Since the turn of the 20th century, modern artists have had an interest in the occult. Hilma Af Klimpt and Vassily Kandinsky are two of the most notable early proponents of incorporating the ideas of the occult into their art work. Now modern art can add Cameron to that list in a compelling exhibition, "Songs for the Witch Woman" curated by Yael Lipschutz, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles' Pacific Design Center Annex, which makes the argument. Born Marjorie Cameron in Belle Plains, Iowa, Cameron moved to Los Angeles after serving in the Navy after World War II. When she arrived, Cameron immersed herself in the Occult and Avant Garde circles of mid-century Los Angeles' emerging art scene.
Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles and settling in Pasadena, Cameron married Jack Parsons, founding member of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was also interested in the esoteric and occult teachings. However, Parsons died in an accidental explosion in 1952. After Parson's death, Cameron dedicated her life to art, poetry, and esoteric learning. Her immersion into the early Los Angeles art scene led Cameron to the circle of notable contemporary artist such as Wallace Berman, George Herms, and Dennis Hopper, filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington, and occultist, Aleister Crowley. She was a mentor to younger artists and poets such as David Meltzer and Aya (Tarlow). Her artwork appeared of Berman's celebrated journal Semina (1955-64 in the first issue).
Cameron’s frenetic, delicate renderings of mythological figures reveal a singular attention to line and the idea of spiritual metamorphosis, evoking the surrealism and symbolism of the French poets. Stylistically Cameron touches aspects of expressionism, and surrealism, especially to contemporaries such as Roberto Matta and Jean Dubuffet. The exhibition itself is a puzzle. Mixed with paintings, ephemera, works on paper, and mixed media, the viewer is left to put together a legacy that until recently was forgotten. This sense of mystery is what makes this exhibition compelling and one of the best shows I've seen. Both her art and life is shrouded in mystery. Cameron worked off and on from the 1960s until her death in 1995. Rediscovering of Cameron, places the Beats and 1950's counterculture as something more than just breaking the sexual and social mores of the time. Cameron added a spiritual dimension that involved the exploring of a new spirituality and uncovering the ancient secrets that plagued man in a modern era where nuclear annihilation and war with the Soviet Union was a real possibility. In this context, Cameron is now part of the dialogue that was lost since the time.
In fact, much of Cameron's work was lost. While I was viewing the exhibition, someone was giving a tour and a talk about the works in the show. He stated that at the time of Cameron's death in 1995, her estate sold some of her paintings for as little as $5.00. While discussing the suite of works that include the drawing entitled, "Merlin," at the time of her death, someone stole one of the drawings that were part of the suite. That person ended up bringing the drawing back. Why? Cameron would be appearing to him. In a time when the soul of art has been stolen by the glamour and celebrity culture that permeates today's milieu, it's good that Cameron has come back.
"Songs for the Witch Woman" closes on January 18, 2015.
MOCA Pacific Design Center, located at 8687 Melrose Avenue; West Hollywood, CA 90069, is open Tuesday through Friday from 11am to 5pm; Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm; and closed on Monday. General admission is always free at MOCA Pacific Design Center. More Information: For 24-hour information on current exhibitions, education programs, and special events, call 213 626 6222 or access MOCA online at moca.org.
|Cameron, Black Egg, n.d., Paint on cardboard, 11 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica.|
|Cameron, Dark Angel, n.d., Ink and paint on paper, 34 ¾ x 23 ¾ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|
|Cameron, East Angel, n.d., Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper, 23 ¾ x 36 ¾ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|
|Cameron, Fossil, 1958. White ink on paper, 18 3/8 inches x 11 ½ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|
|Cameron, Holy Guardian Angel according to Aleister Crowley, 1966. Casein and gold lacquer on board, 29 ½ x 19 ½ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|
|Cameron, Postcard sent by Wallace Berman to Cameron, 1955 Paper, 5 x 3 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica.|
|Cameron, Prince of the Serpents, 1965. Casein on matte paper, 7 ½ x 4 ¾ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica|
|Wallace Berman, Semina Cover #1, 1955. Photo and ink on paper folder, 7 ¼ x 4 1/6 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica.|
|Cameron, West Angel, n.d., Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper, 23 ¾ x 36 ¾ inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|
|Cameron, Song for the Witch Woman, 1955. Ink on paper, 10 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the O.T.O., New York. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer|