After joining a women’s division of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Marjorie Cameron dropped her first name. “Marjorie,” she said, was a “secretary” in the mind of her drug-taking, art-making persona. In the ’50s and ’60s Cameron got into trouble for challenging viewers with drawings of sexy, witchy femmes.
Cameron and Jeffrey Deitch, who returned to New York with this seductive show, have something in common—they take pleasure in testing the art world’s limits. Cameron flouted the norms of her time, particularly for women, who weren’t supposed to engage in the sex acts depicted in this show. In Peyote Vision (1955), a serpentine woman has anal sex with a faceless demon. Cameron drew this work while on peyote.
Having been married to the occultist Jack Parsons, Cameron was an outsider who cultivated her mystique. In the creepy, haunting self-portrait Black Egg (n.d.), Cameron, with her auburn hair fanning out unnaturally, holds an egg. Her almond-shaped, jet-black eyes stare out directly at the viewer. With its schematic background and symmetry, the painting is more like a Renaissance image of Jesus Christ than a traditional self-portrait, but Cameron’s eerie gaze makes that a tough comparison. She places herself outside every art-historical category; she’s checked off all her boxes.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 99.