Eve Babitz, Collage Artist

Posted on Tue., March 19, 2024 by Sarah Francis
A person stands in a dark doorway, next to artwork on the wall.

Eve Babitz and one of her collages. Eve Babitz Papers. Photo by Laurie Pepper.  | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Born in Hollywood in 1943, Eve Babitz was already a sort of It Girl by the time she published her first book, Eve’s Hollywood, in 1974. She was a lifelong Angeleno known for her love of the city and its most colorful residents, and the greatest hits of her youth have often been told. She famously posed nude for a photo with Marcel Duchamp, had been featured in Ed Ruscha’s “Five 1965 Girlfriends,” and was goddaughter to Igor and Vera Stravinsky. The Huntington acquired Babitz’s papers in 2021, just a few months before her death. Since then, The Huntington has processed the collection and made it available to researchers, who can now take deep dives into her writing, art, and materials related to her personal life. But before Babitz was a published writer—telling all in breezy, autofictional essays and vignettes—she was a visual artist, and her chosen medium was collage.

Expand image A collage featuring Marilyn Monroe, with flowers, in an abstract environment.

Photograph of collage featuring Marilyn Monroe. Eve Babitz Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Babitz—the daughter of Mae, an illustrator and painter, and Sol, a violinist—first turned her attention to visual art. She began creating collages in the mid-1960s after attending an exhibition of the assemblage and collage artist Joseph Cornell at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum). In Lili Anolik’s biography of Babitz, Hollywoods Eve, she writes that Babitz told her: “What Joseph Cornell was doing was so beyond anything I’d ever seen or even thought of. Afterward I went out and bought all these magazines to make my collages. Which is when I started doing art madly.” Much of Babitz’s collage work was in service to record companies; she created the iconic album cover art for Buffalo Springfield’s Buffalo Springfield Again and The Byrds’ Untitled, among others.

Babitz’s sister, Mirandi Babitz, theorized in an email to me that Eve was particularly inspired by her friendship with Andy Warhol, whom Eve met in New York City in 1967, when he was already famous for his silkscreen portraits of celebrities. Eve’s perspective had something in common with Warhol’s: that of the insider-observer, paying homage while also disrupting the tedious superficiality of celebrity worship.

Expand image A collage featuring the members of the Rolling Stones surrounded by flowers, birds, and butterflies.

Photograph of collage featuring the Rolling Stones. Eve Babitz Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Babitz’s collage-making rates only a passing mention in most writing about her, but it was perhaps more meaningful to her than the books and articles for which she is known. Babitz said more than once that she believed her collage work to be her most accomplished. In an undated letter in The Huntington’s collection, she writes (probably to Bill Siddons, then-manager of The Doors): “Bill, I don’t want anyone to really like [my collages]—I want them to be on something! They’re the best things I’ve ever done and you know that.” Not satisfied with creating art for art’s sake, Babitz wanted her collages to circulate widely.

Expand image A collage featuring Eric Clapton playing guitar, with winged cherubs underneath him.

Photograph of collage featuring Eric Clapton. Eve Babitz Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

She also understood her writing as a form of collage. In a letter to “Tom” (possibly Tom Nolan, a Los Angeles–based writer), she confided: “The publisher and agent of my book have been hinting that I must establish a ‘form’ for the stories I am writing and it was worrying me quite a lot since I’m very fragmented and diffuse and have always been satisfied with collage to take care of everything—I mean, I always expect that any audience can synapse things together and don’t [sic] have to be prodded from pillar to pillar.” Eve’s Hollywood is made up of nearly 50 vignettes, some as brief as a half-page; her next book, Slow Days, Fast Company, is made up of 10 longer essays that are more condensed and polished. These distinct passages can stand on their own, but they gain their momentum primarily through their assemblage.

Expand image A collage featuring Paul McCartney with flowers on his head.

Photograph of collage featuring Paul McCartney. Eve Babitz Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

In the same letter to “Tom,” Babitz relates an offer she received to teach collage-making at Los Angeles’ Immaculate Heart College, whose art department had risen to prominence under the screen printer and pop artist Corita Kent, also known as Sister Mary Corita. Babitz writes: “I am anxiously awaiting to discover if they really want me to teach or if they’re just tampering with my daydreams. I love collages (I’d still be doing them if they hadn’t fallen so out of fashion and made me into a secretary until I stumbled upon writing and found out how much money you could get for it) and I think I should still be doing them, and now they want me to teach it … How fantastic!” Babitz never taught for Immaculate Heart, but her sister, Mirandi, confirmed that the proposal honored and validated her as a visual artist.

Expand image A collaged landscape with trees, waterfalls, and Eve from the Bible.

Photograph of collage featuring the biblical Eve. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Babitz achieved only modest success as a visual artist, and this body of her work, like that of many women artists, is underresearched. The ephemeral nature of her collages is a contributing factor, as is the fact that many are dispersed to private owners and others are the property of record companies. Yet her collage work should not be assessed as secondary to, or separate from, her writing, but rather in tandem—as something that both informs and is informed by her prose.

A collection of Eve Babitz’s unpublished letters is expected in 2025.

Sarah Francis is the assistant curator of literary collections at The Huntington.