Art Papers  

more from the
Nov/Dec 2013 issue:

Letter from
the Guest Editor

Dushko Petrovich

Inside the Box
by Gwen Allen

Beyond the Scene & Herd Effect
by Sarah Hromack

In Praise of a Newsstand

Text / Steve Locke

Growing up in Detroit had its benefits, to be certain. I used to skip school and go to the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) on Woodward Avenue. When I was a kid, there were always school tours at the museum, so a young person wandering about the galleries was not unusual; I attracted no attention. Museum bookstores were not the mini-malls they were eventually to become. You could buy reproductions or catalogs, but not much else. The picture books in the museum store were very expensive things that couldn't be touched because I couldn't afford them.

That neighborhood has changed a great deal, but back in the 70s, there was a bookstore right across the street from the museum. It was a real treat on leaving the DIA, mostly because it housed an enormous newsstand, the front of which had a long wooden counter with rows of different magazines and newspapers from all over the world. There were little labels to indicate sections like "News" or "Ladies" or "Sports," and there were stacks of periodicals from other countries in the "Foreign" section. The lurid, oversaturated color (from four-color printing, offset printers, lithography, and stat cameras) made it hard to assimilate what I was seeing. I would just stare, overwhelmed. With its countless unruly hues, a newsstand in those days was a raging democracy of typefaces, colors, and photographs.

An old man worked behind the counter, framed by two wooden columns that had a variety of magazines attached to them (he was old to me but, looking back on it, he was probably 40). I remember him in a white shirt and suspenders as he stood in the middle on a raised platform next to the cash register. He'd occasionally talk to one of the many men at the newsstand, folding up the gray newspapers and carrying them under their arms (there was no color photography in newspapers at the time). I recollect him being bracketed by all of these magazine covers, a moving head in a frame surrounded by framed images of heads. There was a "No Browsing" sign next to his head that everyone ignored and that, in my experience, he never enforced.

Steve Locke, Untitled, 2013, collage on paper, 9 x 10 inches
(courtesy of the artist)

That newsstand is where I saw the first GQ magazine that had a black American man on the cover, Renauld White. I remember thinking how gorgeous he was—seeing his face among all the other faces was amazing to me. I really remember GQ, I think, because my mom had a boyfriend (my father was long dead) who was a bit of a dandy. He would read GQ, and I remember seeing a copy of it on the sofa. Aside from Jet and Ebony, we didn't have many other magazines in our house.

Of course, in hindsight, the other reason I remember GQ so well was that it was filled with images of men that were designed to be looked at—beautiful men in beautiful clothes. That world was so unlike my day-to-day experience that I started cutting out pictures from the magazine. That activity would later become a part of my artistic practice, but I didn't know it then; at the time I think I was just looking for clues about what it meant to be a man.

I would buy all kinds of magazines at that newsstand. It felt important for me to have them. These were images I could afford, unlike those in the museum bookstore. The magazines I grew up reading— consuming, really—were like messengers from another world. And I could take them home with me.

Seeing all of these magazines with all of their varied and powerful visual styles excited me. I loved the way the French magazines would just show pages of photo essays with no text, and how the German magazines had amazing designs with text and shaping of letterforms. I noticed how some would never print text on top of a photograph. I was not an "artist" at that point. I wasn't thinking about the elements and principles of design or anything of the sort. It was a pure love of image, of color, of the portraiture that magazines afforded me.

The man at the newsstand was quizzical when I put a copy of Paris Match on the counter. I told him I needed it for my French class. I did speak French (a lot of Detroiters do), but in truth I was buying it because Bjorn Borg was on the cover.

Cover of Paris Match, July 1978

That newsstand was also where I saw my first gay porn magazine. It took me a while to notice magazines on the side counters, out of the view of the guy in suspenders, but one day I walked around and saw all of the adult titles. I knew about Playboy because James Brown had been on Playboy After Dark, and that was a pretty big deal among folks in my neighborhood—so Playboy was known to me. Older kids had brought Penthouse to school, so that was familiar as well. And there they were, on the shelves in the open, not hidden at all. They weren't even wrapped in plastic. There were men looking at them. But what was truly astonishing to me was that there were magazines with men on the cover in this section. They were shamelessly placed on the shelf with the other adult magazines with titles like Blueboy, Mandate, and Honcho. I was too terrified to even touch them, but I would stare at the covers while I was pretending to look at whatever glossy mainstream title I was holding in my sweaty hands.

It took me a long time to process what I had seen. It wasn't just the erotic thrill of looking at the covers of these magazines—though that was there for certain. I kept thinking about them as magazines, thinking specifically about their production, because it was evidence that I was not as alone as I had originally thought. I figured, well, someone has to own these magazines. And someone has to write for them, and take the pictures, and hire the models, and get the ads, and do the layout. And these people are all doing this to make a magazine for men to look at other men. It was like a message from another world, a confirmation of something that I had only hoped was real. Like an astronomer searching for life on another planet, I thought, "This must mean that there are others out there!" I thought I was the only one. There were others out there. And they had printing presses.

left to right: Steve Locke, Untitled, 2002, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches; Steve Locke, Untitled, 2002, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches
(images courtesy of the artist)

Later I found out about magazines such as After Dark and Christopher Street, and because of them I discovered Interview.

