A special issue of Tip of the Knife celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first issue
Introduction by Crag Hill
I first met Bill DiMichele in 1983 at Graphic Reproduction, located amidst the grit and grime of 6th and Mission, in San Francisco. The business served local, state, and national architects and engineers, including multinational company Bechtel, who at the time was building a power plant—or something like that—in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was a camera operator in the photo lab, toiling in the red-lit darkrooms in the basement. When Bill was hired as a salesman, I was the one tapped to bring him up to speed on the photo department’s role in the reprographic process.
Some of us in the photo department did not think very highly of the sales force—suit dudes, we called them. One, the turnover in that position was high; we were always being shadowed so that the salespeople could learn about how the products the company sold were made. Two, few of them understood—or were interested in—the photographic process. More than once I had to explain how we could not do—photography could not do—what the customers were asking us to do, but the suit dudes insisted we could and that we should do it as a rush order to boot. There was a class divide for sure.
Though Bill was surely the coolest dressed suit dude in the building—and probably South of Market—daily dashing in a mix of punk and new wave, I did not trust him at first. (Bill, I found out later, did understand the reprographic process and was interested in photography as an artist, even more so than as a salesman). But then we started talking about music (Glenn Branca, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, maybe Sonic Youth), then art (abstract expressionism, Robert Rauschenberg, Survival Research Labs, the mail art I was beginning to engage with).
We both recognized the artistic potential of the detritus of the photolab, found landscapes and mindscapes in half-developed mylar and photostats, cutup/cutoff language and image, as well as in the litter around the neighborhood and up and down nearby Market Street. We started making art of it together after a couple of weeks, collage after collage, conversation after conversation. That’s how quickly that friendship and long-time artistic collaboration ignited.
Then we started talking about poetry. I shared the publications mIEKAL aND and Liz Was were churning out through then Xerox Sutra Editions, their books always a rush of combinatory text and image, slanted, slashed, and blurred by frenetic manipulation on the xerox machine. This work struck a chord with Bill. An artist who saw more in an image than most artists, Bill was on fire, a fire that did not dim for the rest of his life.
For a dozen years, Laurie Schneider and I had the joy of working with Bill on Score, a magazine of concrete and visual poetry. We loved sitting around a table—or more likely on our knees on the floor, Bill’s preferred working posture—shuffling issues together. He knew what he liked and, rapid-fire, he could articulate why and how an individual piece fit not only in the scope of the issue we were envisioning but also how that piece interacted with—energized—other pieces we were considering. I learned from Bill how to grow an issue organically, seeing and marking connections and layering between the pieces, rather than presenting the contributions in alphabetic order according to the artist’s last name or some other arbitrary arrangement. Bill could see and hear and think like no one else I knew and always at a speed I loved to catch up to as soon as I could, even if when I did my eyes were breathless and slightly singed.
10 years ago, May 2010, Bill fired up Tip of the Knife. You can see in the entire run of 33 issues, and in this selection made by Julie DiMichele and Will DiMichele for issue 34, that Bill sought visual poetry from around the world that burned bright and dark, made up of everything under the sun, whatever is necessary to speak to/of the powers we possess that no government entity can ever seize. In this issue, found art (Sacha Archer, Mark Young, Texas Fontanella), digital writing (Jeff Crouch and Diana Magallón-Tanaga, Peter Ciccariello, Karl Kempton, Nico Vassilakis, Marco Giovenale), bookart (Marilyn Rosenberg, Dave Columbus), drawing and ink collaborations (John M. Bennett and Jim Leftwich), collage (Joel Chace, David Felix), text and collage (Mark Russell, mIEKAL aND, Laurie Schneider), collage and rubbing (Francisco Aprile), collage and spraypaint (David Chirot), collage and ink (Bruno Neiva), painting (Kathy Ernst, Trevor Pawlak, Christine Tarantino), conceptual painting (John Barry), telephone pole with staples (Paul Pacak), overwriting (Billy Cancel), font and typography design (Liz Was), mixed-media on newsprint (Martin Rajala,), photography (Leon, Lloyd Dunn), computer imaging and shadow tracing (Crag Hill), digital gesture (Bill Karmel), ink and manipulated found text (Spencer Selby), and other media I can’t describe from the images alone (bárbara mesquita, Josh Buckley, Iker Spozio), Bill and the artists whose work Tip of the Knife championed knew that to make something of art and poetry requires risk (even if/with generative accidents in the artistic process), the selflessness needed to step back from a piece when it has had enough of the artist, and, for Bill, energy energy energy, a solar system’s worth, whenever/wherever possible.
See the work now for yourself. Stare at each piece. Breathe them all in. Let them spread behind your eyes and beneath your skin even if you begin to smolder, smoke, and flare. Don’t call for or answer the sirens. Bill knew, live in the process and be the transformation. No one can ever take that away from you.