In memory of Michael Bowen

In memory of the Great and Honorable Michael Bowen (aka Baba Kali Das)

By R.W. Bruch March 13, 2009

Yes, Great, like Alexander the Great, Michael was also an influential and visionary leader who will be remembered into the distant future. Michael Bowen was not an ordinary fine artist; he truly was a great soul, a Mahatma. I am just now, a few days after his auspicious passing into his light body, organizing my thoughts. Even though I knew him quite well, it is still a difficult challenge to deliberate on the complex life and career of Michael Bowen and his unique contribution to modern art. But even more importantly, I am reflecting and deepening my appreciation of his personal involvement with the evolution of the human species. As many of you already know, Michael the Great was the only artist or social activist of his generation to have been bequeathed a “Certificate of Honor” by a major American politician. This is appropriate and historically significant. Michael’s performance art creation of the

Human Be-In January 14, 1967

Human Be-In on January 14, 1967 in the scenic Golden Gate Park of San Francisco was the needed catalyst for the ensuing Summer of Love. The 20,000 in attendance that day left as apostles, empowered emissaries seeking the progressive evolution of humanity. During the turbulent sixties, the Honorable Michael Bowen became a sacred warrior, a behind- the-scene leader, the piped piper of a vibrant youth movement that attracted the multitudes to participate in and experience pure unconditional Love. The dynamic changes initiated during the Summer of Love such as environmental awareness, peace movements, freedom of artist expression, civil rights, and equality of the sexes are now enjoyed by all civilized societies of the modern world. Because of the Honorable Michael Bowen, the expressions of “Flower Power” and the motto “Make Love, not War” have been permanently etched into our collective psyches. He never really took much credit for his heroic accomplishments. He would, however, repeatedly make the point that he and his colleagues were fulfilling their patriotic duty and living the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

By some unimaginable good fortune, I’ve spent the last 15 years of my own life with Michael Bowen as his assistant. There are many magical stories and memories that I could relate but I want to focus on just two; how I met him and how he spent his last moments in this material realm. Everything in between those experiences was pure magic. I say “magic” because from the very beginning of my relationship with him, I experienced his enchanting mystical abilities. I knew Michael to be not only a genius artist but an empowered wizard, a high Hindu priest, a preeminent mystic visionary. Michael would often refer to his own mentor, John Starr Cooke, as a wizard, as a man who could inspire, transform, and awaken spiritual consciousness in those around him. Close family and friends knew Michael as Baba Kali Das, a teacher and shaman who instructed those who would listen in mysterious ways. His closest friends affectionately called him “Baba”, an honorific title according to the Hindu tradition. My viewpoint of Michael as a wizard, someone who has magical powers and abilities, has been somewhat problematic for me. But by describing just two of the innumerable magical experiences I shared with him, I will be able to elucidate to some extent on this concept. Michael’s long and illustrious career reflects his uncanny ability to positively influence others, to challenge their cultural conditioning, to evolve and transform their own human potential.

So, how did I come to know of this magician, this genius artist and shamanic teacher known to the world as Michael Bowen? In 1994 I was in San Francisco, attending the California Institute of Integral Studies, the first accredited East/West psychology and philosophy school in America. I was working on a Masters degree in counseling psychology and participating in various Asian traditions in the Bay Area. I came to know of a very extraordinary phenomenon surrounding a four foot high bullet shaped granite Shiva Linga in the center of Golden Gate Park. The Linga, or representation of the Hindu God Shiva, had an enigmatic story and energy connected to it. It was described in the San Francisco papers as a former traffic barrier that had been transformed into a sacred Hindu shrine. I would often find myself attracted to visiting this holy place of pilgrimage, offering some flowers, incense, or prayers, and just meditating there in the middle of the exquisite Golden Gate Park, using the Shiva Linga as the focal point of my meditation.

