Photo: © Laki Vazakas
MARY BEACH: was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1919. In 1925, after her mother's divorce, she moved to France. During the first part of World War II she lived in the small town of St. Jean de Luz, but, with the entrance of the United States in the war in 1941, she was soon viewed as a suspicious alien and was, for a time, interned in a Nazi prison camp.
Despite her parents protests (but perhaps under the influence of her relative Sylvia Beach -- famed proprietor of Paris's Shakespeare & Co. and the first publisher of James Joyce), Mary pursued her life as an artist with great passion and from an early age. Her first solo show was at the Galerie du Bearn, in Pau, France in 1943, and she has since then continuously exhibited her work all over the world.
Mary returned to the United States in 1946, where she married Alain Joseph (the American war hero she had met in France) and had two children. She attended the Hartford Art School (where she won first prize in her class), and also attended school at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 1957 Mary and her family returned to France, to Strasbourg, and then Paris in 1959. She attended the esteemed Grande Chaumiere, where she studied under Henri Goetz. She exhibited at the historic Salon des Indepentes in Paris in both 1957 and 1958; won the Prix du Dome at the Salon des Femmes Peintres in 1959; won 1st Prize, Vichy, France, Silver Medal in 1959 as well; and was exhibited at the Salon des Suindependents in Paris in 1960.
These early accomplishments stand alone, and would be exemplary for any artist. But for an American woman in France -- for a wife and mother in the late 1950s anywhere - Mary's success in the male-dominated art world is truly astounding. She is one of the great, underappreciated pioneers of her generation.
After the loss of her first husband, Mary met Claude Pélieu. While living with Claude she continued to work and exhibit all over the world (Galerie du Moulin Rouge -- Biennale de Paris; Suzan Cooper Gallery; Galerie Wandragore, Rouen; etc., etc.). During this time she worked at City Lights, in San Francisco, where she discovered and published the poet Bob Kaufman and, under her own imprint of Beach Books, published William Burroughs. She also collaborated extensively with Allen Ginsberg.
Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach met in 1962 and, until Claude's unfortunate passing in December of 2002, they shared an exemplary rich and creative life. Traveling extensively while living primarily in Paris, New York and San Francisco, their existence was a bohemian adventure during which they ceaselessly explored and continuously created: With a keen and graceful eye they deconstruct, critique and reinterpret the classical and contemporary worlds of art and media, while creating striking new works of wit and beauty -- drawing subconscious associations that are both mysterious and poetic.
Long hailed in Claude's native France as the natural inheritors of the Surrealist legacy (a direct line has been drawn by French critics from Picasso and Braque to Schwitters and Duchamp to Warhol and Pélieu), their works are highly prized and respected. However, in Mary's native America, the pair remain relatively unknown - their work still awaits discovery by both mainstream critics and collectors.
Claude Pélieu: Was born in 1934 in Beauchamp, Val D'Oise, France. The first of his many shows was at the famed Galerie du Haut Pave, in Paris. While living the life of a young French artist in 1950's Paris, Claude continued to work and exhibit (at the Le Soleil dans la Tete in Paris; the Galerie Alphonse Chave in St. Paul de Vence). Although largely self taught, and greatly influenced by artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters, Claude did deviate from the "bohemian norm" long enough to study under Fernand Leger.
In 1962, in Paris, Claude met Mary, and they soon departed for San Francisco: Mary had given Claude a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Reality Sandwiches, the two artists had corresponded with the Beat poet -- had shown him some of their work and Claude's poetry -- and, with poet/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti's encouragement, they left for America. In San Francisco the two quickly found themselves in the midst of the flourishing West Coast art scene, and struck up lifetime friendships and creative associations with Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Charles Plymell (poet and publisher of Zap Comics). Soon after, in 1965, they left for New York City where they lived and worked for several years -- spending all of 1969 living at the Chelsea Hotel, where they became friends and worked with such writers and artists as William Burroughs, Ed Sanders, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe and Harry Smith (who would later live with them for a time when they decamped to upstate New York, to Cooperstown, in the 1980s).
Other travels followed (to England, France); other artistic collaborations flourished (with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin); and different mediums were explored (writing poetry - Pilote Automatique, published by City Lights; French translations of Burroughs and Ginsberg; illustration) -- yet throughout all this time Claude continued with his collages, exhibiting at various galleries in Paris and Caen; at the Mohammed Gallery in Genoa, Italy; at the Biennale de Sao Paolo in Brazil; the Centre Pompidou, Beaubourg in Paris; the Suzan Cooper Gallery in New York.
