To all of Michael’s well wishing friends,
As you may or may not know, Michael Bowen passed away, he moved from this material realm into his light body a few weeks ago. Michael suffered a series of pneumonia infections during the last three months of his life. Our family was able to be close to him during his fatal convalescence in the hospital until his last moments. We would like to share this obituary written in part by Marlena Donohue, the art historian who is currently writing a book about Michael’s exceptional life and art. In honor of Michael, a memorial celebration is being organized in Stockholm Sweden. Please let us know if you would like to participate in any way, with an offering, a poem, a prayer, a song, or any help with organizing the memorial would be greatly appreciated.
Love to all,
Isabella and Ram
On March 7, 2009 Michael Bowen passed away from complications related to childhood polio in Stockholm, Sweden. He was and is adored by his young wife Isabella and long-time confident Ram, who were both with him as he breathed his last. Bowen was a loving if oft eccentric father to his well known actor son Michael Bowen Jr., to his gifted artist daughters Maitreya and Kaela, and to his young and promising son Indra.
Born in Beverly Hills to a famous dentist into a legacy of great wealth, Bowen was the quintessential drop out from consumer culture long before the term was made popular. On the road, so to speak, from his teens, Bowen traveled the globe, engaging life and making art alongside some of the art world’s major luminaries.
Michael Bowen was either at the hub of or directly influencing many of the major moments and ideas we now associate with those profound changes history calls the birth of counter culture. Bowen was a seminal Beat figure and remained a viable, internationally exhibiting artist living from the sale of his large scale paintings and masterful etchings to pre-eminent collectors and museums up until his death.
Michael Bowen was associated with a distinct visionary surreal style whose nearly hallucinatory intensity came to be identified with the Beats and the 60’s counter culture scene. In point of fact, Bowen coined the style and remained true to it over forty years of changing art and social tastes. Bowen is best known for highly detailed dream like, freely expressive images of San Francisco, of life in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, of literati from Miles Davis to John Lennon to Janis Joplin. His highly symbolic—part true to fact, part reinterpreted–scenes of gritty city life, of travel and ritual in Mexico, India, Southeast Asia have endured because they indeed extend beyond the Beat scene, beyond any specific era, having timeless ties to all expressive, imaginative forms from early pictographs, to Jungian mythic traditions, from Symbolism to German Expressionism.
Michael Bowen was not one of the highly hyped Beat names on everyone’s lips in the way that Tim Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Kienholz have come to be. This was not for lack of originality or historical relevance. Of all the Beat painters, Bowen was the artist who went into his studio each and every day of his life. While counter culture advocated tossing aside all artistic tradition so as to render “everyone an artist,” Bowen demanded of himself and others a rigorous respect for and study of draftsmanship, technical acumen, and an awareness of the legacy of art’s history from the Renaissance to the Conceptual Performance Art. Most significantly, Bowen was an artist committed to intellectual curiosity, an artist who studied– not as surface fad but with intense, active engagement–everything from Sufi poetry to quantum physics, from Kali mysticism to the biochemistry of creativity.
In point of fact Michael Bowen’s work and person intersected with and in many ways influenced most of the artists and thinkers that come down to us as Beat icons. His absolute almost irascible inability to compromise on matters of personal, philosophical and aesthetic vision meant that he did not court and indeed often alienated the art market and art press. In spite of this, his historical position is undisputed: In January 1967 Bowen organized the proto performance art happening called the “Human Be-In”, inviting Ginsberg, Ram Das, and Tim Leary to participate and inspiring the famous “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out” dictum. It was this uniquely inspired Bowen production of the Human Be-In that became the necessary catalyst for the famous Summer of Love.
Never one to shy away from the grandiose, his plan to rent a plane and drop flowers on war protestors confronting military police protecting the Pentagon in 1968 was thwarted. Relentless, he drove a carload of flowers to the Pentagon, dragged huge garbage bags of daisies to the front lines distributing them by hand to everyone, making Bowen the quirky force behind that now epoch-defining metaphor of “Flower Power.”
Images inspired by Bowen transmitted globally thousands of times a day of so called peace niks placing flowers in gun barrels become more and more timely in a world that is increasingly at risk. The spirit of Michael Bowen will remain alive as our globe moves increasingly toward those principals Bowen lived by with a demanding tenacity that could drive us crazy but always moved us, namely: that the material is transitory, that the spiritual endures, and that we either embrace collective creation together or we perish together.
Michael Bowen was a life long student and practitioner of Vedanta philosophy. In 1969, after being cured of migraine in a Kali ceremony in India, Bowen became a Kali bhakta – a devotee of the famous goddess of India. Maintaining his secular identity as artist Michael Bowen, inwardly he remained devoted to Kali for the rest of his life, seeing and helping adepts to see through the goddess’ fearful and terrifying aspect to her powerful protective and nurturing nature. In 1990 under his religious name of Baba Kali Das, Bowen established The Temple of Shakti in his much loved home-town, San Francisco. During this period, he discovered a huge four and a half foot tall bullet-shaped granite pillar abandoned in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Through mantra invocation and ritual veneration, he transformed the former city traffic barrier into a Shiva Lingam. Baba Kali Das performed Vedic ceremonies anointing the Linga with milk and ghee, attracting Hindus worldwide as well as the general public to use the consecrated stone as a focal point of worship and meditation. In the early 90’s The Golden Gate Park Shiva Lingam became a popular center of Hindu devotion, and a cause célèbre as the city tried to suppress all the attention being lavished on what was to them a former traffic barrier. The Shiva Linga attracted Isabella Paoli from Florence Italy who became Baba Kali Das, aka Michael Bowen’s, devoted wife for the last 15 years.
Irascible and demanding, unapologetic about a life style that required absolute freedom, ever the ultimatehipster who was always trying to sell you something or another–whether a painting or an idea—Michael Bowen was full of energy, living his art and his life to the very brink of exuberance and creative commitment. He will be profoundly missed.