For his part, Kienholz was an artist, and an entrepreneurial one at that—a skilled carpenter and mechanic, his truck door simply read “Ed Kienholz: Expert.” He had established his own gallery specializing in California artists, NOW Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, in 1956.
They were an an unlikely pair. It was a long-running joke that Hopps, with his black frames and perpetual suit and tie, was a member of the CIA. A dreamy intellectual, prone to distraction, “he was the absent-minded professor cliché,” Kienholz recalled of his one-time partner. Kienholz, on the other hand, was a scruffy former farm boy from Idaho who now ran with the infamous Beat generation of counter-cultural creatives. Fellow artist
remembers him as a “character” who would sit in his studio wearing nothing but a swimsuit, cleaning his pistol or building something out of wood scraps.
“We couldn’t have been more different sorts of people,” said Hopps later, “but it was clear to both of us that we had an agenda to further the kind of art that interested us in our own ways.”
The pair formalized their partnership at Tail-o’-the-Pup, a food stand shaped like a giant hot dog—a portent, perhaps, of the ways in which L.A.’s burgeoning art scene would eschew the seriousness of its idols, New York’s Abstract Expressionists. In March of 1957, Ferus Gallery opened its doors. Tucked away in an alley behind a La Cienega antique shop, “the first Ferus was invisible,” curator Hal Glicksman noted.