After several days of feeling compelled to again go to the park to do my mediation at the Shiva Linga, I travelled there full of anticipation only to find that the Linga was not there! There were however, several hand made signs with a phone number and “Baba Kali Das” written on them. I was irate and annoyed. I thought to myself that this Baba Kali Das had no right to remove the Shiva Linga from the park where people could freely visit and offer their respects and practice their meditations. I phoned my graduate school professor, Dr. Jim Ryan, about my surprise at the moving of the Shiva Linga. Jim casually related that he knew this Baba Kali Das. He described “Baba” as an important and socially active mystic artist. Jim saw my frustration and anger and said that I should not be irritated but rather I should just calm down and call him to understand why the Shiva Linga was removed. This sounded reasonable but I could not contain my rage at the removal of the Linga. Instead of calling Baba Kali Das directly, I encouraged my roommate to inquire about the removed Shiva Linga. After a short conversation, my roommate put the phone down and quickly left after being invited to immediately visit the Linga at its new abode, the garage of Baba Kali Das. I was also invited to attend but I became even more infuriated that the Shiva Linga was removed from the beautiful park and now resided in, of all places, a garage? My roommate left and I turned on the Television and soon found myself becoming absorbed in watching an idiotic movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which ironically portrays one character as a very demented and cruel Kali Priest. In the middle of the movie the phone rings and it’s Baba Kali Das, aka Michael Bowen, on the phone. This is the very first time I talked with him. He calmly invites me to immediately come over since he is just about to personally commence the first Puja or Hindu worship ceremony to the Shiva Linga at his house and that everyone in attendance is now waiting for me to arrive before they start. All I can remember saying is “OK, I’ll be right over”. I shut off the offensive and incendiary Temple of Doom movie and immediately rode my bicycle over to Michael’s house, a short ten minute ride. Upon arriving, I saw my roommate who introduced me to Baba Kali Das and within minutes the first ceremony at the Shiva Linga’s new home began with the blowing of a conch shell. I recognized some kind of amazing magic unfolding before my eyes as the beautiful and devotion filled ceremony transformed the garage into a Hindu temple full of joyous singing and chanting of mantras, transforming my consciousness. And leading the ceremony, creating his ritual magic, was of course Baba Kali Das, aka Michael Bowen.

So now, fifteen years later and after innumerable magical experiences, I want to now tell of Michael’s auspicious passing into his light body on March 7th, 2009 in his intensive care room in the Stockholm hospital. The night before he passed away, I was with him and talking to him about world news, the global economic disaster, Obama’s naïve stimulus incentive, the Mexican gang wars, and the projected “Summer of Rage” by the London police. Then I mentioned to him about a recent article in the New York Times written by Holland Cotter called “The boom is over, long live the art!” The article was well written and spread to many other newspapers as well as commentary on many sites and blogs on the internet. It describes how the contemporary art market bubble has burst and is now undergoing its own restructuring. The article elaborates on how many artists, art dealers, galleries, and auction houses in the last ten years have profited from meaningless and culturally inconsequential visual art. But now, as the bubble has popped, everyone is looking for art that is authentic and culturally relevant. At his request I read him the entire article. He followed what I was saying with rapt attention and could understand that now was the perfect time for Bowen art to come to the forefront of the contemporary art world. It has been well documented over the years how Michael Bowen was repulsed by and rejected the schlock art gallery scene that he saw around him. But, to the degree that he did this, he also derailed his own career path. Michael and I had a short conversation about the importance of establishing him as “The father of Performance Art” as one journalist called because of his historically influential creation of the Human Be-In. Then at 11:00 pm I told him I had to go in order to catch the last Saltsjöbaden train. He asked me to please stay, and I told Baba how much I loved him and politely excused myself saying I would be back in the morning with Isabella. That was the last time I was able to talk with him. Isa and I got a call from one of the nurses at 5:00 am that Michael’s breathing was deteriorating and that we should come immediately. At 9:20 am surrounded by his artwork, his devoted and loving wife Isabella holding him, as well as my playing the harmonium and singing mantra’s in glorification of the Divine Mother Kali, Baba Kali Das peacefully breathed his last breath and slipped from this realm into his light body.

A Few days later I was doing internet research on the same article “The boom is over, long live the art!” for David Phillips, a good friend of Michael’s in San Francisco. Because of many years of Michael’s gentle influence and persuasion, David, a long time Dharma practitioner, became a devotee of Ganesha; the auspicious elephant headed Hindu Deity. Michael would often call David “Ganesha Baba” for his devotion and enthusiasm in worshipping this uniquely lucky deity. Lord Ganesha is often referred to as the remover of obstacles and as the deity who initiates good fortune as well as bringing auspicious closure to all endeavors. Ganesha is the beginning and the end and everything in between. So, while pursuing my research on “The boom is over, long live the art!” article that I read to Michael in his last hours, I found an incredible picture of Ganesha at the beginning of a commentary written about the article. I immediately recognized that this was yet another magical sign of the fortunate departure of Baba Kali Das. As soon as I saw Lord Ganesha magically appearing to me in relation to the final article that I read to him, I had no doubt that Michael Bowen’s extraordinary life had ended in great fortune and success. From the beginning of my relationship with Baba, right to the very end, Bowen magic was ever present. Yes, Bowen magic is perceptibly real. Yes, Michael the Great or the Honorable Michael Bowen will be remembered into the far future. And yes, the schlock art boom is over. Long live the art and the memories of the Honorable Michael Bowen!

February 16, 2009 in Art Education, Art World | Tags: Art World, arts, arts education, Holland Cotter
Ganesha, festooned with the dried flowers of a Hawaiian lei, in my studio

Holland Cotter wrote a piece over the weekend in the New York Times on the state of the art world, The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art! This article was not unlike about 20 others on the same topic that I’ve read over the last few months, from UK publications like the Guardian to art rags like Art Forum. It is a major topic everywhere you turn these days, the overnight collapse of the world’s most overheated art market.

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