Articles and Exerpts- ART CRITIC THOMAS ALBRIGHT WRITES ON FEBRUARY 1982 AFTER SATTY'S DEATH . . . EXCERPT OF SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - 70'S - BOOK REVIEWS ... EXCERPTS FROM REVIEW - AUGUST 1984 - BY KATE REGAN - SATTY:FEVER DREAMS OF THE CITY'S HISTORY
ART CRITIC THOMAS ALBRIGHT WRITES ON FEBRUARY 1982 AFTER SATTY'S DEATH . . .
Another Ghost of the 60's is gone
by Thomas Albright -Art critic- The San Francisco Chronicle
It was later than the phone usually rings on Sunday night, and the voice at the other end was edged in black.
It was Mark Green, the photographer and unofficial archivist of beatnik North Beach, who keeps accounts of the lives of its survivors like a scoutmaster watching over his troop on an overnight hike.
"I think Satty's dead," he said.
"A friend was walking by his place this morning and saw a body being carry out the door."
It has not been easy to check on Satty's whereabouts in recent months. One of the better known poster artists when the psychedelic era was in full flower in the 60's. Satty was as much a part of the scene as Dr. Hip or the Grateful Dead. For a few years, his life had been one long summer of love. He staged huge parties where socialites and hippies mingled, in a subterranean basement of the pre-earth quake building where he lived on Powell Street. He had converted the basement into a surreal environment that resembled a cross between Mrs. Havisham's parlor in "great Expectations" and something out of Luna Park. Arnold Newman photographed him in his underground sanctum for a spread on the San Francisco scene that was published in Look magazine.
But a year or so ago, friends said, the miseries hit. Satty retreated for days at a time to a crow's nest in the attic reached only by a rickety ladder where he holed up without answering the phone. He was in and out of hospitals and dry-out clinics. A coroner's deputy confirmed that a body picked up earlier that afternoon had been identified as Wilfred Podreich. This was Satty's real name. Death was caused, the deputy said, through "a fall from a ladder while inebriated."
Satty, (spelled with an umlaut over the a) was born 42 years ago in Bremen, Germany. He used to talk about the war-torn city where he grew up as "a big surrealistic playground." He was schooled in architecture, engineering and design, and spent some time working in Brasilia before he settled in San Francisco in the early 60's. It was the threshold of the psychedelic era, and Satty soon began making posters, developing an extraordinary collage technique that brought together both the technological and surreal sides of his background.
Satty gathered up old lamps, misshapen easy chairs, mannequins and dolls from trash bins in Pacific Heights and installed them in a basement hollowed into the mud under and old frame building near Fisherman's Wharf. The basement was divided into a warren of variously weird compartments like the different rooms in Hesse's Magic Theater. The building had almost as many levels, and ladders, as a Hopi Indian pueblo, a ladder from the second floor to the attic; another that afforded the only access to the basement; a third that led from the basement to a musty, windowless chamber on a kind of mezzanine that was like a movie set-version of an alchemist's library, lined with ancient books and presided over by a human skull. Here, Satty kept an incense and constantly expanding "image bank", snippets cut from old engravings, the photographs of contemporary news magazines and every other conceivable source. Sequested like a medieval copyist in his cell, working with the meticulous perfectionism of a Dutch diamond cutter and the obsessiveness of a paranoiac possessed by an "idee fixe", Satty combined and recombined these fragments into often magical collages where it was impossible to tell where reality ended and fantasy began.
The wine and roses - and grass and hash and coke - continued into the late 70's. There were four published books of Satty's work: "Cosmic Bicycle," "Time Zone," "The annotated Dracula," "the Illustrated Poe." There were free-lance assignments for Rolling Stone, the New York Times and Washington Post, and bits on French and German television.
Four or five years ago, Satty tore into a new project, a series of collages based on early San Francisco history. He went at it with an unwonted single-mindedness, working for days and nights at a time, and then burning out for equally long periods in the womblike aerie in his attic. His celebrity began to slip into the shadowy forgetfulness that engulfs the reputations of so many contemporary personalities who fail to keep their names continually before the public. His wife, a beautiful sylphlike woman who had wandered down from Sacred Heart Convent in Pacific Heights seven years earlier to check out the action in North Beach and had decided to stay, left late last year. Then, friend said, creditors began lining up at the door, and Satty started to drink. He was imperious, yet as passive and vulnerable as a small child. There was a similarly schizoid quality to his art. He was fascinated by the grotesque and bizarre, but he was also disheartened by the bland impersonality that he saw overtaking the lifestyles of the 70's, and there was another side of his art that sought to reflect a primeval kind of innocence, to reconstruct a futuristic Garden of Eden. Acquaintances said Satty had been miserable during the last year. He had planned to make a book of his early San Francisco collages, which had grown to more than 300 pieces, but he never finished the project. He broke his foot in a car accident, and his pelvis in another fall some month ago from the same ladder that he was found dead beneath last Sunday. Not long ago, he had dried out for a month in a Marin County detox center, and in recent weeks had seemed slowly and painfully to have been pulling his act together again. Friends tried to talk Satty into moving out of his North Beach sanctum, with its basement filled with hippie ghosts and echoes of vintage Grateful Dead. He didn't want to leave. As long as he stayed inside its walls, it was still 1967, and Satty could never quite square the fantasy world he had created then with the reality of the 1980's. When Satty died last Sunday, another bit of the 60's faded away and so did a little more of that decade's utopian idealistic vision. Funeral services are pending.
