Burt Shonberg Art Exhibition

“Beyond the Pleasuredome: The Lost Occult World of Burt Shonberg”

“As two artists moving into new modes of expression in our work, our introduction was fortuitous. His preoccupation with monsters, aliens, the occult, and other horror elements in his art resonated with me. Most importantly, I could see he was a major talent exploring new ground in form and color. I knew right away that Burt’s artistic sensibilities would lend much to my new film.”

—Roger Corman, director of “The House of Usher” 1960 and “The Premature Burial” 1962 (both of which featured the art of Burt Shonberg)

“Wish I could offer up a decisive comment, but it was such a special time and he was such a unique and special person and what he did was so far out, it deserves more than I have the time to do justice to.”

Hampton Fancher, screenwriter, “Blade Runner”, “Blade Runner 2049”

The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio, and Stephen Romano Gallery in Brooklyn, are pleased to present the first exhibition of art by the L.A. visionary BURT SHONBERG (1933-1977) in over 50 years.

The exhibition opens August 17 and continues through November 1, 2021. The exhibition is curated by historian, documentarian, and longtime Shonberg advocate Brian Chidester. It is accompanied by a catalog, the first ever exclusively devoted to Shonberg’s art, with essay also by Chidester, an introduction by Minneapolis Institute of Art curator Robert Cozzolino, a director’s foreword by Steven Intermill of the Buckland, and contributions by Shonberg friend Marshall Berle, screenwriter/former Shonberg roommate Hampton Fancher, and esteemed filmmaker Roger Corman.

The exhibition catalog will be available from the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick’s bookstore

Burt Shonberg, title unknown, 1960, casein on panel, 36inw x 30inh .

Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Director Steven Intermill says: “It’s a thrill to be able to host Burt Shonberg’s first solo exhibit in 54 years in our museum dedicated to the hidden arts. Back in the 1960s our founder Raymond Buckland was on the East Coast exploring the liminal headspace through witchcraft & magick at the same time Shonberg was on the West Coast charting his own maps of the unconscious. Here we are in Ohio, the midwest of the USA, and the two can combine. In these paintings I see an Old World witchiness with a New World exploration. The subjects of Shonberg’s paintings walk a line between that ol’ time mystery and something new… even five or six decades after their creation.”

Born on March 30, 1933, in Revere, MA, Shonberg studied art in the fifties at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts. His interests were in the occult, UFOs, science fiction, and horror movies, in particular, the Frankenstein monster, whom the artist considered something of an alter-ego.

He gained acclaim in L.A. primarily for his mural paintings which adorned popular Los Angeles coffeehouses like Pandora’s Box, Cosmo Alley, the Bastille, and the Seven Chefs, and from his associations with filmmakers and actors in the subculture of Hollywood then.

During his lifetime, Shonberg was associated with the artist/occultist Marjorie Cameron, who probably introduced him to the mythos of Aleister Crowley and the ceremonial use of peyote. Shonberg later participated in 1960 in the experiments of Dr. Oscar Janiger on the effects of LSD on the creative mind. Shonberg’s art was prominently used in Corman’s classic films “The House of Usher” and “The Premature Burial”.

The relationship between Shonberg and Cameron—the widow of rocket inventor and Crowley disciple Jack Parsons—perpetuated Shonberg’s interest in the occult and his early exposure to hallucinogenic drugs. Their relationship lasted a little over a year.

Shonberg, along with friend and television writer George Clayton Johnson, and a third partner, folk singer Doug Myres, opened the Cafe Frankenstein, a beatnik coffee house in Laguna Beach, California in 1958.

CAFE FRANKENSTEIN Laguna Beach California. photograph by Doris I. Walker, May 1961.

CAFE FRANKENSTEIN Laguna Beach California.

