A must read. This beats everything. Not sure amazing is the right word, but why not. It sure made my day.
Around christmas time five years ago I visited our neighbours Lars Taavola and Kajsa in Nacka. In the kitchen sits a man with his wife Isabela, son Indra and his american assistant, who calls himself Rama. Well, obviously it is uncommon for someone to have an assistant just like that, also with such a name,so the meeting stood out early in a sense. He also had an appearance that stood out with a wild beard. His name was Michael Bowen.
We started talking and I early felt a special connection with Michael. I told him about my passion for jazz and playing the saxophone, and he told me that he likes to paint with live jazz music. He had recently done an event with a cello player, Svante Henryson, he tells me. While talking of San Francisco, I remembered a story about a conflict regarding a so called sacred stone in San Francisco. I was in 1994 working as a book keeper in Las Vegas and I remembered that during that time there were some protests regarding a stone to be moved in San Francisco. It was sort of a strange story, but it turned out it was Michael and Isabela who had initiated this. Above is a photo from 1994, and I believe it is Rama in the background next to the sacred stone (for others a traffic barrier).
So there I was, in Kummelnäs, Nacka, talking with Michael Bowen and his wife Isabela. Felt surreal. What did they do in the cold of Sweden? Here is a video from youtube illustrating a bit how he sounded and worked.
Michael was a apart of the beat generation, and the main organizer of the “Human Be-In” in 1967. This is a major event historically, and Bowen created the posters promoting the event, organized the city permit, invited key speakers (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder etc). He also invited the San Francisco rock bands such as The Grateful Dead. As security for the event he had help from the Hells Angels.
The Human Be-In was a coming together of people for no other reason than to just “BE”; to make love, not war. The Human Be-In, sometimes referred to as a Love-In, was specifically designed by Bowen to be imitated and to be remembered into the future. Bowen considers his creation of the Human Be-In to be performance art.
On October 21, 1967, 75,000 anti-war protesters surrounded the Pentagon. On that day, Bowen organized 200 lbs. of daisies, purchased by his New York friend Peggy Hitchcock, to be dropped from a light aircraft onto the Pentagon, but the FBI heard of the plan and seized the aircraft, so the flowers were distributed to the protesters as the Military Police protected the Pentagon from the massive anti Vietnam War demonstration. The daisies, brought to the front lines of the tense confrontation by Bowen and others, were taken by the demonstrators and put into the nearest holder that symbolically communicated their anti-war sentiment. The iconic photograph “Flower Power”, taken by photojournalist Bernie Boston, of the daisies being put into the bayoneted gun barrels of the soldiers by the unarmed anti-war demonstrators, is one of the most remembered photos in the world. The photograph “flower power” is listed as #30 amongst the top 100 wartime photographs and the idealism of flower power remains as an anti-war.
Source: Google search
For his involvement he received a Certificate of Honor in 2007 from the Mayor of San Francisco.
Now, after that evening we kept in touch and I was invited over to their house. I was supposed to bring my saxophone and we would try to do some “performance art”. It was very inspirational, and I remember how much I was looking forward to this. I had a job as a portfolio manager (equities) and hurried over to them in the evening. There a big screen is prepared, but Michael is being interviewed by a Norwegian lady, so I have to wait until they are done. The lady is Kristin Wennesland. I am told that Bowen is particularly popular in Norway. After a while, Michael comes out, barefooted, ready to get to work. His assistant has prepared the paint for him and he is a little annoyed about the quality of the paint but his assistant assures him that it the right temperature (or something, I don’t really know). Anyway, he asks me to start improvising. At the same time, his assistant is videotaping this. I do not have a copy of this, but Isabela does so hopefully one day… He starts to talk about his life and about San Francisco. He draws San Francisco and after a while he stops. He just wants to hear me improvise on the soprano sax.
Next I am invited to an art gallery to also do a similar performance with him, while he talks about his art. Michael is now in bad condition. He has fallen and hurt himself in the back.
Meeting Michael had an impression on me. He and his family showed a lot of warmth and it was very inspirational to listen to his experiences. He was very courageous and despite a back pain, full of energy. Why did he live in Nacka of all places? He had recently moved from Hawaii to Sweden, not knowing anyone, referring to the threat of global warming. He thought Sweden would be a great place, plus it was close to Norway were much of his art was. For those of you who speak Swedish, here is an article from Svenska Dagbladet: “Det bor en beatnik i staden“.
I was hoping we had a chance to do something bigger, but unfortunately, he died on the 7th of march 2000. RIP! Michael has also a son in Hollywood: another Michael Bowen known for the role of Buck in “Kill Bill” but who also had roles in Walking Tall, Magnolia, Beverly Hills Cop III, and The Godfather part III.
As I am currently a Ph.D. Research Fellow at the University of Agder, I was told by Isabela that this is where the Wennesland Foundation have most of Michaels paintings. Indeed, 88 of them are here in Kristiansand, and here is the biggest Beat-collection outside of the US. It turns out that Dr Reidar Wennesland, who collected the paintings, had moved to San Francisco right after the Second World War. As you may see from a previous blog that the Germans occupied Norway during WW2. He had studied under Professor Schreiner, who was the life-long physician of Edward Munch. Because of this he was very art interested and had bought already some work of Edward Munch. Dr Reidar Wennesland published in scientific journals and worked at Stanford and Berkley, among other things found a reliable way to detect carbon monoxide poisoning in the blood. Reidar became known in San Fransico for being a doctor who allowed artists to pay him with artwork. Thereby he collected an enormous collection of beat art, which he later donated the majority of it to the University of Agder. The world’s largest collection of West coast art therefore ended up outside of the United States in Kristiansand, Norway.
So now that I am walking around here at the University of Agder, it is not the same anymore. Everywhere I turn I see these fantastic paintings by Michael, and I am reminded from these of the courage, his energy, his friendly spirituality, and the inspirational creativity. There are some 88 paintings in Kristiansand. It frames the whole school in a very nice way, with the message of peace and love clearly showing in many of the drawings. I am not sure the students realize this directly, but probably more so indirectly. The University of Agder is located in the old Germany military base, and the donation from Dr. Reidar Wennesland may also, my interpretation, be a gesture to Kristiansand to bring peace and closure to the harsh memories of the German invasion.
For more information:
The Wennesland Foundation
Beat art at UiA