•originally published in Paraphilia Magazine, 8.23.12•
INTERVIEW WITH Marijke Koger-Dunham
An International Life Always Lived on Art Street
by Heather Harris
All artworks © Marijke Koger-Dunham unless otherwise identified
"A is for Apple" poster, 1968. Designed to promote Apple. Slogan coined by John Lennon
photo by Heather Harris, Marijke at her MOCA event, 2012↑
We Paraphilia readers, by nature oh so creative, have written/painted/composed/directed/performed scads of art stuff for most of our lives. We enjoy and fathom the intelligent content herein. While subsisting on various strata of personal, public or financial satisfaction of our own we wish these fellow artists well because, quite possibly, vicarious thrills can foment something real for us. While trying to keep career trajectories upward, we nonetheless do our art in our own ways, in our own personal styles for commerce and/or pleasure. What if, while doing said art your way, you actually changed the medium, the era and the world? I know someone who did...
You can take your Peters Max or Blake, your San Francisco nuvo-Art Nouveau Surrealists, this person was THE most influential psychedelic artist of the 1960s: Marijke Koger-Dunham. Sez who? Well, at the time, said The Beatles, for whom she developed their entire psychedelic visual oeuvre. Rolling Stones? Doors? Hendrix? Psychedelic Stooges? Sorry, personal preferences must pale. Trend-setter-wise, The Beatles WERE the 1960s, much as Louis XIV observed "L'etat? C'est moi." ("I am the state.") How did this Dutch teenaged art school drop out ever network the decade's mightiest clients like The Beatles?
←APPLE building exterior murals and The Fool, 1968. Photograph: Karl Ferris
Bob Dylan poster 1966 designed by Marijke and sold all over London upon her arrival there.
"They came to us," Marijke calmly informed me. Did they ever. Their road manager Mal Evans hauled John and Paul over to her St. Stephens Gardens, London studio shared with then husband Simon Posthuma. It dazzled all awash with their blazing rainbow designs, paintings and hand-painted furniture, whereupon McCartney/Lennon emerged with blown minds, not from LSD but from the totality of innovative styling made by fellow youthquakers. Your Beatles were used to dealing with free-spirits from their own art school years and from their own "Savage Young Beatles'" daze. While performing in Hamburg, Germany’s red light district gaining 10,000 outliers' hours of experience finessing their musical prowess even before they wrote a single original tune, the band was clamped onto instantaneously by the local existential young bohos such as Astrid Kirchherr photographing them or Klaus Voorman eventually designing the "Revolver" LP cover. And now they were goners amid this multi-hued dreamscape come to life.
↓ Cream custom-painted instruments, 1967, commissioned by manager Robert Stigwood for the band's first American tour
After seeing their art, graphics and fashion designs in person and in the both mainstream and alternative press, the Beatles commissioned Marijke and her three confreres Simon, Josje Leeger and Barry Finch, an art collective known as The Fool, as part of retooling the former's overdone 'Fab Four' clean-cut look. Their radically different "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"-era clothing fashions and the entire Apple Corps. building owned by the Beatles with its amazing multi-story, hand-painted murals showcasing the custom clothing boutique were but some of the iconic results.
The Fool provided exterior design, interior decor, clothes design, custom painted furniture (their St. Stephens Garden armoire even found a leading role in the 1968 George Harrison-scored film "Wonderwall" set-designed by The Fool,) for The Beatles and their fellow elite, such as custom-painting Eric Clapton's Gibson SG guitar used during his tenure in Cream. Correcting a pop culture urban legend from the source: the custom paint job on John Lennon's Rolls Royce was suggested by The Fool when they were chez Beatles painting their custom interior designs for him, but actually daubed by Romani Gypsies.
Incredible String Band LP cover, 1967
The Fool were essentially court painters entrusted by Pop Culture's top royalty of the Swinging London-dominated mid + late 1960s, and Marijke remained its main designer and creative braintrust. If anyone here ever has liked the polychrome graphics of the '60s, you have Marijke to thank. Psychedelia was just swirly drawing of oddities and patterns before her. I know: I was there watching from afar.