EXCERPT OF ART news MAGAZINE - MAY 1982 - BY THOMAS ALBRIGHT
As an artist, Satty occupied a curious kind of no man's-land in the San Francisco art world. He wanted to create a "visual language" that would be an alternative to the impersonal imagery of the mass media, a language in which the imagination was liberated to discover and explore. His sense of social mission led him to favor techniques of mechanical mass reproduction his collages were generally conceived not as unique, original pieces, but as prototypes for photographic reproduction; this did not sit well with an Art Establishment that tended to frown on such concessions to populism. On the other hand, although he was accepted as a peer by the poster artists among whom he worked designing advertisements for rock concerts, Satty's mode of expression was only remotely related to the upbeat, exuberant style of psychedelic art. His work evidenced its Germanic roots with a more somber, dreamlike realm of utopian, surrealist fantasy spiced by disarming accents of the bizarre and grotesque. Generally excluded from the museum and gallery world, Satty had by the early 70's largely turned away from making posters, adopting the published book as his principle vehicle.
EXCERPT OF SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - 70'S - BOOK REVIEWS
The German-born artist Wilfried Satty, who has resided in San Francisco since 1965, has contributed 80 stunning black and white illustrations to "The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe," the most profusely illustrated edition of Poe's works available. Satty personally selected 12 stories and two poems, choosing works he felt have the most unusual visual impact and that demonstrate the wide range of Poe's genius. Poe's writing ran the gamut from poetry to short stories and essays, "every form except the extended epic poem or ambitious novel to which most writers, both the America and Europe, were then turning their attention," writes Chronicle art critic Thomas Albright, who provided the introduction. Buy, he continues, "the sense of horror that pervades much of Poe's writings cannot, of course, be denied, fear forms one of the most universal realms of human experience, and no artist was more skillful than Poe at eliciting it." Examples of his nightmarish visions are depicted by Satty on the cover of This World ("The fall of the House of Usher") and on this page ("The murders in the Rue Morgue").
EXCERPTS FROM REVIEW - AUGUST 1984 - BY KATE REGAN - SATTY: FEVER DREAMS OF THE CITY'S HISTORY
The fantastic visions of Wilfred Satty conjure up a San Francisco so vivid, so hauntingly surreal and compelling that they may transform forever our understanding of the city San Francisco's history -turbulent, raucous and always dramatic- has swept artists and writers since the earliest days, but surely no one has evoked the exuberance, squalor and bewildering diversity of the 19th-century San Francisco life more richly than Satty in this collages. More than 100 of them have been chosen for display in the California Historical Society's sumptuous 19th-century mansion of Jackson Street and they are accompanied by lively quotes from "Annals of San Francisco," the city's first history and other contemporary records that inspired Satty to create a visual history as dramatic as the writings.
Drawings from his enormous collection of 19th-century illustrations, and using his knowledge of overprinting, collage, overlays, paints and offset lithography, Satty superimposed and juxtaposed images to create layered compositions of such wildness, density and subtle detail that they speak more tellingly than any static visual records of the time could do. His transformations of the original materials range from the discreet addition of a few whimsical oddities in the foreground of an etching, to the full-out hallucinations of an opium den or a ballroom swirling with romantic delirium. And the fact that these are all 19th-century images, radically revised by a 20th-century eye, gives one the eerie sense of shifting back and forth in time, space and perception. There's a startling sardonic humor in Satty's visionary history, but there is love as well for the reckless, plunging voracity of those early days. Satty's life was easily as turbulent as anything he portrayed in art. Coming from the "big surrealistic playground" of war-torn Bremen, Germany, he settled in San Francisco in the early 60's, at the very beginning of the psychedelic age, and became one of the best known poster artists of the time. Gathering around him a weird and wonderful array of found objects, he created a subterranean dwelling on Powell Street near North beach that the late Thomas Albright described as "a cross between Miss Havisham's parlor in "Great Expectations" and something out of Luna Park. His large parties, mingling socialites and hippies in a happy confusion as raucous as any of the bar room tangles he collage , were legendary events. Obsessed with extending the mass-media possibilities of lithography to create his own provocative revisions of reality. Satty created an enormous "image bank" from which he snipped and intricately pieced together his collages. His end was as abrupt and tragic as that of many earlier California dreamers: Satty died in 1982 from "a fall from a ladder while inebriated," according to the San Francisco's coroner's office. He was 42 years old, burnt out by the very intensity and imperious innocence that illuminated his art.
Pleas│┐c▀spect copyrights here.