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Michael Bowen
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Birth Place: 
Beverly Hills CA
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Death Place: 
A Beat Generation artist, co-founder of the “San Francisco Oracle,” an organizer of the 1966 Love Pageant Rally and the 1967 Human Be-In, and a provocateur during the 1967 anti-war protest at the Pentagon, Michael Bowen continued to create paintings, prints, collages and assemblages during the following forty years of his life. He was born in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 1937, the son of the affluent celebrity dentist Sterling Bowen (d. 1959) and his wife Grace, a one-time art student. He attended various private schools, often military academies. He once said he became interested in drawing and painting at the age of six. He mother’s lover was the gambler and gangster Benjamin (“Bugsy”) Siegel (1906-1947); Bowen traveled with them to Las Vegas and San Francisco as a small child. He was also influenced by the mysticism of his grandmother, who belonged to the Theosophical Society in Ojai, Calif. By age 16 he rebelled and began working as an assistant to Los Angeles artist Edward Kienholz (1927-1994), for a time living with Keinholz in his studio. He also worked with other avant-garde artists, such as John Altoon (1925-1969), Dennis Hopper (1936-2010, also an actor) and others associated with the Ferus Gallery. Bowen attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles for a time, but did not graduate. At age 19 he was living in Malibu with the actress Sonia Sorel Carradine (1921-2004), the wife of actor John Carradine (1906-1988), and her three children; they were both arrested for contributing to the delinquency of her children but were not convicted. In 1957 the Carradines divorced, she married Bowen and they moved to San Francisco’s North Beach district. They divorced at some point, perhaps around 1961. Bowen soon became friends with Beat Generation artists such as Wilfried Satty (1939-1982) and Arthur Monroe (b. 1935) and poets such as Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997). Bowen painted large abstract canvasses and created assemblages and collages and in 1963 painted a portrait of singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970), who lived in San Francisco for a time during the early 1960s. In 1963 he moved with other artists to Princeton-by-the Sea on the San Mateo County coast and then went to New York City, where he lived and worked until his return to San Francisco in 1966, settling in the Haight-Ashbury district. With poet Allen Cohen (1940-2004), who was working at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street, Bowen founded the underground weekly San Francisco Oracle, which published the first of its twelve editions in September, 1966. Bowen and Cohen also organized the Love Pageant Rally in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, near the Haight, on October 6, 1966, the day that LSD became illegal in California. The Rally featured the music of the Grateful Dead and Joplin, and drew several thousand people. This success inspired Bowen and Cohen to organize another gathering the following January, intended to unite the Haight’s hippies and Berkeley’s anti-war radicals. Bowen hired an attorney from local powerhouse Melvin Belli’s (1907-1996) firm to apply for a permit for a “birthday party” at the Golden Gate Park’s Polo Grounds. Rick Griffin (1944-1991) was commissioned to create the poster “Pow-Wow: A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-in” (Grushkin 2.215) and Bowen with Stanley Mouse (b. 1940) and Alton Kelley (1940-2008) created another famous poster for the event, featuring a bearded guru (Grushkin 2.217). The famous “love-in” of January 14, 1967 featured counter-culture poets and speakers (including Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti [b. 1919] and Michael McClure [b. 1932]), music by several bands (including The Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane) and security by the Hell’s Angels. Timothy Leary (1920-1996) urged all to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Twenty or thirty thousand people attended and the national media covered it closely. The publicity about the “Be-In” led thousands of young people to the Haight-Ashbury for the 1967 Summer of Love. Bowen participated in the October 21, 1967 anti-Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon by convincing a friend to buy 200 pounds of flowers, which were distributed to the protesters. Facing hundreds of soldiers, many of the perhaps 100,000 protesters put the flowers in the barrels of the soldiers’ guns, leading to Bernie Boston’s (1933-2008) Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, “Flower Power”. Bowen exhibited art in San Francisco’s multi-gallery “Rolling Renaissance” exhibition in 1968. Bowen traveled to India, Nepal and Tibet in 1969 and 1970, which led to his 1970 book “Journey to Nepal” and an exhibition of art inspired by the trip in Sausalito in 1972. Bowen exhibited frequently in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the primary organizer of the 1982 “1st International San Francisco Armory Show,” an exhibition panned by critic Thomas Albright (1939-1984) as “Recycled Psychedelia.” By 1998 Bowen was living in Florence, Italy with his third wife, Isabella Paoli Bowen. He later lived with her in Stockholm, where he died in 2009. (TNB 1/2017) Selected Bibliography: “Artist Michael Bowen dies at 71: Beat culture figure co-founded SF Oracle, Variety, April 27, 2009. Abrahamsson, Carl. “Michael Bowen: Life is very groovy,” Jan. 21, 2013.!/2013/01/michael-bowen-life-is-very-groovy.html