Mataji and Babji, guardians of the earth, Oil on canvas, 1970
I even espied page 3 of the first ever issue of Rolling Stone, Nov. 9, 1967 which cost 35 cents, reviewed the shocking new Peter Watkins film Privilege with Jean Shrimpton and Paul Jones about deification of popstars as social engineering via public obsession, classifying the film then as science fiction although it's since come true with "American Idol," and featured a full page photo op promoting Marijke and The Fool's clothing line to be featured at Apple Boutique, modeled by none other than the then Beatle wives (plus sis-in-law Jenny Boyd.) This occasionally appeared as the issue's cover displayed on newstands, thanks to its oldschool bi-fold newsprint format, pre-saddle-stitched-binding magazine days.
Children of the Sun & Moon, latest album cover for OG Musique, 2011
Furthermore, unlike other faces from that era or style, Marijke has been painting pictures and producing prints of spankin' new fine art in the interim ever since those heady days on beyond the paisley corridors of time and into the techno-present. She remains true to her initial vision that first erupted from her talent: she paints representational figures that inspire her, bestiaries, commissioned portraits, or pop culture characters amidst polychrome fantasias of paradisiacal landscapes, outer space or schematic tones.
There have been vivid colorists throughout art history like the Fauves, Nabis, Pre-Raphaelites, Blue Rider or Pop Art movements, even those transposing patterns and realistic figures like Gustav Klimt and his Viennese Secessionists, all indisputably topflight fine art with crossover into graphic art. These sank like lead zeppelins after the two world wars of the twentieth century shattered notions of visual idylls. Marijke grew up in Amsterdam, Holland, always drawing and painting her surroundings since, well, late infancy. But the post-war Art world shunned both realism and fantasy simultaneously.
The binding Abstract Expressionism, Color Field and Art Brut had to loosen. In America, Art Director/Designers Milton Glaser and John Van Hamersveld revived vivid color and/or pattern, as did the acolytes of San Francisco, L.A. and Detroit psychedelica. In Europe fashion illustrator Rene Gruau paved the way to ally Cristobel Balenciaga and Op Art’s Bridget Riley and Roy Lichtenstein to Mary Quant and the Mod then hippie 1960s.
Jai-Ma, the Divine Mother, 1993. Marijke says, "Painting this painting pulled me out of a very dark space."
However, no one consistently incorporated the full rainbow spectrum so deftly throughout all artistic output much less throughout their entire careers. She was the first to do this in Fine Art and commercial art. Peter Max and other artists in the '60s who made millions copied her and have admitted same. She painted exquisitely busy-but-refined patterns to boot, where others just ended up with psychedelic spaghetti. The entire 1960s would have looked different but for her work. She changed our world for the better with pleasing, new-fangled visuals that set the bar higher in graphic art and just kept going. Fellow horses and dogs enthusiast plus fellow artist though I be, I'm astonished and proud to call her my friend. Thus you can read her exact discourse as follows on her art, inspirations and personal history...
Marijke interviewed at left for Electrical Banana book signing event at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012. Photo by Heather Harris
Heather Harris: My questions come from someone who also lived through your first era of art success, the 1960s. I know what it was really like: the flamboyance seemed normal. And though I'm nowhere near your league, I base the questions I want to ask on growing up as an artist myself.
Marijke Koger-Dunham: I don't do many interviews which are usually by e-mail: they ask me questions and I reply. I've made an exception for you because you're my friend.
Thank you, I'm flattered.
The other exception was Norman Hathaway (co-author of Electrical Banana, Masters of Psychedelic Art who staged a live Q&A with her at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Calif. in conjunction with an exhibit of art and artifacts in the book.) That was tough on me, it's like "Oh god!" I think I handled it okay.
You handled it great, considering the time restraints. Stage fright? You were a musician and performer as well as fine artist/designer in The Fool...
