San Francisco's Wild History Groove
Swinging in the Shadows (Part Two)
Wally Hedrick (Artist)
Hedrick moved to San Francisco from Pasadena in the 50s. He entered the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, and became part of the mix of young artists there. They hung out in North Beach and exhibited work in the bars and coffee houses. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to show their work in a space dedicated to art, he and five others started the 6 Gallery. Wally and artist, Jay DeFeo married and eventually moved to the building on Fillmore Street that was known over the years as the “artist/poet building.” It was a central part of the San Francisco underground scene. Jay & Wally’s rented two flats and held the longest tenure in that building which became the hub of what was happening in the art world at that time. Wally Hedrick, who died in December 2003, maintained a maverick spirit throughout his lifetime; living and doing art in his own unique style at the “The Creamery” in Bodega, north of San Francisco.
Deborah Remington (Artist)
Deborah, like Wally, moved to San Francisco from Pasadena, enrolling at the California School of Fine Arts in the 50s. She was one of the original members of the 6 Gallery. Later on she became part of the stable of artists in the respected Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco. The Dilexi gave its artists an opportunity to show in a professional gallery, which was an entirely new experience for most. Before the Dilexi opened, generally the only outlets had been the North Beach bars or cooperative galleries. Remington moved to New York City in the mid 60s where she achieved recognition as a talented, accomplished painter; making the cover of Art News and Arts Magazine in the 70s. Her work is exhibited in several museums and resides in prestigious collections. She has also taught seminars and classes at various institutions throughout the country. Ignoring the whims of the contemporary art world, she continued to paint bold, abstract paintings until her death in 2010.
Roy De Forest (Artist)
Roy took classes at the California School of Fine Arts during the early 50s when that school had such incredibly talented instructors like David Park, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, to name a few. He exhibited work in the early galleries—King Ubu, 6 Gallery and East and West. Later, he started showing his constructions and paintings at the Dilexi Gallery, which launched his career. He was picked up by a New York Gallery (Allan Frumkin) and became known in the professional art world, making the cover of Art News in the 70s. Over the years he taught art at various colleges; eventually retiring from the University of California at Davis, where he was a well-liked and influential instructor for many years. Roy De Forest passed away in May 2007 leaving a legacy of colorful, outstanding and very unique work.
Aya was part of the poetry scene in both Venice and San Francisco’s North Beach, living in both areas during the Beat Era. She and David Meltzer first met in a poetry class in Los Angeles during the 50s. Then, later they read together at the 6 Gallery in San Francisco after she moved to San Francisco. Her husband then was Elias Romero. He performed the first “Light Shows” at bars and coffee houses in North Beach while Aya read poetry. Throughout the years, she’s been involved in many endeavors. Continuing to write poetry, she also collaborated on short films and a documentary. She is an astrologer and Zen Buddhist. Artist George Herms’ Love Press published her book, “Zen Love Poems.” Her own distinctive drawings have been used to illustrate much of her published poetry. Aya has a non-fiction book, “Way of the Warrior Priestess” available on Amazon.com. Her last book of poetry was “Marrying Myself.” Sadly, Aya died September 3, 2016.
David Meltzer (Poet/Writer)
David was very young (still a teenager) when he met many of the artists around Syndell Studio and the early Ferus in the 50s. Abstract Expressionism as well as jazz has had a profound effect on his writing. After he moved to San Francisco in 1957, he started reading his poetry at The Cellar in North Beach and other hangouts. He was an active participant in the San Francisco Renaissance and is still actively involved in the Bay Area poetry scene. Meltzer teaches poetry at the New College of California in San Francisco. He also has a continuing interest in music. During the late 60s, he and his wife had a rock group, “Serpent Power” and produced a couple of albums. Later, he was a jazz critic for the Bay Guardian and over the years has written numerous articles and two books on jazz. One of his volumes of sequential poems is in the voice of Lester Young, titled “No Eyes.” Over the years, he has continued to publish books, essays, anthologies as well as his poetry. City Lights published “San Francisco Beat” - “Talking with the Poets” edited by David Meltzer. “The Beat Thing”, his series of poems on the Beat Era experience was out a couple of years ago. His most recent book of poetry is “David’s Copy”, published by
Penguin and available in bookstores throughout the country.
David died December 31, 2016. We mourn his loss but are
heartened to know that his remarkable legacy will live on.
Dimitri Grachis (Artist )
Dimitri Grachis attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institue) during its golden years of 1954 through 1957. He exhibited at the 6 Gallery along with fellow students and painters, Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, Roy De Forest and others. He also showed his work at the East and West Gallery across the street. After the 6 Gallery closed, he opened his own space nearby--the Spatsa Gallery from 1958-1961. Grachis exhibited many of his colleagues from the 6 Gallery including Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Wally Hedrick, Manual Neri, Michael McClure and Deborah Remington. Dimitri was one of the first Northern California minimalist painters. Exploring geometric abstraction is still his interest today.
