Working independently, Herndon experimented at the forefront of a now-canonical method—appropriation—by painting additions into found images from magazines such as Life and Sports Illustrated in a way that imbues the resulting works with mythical significance. Associated with the Beat movement, her work is integral to that part of the history of San Francisco. White Angel (1962), painted in the year of Marilyn Monroe’s death, portrays the actress in a process of devolution.
Fran Herndon was born in Oklahoma in 1929, then moved to San Francisco in 1957, where she came into contact with Jack Spicer, who encouraged her painting practice by motivating her to study at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). They collaborated on a few important poetry works including Homage to Creeley Heads of the Town Up to the Aether and J magazine. In each instance, Herndon’s graceful, looping, lithographs are not mere illustrations of Spicer’s text, but enter into a mutually enriching dialogue with it.