If you walked into the apartment shared by Jay De Feo and Wally Hedrick and spent some time, you’d probably have met every important Beat artist in the city. That’s how small the SF art scene was in the late 1950s. In fact, many of their closest cohorts lived in the same building, at 2322 Fillmore St. The group also included Jess Collins, Bruce Conner, Joan Brown, Wallace Berman and George Herms — all legendary figures today. Back then they were unknown, except to each other. Together, they created the first wave of Funk, and their impact, more than 50 years later, remains far out of proportion to their size and means.
Several small works represent Jess, arguably the world’s greatest collage artist. Working with cut-up magazines and printed matter of all kinds, he moved fluidly from Dada/surrealist social critiques to compositions that bordered on pure abstraction. Some, like Untitled (Cars on Rooftop), flirted with science fiction. All of those on view pack a memorable wallop. Untitled (with Joan Crawford Head) pictures a city as a grotesque bestiary. Another, Blasted Beauty, made of orange-tinged paper scraps from 1954, suggests a city in flames; while a third, Untitled (Professor in Art Gallery), mocks art world pretentions. In it, a bespectacled professor is so engrossed in thought he fails to notice a fallen statue laying behind him on the floor. It’s almost slapstick.
There is one bona fide outsider on view, and that’s Marjorie Cameron. An occultist and an associate of pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard and a follower of Aleister Crowley, Cameron believed herself to be the incarnation of the imaginary character, The Scarlet Woman, and she portrayed herself in that role in Kenneth Anger’s film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, one of the director’s tamer offerings, but still pretty freaky. The same holds for four of the artist’s drawings, one of which shows a figure resembling the Statue of Liberty in orange flames, a self-portrait I presume.