Adelle and Jack Foley (Poets)
Both Jack and Adelle are well versed in the history and folklore of this underground period in San Francisco. Many of the surviving artists and poets are their friends and peers. Jack has done interviews with several of the original group and published their comments. He wrote a short piece called, “O Her Blackness Sparkles” about the Batman Gallery, opened in San Francisco in the early 60s. It contains quotes and wonderful anecdotes from the artists who were part of that unusual gallery with its black walls. At present Jack Foley has a weekly program on KPFA in Berkeley, “Cover to Cover”, where he interviews poets and authors. His assistance with information and knowledge has been invaluable. He unearthed a tape in the KPFA archives of Stuart Perkoff reading his poetry and sent me a copy to use in the documentary. This was quite an asset for the project as hearing Perkoff’s strong, powerful voice is a rare experience. Jack Foley also completed two books - “O Powerful Western Star Poetry & Art in California” as well as “Foley’s Books: California Rebels, Beats & Radicals.” He completed a timeline of California poetry, a massive undertaking--"Visions &
Affiliations" in 2011. Over the years, Jack & Adelle mostly perform poetry together. Unfortunately, Adelle Foley died 2016.
Ron Loewinsohn (Writer/Poet)
When he was a teenager, Ron started hanging out in North Beach and quickly became part of the group of poets that were in “The Place”, “Vesuvio”, as well as other bars and coffee houses. He went to the openings at the 6 Gallery and other spaces that showed new, avant-garde work. Ron played a part in Michael McClure’s “! The Feast !” which was performed in the Batman Gallery. He later continued his education and graduated with a Ph.D. in English. Loewinsohn taught classes in Creative Writing, Poetry and Beat Era Poetry at the University of California in Berkeley for many years until retiring. He published two novels and several volumes of poetry. His novel “Magnetic Field(s)”, won the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for fiction in 1983. Ron wrote a screenplay of this book before his death in 2014.
Joann Low (Artist)
Joann was a student at California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) during its vital period in the 50s. She became active in the underground art scene, showing her paintings at the 6 Gallery. Part of the social scene then, she knows interesting anecdotes and recalls some crazy scenarios that took place during the gallery openings and at the many parties. Although Joann stopped painting, she has kept in contact with her friends from that time and maintains a strong interest in art.
Bob Branaman (Artist)
Bob was one of the innovative artists showing at the unusual San Francisco space with its black walls--the Batman Gallery. He also took part in Michael McClure’s play “! The Feast !”, performed at that gallery. He was one of those who came out to the city from Kansas like McClure and artist, Bruce Connor. The Kansas contingent became an integral part of the Batman. But the social scene there started to spin out of control when drugs came into the picture, partly because the owner, William Jahrmarkt, (Billy Batman, as he was usually referred to) was a heroin addict. Branaman got caught up in it all and for a time his life very chaotic, propelled by drugs. Eventually, he left San Francisco and went to Big Sur where he became a part of what later developed into the hippie scene there. When Oliver Stone directed “The Doors”, Branaman’s work was used in many of the shots to depict the period and atmosphere around Jim Morrison. He now lives in Southern California, still actively painting.
ruth weiss (Poet)
Since the 50s, ruth has been performing her poetry to live jazz, one of talented women who were part of the San Francisco Beat scene. Like many of the poets then, she hung out with the artists and jazz musicians--working as a model for art classes at the San Francisco Art Institute and as a waitress at Bop City (the after hours jazz club in the Fillmore District). weiss lives with artist, Paul Blake, near Mendocino in Northern California. In 1961 she produced a film, “The Brink” that continues to be screened today at various venues. The Bancroft Library at the University of California (Berkeley) has been collecting her work that includes fourteen published books and recent CDs. In 2006, the city of Vienna hosted an entire festival for her –“Goddess of the Beat Generation” and presented her with a medal for literary accomplishments. She had lived in that city as a small child until 1938 when she and her Jewish family moved to the US, barely escaping the Nazi terror. Her latest book – “no dancing aloud – lautes tanzen nicht erlaubt” is a bilingual English-German edition presenting five of her plays and two poems.
David Simpson (Painter)
David Simpson grew up in Pasadena and at a young age found his vocation as an artist. Actually, he claimed that painting was the only non-destructive thing he did as a teenager. After a stint in the Navy, he got the GI Bill and decided to go to the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) along with his Southern California friends, Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, John Allen Ryan and Hayward King. These were the original members of the noted 6 Gallery along with poet, Jack Spicer.
After graduating, David began teaching art in various colleges in Northern California, including UC Berkeley. Over the years Simpson’s painting has evolved from his early abstract expressions into luminous, monochromatic paintings that have been recognized and exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world.