Skip to main content

Happy Birthday, Cameron

The 100th birthday of visionary artist Marjorie Cameron Parsons
Cameron, Holy Guardian Angel according to Aleister Crowley, 1966 [detail]. Casein and gold lacquer on board, 29 1⁄2 x 19 1⁄2 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer

Cameron, Holy Guardian Angel according to Aleister Crowley, 1966 [detail]. Casein and gold lacquer on board, 29 1⁄2 x 19 1⁄2 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer

Is the United States of America ending, or does it just feel like it is? That question is at the heart of Failed State Update. Of course, this isn't an entirely new question — although it might be more urgent these days. Visionary artist Cameron explored these themes in her artwork, so let's take a moment to celebrate her on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Cameron (April 23, 1922–July 24, 1995)

Marjorie Elizabeth Cameron Parsons Kimmel, known simply as Cameron, was an artist, poet, veteran, feminist and spiritual seeker whose contributions to visual arts and culture are well documented. Her work currently resides in permanent collections at the Getty Research Institute, Whitney Museum of American Art, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and has been exhibited by galleries and museums worldwide, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris. She has been featured in several catalogs, academic essays, popular articles, and journals such as Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies. Cameron has also been the subject of a biography as well as a hardback volume from Fulgur Esoterica, Songs for the Witch Woman, and is a featured artist in the book L.A. Rising, SoCal Artists Before 1980.

In addition to her creative work, Cameron is known for her relationship with her first husband, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab cofounder Marvel “John” (“Jack”) Whiteside Parsons (1914-1952), as well as for her associations with influential creatives such as Kenneth Anger (b. 1927), Wallace Berman (1926-1976), George Herms (b. 1935), Diane di Prima (1934-2020), and many others.

Cameron in the Navy, ca. 1943-1945

Cameron in the Navy, ca. 1943-1945

Early Years

Cameron was raised in Iowa among the coal-burning cars of the Chicago & North-Western Railway, where she played in the roundhouse, made art, and wrote poetry from an early age. In late 1942, 20-year-old Cameron was among the first women to join the United States Naval Reserve, honing her skills as an artist, drafting combat maps, working as a spray brush painter, and supervising makeup and wardrobe for Navy films. In the WAVES, Cameron further cultivated her self-discovery, independence, individual development, and spiritual exploration — qualities she took with her long after the war ended.

Enter Scarlet Woman

Once discharged from the Navy, Cameron moved to Pasadena, California to join her parents. In 1946, she met Parsons, a dedicated ceremonial magician and creator of solid rocket fuel. An ardent practitioner of Thelema, a religion developed by British writer and occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), Parsons believed that Cameron was the incarnation of the “Scarlet Woman” aka “Babalon” — a Thelemic deity thought to herald a new goddess-centered era of humanity. Still, as society encouraged women to return to domestic roles after World War Two, Cameron — with the encouragement of her husband — continued on her own path towards becoming an artist, moving to San Miguel del Allende, Mexico in the late 1940s, where she met and mingled with creative expatriates, including those studying art on the GI Bill.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

Cameron, Black Egg, n.d., Paint on cardboard, 11 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica

Cameron, Black Egg, n.d., Paint on cardboard, 11 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica

Artist, Realized

Following her husband Jack's violent and sudden death in a mysterious explosion in 1952, Cameron continued to become increasingly involved in the arts; writing, painting, experimenting with psychedelics, and appearing in several films, including as the “Scarlet Woman” in Kenneth Anger’s 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome along with writer Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), and as herself in Curtis Harrington’s (1926-2007) short film, The Wormwood Star. In 1957, Wallace Berman included Cameron’s sexually explicit drawing Peyote Vision in a show at the groundbreaking Ferus Gallery. Authorities raided the gallery, shut down the show, deemed the drawing lewd, and arrested Berman on obscenity charges. She later appeared in a role in Harrington’s 1961 feature Night Tide, which starred a young Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) in his first leading role. She also had at least two exhibitions during her lifetime: The Transcendental Art of Cameron on October 3, 1964 at the former Cinema Theatre on 1122 N. Western Avenue; and Works on Paper in 1989 at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, where she performed "The Pearl of Reprisal" alongside screenings of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Wormwood Star on April 8, 1989.

Portrait of Cameron in 1969 by A.R. Tarlow

Portrait of Cameron in 1969 by A.R. Tarlow

A Century of Cameron

This year, in honor of this remarkable woman's centenary, the Cameron Parsons Foundation encourages current and future admirers to remember Cameron on her 100th birthday, while enjoying the journey of appreciating her work and learning more about her extraordinary life. The Cameron Parsons Foundation welcomes any inquiries about Cameron and her genre-defying art.

Cameron, Fossil, 1958. White ink on paper, 18 3/8 inches x 11 1⁄2 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer

Cameron, Fossil, 1958. White ink on paper, 18 3/8 inches x 11 1⁄2 inches. Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo Credit: Alan Shaffer

A Gift from the Cameron Parsons Foundation

In celebration of Cameron's work, the Cameron Parsons Foundation is making the catalog for her solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) free to download through May 31. Download the catalog here.

unnamed