Muse, witch, magician, painter, poet: Cameron, born Marjorie Elizabeth Cameron in 1922, and one of the most inspirational figures of the last century, will be the subject of major exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art featuring art and ephemera. Opening October 11, 2014, “Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman” highlights the the publication of “Songs for the Witch Woman,” a collaboration between the painter, and her then-husband, rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons, one of the founders of modern rocketry and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Parsons, known as Brother 210 within his occult fraternity, the Ordo Templi Orientis, died in a (mysterious?) explosion at his home on June 17, 1952. Curiously, several years after his death, the work began on the freeway that now runs past his old home in Pasadena up to JPL, and then to his rocket testing ground known as Devil’s Gate; the freeway is Interstate 210….(cue theremin!)
Cameron and Parsons were major influences on Western culture–and on me personally. They were bold, brave free spirits who embraced spiritual and artistic freedoms, heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley and the religion of Thelema. After Parsons’ death, Cameron became more immersed in art, working closely with Wallace Berman and George Herms. A small reproduction of her erotic “Peyote Vision” drawing — not much larger than a matchbook —was responsible for a vice raid at Ferus gallery in the ’50s. (She flaunted segregation laws dating jazz musician Leroy Booth, a relationship that was illegal during the 1950s because he was African American and she was Caucasian.)
Cameron created her art as ritual pieces and burned many of them ceremonially, as seen in the Curtis Harrington film, Wormwood Star, above. Some survived because she sold them to friends, but after the Ferus raids, she declined to show in galleries. Since her death in 1995, there have been several exhibitions of her surviving work–she was included the major cross-city Pacific Standard Tim– but this exhibition centers around newly discovered art and material including letters to Jack Parsons, as well as her better known extant pieces.
In a press release, MOCA Director Philippe Vergne writes:
A key figure navigating between disciplines and traditions of poetry, cinema, visual arts, and spirituality; Cameron has opened many doors that continue to intrigue and inspire generations of artists. Her hallucinated vision, at the edge of surrealism and psychedelia embodies an aspect of modernity that deeply doubts and defies Cartesian logic at a moment in history when these values have shown their own limitations. Her work demonstrates that the space in the mind is without limit.
More to the point, Cameron’s life was her art, and art was her life. Both have achieved immortality.