Well, we never really performed. That was all done in the studio. The era was fun, 'I can do anything I want,' you know?
How old were you when you realized you were really good at art?
As long as I can remember I was always drawing and painting. I didn't realize I was pretty good until much later, like elementary school because then you could compare. The first mural I ever made, I must have been six or seven. In Holland they celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas. His helpers and he come from Spain on a boat, then St. Nicholas rides a white horse on the rooftops and drops toys down the chimneys, like Santa Claus. This was the subject of my first mural, made in colored chalk all the way around school room blackboards.
When I tried to draw entire whole murals for my classes at school, they always said "Don't. You're better than everyone and we want everybody else to draw." Were artists considered outsiders in your culture, like Bohemians or beatniks?
Lotus, lithograph sold at Open Gallery, Santa Monica 1976↑
No, I didn't experience that in school, but I was always an outsider. I didn't have a normal life, I didn't have parents. Nothing was normal, I was just there. I had a difficult home situation.
Childhood home (1946 - 1959) in Amsterdam, gable windown on the right was Marijke's room. Medium for painting, unknown
You grew up in Amsterdam, were you living in the city the whole time?
I actually was on the edge of the city, so when I went outside my house to go around the corner, there were meadows. It was a great environment! There was a horse and wagon that used to come down the street to pick up the garbage for the farmers in the neighborhood, so I liked horses and drew horses plus all kinds of animals.
Did you have pets? The family beagle Ava Gardner (so named because she had bedroom eyes and would sleep with anybody) was my own only childhood friend. And later I always had dogs which I felt sort of grounded me, given the rock&roll lifestyle. I saw a dachshund on the cover of your The Fool record album, posing right alongside you.
I grew up with an Irish Setter. That dog was my whole reason for living. She went everywhere with me. Later I had dachshunds. They traveled with me and I took them everywhere.
You're so polished in representational figure drawing. Did you do that too when you were young?
I had a fascination for a couple of years with making paper dolls, so I made thousands of them. And shoe boxes full of paper doll clothes: endless! It was always growing, as I was totally alone. I went to a good ballet school for about ten years. I just loved it and seriously thought about becoming a professional ballerina. I didn't realize it but I was way too tall. But ballerinas were kind of like a natural thing for me to draw. I was able to do that: so... ballerinas all over the place, lots of ballerinas.
Early art influences?
I was influenced by all kinds of art: old art, ancient art, I liked it all. Illustrations in children's books always fascinated me, like Tin Tin.
Mr. Twister (my better half) recently visited the Tin Tin Museum in Brussels!
Cool! I had all the books. And Disney animation was a big influence as well.
When I saw Disney's "Fantasia" as a little kid, as soon as I got home I drew every character that I could remember, flying horses, unicorns, fauns, skeletons, dinosaurs. It was just revelatory. My version of hearing Chuck Berry, as musicians like to cite. What were your artistic breakthroughs in your childhood drawing?
Hellraisers, 1994. Animated skeletons likely referential to Disney's Fantasia, Ray Harryhausen films
I went to live with a foster family who were wonderful people, they were like my grandparents. Their sons were already in their twenties. The middle one used to paint copies of famous paintings with oil paints and palettes so I wanted to do that too. I must have been eight years old when I first tried oil paints, and boy was it messy.
Did you go to a specific art school or just take art classes in a regular curriculum?
Left, fashion illustration for Prad
Right, "Flashing Fashion" line, models: Marijke and Josje, 1963.Photograph: Cor Jaring
I went to Akademie de Schans, an art academy. I took classes in figure drawing and illustration, also pattern-making and textile studies. I had art history classes, and liked Art Nouveau: the curving lines appealed to me, it looked so nice and fluid. Well, I like all art. I didn't stay in art school long though. They said I didn't have to. I went to work at age fifteen and have lived on my own from that time on.Thank god I had the talent. The Dutch people were very progressive especially in the advertising world. They wanted to move ahead of the crowd and loved new and different things, like my illustration. It's a small country: I probably would have had a harder time here in the U.S., with all the Madison Avenue agencies in New York. I got job offers at top advertising agencies, Prad in Amsterdam and Greca in Athens, Greece, so I ending up working all over Europe as well. Here's an example of poster illustration for a department store's summer fashion line that I did for Prad Agency.
