebop years, Bruland’s posters served as an outlet for his artistry when he did not have time to paint. “It’s not the same thing as painting, but it is art making. It kept my head and my hand and my eye in the process, in the visual decision making process, which artists need to do. It was a great way to stay connected to visual decision making in a time I couldn’t do it with my own painting.”
He adds that the posters were also a “fabulous way to solve a problem with artist’s block. You look at a blank canvas and don’t know what to do. After making these posters, since I had to do it quickly for a period of years, I never suffered artist’s block again. It taught me how to make decisions visually very quickly.”
Bruland is proud of his work with posters, saying “They looked good. I put time and effort into them. As soon as I started developing how to make the posters, I knew they would be really special. I realized I could make them full color, even though there weren’t computers or color Xerox then. I took black and white original artwork and printed it on colored paper, essentially making collages with hand embellishments either hand painted or hand tinted. You might see color gradations, going from red to yellow like an air brush, but it wasn’t that. It was a simple technique using stamp pad ink and paper towels that ends up looking like air brush. Each poster became a work of art, the originals, and I saved all that I could.”
When Bebop closed, Bruland says the posters were in a box slowly deteriorating. It was important for him to have them properly archived, so he contacted California State University Northridge about housing them. The originals are presently kept there, as the Richard Bruland Bebop Records archive.
The images on display at Social Study are reprints.
“I have each poster digitized on my computer,” Bruland explains. He prints copies for bands that played at the store, and uses them to preserve the history of the venue. “There was only one color handmade poster made to sit in the window of the record store the night of each performance to let people know what was going on in the store.”
He points out some highlights for visitors to Social Studies shop windows. One is the Dada artist John Truby’s poster for his underground act “A Blind Man’s Penis.” Bruland gave him an art show at Bebop as well as booking him for a performance. His poster consisted of a rejection letter that Truby received from a publishing company rejecting his recording for them. “Visually it may be the least interesting poster, it’s just the letter, no graphics. But the story behind it is great.” Bruland also suggests visitors look for his Henry Rollins posters, but says all of those on display are unique.
“I tried to utilize bands’ images as much as possible in a way that reflected the band’s character. I adapted their images to my own purposes. Many of them collaborations with the bands – things I came up with by myself are the other half.”
Along with his eclectic artwork, Bruland was an equally eclectic booker. He would give shows to musical acts and poets based primarily on how much he liked the person who was handing him a demo tape or asking for a booking. He didn’t pair bands on his own; he instructed those he booked to bring their own opening acts if they wished, which sometimes resulted in comical and zany moments. He recalls one such story. “One of my favorite bands was one called The Victor Banana. They were so fresh and naïve and innocent in their own way. Once as an opener, they booked an act called The Afro Sisters with Vaginal Davis – an act featuring three big black transvestites who came on stage totally nude except each wearing these giant triple-X gay posters like ponchos – so everything was flopping around. I wouldn’t have stopped the show if I’d known in advance, but I would’ve taken precautions. I was afraid we’d get busted. But everyone had a great time at the show. And two weeks later, I get a letter from Vaginal Davis. She said, ‘Dear Mr. Bruland, I wanted to thank you for your hospitality…I especially want to thank you for your love for big black beautiful woman.’ I loved the letter, so I put it in a drawer; I wanted to save it. My wife walks in and sees it months later and said what is this? I had some explaining to do,” he laughs.
Social Study – and Bruland’s awesome display of poster art is located at 5028 ½ York Blvd. in Highland Park.
In August, there will be two performances (one SPOKEN WORD, one MUSICAL) celebrating Bebop’s contribution to the Valley’s cultural history in the 1980’s. Both performances will be held at a terrific 300 capacity club called the Hi Hat located right across the street from Social Study.
Sunday, August 13, 2017:
a SPOKEN WORD extravaganza that will include featured poets (TBA), some Bebop friends and favorites – and an ‘open poetry’ segment as well. Your chance to wax poetic, if the mood strikes!
Sunday, August 27, 2017:
A MUSICAL event (and fundraiser benefitting a local organization working with the homeless in this community). This show will feature some of Bebop’s all-time favorite bands and performers (TBA), and we’ll also present a couple of brand new artists that are keeping Bebop’s spirit alive and well, and undoubtedly would have been Bebop favorites if only they had been around back then.
5028 York Blvd
Los Angeles (Highland Park) 90042
5043 York Blvd
Los Angeles (Highland Park) 90042