Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing
Nakedness is almost always an excellent idea.
Cleanliness is next to impossible (but keep trying anyway)
These are just a couple of the central tenets of the philosophy of bathing proposed by WET - an irreverent, hilarious, slick and, above all, beautiful publication that emerged from Venice, California, between, 1976 and 1981.
The magazine - billed by its founder and publisher Leonard Koren as ‘a five-and-a-half-year assault on good taste and linear thinking’ spanned 34 issues. Making a wry poke at ‘enthusiasm taken a bit too far’, the lovingly salacious and tongue-in-cheek graphics and artworks served an agenda to baffle, please and tease - centred around the absurdist notion of ‘gourmet bathing.’
At times homoerotic, at others voyeuristic, and occasionally grotesque, the stunning magazine has quietly slipped its way to the status of something of a sub-cultural icon - and got the recognition it deserved when featured in the V&A’s wonderful Postmodernism exhibition last year.
A book published next month by Koren entitled Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, showcases the brilliant imagery that filled the magazine’s pages, and offers an insight into the thoughts, non-sequiturs and absurdities that went into creating it.
We learn that Koren’s interest in bathing was sparked by the rather simple realisation of the universality of bathrooms. ‘Bathrooms are everywhere’, he says. And the beauty of this, according to Koren, is that this oft-ignored space comes fully equipped with some rather marvellous things - ‘water and/or steam; Hot, cold and in-between; nakedness; quietude; and illumination.’ And thus, the seeds of WET were sown.
An architect by trade, when Koren finished his studies he went into the unusual specialism of ‘making bath art.’ To put it simply, this meant taking photographs of naked people bathing in water, mud, hot air or steam; then assembling the images as lithographs or screen prints, which he then sold.
The book’s stunning images are complemented by hilarious anecdotes and conversational snippets from Koren - such as his assertion that during a particularly luxuriously contemplative bath, ‘an almost audible voice whispered into my ear, “why not start a magazine about gourmet bathing?”’
The term ‘gourmet bathing’, is rather an odd one. One that even Koren himself ‘didn’t really know’ and ‘didn’t really care’ about what it meant. However, this little thing wasn’t to stop him taking charge of WET’s production, art direction, advertising…pretty much everything, really.
The graphic design work of WET is as cheeky and eye-catching as the editorial content and photography. The first two issues’ graphic conventions, Koren says, were developed ad hoc - ‘improvised on the spot for each design problem that needed solving.
He says in the book, ‘The W, fashioned out of two overlapping Vs, had a defiant energy similar to a swastika - but without the horrible associations. The E was frisky. The middle tine was cut off at a 45-degree angle; it felt sexy in a reductive sort of way. (I thought it was the typographical equivalent of a sly erection.)’
A few issues in, Koren decided to adandon his eschewment of ‘page “decoration”’, as he calls it, and decided that in order to improve the magazine visually, a tighter command of the graphic language would be needed. He acquired the services of graphic designer Thomas Ingalls and his some-time girlfriend April Greiman, who plated a significant role in spearheading the ‘New Wave’ approach to editorial layout - rejecting a gird system for a series of ‘floating punctuation marks and squiggles.’
As ludicrous as the concept of gourmet bathing - and WET may be - there’s probably something in there we can all learn from. In his introduction essay, Koren says, ‘Gourmet bathing is a means of enjoying the world. Not a system or therapy or a philosophy; at most a point of view having something to do with sensuality, humour, humility, and taking such pleasure in small things that they stop being small.’
Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing by Leonard Koren is published on 10 April by Imperfect Publishing priced £24