Fran Herndon

Fran Herndon, Collage For Willie Mays, 1962


As a young artist new to San Francisco’s bohemia, Fran Herndon began experimenting in a variety of media. It was poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) who urged Herndon to enroll in art school as a way to make magic. The lithographs she created for his 1960 masterwork The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether (Auerhahn Press, 1962) bring to life shared themes of alienation, discovery, ruin, apocalypse and mercy. In her “sports collage” project of 1962, she scissored general circulation magazines like Sports Illustrated and Life, applying watercolor, gouache, and assemblage techniques to create an unparalleled window into Cold War USA via its mass produced patriotic portrayals of organized sport and other large public events of the day, including the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Born in 1929 in Oklahoma, Herndon left the USA in the early 1950s, seeing her homeland as “no place for a brown face.” (She is of Native American heritage.) In France she met and married the California teacher and writer Jim Herndon, and came to California to find herself in a welcoming host of painters and poets, chief among them Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Jess and Robert Duncan. In 1959, while maintaining a wide and varied art practice, she became the art editor of the poetry/art magazine J, often credited as the first journal of the “mimeo revolution” and the harbinger of hundreds of successors in the 60s and 70s. Herndon showed at the experimental “poets’ galleries” of the period (the Peacock Gallery, Buzz). In the 1970s, as contemporaries like Jess, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo began finding fame, Herndon put aside art for personal reasons, and when she returned to painting she did so in a deliberately low key, unheralded way. But in that period a coterie of admirers from many disciplines has grown vocal, and through a sprinkling of small but important exhibitions, interest in her work has reached a new height.

Solo Exhibitions

· Buzz Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Curated by Paul Alexander, Bill Brodecky, Larry Fagin

· Canessa Park Gallery, San Francisco, CA

· Canessa Park Gallery, San Francisco, CA

· Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Curated by Kevin Killian and Lee Plested

· The Apartment, Vancouver, BC

· Canessa Park Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Group Exhibitions

peacock· “Group Show” Curated by Robin Blaser, Peacock Gallery San Francisco, CA

· Inaugural Group Show, curated by Paul Alexander, Bill Brodecky, Larry Fagin, Buzz Gallery, San Francisco, CA. (Jess Collins, Bill Brodecky, Paul Alexander, Tom Field, Fran Herndon, Knut Stiles, and Graham Mackintosh)

· “Jack Spicer Symposium and White Rabbit Conference,” Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

· “In Search of Orpheus: Some Bay Area Poets & Painters 1945-65” Curated by Scott Watson and Greg Bellerby, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.

· “Poetry and its Arts, Bay Area Interactions 1954-2004” Curated by Steve Dickison, California Historical Society Gallery, San Francisco, CA

· “Many Happy Returns”, organized by Michael Smoler, High Energy Constructs, Los Angeles, CA

· “Five Habitats: Squatting at Langton,” Week One, organized by Matthew Higgs, New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CA

· “Other People’s Projects: Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian”, White Columns, New York

· “Breathless Days 1959-1960: A Chronotropic Experiment”, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia

Further Reading:

· Fact-simile interview with Herndon
· Granary Books