"Flashing Fashion" line on Ibiza, 1964. Models: left- Anke, right- Marijke. Photograph: Karl Ferris
You then moved from the Netherlands to Ibiza?
No, I worked in Greece for about nine months. I had already gotten together with my first husband Simon Posthuma. The first painting we created together was "Spectrum Man." Then we went to Madrid because we had a gallery show scheduled there at Galeria Juana Mordo for the paintings we sold. After the show we went to Ibiza just for a fun vacation but ended up staying there for quite a while. We did art there, and I made my custom clothing Flashing Fashion for boutiques there. Then we met the Danish singing duo Nina and Frederik who were living there. (Ed. from HH: Baron Frederik Van Pallandt was murdered by pirates on his yacht in 1994. Still with us is Baroness Nina Van Pallandt who gained fame as an actress in many Robert Altman films plus infamy exposing the hoax of Clifford Irving's fake Howard Hughes biography, with her testimony in court refuting his alibis.) They sponsored us with a grant from their foundation for us to go Swinging London, just where we wanted to go in 1966.
Saville Theatre program cover, 1967, commisioned by Brian Epstein
Where did your beautiful multi-colored art explorations come from?
Well, drugs had a lot to do with it because when I took hallucinogenic drugs, you start to see all that stuff...
Things throb, and they get little auras around them...all those patterns moving on the ceiling...
...So then of you course you have to put it down on paper. That was a big influence. I'm not, you know, a proponent that kids should take drugs at all. But-- maybe it takes drugs to open your mind and see things a different way.
Four album covers designed by The Fool. At Marijke's SONOS Gallery career retrospective show, 2012, mutual friend Evita Corby's stark black and white beauty presents a graphic contrast to coloful LP covers for )clockwise from upper right: Traffic, The Fool, The Move, The Incredible Sting Band. Photograph: Heather Harris
You moved to London, you did record covers for charted British acts like The Move whom I loved, The Incredible String Band and The Hollies, you did costume design for Cream, Procol Harum and others all commissioned by some of the biggest managers of the day like Tony Secunda and Robert Stigwood. You're all over the British press, then the world's most famous people, The Beatles find you. Did your relationship with other clients change after you worked for The Beatles?
The whole Beatles thing: I was so busy there was no time for any other clients. As we consolidated our friendship with The Beatles and their wives, we painted murals in their homes, designed clothes for them personally then were commissioned to design the outfits for their "All You Need Is Love" live telecast (Ed.-the first global video broadcast ever of a live music performance June 25, 1967, originally in black and white on the U.K. tv show Our World. The colorized versions available on Youtube were matched to color press still photography of the event.) I'm still credited with playing tambourine on that song.
From Marijke's career retrospective at SONOS Gallery, The Fool upper left and their art. Photograph: Heather Harris
Then the Beatles acquired a boring building on Baker Street and approached us to paint the whole building inside and out, plus mass-produce and clothing and art print line. They approved my designs, sketches in gouache. The exterior designs, a synthesis of the mythologies of different cultures/religions influenced by psychedelics, were done in enamel house paint via the grid technique (Ed.-which transfer smaller designs to large surfaces dividing the drawing into a grid, then one uses this for proportional reference when drawing on the larger wall's grid) by The Fool and a few art students over one weekend. It took Simon and I took 4 weeks to do the interior murals freehand, and all the designing, pattern-making, silk-screening and sewing of the samples for the commercially manufactured lines.
APPLE interior murals and fashions; models: Anke Ferris, Renata, Charlotte Martin, 1968. Photograph: Karl Ferris
What do you think are some of the public misconceptions about The Fool?