Claude and Mary wed in 1975, and finally settled in upstate New York -- first in Cooperstown, then in the nearby small town of Norwich. It was there that the two quietly lived and constantly worked -- Claude always exploring, always experimenting, always finding new ways to deconstruct and reinterpret the world that had forever been both his inspiration and provocation -- until, ill with cancer and diabetes, he passed away on 12-20-2003.
Compressed Bios -- Ed. Hammond Guthrie, The 3rd Page
Mary & Claude -- 2002
MARY B -- RIP
In San Francisco from 1967 to 1969, Mary and I collaborated on a little magazine together with Claude Pélieu, Norman O. Mustill and Carl Weissner. It was called The San Francisco Earthquake.
Mary and Claude, who lived together, were workaholics when I knew them. They invariably spent their days writing, translating and slicing up reams of magazine illustrations for pop collages. But after work they partied.
Their apartment up the hill from North Beach was the scene of many drunken evenings. The two of them were incomparable hosts who prized intelligence, wit and balls above everything. Next came barbed gossip about overrated literary poobahs that usually ended in fits of laughter. Sometimes we spent the same sort of evenings at Mustill's place in San Anselmo, where he kicked the party up a notch.
At the time, Mary was the publisher of Beach Books, Texts & Documents, which brought out William S. Burroughs's APO-33, Claude's With Revolvers Aimed Fingerbowls, the Pélieu-Burroughs-Weissner collaboration So Who Owns Death TV? and Mustill's Flypaper, a demonic collection of figurative collages in black and white.
It was evident from Flypaper and even more so from the blazing abstract artworks hanging in his livingroom -- riotous wall-size collages made of billboard fragments in full bloody color -- that Mustill was the genius among us to rival Uncle Bill.
Earthquake, which lasted for five issues, published Mary's own texts and collages. Contributors included Burroughs, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ed Ruscha, Dick Higgins, Robert Duncan, Michael, McClure, Frank O'Hara, Janine Pommy-Vega, Doug Blazek, Sinclair Beiles, Harold Norse, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Liam O'Gallagher, Nanos Valaoritis, Charles Plymell and too many others to name.
Charley printed the first SFoEQ on an old Multilith press in his bedroom. (He and Mary's daughter, Pam, were living together.) That issue had a cover by Mustill and was co-edited by Gail Chiarrello (then using her married name Dusenberry). Charley printed a lot of firsts on that Multilith, including Robert Crumb's first Zap Comix, No. 0.
Mary's literary papers, along with Claude's, are archived in The Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University. Mine are in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University Library. I dunno know where Norm's are, probably in his attic. He's just turned 75 and has long since decamped from California. Still living out West, he tells me he's "busily muckin' away at my Combo Electric Chair/Voting Machine and other expediencies. These are a series of sculpture-assemblages, the CECVM inspired by Jeb Bush, naturellement."
-- Jan Herman
BLUE BANGH! Expanded Media Editions
We only met once in this life. Probably in early 1973 when I was visiting with William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin in London. There were two photographs taken, one of Mary, one of Claude, reproduced inside BLUE BANGH! Not in London though, but somewhere out in the countryside. Probably Pam will know. This was an encounter full of humor, full of wit and sympathy, out of which came the above mentioned 33-page pamphlet with texts & collages by both of them. To be published by my then publishing venture Expanded Media Editions. Hammond Guthrie, Sinclair Beiles, Bruno Demattio, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gerard Malanga, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, William Burroughs and many others were among my authors. And there was SOFT NEED, the English language magazine (in a Kraut edition, mind you) of which were published #8, #9 (edited by Pociao & dedicated to Claude), and #17 (The Brion Gysin Special).
Followed a decades long pause. And then, when eventually calling Mary after Claude had passed away I didn't dare to believe she'd remember me, after all those years
(" It's been a thousand years," as Jan Herman cited Mary the other day).
But how pleasantly she did.
Jan just was found again this last January 19, when the late Brion Gysin would have turned 90. I thought of him that day, as I did when Hammond informed me around Christmas time that Mary had declined to accept surgery, that she didn't want no bag -- Brion had had one, both life-extending and torturing body and soul.
Well, by and by there's a whole gallery of close-ones that have gone. And not gone. How did my godfather Uncle Johannes put it when I was visiting with him in Berlin, shortly before Christmas when he just had turned 101: Aber die leben doch alle irgendwo hier. (But they're all living around here somewhere.) They being those already gone. While us being with them every once in a while.
-- Udo Breger, Basel, Switzerland
Mary - 2005
photo: Laki Vazakas