Burt Shonberg title unknown, date unknown circa 1958 - 1961, casein on panel, 32 x 50 Burt Shonberg portraying his partner Majorie Cameron as a sphinx.

Beyond the Pleasuredome: The Lost Occult World of Burt Shonberg

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



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.

“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, exhibition curator (excerpt from “In Search of Burt Shonberg’s Lost 1960s Psychedelic Art,” “L.A. Weekly,” October 26, 2015)

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 coffee houses 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” (1960) and “The Premature Burial” (1962).

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.

Vincent Price and Mark Damon with the art of Burt Shonberg  in the Roger Corman FIlm "The House of Usher" 1960
Vincent Price and Mark Damon with the art of Burt Shonberg in the Roger Corman Film “The House of Usher” 1960

“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)

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, “Magic Landscape” (Lucifer In The Garden), produced in 1961 when Shonberg was perhaps deepest into his practice and usage.

“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.”

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.”