At certain times, especially later, they would claim credit for my work that I just accepted, "okay, we're a team," the whole "love this and love that, and we're all together." What can I say? It's like, in a way Simon did his thing, Josje did her thing, Barry did his thing and I did my thing. In retrospect I wish I'd just been able to be on my own. But I needed those people for emotional support more than anything else, so they did help. Josje was very productive, a fantastic clothing designer especially, probably better than me. But it always came down to me. I had to come up with to come up with the concrete idea and design, and how to put it into effect, which is a whole thing in itself. I don't think I was ever recognized as an individual. Then later I read some books and things written about The Fool, and they always make us out to be opportunists and it wasn't like that at all. It's like... (trails off...)
As you've said before, they came to you.
Well, yeah! Apple Boutique was badly managed which had nothing to do with The Fool: we were just the creative people and had our hands full painting and designing.
George Harrison's fireplace mural, 1968. Photograph: Robert Whitaker
At the time, it seemed as if everyone was blaming everyone else with endless finger-pointing. Blame the Apple janitorial custodian! You horrible janitorial custodian, you broke up The Beatles!
It was so mismanaged, you know?
Who was the mouthpiece, who talked to the public?
Simon, mainly. We just didn't respond to that at all at the time. It was only later that you realize all this stuff was going on. I was too shy to speak up for myself. At times I could have, but I always kept my mouth shut.
The execution of the Sgt. Pepper package seemed to get away from you. At the time I would read about the London art scene, Alan Aldridge, Robert Fraser, David Bailey, Peter Blake and wonder where were you guys?
Brian Epstein died which was very sad. It became 'I have my camp, you have your camp.' There was a lot of jealousy because, I don't know, there was this Cambridge graduate, this big art dealer Robert Fraser with this big art gallery. And he just couldn't handle it: here come these young upstarts, you know? (Ed.- Fraser is better known to American music fans as the party arrested for drugs along with Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull in the first major rock star felony bust of the 1960s.)
"Summer Sunday" line 1970, models: Maureen, Colleen, Ray, Tay
I have a fashion design question. Before the Apple Boutique mass production deal, where did you find your uniquely colorful fabrics for your custom clothes?
Everywhere. Liberty's of London, Portobello Road, high end shops. There was great stuff everywhere. We made them into clothes influenced by Pierre Cardin and Mary Quant (Ed.- in form only. Hers was multi-hued, rainbow-bright!)
And now your clothing is found in only in museums, other than the occasional eBay item like $2,000 for a skirt.
There's some in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. You have no idea how many clothes we designed that I have given away, no idea. To think, I could make money with this now that everybody wants it. Back then I couldn't give them away.
American designer (of far-out clothes since the '60s) Betsey Johnson said the exact same thing when interviewed in George Plimpton/Jean Stein's Edie Sedgwick biography, "I used to give them away to the neighborhood kids for Halloween costumes!"
"Summer Sunday" line, 1970: model: Raquel Welch. Photograph: Maurice Hoogenboom
Later in America, Simon and I designed the Summer Sunday with its hand-silkscreened fabrics and Astraflash clothing lines for Michael Butler and Bill Berman respectively, which sold very well at Macy's and Saks Fifth Ave. These were the first time in the world that a full spectrum fade was printed on fabric capturing the rainbow on cloth. We silkscreened other fabric with designs of stars and clouds. I have not been involved in the fashion business for a long time now, but when I was younger it was an important and fun part of my life.
In 1968 you came to the U.S.A.?
from SONOS Gallery career retrospective art show, 2012
I always wanted to go to America. I was always fascinated with America. As a little girl I saw tv shows like Lassie, even Kellogg's Corn Flakes advertisements impressed me. Then, the music thing. I can play percussion very well, I have rhythm. I wrote some good songs and some good lyrics, but I was really pushed into that whole thing by people. That's a flaw in my character, not standing up for myself, not saying, 'no, this is not what I want to do. I want to just paint, you know?' Mercury Records President Irwin Green, who was a wonderful older man, very sweet, had visited our London house and heard us playing acoustic music. He offered us a recording contract and brought us to New York to record "The Fool" album, produced by Graham Nash. Right away I knew I wanted to stay, although I didn't like New York City.
