Nearly 50 years ago, Gary Lee-Nova sent a pair of two-sided silkscreen prints to Marshall McLuhan. He had seen McLuhan’s copy of Finnegans Wake with handwritten comments on a subject Joyce had treated: “the electrification of the entire world.” He says his print drawing “was a crude, almost rude emulation of the comments.” If the result is any measure, I beg to differ. There’s nothing crude about either side of the finished silkscreen, front or back. (Click the images to enlarge them for a close inspection.)“I never heard directly from Marshall about the gift,” Lee-Nova says. “And I didn’t expect to hear from him about it. But I did figure that an indirect contact might be possible.” Later in the 1970s a friend traveling across Canada to meet interesting and important Canadians visited McLuhan at the University of Toronto and discovered one of the prints hanging in McLuhan’s office. “He told me it was the only work of art on the wall in the entire room,” Lee-Nova recalls. The other print turns out to have been displayed at McLuhan’s Monday night seminar (outlined in red in the photo at left; click to enlarge.)
Lee-Nova’s “Small Electrical Storm” was produced in a numbered edition of 52 prints and 26 proofs. The front was printed positive but with the image content reversed, as if seen in a mirror (except for the title and signature). The back was printed in photo negative but without the mirror image reversal of the content (except for the title and signature, which are mirror images).
Besides McLuhan and his students few people have seen the piece. It was originally included in a portfolio of alphabet prints by a handful of Canadian artists in Vancouver. The portfolio, never exhibited until recently, is currently on exhibit in The Netherlands. Lee-Nova adds:
During the 1970s, I had a lengthy and fascinating correspondence with Richard Aaron, of AM HERE BOOKS.
At one point, Richard was so generous to me with William S. Burroughs publications, I sent him a copy of “Small Electrical Storm In Element County” contained in a frame I made out of yardsticks. That frame allowed display of both sides of the print. The frame had legs on it so that it could stand straight up and showed both sides of the same print, through glass, of course. I’d seen Oriental presentations that used this concept of a two-sided free-standing frame.
Postscript: My staff of thousands has alerted me to The Alphabet Book, which includes silkscreen alphabet prints created by Lee-Nova, Eric Metcalfe, and Paul Oberst. The book grew out of a 2014 Kunstverein|Amsterdam retrospective show focused on Image Bank, the Vancouver-based artist network founded by Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov.