Bruce Conner

(1933 - 2008)

About The Artist


Avant-garde artist Bruce Conner thrived in myriad media and styles befitting the San Francisco Beat milieu with which he was associated: assemblage, found objects, collage, conceptual art, sculpture, photography, and film. His work in film and video earned him the title “father of the music video” and he is often credited as being a precursor of the MTV generation. In the 1970s, he was a fixture at Mabuhay Gardens, a supper club turned underground punk haven, where he chronicled the San Francisco punk scene. An aura of mystery surrounds Conner’s work. His roving aesthetic was difficult to pin down, and though he had a great output of work, he stayed mostly out of the public eye and did not participate in the typical rigors of the art world’s gallery and museum systems. 

Born in McPherson, Kansas in 1933, young Bruce grew up with an interest in art—in the first few years of grade school, he was often invited by teachers to cover the classroom blackboard with his drawings, and fellow students asked him to teach them how to draw. In high school, he thumbed through library books with images of works by Picasso and Modigliani. After attending university in Wichita and Nebraska, Conner received a scholarship to attend the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Using the detritus he found in the city streets, he began to dabble and experiment with assemblage art made from broken windows and rags.

In 1957, Conner moved to San Francisco as an alternative to New York, which did not suit him. Living in the Haight-Ashbury district, he worked on collages, assemblage, sculpture, and films, and met artists that would also be recognized as part of the alternative Beat generation, befriending George Herms, Jay DeFeo, Wallace Berman, and poet Michael McClure. Many of his assemblage works are vexing and resist decoding. RATBASTARD (1958) includes a sliced-up painting, steel wire, and images of a cadaver and a medieval torture scene. As a final touch, the entirety of the piece is swathed in nylon. Conner also created intricate drawings using felt tip pens that were inspired by tarot cards, mandalas, alchemy, witchcraft, and altered perceptions.

Throughout his career, Connor created highly experimental films, often cutting found footage together to create a new work. One of his best-known films, Crossroads (1976), is comprised of 37-minutes of spliced-together footage of the 1946 nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands in the Asia-Pacific region. The plumes of smoke and explosive phenomena are visually stunning, but due to the violent subject matter, also disturbing. Presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013 and in newly transferred digital form at Kohn Gallery in 2014, the piece continues to remain relevant.

In 2000, the Walker Art Center organized the exhibition 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II in efforts to elucidate upon the elusive artist’s oeuvre. Considered an under-recognized artist that has yet to receive his due, he is considered by many in the art world to be as influential and innovative as Robert Rauschenberg or Andy Warhol. Conner’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.


Johnson, Ken. “Bruce Conner, San Francisco Artist With 1950s Beat Roots, Dies at 74.” The New York Times 9 July 2008. Web. 10 Nov 2014.
“Bruce Conner.” Collections. Walker Art Center. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“Oral history interview with Bruce Conner, 1973 Apr. 16.” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.