European friends have admitted to me when they first moved the U.S. via New York, they questioned, "Why did I want to come here?" because NYC was not a good fit. They generally kept moving further west.
I didn't like New York, it's too frantic for me, too high speed. After that album was done we had to do a radio station promotional tour, and that's how we ended up in Los Angeles. I still like the albums. We did three: one with The Fool and Simon and I did two more ourselves.
Aquarius Theatre mural, 1969 by The Fool. Commissioned by Michael Butler and Tommy Smothers
In L.A. we met Michael Butler, producer of the play Hair who commissioned us to paint murals on his Aquarius Theatre (Ed.- venerable large Hollywood venue, once home to Earl Carroll's Vanities in the 1940s. My father sang there) where Hair was to debut. At the time, it was the largest mural in the world: we completed it in two months. I produced sketches of larger than life mythological images, and transferred these to the walls via the pounded charcoal method (Ed.- it's akin to reverse church-rubbings: charcoal is rubbed on the back of a completed drawing, then one redraws the original against the surface intended to have the design.)
Aquarius Theatre mural, 1969 by The Fool, detail "Urania," one of the nine muses depicted
The Fool split up around 1970. Simon and I remained in L.A. and went on to paint murals on other theatres where "Hair" played in Chicago, San Francisco and San Francisco. Butler financed another clothing textile line, Astraflash which we designed.
Did you go to Home Silk Shop?
Yeah, I did.
I ask because as soon as you all did your Aquarius Theatre murals, a huge mural was painted next to Home Silk Shop with somewhat similar metaphysical subject matter. It was called "Beverly Hills Siddartha."
I don't know who did it, but I really liked it!
The were call the L. A. Fine Arts Squad, who later influenced Kent Twitchell, our local world-renowned muralist. I initially think they were influenced by you. They also had the same problem you did, that everything they did eventually was covered over. How did you feel when you first heard that the Aquarius was covered over?
Well, I didn't let it get to me. The same thing had happened with Apple. What are you going to do? At least I have photographs of it so that's good.
Marijke, Puppets for Karaoke Fest, Hollywood Palladium stage props, 1998
My best oil painting in art school, a six by six foot photo-realist depiction of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile was stolen. At least I had photos too, so I know how you feel. Now that you lived where you could do so, when did you first get a horse?
Graham Nash had been the producer of The Fool LP since we knew him from England when The Hollies were our clients, and he was Rita Coolidge's boyfriend in '71 or 72. Rita's sister Priscilla was married to Booker T. Jones, and Priscilla and I really got along: we're still very good friends. They had a horse ranch and we came to live there for a while. I got to ride some of their horses there.
My first horse? It's actually a very sad story. We weren't really well informed about the horse thing and made the mistake of putting my new black and white paint mare in with other horses in a big arena right off the bat. That was a big mistake, horses have herd hierarchy. The next day we found she had been kicked so badly that both her front legs were broken and we had to put her to sleep. A little later I leased an Arabian gelding from a friend of mine and had him for about 12 years.
Simon and I went our separate ways in 1974, all of the rest of The Fool ended up back in Amsterdam. Barry and Josje remained a couple and had six children together, but Josje died of an aneurism in 1989, very sad. She was my friend since art school. I stayed here in L.A. and later rented horse property in Mission Hills with my second husband, a space program engineer at JPL. It was a nice acre property, with the landlady and her lawyer son living there as well, but I never got to meet him so I had this impression of him as a "suit" because his mother was really straight. We then moved to Riverside horse property where, after a couple of years, this husband left me. I still had my horses, but nowhere to go.
Ariadne, the Minoan culture, acrylic on canvas. Says the artist, "I feel like I lived there in another lifetime."
