Kathy Acker Writes to Ida Applebroog


Postcard from Kathy Acker to Ida Applebroog, ca. 1975. Courtesy the artist

  • Oct 26, 2023
  • Issue 9

In 1968, the artist Ida Applebroog—then still known by her married name, Ida Horowitz— moved with her husband to San Diego, a city she described as deeply disorienting to a native New Yorker. “I hated all that sunshine,” she said. Another New Yorker—born Karen Lehman, but by that time becoming known in feminist writing circles by her preferred first name and her married name, Kathy Acker—had just finished a degree at the University of California, San Diego and was equally exasperated with West Coast life. “Sunny California is totally boring,” she later wrote. “There are too many blonde-assed surf jocks.”

Postcard from Kathy Acker to Ida Applebroog, ca. 1975. Courtesy the artist

Through a shared involvement with a circle of artists and writers surrounding the artist Eleanor Antin and her husband, the poet David Antin, Applebroog and Acker fell into an unlikely expat friendship. Applebroog was intensely shy and just beginning to find her footing as an artist, while raising four young children. Acker, fifteen years younger, was already establishing the reputation that would define her when fame arrived—brutally honest, conceptually shape-shifting, sexually fearless. She had begun to work in strip clubs and had coined the most memorable of her many pseudonyms: The Black Tarantula.(The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula, her breakthrough work, was published in 1973.)

In 1974, Applebroog left her family and moved back to New York alone. The following year, she jettisoned Horowitz and gave herself an eerily fairy-tale-like name of her own coinage, a new stage from which to explore the themes that would come to define her work—chief among them what the critic Max Kozloff once described as “family alarms and little butcheries.” Applebroog and Acker, in roughly the same span of years, began distributing work outside the circuits of the art and literary world, making their own powerfully unsettling, modestly printed books and mailing them to lists of friends, acquaintances and strangers. (Acker’s often included a card that read: “You are on the enemy list of The Black Tarantula.” One recipient wrote back to Applebroog, saying: “Don’t you ever put that poison in my mailbox again.”)

Here, drawn from the files of Applebroog’s studio, are two never-before published postcards sent to Applebroog in the mid-1970s by Acker, then living in San Francisco, as the two maintained a strong, though mostly epistolary, friendship.

Cover of The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula, 1975 (New York: Vanishing Rotating Triangle Press/Viper’s Tongue Books). Cover art by Jill Kroesen

Ida Applebroog, Sometimes a Person Never Comes Back, 1977 (detail). Ink, urethane and varnish on vellum, five panels: 17 × 68 × 2 ¼ in. (43.2 × 172.7 × 5.7 cm) overall. Photo: Dennis Cowley. Courtesy the artist


A self-proclaimed ‘generic artist’ and an ‘image scavenger,’ painter and feminist pioneer Ida Applebroog has spent the past five decades conducting a sustained inquiry into the polemics of human relations. She explores themes of violence and power, gender politics, women’s sexuality and domestic space using images stylistically reminiscent of comics, at once beguiling and disturbing.