Joe Brainard (1942-1994) was an American artist and writer associated with the New York School. His prodigious and innovative body of work included assemblages, collages, drawing, and painting, as well as designs for book and album covers, theatrical sets and costumes. In particular, Brainard broke new ground in using comics as a poetic medium in his collaborations with other New York School poets. He is best known for his memoir I Remember of which Paul Auster said: “It is…one of the few totally original books I have ever read.”
Joe Brainard was born in 1942 in Salem, Arkansas and spent his childhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the brother of painter John Brainard. Brainard became friends with Ron Padgett, Dick Gallup and Ted Berrigan during high school while working on the literary magazine The White Dove Review. He joined them in New York City around 1961, after leaving the Dayton Art Institute. 
By 1964, Brainard had already had his first solo exhibition and was ensconced in a circle of friends that included Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Alex Katz, Edwin Denby, Larry Rivers, Fairfield Porter, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, Virgil Thompson, John Ashbery, among many others. He also began a relationship with Kenward Elmslie which lasted much of his life, despite having other lovers. He found much success as an artist until he removed himself from the artworld in the early 1980s.
Brainard died of AIDS-induced pneumonia in 1994.
Brainard began his career during the early Pop Art era, and while his work has a certain affinity with Pop Art, it does not fit the definition of the genre:
Brainard knew and admired Warhol . . . but he was never a Pop artist in the strict sense. Warhol and Lichtenstein maintained an ironic distance from their subject matter. Brainard's relationship to the material world of popular culture was one of affection or amusement or both. Moreover, he was too protean to be stuck with Pop or any other label. In what now would be considered Postmodern fashion, he drew his materials and images from everywhere.The inimitability of Brainard's work is located partly in its resistance to categorization, in its breadth, and in its rapport with and awe of the quotidian:
Joe Brainard is one of those unclassifiable artists . . . who do several things well. In his case this resulted not in separate compartments but a unified whole . . . . The same qualities shine forth in all that he produced: clarity, bold simplicity, accuracy of execution and feeling, humor, casual elegance, a charm that invites his audience in rather than keeping them at arm's length, and something grander but determinedly low key and offhand, a sense of the ordinary as sacramental.Particularly in this collages, drawings and small works on paper, Brainard transformed the everyday into something revelatory:
[Brainard] seems to have been drawn to forms of containment, in which the unruly or rupturing experiences of life are brought into the kind of reductive clarity that we often associate with classical modalities . . . . Not surprisingly, along with this gift for distillation, Brainard had an uncanny eye for essential, revelatory detail; these contribute to the vivid immediacy and spontaneity of his work. In essence, such specific distillations can be understood as a form of abstraction, not the abstraction we affiliate with non-representational art, but something perhaps closer to the poetics we have come to associate with the New York School of poetry: an "aesthetics of attention" as critic Marjorie Perloff has said about its most important avatar, Frank O'Hara . . . . Distillation, specificity, and a keen sense of intimate scale allowed Brainard to locate the extraordinary in the ordinary and, curiously, something like the reverse; he could, with Nancy's help, make the extraordinary seem ordinary.
Joe Brainard’s I Remember radically departs from the conventions of the traditional memoir. It is neither chronological nor thematic; rather, each sentence begins “I remember…” and is followed by a single memory delivered with uniform weight and declaration. His deft juxtapositions of the banal with the revelatory, the very particular with the seemingly universal accumulate into a complex portrait of his childhood in the 40s and 50s in Oklahoma as well as his life as an artist and gay man in the 60s and 70s in New York City.
I Remember has inspired many homages, none more notable than OuLiPian Georges Perec’s Je me souviens which was dedicated to Brainard. Poet Kenneth Koch was the first to utilize “I remember…” in the classroom as a prompt in teaching children to write poetry. The simplicity of the form has had great appeal to both writers and teachers, and most who use it are unaware of its origins.
|2008||The Nancys, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York|
The Nancys, Colby College, Waterville, ME
|2007||The Erotic Work, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York|
Joe Brainard: People of the World: Relax!UBA Art Galleries, Buffalo, NY
"If Nancy Was...", Fischbach Gallery, NY
|2005||35 Pictures and Some Words, Brazos Project, Houston, TX|
|2004||Selected Work, Tbor de Nagy Gallery, New York|
|2001||Joe Brainard: A Retrospective, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; traveled to Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, CO; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, University of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV|
Selected Work, Tibor de Nagy, New York
|1997||A Retrospective, Tibor de Nagy, New York|
|1987||SMandeville Gallery, University of California, San Diego, CA|
|1980||Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA|
|1978||Joe Brainard: Fête d’Hiver, Root Art Center, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY|
|1976||FIAC, Paris, France|
Coventry Gallery, Paddington, Australia
Suzette Schochett Gallery, Newport, RI
E.G. Gallery, Kansas City, KS
Vick Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
|1975||Fischbach Gallery, New York; also 1974, 1972 and 1971|
|1973||102 Works on Paper, 1966-1972, Utah Museum of FIne Arts, Salt Lake City, UT|
|1972||New York Cultural Center, New York|
School of Visual Arts, New York
|1971||Gotham Book Mart and Gallery, New York; also 1968|
|1970||Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, IL|
|1969||Landau-Alan Gallery, New York; also 1967|
|1968||Jerold-Morris Gallery, Toronto, Canada|
|1965||The Alan Gallery, New York|
Selected Collections include Berkeley Art Museum, Chase Manhattan Bank, Baron Guy de Rothschild, Fogg Museum, Harvard; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum, Time-Life, Inc,. Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.