I had made friends with a neighbor of the original Mission Hills landlords, and she let me board my horses with her. Every day I used to pass my old place that I used to rent and thought, "God, if only I could live there again" even though it now looked run down.I still had their phone number and called, asking for the landlady. This time her son Don answered saying, "She can't speak to you because she has Alzheimer's. But it's funny that you called because I'm in the process of evicting the tenants there for neglecting it." A few weeks later we met and I got to live there again with my horses, and...
Don Dunham, Marijke Koger-Dunham at her SONOS Gallery career retrospective art show, 2012. Photograph: Heather Harris
...with a new romance! (Don Dunham not only is an attorney, but also a musician in the blues-rock band Black Cat, and remains as genial and knowledgeable a fellow as has ever graced both the music and law professions. But is tough enough to win. Don and Marijke remain happily married to this day. Her art of course adorns Black Cat hard copy music releases.)
I think a lot of your contemporaries do not make art that is recognizable as a continuity of their style. They get into nostalgia or something they do over and over again or fall over a cliff stylistically by overdoing something radically different.
Despite others' misguided retro-assessments, I consider your art to be as subversive as punk rock, which is a compliment from me, insofar as that true-to-your-own style continuity while moving forward is so hard to achieve. How do you think you've changed your art approaches, maybe via different medium, different themes?
At first my technique was flatter, more 2-dimensional. Now it's becoming a little more 3-dimensional. I always want to insert some sort of spiritual thing in the painting, some sort of mystical element, something that will make people think, or symbolism, reflecting the awakening process of mind expansion. Or anything of that sort, because that's what I personally am attracted to. That's what I like to express. That's the continuity, although I may change my approach a little bit. A person may look at my painting and not understand that it's Elijah in his chariot but that's what it is. They can still appreciate it just as a painting.
Watching rare footage of The Fool at MOCA, Eletrical Banana book signing event, 2012. Photograph: Heather Harris
Just like Grand Opera: you don't understand the language but the feeling still gets through. How did you manage to get your three most recent projects going, your chapter in the art compendium book "Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art," your exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and your career retrospective show at Sonos Gallery, Hollywood?
Don, Marijke, Evita in background at MOCA, Electrical Banana book signing event, 2012. Photograph: Heather Harris
The book people contacted me from New York. They eventually sent out a photographer with a large format camera and took shots of whatever paintings they wanted in the book. I didn't hear anything for two years and all of the sudden the book was done. They had a connection with a book professional here who had an association with Imprint Projects, who set up the installation at MOCA.
Then another Imprint Projects person wanted to do the SONOS exhibit, so we did.
That was such a great multi-media event, what with the audio feed of your own music, the feed of the playlist that was heard at Apple Boutique, and of course the live performance by your friend, the mighty Booker T. Jones, (Ed- the instrumental hit "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the M.G.s, plus producer/co-songwriter for Stax artists like Otis Redding and Albert King,) all for your career retrospective from the 1960s through right here, right now.
Mr. Twister (this author's better half,) Marijke in front of poster of The Beatles wearing Marijke's clothing designs for Magical Mystery Tour, SONOS Gallery career retrospective art show, 2012. Photograph: Heather Harris. Below, the mighty Booker T. Jones entertains at Marijke's retrospective. Photograph: Heather Harris
Doors of Perception, acrylic on canvas, 2000. Says the artist, "The evolution of life spirals ever upward."
That makes sense. I love "Poseidon" as you know since I bought a print (the correlation of wild horses and the seas as scarcely controllable forces of nature makes sense to me too. Poseidon was god of both.)
Well, they fought me over it. Then I went there a week before it actually opened, and Poseidon is missing! They go, "There's not really room." I said, that painting has to go in there. I got really mad at them, and that's unusual for me to get mad over things like that. In the past, I was always just, 'Okay, whatever.'
Do they have any other ideas to solidify your legacy?
I haven't spoken to them this week...
Electrical Banana stated that Michael Butler always had wanted to do a 'Hair' comic book with you. Director Milos Forman succeeded with a decades after the fact film of 'Hair,' and graphic novels are huge now. Is this something you could pursue?
