“This image convinced me that Ferlinghetti is an artist who ought to be looked at more closely, that he is not simply a poet who happens to make art. I wondered if one reason why we have been so slow to look his art – at least on the East Coast – is because we think we already know who he is and what he has done, which is formidable.”
Yes, clearly this iconic stature has unfairly eclipsed his painterly chops (notwithstanding a number of illuminating retrospectives, most recently, in 2022 at Triton Museum, Santa Clara, California and at the Vallejo Center For The Arts – here)
Here’s a few selected images from the Triton Museum installation:
and from the Vallejo show:
Ferlinghetti has also had five shows with, and is represented by, the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco
(See, in particular, the video-interview with him for the first, the 2016 Love and War show – here)
That and the second of the five shows, 2016’s Censored Tarps, are reviewed by Natasha Boas in the Huffington Post – here
Krevsky it was who first exhibited Ferlinghetti but long long before that Ferlinghetti was painting:
“I never wanted to be a poet, it chose me, I didn’t choose it, one becomes a poet almost against one’s will, certainly against one’s better judgement. I wanted to be a painter, but from the age of ten, these damn poems kept coming. Perhaps one of these days they will leave me alone and I can get back to painting.”
Ferlinghetti first took up painting in 1948 while living in Paris on the G.I. Bill (having previously written a doctoral thesis at Columbia on Turner):
“I was registered at the Sorbonne to get my GI money but I was also going to the Open Studio, (Atelier Libre), at Académie Julian, Rue du Dragon, and that’s where I first started to draw.”
Art history – “The best paintings exist in relation to the history of painting. The problem today is that this history is lost on most people….My poetry is very visual but I try to keep my paintings totally separate. In other words, I don’t try to do paintings that are illustrations. I have done too many paintings that are like cartoons and I have thrown them out because cartoons are a different art form. My painting is purely about the excitement of the visual image..”
WL: Who are your artistic heroes? Who do you look to for inspiration?
LF: Artistic heroes, well… Goya is the first that springs to mind, he was very important. I learned a lot from Goya.
WL: You have always insisted that your literary work and your artwork were completely separate..
LF: Yes, they were…
WF: …but they seem connected because of the way that you use literary references in your artwork, and the way that you use artistic knowledge in your writing.
LF: Yeah, you’re right – you’re perfectly right on that.
and from an extended interview in 2014 with John Held Jr:
“I have a hard time being recognized as a painter, and not just a poet who also paints. It’s really a drag to get that all the time, because I was painting before I ever had any poetry published at all, or anything published, as far as writing goes. I was painting in Paris when I wasn’t writing. I was just too busy to promote myself as a painter. I didn’t hang out with any of those San Francisco painters. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. The only one of the figurative group that seemed at all interested in the poets was James Weeks. I used to have coffee with him once in a while in North Beach.”
“The Six Gallery was associated with the Beats, not with the painters in the Bay Area Figurative group like (Richard) Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and David Park. There was quite a divide there… there was no communication between these two groups. I mean, there was a revolution in poetry going on in one end of North Beach, and a revolution in painting going on at the other end near the Art Institute, and there was no communication between the two.”
Ferlinghetti’s style fairly quickly found its own footing, abandoning nonobjective painting in favor of works that typically incorporated both figuration and the written word
A sample, only a tiny sample. We’ll be featuring more of Ferlinghetti’s paintings tomorrow