Bardo Matrix Press


The Bardo Matrix

Two Americans, Beat poet and photographer Ira Cohen and the musician Angus MacLise, helped to found Bardo Matrix Press in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the mid-1970s. Bardo Matrix and the related Dreamweapon Press produced small-edition publications and singlesheet images using traditional woodblock printing techniques on specialty papers, with the books hand sewn. The results are exquisitely crafted and somewhat quirky explorations of Eastern spirituality, altered consciousness, and pop culture. Artist Dana Young contributed a distinctive graphic sensibility to Bardo Matrix, as did Tibetan woodblock artist Nawang Norbu.

Angus Maclise (American, 1938 – 1979)
The New Universal Solar Calendar, 1969
offset lithograph of calligraphy on paper

Angus MacLise was a percussionist, composer, poet, occultist, and calligrapher. These last three came together in his New Universal Solar Calendar, which reimagines the year in five seasons with individual days devoted to various cosmological concepts. Abstract filmmaker Don Snyder supplied the photographs, while Fluxus founder George Maciunas “produced” the work. MacLise is perhaps best known as the original drummer for the Velvet Underground, although his greatest accomplishment may be his work as a cofounder of the Bardo Matrix Press in his adopted home of Kathmandu.

Angus Maclise
The Subliminal Report, 1975
Bardo Matrix, Kathmandu

Diane di Prima
Loba II, 1976
Eidolon Editions, Point Reyes, Calif.; Dreamweapon, Kathmandu.
Illustrations by Josie Grant

Gregory Corso
Way Out, 1974
Bardo Matrix, Kathmandu

Ira Cohen and Dana Young
Opium Elementals, 1976
Bardo Matrix, Kathmandu

Within the sensibility developed by Bardo Matrix, smoking opium was seen as a traditional and natural alternative to shooting heroin, which was viewed as an inherent evil. Artist Dana Young’s image of a dreaming opium smoker inspired Ira Cohen to write a poetic text on the subject. It was published in 1976 as Opium Elementals.

Ira Cohen
7 Marvels, 1975
Bardo Matrix, Kathmandu

Bardo Matrix (Dana Young ?) [frog and mushrooms], n.d.

Dana Young
letter to Craig Love, n.d.

Bardo Matrix (artist unknown)
[Skeleton and Roses], ca. 1970s
woodcut on Nepalese paper

The Spirit Catcher Bookstore was at the crux of 1970s counterculture in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The bookstore was at once a serious literary outpost and a head shop. In addition to books, magazines, and poetry readings, the shop offered various wares for hippie clientele, including “posters” such as this Grateful Dead inspired work that was printed locally on Nepalese paper by the Bardo Matrix Press.

Robert LaVigne (American, 1928 – 2014)
Paradise Now [A film by Marty Topp, produced by Ira Cohen], 1969

Paradise Now was a performance of the Living Theatre billed as a “collective creation” that was intended to overcome “psycho-sexual repression.” Its goal was the spontaneous creation of a temporary anarchist collective within the theater. The play was controversial for its sexual content and nudity, which involved actors intermingling with the audience, and it prompted multiple arrests for public indecency. Marty Topp’s 1969 film presents a montage of clips from the Living Theatre’s 1968 American tour.