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Friday, March 7, 2014


I drove up to Green Bay yesterday (and back down) to see a retrospective exhibit of work by my old, dear friend John Rininger, who passed away in 2006.

John and I met in DeKalb in the mid-80's when I would print my zine Cehsoikoe at the Kinko's on Lucinda Avenue, where he worked.  We became fast friends, though I was always readily aware that John's mind was working on a scale much vaster than my own.  He seemed to be able to maintain a half-dozen trains of thought simultaneously, and his randomly dispensed references and quotations nearly always flew right over my head.  But in this way John's art was a mirror of his own mind.  In his art, high and low, good and evil, light and dark are each bestowed their own place without discrimination, commingling in a chaotic and confusing but ultimately beautiful scene to which John bore witness.

I've written about John on this blog before, but I thought I would share some photos and words about the exhibit.  It was held at the Lawton Gallery at UW-Green Bay, and curated by John's longtime friend and anointed archivist Stephen Perkins.

There was a nice turnout of students, plus old friends and family.

John worked mostly in xerographical media (photocopies) at first, and later used digital media to print and create his work.  His long-running series Catalyst Komics ran the gamut from "traditional" photocopied zines, to sculptures, ready-made objects, and one of a kind images such as the one above.

Students examine a collection of collaborative artists' books from the 1980's.

John's "magnum opus" was The Scroll, a 600 foot-long melange of over 1400 solvent-transferred images.

In 2001 as John was losing yet another apartment, Chicago collector Marc Fischer came upon a trove of his source materials dumped in the alleyway. (Story and more images here.)  Above: a sampling of some of these.

John was deeply involved in the underground "artistamp" scene, and his prized possession was an old-fashioned perforating machine, which he made available for public use one day per month.

Students examine several of John's artistamp pages.

One wall of the gallery was given over to John's zine-form work (he, and I, called them "mags", not zines, but you get the idea).

When NICE (Northern Illinois Copy Equipment) in DeKalb obtained a copier that could print in black plus blue, red, yellow, and brown toner, John found inspiration for this series of small-format collage zines.

A portion of The Scroll.

Curator Perkins had handcrafted rollers made to help exhibit the Scroll.

A student peruses an issue of John's collaborative zine project (with Tom Long and Gene White), Even Paranoiacs Can Have Enemies.

Some sculptural issues of Catalyst Komics included an epoxied mousetrap and a (simulated) pipe bomb.

Catalyst Komics #181

Stephen Perkins talks about John's life and work.

A portion of the Scroll.

More source material from John's personal collection.

In 1994, after an off-the-cuff suicidal joke he made to a therapist, John was forcibly institutionalized for a brief period, an experience that provided much fodder for his work.

Above three images: Some examples of Catalyst Komics zines.

At the end of the evening the scroll was ceremoniously unfurled for the audience.

In this world there are artists and there are artists.  John was the kind of artist where the line between his life and his work ran blurred, where compromise was never sought or accepted.  He was a remarkable guy, and seeing his work arrayed like this in one place was pretty emotional for me.  I'm glad I got to know him.

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  1. John was a great artist. I remember when he made the (fake) pipe bombs and I have a Catalyst Komics that has wire wrapped around a Roman coin. I also have various stamps. My favorite story about John was when he lived in an apartment in Wicker Park. Apparently no one else was living on the floor he did so he started cutting holes in the walls to use as door. Eventually he took over the whole floor. One night he was welding something and the tube connected to the tank fell off. Fire started coming out of the hole in the tank. I have no idea how he put it out but he told me it scared the hell out of him. He was a great guy. Like you, I often had no idea what he was talking about, but it was fun hanging out with him.