Yeah, at the time I could have done it but I'm not into it now any more. No, it couldn't possibly be good again, the whole thing of running after a publisher to try to get something, the whole thing is too much of a headache. An agent would make it a lot easier but... Besides, I'm already such a diverse businesswoman in the world!
Briar, Danish champion Dressage horse, 2005. Acrylic on board
In the bone dry summer of 2009, less than a year after the devastating Sayre/Sylmar fire in the same general area, a sadistic arsonist set the Station Fire which burned close to 200,000 acres of the Angele Forest (the entire North East quadrant of gigantic Los Angeles County.) Two firefighters were killed trying to rescue a fire detail crew of inmates who made it though. Giant plumes of smoke resembling mushroom clouds of atomic bombs were seen from Santa Barbara to San Diego (100s of miles) and, according to meteorologists, were formed by similar powers with the ashes rising through the atmosphere. Countless hillside homes were evacuated and lost, and since this was one of 2% of L.A. that allows livestock, countless numbers of horses had to be evacuated immediately.
The trainers' horses where we boarded were evacuated by same, and first. Trainerless, trailerless and not wanting to wait for the dregs of rescue in a true emergency while driving over to their place before any answer, I called Don and Marijke who had a truck and horse trailer, which I didn't.
Their answer? Of course they'd help. Picture our drive to the boarding stable, talking our way through police-blockaded bivouacs, hot 70 miles per hour Santa Ana winds howling through the canyon drives, clouds of opaque, choking smoke blinding all drivers, horrific flames of flashpoints and flaming embers burning on each side of the seared road, orange burning hills on fire right over the next ridge. Believe me, it all resembled a huge budget war movie. But real, and we were smack inside it.
They scooped up my terrified horse (helicopters, sirens, fire engines, police cars, convoys of horse-trailers, water-dropping aircraft, endless smoke etc. are not well tolerated by the hot-blooded equine types like mine) and took him to their home ranch, where he stayed in luxury as if at a horsey spa until the roads were opened and evacuations rescinded, weeks later. In fact he didn't want to leave: re-loading him into their trailer for the trek home proved a difficult operation (re-training immediately ensued after he returned home. In horses as in life, always better safe than sorry.)
Marwari Horses of India, 2011. Acrylic on canvas. (Marwari are a rare, Thoroughbred-based horse with unique ears curled like a lyre, reminiscent to Indians as divine cattle horns. They are a very spirited breed.)
I was profuse in expressing my genuine and profound gratitude to Don and Marijke for literally saving my horse's life. "Oh, it's nothing," was Marijke's rejoinder, "I do that for friends." But it most certainly was not "nothing." This was the largest fire the area has ever known, the most destructive, and the most dangerous. Yes, the fire proved that horrific, and that scary. Not all horses made it out alive either. And most people do not necessarily risk their lives for others, no matter how good of friends.
In retrospect, I figured there were composite factors in their derring-do. For one, Don is the consummate good guy, despite his non-music profession. For another, Marijke's vestigial 1960s mindset had kicked in, that generosity of spirit endemic to growing up in those times which still pervades her being and her fine art. There is no cognitive dissonance in the arts: hers remains both highly personal and inclusively universal, depicting better worlds by picturing this one with more vision and skill. It takes an extraordinary person to succeed in art, or life for that matter. She is, and has. No matter where she's lived, it's always been on an Art Street.
Marijke Koger-Dunham: I was born with it. I can't imagine not drawing or painting. It's part of my personality. Also part of my personality, I never took impositions like "you can't do this and you can't do that." I always did what I wanted no matter what. Because I had nothing to lose.
With that she thanked me for a painless interview.
Marijke Koger-Dunham at her SONOS Gallery career retrospective art show, 2012. Photograph: Heather Harris
This Must Stop, artwork adapted to back cover of first CD release by Black Cat, Don Dunham's rock band
This Paraphilia article features a more copious compendium of Marijke Koger-Dunham's work than any prior publication, but you can see even more at her sites,