studioNOTES: support for artists/ideas and information

Number 26

August - October 1999

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The Painter
oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 40 in.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The Painter LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI just returned from three weeks in Europe. One of his stops was in Florence for a book signing and poetry reading at City Lights Italia, a book store named after the one he had co-founded in San Francisco in 1952, but not otherwise connected with it. A man there walked up to him, "and he handed me a thousand dollars in American money. I said, 'Well, what's that for?' He said, 'Well, I'll give you 2000 more if you'll do ten designs relating to Leonardo Da Vinci. It's his 500th anniversary, and then we're going to have an exhibition. We've asked 70 artists around the world to do this, and the exhibition will be in Milan sometime around 2000.'" Turned out the man was Francesco Conz, a collector who had been a primary funder of the Fluxus movement in Europe. He also invited Ferlinghetti to his home in Verona, a four story building filled with surrealist and Fluxus art by the likes of Dali, Joseph Cornell, and André Breton.

When Ferlinghetti returned to where he was staying, he took a supplement from the Sunday edition of La Repubblica-"sort of an illustrated history of art, 48 pages, saddle stitched. There was an illustration of Monet, and one of Gauguin-it went back centuries." He chose several pages, and in French, English, or Italian wrote "'Leonardo was here'-he had influenced all these artists. And on a couple of illustrations I put, 'Leonardo was here' with a question mark. And things like that. Then I did a little bit of collage on them, and that was it. I mounted them on story boards and sent them to him and he sent me $2000 more."

One of his reasons for going to Italy was to select the final versions of glass plates that had been commissioned by a hotel in Venice and that were being produced by "the top maestro on the famous glass-making island of Murano. I was in his factory for two days. I had sent him the designs [in black and white] several months ago, and they produced some trial plates, which then I chose among. . . . I chose two colors, two of the designs. They did them in cobalt blue on very light transparent blue glass, and the other two are going to be on yellow ochre. Basically, the design was Auroboro, the snake eating its own tail, which fits onto a plate very nicely. Did several variations of that. Now they're going to produce a limited edition."

A week before he went to Italy, he attended the opening of his solo show at Dominican College in San Rafael CA. Curated by Diane Roby, it consisted of about a dozen paintings on canvas or burlap, and a similar number of drawings, lithographs, and other works on paper. The paintings ranged from about 17x13½" to 68x72", and most of them referred directly or indirectly to such personages as El Greco, Freud, Ezra Pound, Magritte, Picasso, Van Gogh, or Motherwell. The works on paper included Serpent - Bird, a seven-panel suite of drawings in sumi-e ink on Japanese paper; done in Big Sur in 1997; it shows a serpent turning into a bird. There were also about 15 books, including such things as his most recent novel, a book of his drawings of the figure, When I Look at Pictures (images and poetry), as well as a number of broadsides.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Liberty Series #6
oil on canvas
50 x 56 in.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Liberty Series #6 Ferlinghetti started painting in 1948 while he was in Paris writing poetry and novels and preparing to get his doctorate in comparative poetry from the Sorbonne. "A guy I was rooming with left his painting equipment behind when he went home, so I picked it up and gave it a try." He soon became serious about painting and began to attend drawing sessions to work from the figure (first at the open studio of the Académie Julien), a practice he continues to this day.

Before the show, he had been collaborating on a series of pieces with Christopher Felver, who created photos of himself in various stages of clown makeup and which Ferlinghetti then wrote on. "On one of them I wrote, 'I am not a clown.'" They hope to publish the series of 16 pieces in the near future.

Ferlinghetti / Felver
I Am Not a Clown
mixed media

Ferlinghetti/Felver, I Am Not a Clown Last October, Gibbs Smith published Ferlinghetti Portrait, a book of Felver's photographs that also contains the subject's long poem "Autobiography." The shots include several of the painter in his studio, at City Lights, at Big Sur, and about 100 others. A documentary, also by Felver, The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was shown last fall at the Mill Valley Film Festival at the Roxie in SF, and on PBS, where it will be shown again.

Ferlinghetti's work can be seen at the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco (415-397-9748) and at the Molly Barnes Gallery in Santa Monica (310-395-4404).

San Francisco CA, 07.28.99


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