‘Writing a Chrysanthemum’

Rick Barton, “Untitled Sketchbook,” 1961. “… A workaday recluse who sought self-knowledge by way of a monastic and unquestioned creative ethic.” Credit… Northwestern University Libraries; Tom O’Connell.

On scrolls of Japanese paper each 19 feet in length, Barton documented the underbelly of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood before the hippies showed up… A friend and fellow artist recalled that Barton began a portrait with the sitter’s fingernail… (The show’s title comes from a boy who, as he passed Barton hard at work in Peking’s main square in 1960, observed to his father, “Look, he is writing a chrysanthemum.”) …

(Walker Mimms)
“Untitled [Facade of Barcelona Cathedral],” September 1962, pen and ink with graphite. Credit… UCLA Library Special Collections.

Classical music, not jazz, was Barton’s thing. When he briefly ran a gay nightclub near the Oakland Bay Bridge, he stocked its jukebox with Bach fugues… His clear devotion to the traditional line drawing of China (where the Navy brought him) and of Japan (he used the ultrafine yatate brush) explains his occasionally stunning compositional unity.

(Walker Mimms)
“Alone Again,” June 3, 1960, pen and ink. A bedspring as an unwieldy hunk of architecture. Credit… UCLA Library Special Collections.

“The artist is still alive,” Evans warned the curators in 1971, “but he is crazy as a bedbug and impossible to cope with.”

(Henry Evans, friend and patron who rescued Barton’s abandoned drawings and donated them to UCLA. Quoted by Walker Mimms.)

(Walker Mimms, “Unearthing Rick Barton, A Boho Bard of North Beach,” NYTimes, 8-22-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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4 Responses to ‘Writing a Chrysanthemum’

  1. Oh I love these Rick Barton drawings – very inspiring. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes I agree completely – the cathedral is a work of patience (and skill) but the bedsprings is clever and funny as well as being beautifully drawn.

    Liked by 2 people

    • JMN says:

      Precisely. You’ve nailed a crucial distinction. The cathedral is almost demented in its virtuosity and hyper-detail; the bed scene has the charm that you describe. The poor man was, sadly, a tormented soul in his personal life according to the article. Remarkably, he classed the bedspring drawing as a “self portrait.” He considered himself to be depicted lying beneath the covers in the mattress portion. It’s a style of self-portrait in which the subject is virtually invisible!

      Liked by 1 person

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