By RANDY KENNEDY
Published: January 5, 2008
Liam O'Gallagher, an avant-garde sound artist, painter and teacher
whose San Francisco studio became an early gathering place for Beat
writers and poets in the 1950s, died Dec. 4 at his home in Santa
He was 90. His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was
announced by a friend and former student, William Gray Harris, a Los
Mr. O'Gallagher was a lifelong religious seeker who never seemed to
pursue a career in the art world but found his natural home there,
befriending free-spirited artists like Beatrice Wood and writers with
mystical leanings like Aldous Huxley. He was an art teacher for many
years at the Happy Valley School, now known as the Besant Hill
School, in Ojai, Calif., founded by Huxley, Annie Besant, Jiddu
Krishnamurti and others who sought a more open, nurturing model for education.
Born William Gallagher in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 2, 1917, Mr.
Gallagher adopted the more traditional rendering of his first name
after visiting relatives in Ireland. He moved to the Monterey
Peninsula, long a hothouse of bohemianism, in 1945 and then a year
later left briefly for New York to study painting with the Abstract
Expressionist and teacher Hans Hofmann in Greenwich Village. He
painted throughout his life, and at his death was working on a series
that he described as expressing "the surreal aspects of space science."
He was also active in the worlds of theater and dance, collaborating
with the pioneering choreographer Anna Halprin on "Ceremony of Us,"
an encounter staged in 1969 between African-American dancers from the
Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and dancers from her San Francisco
Dancers' Workshop, who were primarily white.
Mr. O'Gallagher's loft in San Francisco's Chinatown, where he moved
in 1954, became a hangout for writers like the poets Michael McClure,
Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. And Mr. O'Gallagher dabbled in the
psychedelia of the age, trying a new experimental psychiatric drug,
then legal, called LSD while in Mexico in 1959.
Mr. Gallagher is survived by his companion of 58 years, Robert S.
Rheem, and a brother, Ted.
In some circles, he is probably best known for sound art that
combined performance, chance and technology to create surreal,
sometimes funny works like "Border Dissolve in Audiospace" from 1970,
a fuzzy, echoing recording in which directory operators are called
and asked to look up various numbers.
"I wanted the phone number of the city zoo," Mr. O'Gallagher asks dryly.
"The city jail?" the operator responds, in a high, officious voice.
"No, the city zoo, operator."