Shonberg’s art gained the attention of Roger Corman around 1958 when the latter commissioned Shonberg to create ancestral portraits for his high-profile film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “House of Usher” (1960) starring Vincent Price. Afterwards, Shonberg contributed his artwork to a second film, “Premature Burial” (1962), also based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Burt Shonberg, Vincent Price, Roger Corman on the set of “The House of Usher”circa 1959 – 1960 https://youtube.com/embed/1lCZMey8dx4?enablejsapi=1

Still from Roger Corman’s 1960 film “The House of Usher” staring Vincent Price. Painting by Burt Shonberg of the house. The painting’s whereabouts are unknown.

Still from Roger Corman’s 1960 film “The House of Usher” staring Vincent Price. Painting by Burt Shonberg of the house. The painting’s whereabouts are unknown.

By 1960, Shonberg and his partners sold their interest in the Cafe Frankenstein to the local Laguna couple Michael Schley and Connie Vining, who kept it going until 1962. Upon the sale of the cafe, Burt Shonberg paid off his remaining debt to George Clayton Johnson by gifting him a group of paintings, which comprise the bulk of works in this exhibition. This important group of works was acquired through the Stephen Romano Gallery in 2021 from Johnson’s descendants and is being exhibited at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick for the very first time.

“Burt Shonberg was more than just an artist, he was a “prospector of consciousness” who traveled to areas outside of our collective awareness and painted what he saw during those excursions.

~ Marshall Berle former manager of Sprit, Van Halen and friend to Burt Shonberg, and producer of “Out Here” a “Film About Burt Shonberg “LSD” artist.” see trailer here

Burt Shonberg, Randy California of Spirit and Marshall Berle in the 1970’s

The collection of works that comprise this exhibition straddle the time when Shonberg was first introduced to psychedelics and the occult and culminates in the centerpiece of the exhibition, “Untitled (Lucifer), produced in 1961 when Shonberg was perhaps deepest into his practice and usage.

Shonberg also illustrated sci-fi pulp magazines in the early sixties and he designed album covers for the bands like the Curtis Brothers, Love, and Spirit, the latter of whom the artist befriended via his supporter Marshall Berle. Berle was managing Spirit and its main songwriter Randy California at the time.

Burt Shonberg, title unknown, (side A), circa 1958 – 1961, casein on panel, 24inw x 30inh

“..Shonberg was too strange for even the ’60s California sci-fi world, and too far removed from the fine art establishment, to be embraced by either. Even today, when radical viewpoints are commonplace in the art world, Shonberg has yet to receive recognition. Meanwhile, a unique body of work remains hidden in plain sight.”

– Brian Chidester “In Search of Burt Shonberg’s Lost 1960s Psychedelic Art” LAweekly .. October 26, 2015.

“Beyond the Pleasuredome: The Lost Occult World of Burt Shonberg” marks the fifth project in which the Buckland Museum and Stephen Romano Gallery have collaborated on together. Previous exhibitions include: “William Mortensen’s WITCHES”; the first-ever North American exhibition by Barry William Hale, “Apparitions”; and most recently, “Transmutations: Witches, Healers, and Oracles.”

“As for Shonberg (who died in 1977, aged 44), his life story was a heady fusion of ‘magical inspiration, psychedelic experience and artistic production’, all the while ‘walking the thin and dangerous between dimensions.. His artwork was all about beckoning us onward into the realm of our dreams”.

Peter Fuller, excerpted from “Burt Shonberg | The psychedelic 1960s artist behind those haunting House of Usher portraits” at Vincent Price Legacy UK.

For further information and visuals please contact Stephen Romano at romanostephen@gmail.com

Burt Shonberg’s timelineBurt Shonberg’s Art in the films of Roger CormanGeorge Clayton JohnsonMarshall BerleExhibition Press

Burt Shonberg, title unknown, 1961, casein on panel, 25 1/2inw x 12inh

Burt Shonberg, title unknown, circa 1965, casein on panel, 8inw x 14inh

The Modern Folk Quartet, Warner Bros. 1963

Love “Out Here” Blue Thumb Records 1969