Echo Park artist creates works inspired by famed LA poet Charles Bukowski, and an old piano

Artist Euan Macdonald stands in front of his film, which is half of his 'Kimball 1901' exhibition.
Artist Euan Macdonald stands in front of his film, which is half of his 'Kimball 1901' exhibition. Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Charles Bukowski has been an inspiration to many writers. Now the hard-drinking LA writer and a 100-year-old piano have sparked a clever work by Echo Park artist Euan MacDonald. It’s part of the collection at the Pitzer Art Galleries in Claremont.

The main hall at Pitzer College’s Nichols Gallery is dark and vacant except for a row of orange chairs lined up against one wall. On the opposite wall, Euan (pronounced YOU-in) MacDonald projects a film of a large piano that’s also sitting in an empty room. Ghostly piano chords and street sounds filter in from unseen windows.

“It’s an old antique piano that was bought in the Depression, an upright grand piano,” says MacDonald. “It was a location in Los Angeles and it was covered in all these old books.”

Dusty stacks of old hardcover books gradually, mysteriously fill the space covering the keyboard, the piano stool and the floor.

“I just recreated the accumulation of all these books,” he says. “This particular video compresses a time period as the books get all piled up through this stop animation, and the audio is done in the same way. The sound is all recorded in the location. It’s just accumulation of all these audio events that take place in the neighborhood.”

The film is accompanied by five anagram poems as part of MacDonald's exhibiton called "Kimball 1901." The poems are printed on large sheets of paper and they’re displayed above the screening area along a narrow catwalk. Each blood orange letter of the silkscreened anagram — in showy “Broadway” font — is plucked from the title of the Bukowski book “Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until Your Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit.”

“I just rearranged all the letters in that title to create other anagrams of that title. It has to do with text and the arrangement of these books,” says MacDonald. “If you look closely, the titles of the books play off each other ’cause they are in stacks. The re-arrangement of the letters on the prints are a similar play on words.”

Sue Hodson is curator of literary papers at the Huntington Library. She’s overseeing the library’s recent acquisition of Bukowski manuscripts and artwork donated by the writer’s widow. Hodson stopped by the Nichols Gallery to check out the installation before it headed off for San Francisco.

“Each one of these separate anagrams from the Bukowski book title, each one is a freestanding poem,” she says. “They’re kind of freeform but their poetry. It’s taking ideas and playing with them and re-arranging them. And it’s a gorgeous piano and then you see it being covered, music and written knowledge merging. The combinations, the permutations, are endless.”

Macdonald’s Bukowski-inspired anagram poem silkscreens are on display at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco starting this weekend. But you don’t have to go there to see them. The anagram poems are now part of the Pitzer Art Galleries’ permanent collection.

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