Interview was truly a revelation. It had all of the lurid color on its cover and the photographic sensibility of the French magazines I loved. Its use of type was all over the place, sometimes formal like the other magazines and sometimes like a ransom note. As far as I could tell, the interviews weren't edited and all sorts of people conducted them. For instance, Harry Dean Stanton interviewed Madonna. Some of the interviews were by and about artists who were not in the DIA. Where I was consuming mainly magazine images before, with Interview I began to consume the content of the texts as well.

Interview opened a whole world of creative people to me. I would look up everything I could about the people in the magazine, and this led me to other magazines. (It was because of Interview that I learned about the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. But that is another tale.) I went to see all sorts of movies because I had read about them. Most importantly, I learned that there were artists who were alive and working now. I started to seek them out in the only way that was available to me. I couldn't go to New York, but every month, a part of New York came to me.

Before Interview, I hadn't really read art magazines. For some reason, I never really thought about art and magazines together. I guess the "art" was in the DIA and the magazines were across the street, in the newsstand. My mom got me a subscription to American Artist for my birthday when I turned 12, I think. I looked at it purely for technical information, as my goal at the time was to be like Norman Rockwell (I still love him). So when I saw art magazines later on, I figured they were for instruction. After I found Interview, that changed. The flood of magazines really started to take over my bedroom, and when I went to college they filled up my dorm room as well.

I remember Arts magazine specifically because it was expensive and had a lot of color, and because it was so heavy. I also really loved Modern Painters for the same reason, and because it was where I learned about David Sylvester. There was another British magazine called Contemporary Visual Arts that I remember had an awesome cover photo of Tracey Emin under one of her quilts. That stayed on my dorm wall for a year. There was ARTnews, where I read about people in the art world and about "deals," which were big news in the 80s. There was the New Art Examiner, out of Chicago, which was really important because it covered the Midwest and occasionally there would be something I could actually go and see. Aperture was another find. I didn't understand photography as anything other than documentation until I saw that magazine. Seeing Helmut Newton photos in an art context and then in a fashion context in a magazine like Vogue was powerful. I began to think critically about representation and started understanding photography as an art form beyond the photos of Annie Leibovitz and Norman Seeff in Rolling Stone. The features, reviews, and even the ads in Art in America and Artforum introduced me to artists such as Ida Applebroog and Bill Bollinger and Lester Johnson and many others who became deeply important to me.

Steve Locke, Untitled, 2002, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches
(courtesy of the artist)

Magazines showed work that I had never seen before, and they were really the only way I would see contemporary art. These little reproductions were messages from beyond Detroit: that there were artists working in the world, and that their work was available to me. I still remember the anticipation I would have in my gut when new art magazines would arrive at the newsstand.

In the later 80s, as I began to work as an artist, I started cutting out pictures again and keeping image files in plain folders with titles like "Men in three-piece suits" or "Handshakes" or "Looking over a shoulder." I would end up with many images on these themes and would go back to them to help me understand what I was looking for in these pictures. Sometimes it was the gesture of the body, or maybe an expression or even the style of the clothing, but it was a process of looking at a lot of images before I knew what I wanted or, in some cases, what I didn't want. Before, the images helped me dream about other places, other lives, other possibilities, but as I began to work on becoming an artist the images were indications, clues even, for what I wanted to do. Using them as source material for my drawings and paintings helped me connect what I wanted in my personal and artistic lives.

Decades later, I realize I have a different relationship to images, to magazines in general, and to art magazines in particular, than my students do. I talk to them about collecting images and they have a strange (to me) way of doing this. With Pinterest and Tumblr, it's easy for them to acquire images. All they have to do is google "drunk guy on bench" and the searching and sorting is done instantly for them. They are a mouse click away from having a nearly infinite visual inventory. They don't have to do the haptic work of scouring though all kinds of different images until they find one that suits. I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing. I just know it's different from my experience. Making files and sorting images in my studio was a big part of my practice. Of course, nowadays those source images live on, not in a shoe box or manila folder, but on my computer. The garish printed color of magazines has been supplanted by the light of the screen. When I see my students trying to look at a computer or an inkjet print and make a painting, I think of myself at their age with cut-up pictures from Blueboy and GQ. So much of that digital toolbox, the palette, and the idea of "cutting and pasting" images comes directly from the culture of hands-on publishing of magazines.

So I get annoyed when I hear about the "death of print." I take it personally because, in many ways, I exist as an artist and as a thinker because of print. Because of the ubiquity of images disseminated through print, I was able to access things that never made their way to my area of the country in any other form. Magazines provided a nexus for me, a site for crossing. When I was younger, so much of my exposure to the world came from them. It's hard to imagine nowĐin this interconnected, overconnected world—that one could wait by a mailbox for a magazine, but I did just that. What started out as my love for the images grew to an understanding of what the pictures carried. They were evidence of different kinds of people, and of places where being different was more than accepted—it was embraced. I had no idea how to get to those places, or how to reach those people, but I knew I belonged there, with them.

Steve Locke was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He makes paintings, drawings, books, mail art, and installations. His work has been shown at The Boston Center For the Arts, The Artists Foundation, and Sams┐n in Boston; The Danforth Museum in Framingham, Massachusetts; Aramona Studios in New York and Gallery Peopeo in Beijing. China. He has been awarded grants from the LEF Foundation and the Art Matters Foundation. His solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, titled there is no one left to blame, is currently on view and will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit in 2014. He is Associate Professor of Art Education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and writes the blog, He is the proud product of a Jesuit education.

Retrospective | Special Events | Donate | Subscribe
Editorial | Contact | Advertising | About ART PAPERS

© 2013 ART PAPERS, Inc.