Robert Alexander

Untitled collage (“Mother”), circa 1960. Robert Alexander papers and Temple of Man records, 1956-1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Robert Alexander (1923–1987) was the only child of Russian immigrant parents. His family settled in Southern California soon after he was born in 1923. He began writing poetry at a young age and eventually immersed himself in the Los Angeles jazz scene, where he first met Wallace Berman in 1945. A poet, collagist, printer and assemblage artist, Alexander helped Berman with the initial production of Semina and also opened his own printing shop, known as Press Baza. Alexander had his first solo exhibition of collaged poems at Edward Kienholz’s Now Gallery in 1955.

In 1955, Edward Kienholz found a small space for Robert Alexander to live and work in. It became a hangout for artists and poets. It is here that Alexander began printing business cards for his circle, and Instant Theatre announcements. Wallace Berman and Robert Alexander ran the Stone Brothers Printing studio together here that hosted Instant Theater performances at times.

The Ferus Gallery was founded in 1957 by the curator Walter Hopps, the artist Edward Kienholz, and Robert Alexander behind an antiques store on La Cienega Boulevard. They called the gallery “Ferus” to honor a person named James Farris who shot himself to death, and was possibly the friend of a friend of Hopps. They spelled the name “Ferus” because the man who designed the gallery’s logo, Robert Alexander (a.k.a. “Baza”), a collage artist and poet, thought that spelling looked stronger on the page, and Hopps agreed.

In 1960, after being ordained a priest by mail-order, Robert  Alexander founded The Temple of Man in San Francisco. The Temple of Man was a non-denominational ministry founded on the well-known maxim “ART IS LOVE IS GOD” with one of Alexander’s closest friends, the artist Wallace Berman. In 1968, he moved the organization to his home in Southern California along the Venice canals. The Temple of Man became a meeting place for artists, poets, and writers, particularly those associated with the Beat movement.

Alexander was the creator and main force behind the Temple of Man, from its start in 1960 until his death in 1987. The Temple’s ordained ministers—fellow artists, writers, and other members of Alexander’s scene—presided over weddings, christenings, and memorials, combining the unique rites of each ceremony with art and poetry. (Kenneth Patchen was a favorite.) True to the calling, Alexander visited prisoners and hospital patients, advocated for the rights of drug offenders, set up an outreach to teach photography to inner-city youths, and was even active in local politics. But the Temple also published books of poetry, sponsored exhibitions, held readings and screenings, and, through donations, amassed a sizable collection of art.

The Temple itself became Alexander’s most ambitious and sustained artwork, integrating his previous output as a printer, poet, visual artist, organizer, and performer under a unifying equation, one that put creativity at the apex of existence.

Books Published by Press Baza:

Los Angeles: Press Baza, 1963
Limited to 500 copies.

Los Angeles: Press Baza, December 1963
Limited to 500 copies.

Los Angeles: Press Baza, October 1964
Reproduced from manuscript.

Online Resources:

· East of Borneo – Humanness Always Comes First

· Archives of American Art – Robert Alexander papers and Temple of Man records, 1938-2015