Art Matters
With Dan Tranberg

Underground publication carries on as a quiet force


Dan Tranberg
Special to The Plain Dealer

Underground art publications are interesting barometers of just how much artistic activity goes unnoticed by the art establishment.

A case in point: Cleveland artist and poet Steven B. Smith has been publishing ArtCrimes since May 1986. The 20th issue of the publication, titled "Sea of Forgetfulness," was just issued this summer. And though the handsomely assembled collection of drawings, photographs, poems, collages and assorted ramblings is available at local bookstores, including Mac's Backs and West 25th Street Books, relatively few members of the local art scene are even aware of it.

Co-edited by Smith and area artist Beth Wolfe, the current 100-page issue includes 58 illustrations and 46 poems by 57 artists. It's dedicated to Wayne Draznin, an artist and professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art who died last year and who was especially fond of rebellious, socially minded art activities.

That's precisely the spirit of ArtCrimes. It's not about the art world. Nor is it necessarily about presenting accomplished works of art. Think of it as a sketchbook that's been passed around to dozens of different artists, each of whom offers a little taste of his or her world.

As ringleader of this creative circus, Smith brings his own quirky history into the mix.

He joined the Navy in 1963 and was kicked out in 1968 for smoking pot. He managed to get a college education out of the deal and has since worked a bizarre assortment of jobs, as an electronics technician, a prison cook, an avant-garde theater manager, a newspaper film and music critic, and a women's shoe salesman.

His own poetry suggests a cross between Dada and Jack Kerouac, wandering freely from one topic to another in a stream-of-consciousness assault on reason and order.

That's not to say that Smith is crazy. Far from it: The organization of the current issue of ArtCrimes is full of thoughtful segues, connecting disparate works through the thread of a common theme.

This is no small task. Included in the issue is an extremely diverse mix of local artists. Among them are George Fitzpatrick, Ken Nevadomi, George Kocar, Dexter Davis, Frank Green, Melissa J. Craig, Amy Bracken Sparks, Nancy Prudic, Thaddeus Root and Tim Herron.

Like many such publications, often called "zines," ArtCrimes offers a view of creative energies that most galleries would never touch. That alone makes it worth picking up.

Smith said he never plans even to recoup the cost of producing it. He spent close to $4,000 to produce 544 copies of "Sea of Forgetfulness." The first 175 copies are made with an acetate cover and include a unique 45 rpm record, a contribution by artist Jeff Chiplis. Those sell for $15. The standard version is $10.

Though it's not a money-making enterprise, ArtCrimes is the kind of project that proves that creative energies have a way of finding a place in the world, even if it's inside a humble publication known only to a few.

Tranberg is an artist and writer living in Cleveland. Art Matters is a column that runs weekly in Friday! covering the area art scene. To be considered for publication, items about shows or openings must be received three weeks in advance. Mail to Plain Dealer Art Critic, 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114. Fax 216-999-6269.

To reach Dan Tranberg:    © 2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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