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Artist Michael Bowen dies at 71

Beat culture figure co-founded SF Oracle

American artist and socio-cultural provocateur Michael Bowen died March 7 from complications related to childhood polio in Stockholm. He was 71.

Born in Beverly Hills, the son of society dentist Sterling Bowen, Bowen attended Chouinard Art School and first studied with Los Angeles artist Ed Kienholz and also worked with other notable artists in the emerging Ferus Gallery art scene such as John Altoon and actor-artist Dennis Hopper, then traveled the globe before settling in the Beat Generation scene of San Francisco in the late ’50s.

Bowen was a seminal Beat culture figure and continued selling his large scale paintings and etchings to pre-eminent collectors and museums up until his death.

Bowen co-founded one of America’s first alternative weeklys, the San Francisco Oracle. In 1966, Bowen helped organize the “Love Pageant Rally,” a celebration against the new law criminalizing LSD in California. Bowen was joined in this event by his friend, Janis Joplin, along with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

In January 1967 Bowen organized the proto performance art happening called the “Human Be-In,” drawing major counterculture figures such as poet Allen Ginsberg, spiritual guru Ram Das, and then pre-eminent LSD apostle Tim Leary. The Human Be-In was widely credited as the catalyst for the famous San Francisco “Summer of Love” which spurred the hippie movement of the ’60s.

Later that year, Bowen drove a carload of flowers to the Pentagon where 75,000 protesters had gather in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Bowen dragged huge garbage bags of daisies to the front lines, distributing them by hand to everyone, leading to the “peaceniks” in the crowd to place the flowers into the gun barrels of the military called to the scene. A photo of the “flower power” event was nominated for the Pulitzer.

Bowen was previously married to the late Sonia Sorel, the mother of actors Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine. He is survived by his wife Isabella, actor son Michael Bowen Jr., son Indra and daughters Maitreya and Kaela.

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