Anton Perich is the underground, a man whose innovative brilliance shaped the course of American art for the last quarter of the twentieth century; he who invented the electric painting machine (an early predecessor to the inkjet printer) in 1977-1978 was also the man who introduced public access television (an early predecessor to reality TV) to New York City in 1973.
Born in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Perich was in Paris from 1965-1970. He recalls, “I was associated with Lettristes from 1967 to 1970. I worked with Lemaitre and Isou, painting, writing poetry, shooting films, doing the shows. Lettrism was my school. I was educated by the two greatest artists and thinkers of that time. Of course Isou predicted the 1968 revolution and went mad. We did some performances at L’Odeon, it was occupied, Non-stop 24 hours spectacle. I spent few nights there.
“I think that the Revolution of 68, the Paris Spring is grossly misunderstood today. It was not the flesh and blood revolution, no guillotines. It was the revolution of spirit, of the young, so unique in the history of revolutions. It paved the way for other bloodless revolution in the Eastern Europe. Imagine, the Communism died the bloodless death. Tell it to Stalin, or Lenin.
“I lived my own revolution there. I became something else at 23. It is difficult to transform oneself, only fantasy and revolution will do it. And spirit. And resurrection. And the fire in Paris streets. And ‘sous les paves la plage’. The greatest slogan ever written.”
Perich moved to New York in 1970, where he became a contributing photographer to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In 1972, he had his first photography show at the Gotham Book Mart Gallery. He remembers, “At that time I was interested in many things that were coming from New York. Underground films. Pop Art. Experimental theater. Warhol’s Factory. Jonas Mekas. Julian Beck. John Cage. John Chamberlain. Minimal Art. Earth Works. All of that new, foreign to the Europeans, miraculous and fascinating. It was all so American. Paris didn’t have any of that. It had a vacuum and suffocating atmosphere. They were mourning the revolution of 68 instead celebrating it.
“In New York it was all celebration, non stop celebration of the young, creative and the free. Woodstock was a celebration. Max’s Kansas City was celebration. Punk was celebration, music, fashion and attitude. NY Dolls was celebration. Transvestites were celebration. Taylor Mead was celebration, Warhol, Factory, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Wayne County, Andrea Feldman, John Waters, John Chamberlain, John Cage. Lou Reed. Forest Myers was celebration. His SOHO wall was much better than that other wall in Berlin. And it is there forever in the full glory. Smithson and Heiser were doing God’s work, transforming the landscapes in the great vacuums of America.”
By 1973, Perich made a move that would change the course of pop culture. Two years earlier, the mass wiring of Manhattan began, and federal government regulators required that cable companies granted charters that gave them virtual monopolies should provide “public access” in addition to commercial programming. Perich understood the opportunity this afforded, and put his vision into people’s home with “Anton Perich Presents” at 11pm every Sunday night.
His show was sixty minutes of pure underground. As Newsweek reported of the first public access show productions, “All triggered viewer complaints, yet none inspired quite as much outrage as a Sunday-night tape series produced by a Yugoslavian-born filmmaker named Anton Perich. Using performers from the Andy Warhol stable, notable underground superstar Taylor Mead, Perich has filled his regular 11pm-to-midnight time slot with improvised skits featuring every form of kinky sex and barracks language. ‘Perich is corrupting the whole concept of public access,’ fumes Paul Crotty, a lawyer who has formed a vigilance group called Concerned Citizens on Public Access.”
As Perich recalls, “I saw the video camera as the most subversive weapon on the world, and you don’t take it to the gallery, you take it to the American TV. There was Cronkite there and Barbara Walters, but you replace them with Taylor Mead, Danny Fields and Susan Blond. Naked aggressive and radical, hating everything the TV had to offer until that day. I did it on Public Access in January 1973, in the prehistoric times of video.
“I realized then that the free Public Access was like youtube today. As the matter of fact, like the Internet today. No one realized that it was so powerful, radical and transformative. TV was the last stronghold of American comfort and the superficial perfection. Clean as the soap commercials. But while the soap washed clothes, the TV bleached the brains. The absolute pristine color TV meets the badly produced black and white airings, badly filmed and with bad sound, badly dressed and badly behaved stars of the underground. The Television has never seen this content before. It was the first. Yes, I broke the ice. After me came the flood. Look at the cable today. Yes we made a revolution, single handedly. It was about freedom.”
Indeed, Perich is at true revolutionary whose gift is the ability to translate experience into art. He is gifted in as many forms of media as there are, with the ability to conceptualize what does not yet exist and make it so. His archive is more than just a cultural cache, but a document of American history itself, as it is created by those whose profound connection to the underground keeps them on the cutting edge.