Q&A: Remembering a unique London artist

Jason Dickson wants Londoners to remember local artist Michael Bidner, a pioneer in print media who made contributions to zines, imagery to the gay community and punk scene, and commercial art.

Jason Dickson wants to share local artist Michael Bidner, who contributed to the print media scene

On May 25 at Brown & Dickson Bookshop, Jason Dickson is releasing a catalogue of Michael Bidner's work. (Rebecca Zandbergen/ CBC)

Michael Bidner is a name you may not recognize in London, Ont., but the artist made an impact in local print media. He was big in the punk LGBTQ scenes in the 1970s and 80s and embraced a side of London that wasn't exactly mainstream.

Bidner famously got the first colour Xerox machine in Canada, and hosted an all night printing party in the basement of the McIntosh Gallery at Western University. He made contributions to zines (small independent magazines), imagery to the gay community and punk scene, and commercial art. He died in 1989 of AIDs and has, for the most part, been forgotten.

But, Jason Dickson wants to change that. Last year Jason hosted a retrospective of Bidner's work at the McIntosh gallery.

On May 25, he's releasing a catalogue of Bidner's work.

He joined London Morning's Rebecca Zandbergen to talk about Michael Bidner, and the book launch. 

I think time just moved on and he just sort of vanished.- Jason Dickson

Tell me a little more about Michael Bidner's art?

Michael Bidner was, in my opinion, an absolute pioneer and visionary. He anticipated an enormous amount of media that basically is everywhere today including band posters, Xerox art, zines, video art.

So this wasn't really happening until he pioneered the way?

It was going on, but not really in Canada. It wasn't really going on in London, Ontario that much either. He was really on the bleeding edge of things then, and you know, dusty old London.

Tell me about this all night printing party he hosted?

It was pretty nifty. This was an exhibition at the MacIntosh up at Western, and he got the first colour Xerox photocopier that was made in Canada.

This is what year?

This was 1973 I believe. He brought it to the McIntosh and set it up in the basement. It was enormous and it also caught fire quite regularly. They had a fire extinguisher set beside the machine just in case. He had an all night print party, and just invited everybody to come to the exhibition and of course they all photocopied their faces.

For people that don't know exactly what zine art is, can you explain it to us?

It's sort of indie magazines, like small run artist productions. Basically, you do it yourself, you photocopy them and you staple them with comics, politics, things like that. But it's usually sort of underground counter-culture stuff.

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How did you become so interested in his work and who he was?

I was fascinated with the particular artists in London Ont., and I was gushing to a friend of mine Mike about it. Mike was a part of the crew back then. Mike and I were standing outside of Multi-Mag which is a place some might remember down the street. Mike goes 'Oh this guy's fine but do you know Michael Bidner?' I was maybe 19 at the time and even though this stuff had been made 30, 40 years earlier it seemed to me like it had been made yesterday.

What did you learn about the London that Michael Bidner lived and worked in during the 1970s and '80s? You called it 'the dusty old London' but was it?

The neat thing about London, Ont. that's kinda cool is that people tend to find it a very dusty city, and at times it can be. But it always encourages this sort of wild and innovative culture as well often in reaction to that. There were a lot of  young punks living in downtown London in the Talbot block that's still there, and they all had studios on the second floor or third floor. There was just a weird community in London at that time that was really active, and Michael put himself in the centre of that. 

Bidner was active in LGBTQ community as well. How do you think that influenced his work?

I think it influenced it quite a bit. I know that he was in Toronto at the time of the bathhouse raids and he wrote about that and actually published a magazine that dealt with that directly. I know that played a big part in his story.

Why do you think he's not more known, at least in Canadian circles?

Partly it's that he passed away when he was so young. He really only worked as an artist for about 19 years, and really when he was hitting his stride and crescendoing as a print maker and zinester, that's when he passed away. I think time just moved on and he just sort of vanished. 

Tell us about the event you've got going on.

There's gonna be a colour photocopier there in honour of Michael, and people will photocopy their faces. At our bookstore Brown and Dickson on Richmond St. there's going to be a zine fair from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. We're going to get all the young and trouble-makers down there with their wonderful productions, their buttons, their t-shirts, their zines. They're going to have tables and they're going to be selling their stuff. From 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. there's going to be the book launch proper.

Lastly, why do you think people still care about zine art when we have nice glossy magazines and we turn to the Internet now for these sorts of things?  Why does zine art still matter?

That's a really good question. It's very free and it's very approachable, sincerely anybody can do it. There's no firewall, there's no pretencion to it. You can literally, as a 15-year-old, sit down in your basement and make one, influenced by whatever interests you. You can give it to your friends and there's a whole culture of people that will support you.

Author and co-owner of Brown Dickson Booksellers, Jason Dickson is launching a book of art from Londoner Michael Bidner. Bidner pioneered concert posters and fanzine art in the 1980's and 90's. Dickson tells London Morning he wants to share this great artwork from Bidner so that it won't be forgotten. 6:29