Poetry News

Jack Kerouac, Aspirational Visual Artist

By Harriet Staff
Jack Kerouac

Stuart Walton looks at Jack Kerouac's artwork, seen specifically through Kerouac: Beat Painting, the "catalog of an exhibition mounted, between December 2017 and April 2018, at the MAGA Gallery at Gallarate in northern Italy," for Los Angeles Review of Books. "While it was by no means the first show of visual art by the Beat writers, it did open a revelatory new door on the aspirations of Kerouac during a key period in his career," writes Walton. More from "All of Life Is Creation: Jack Kerouac’s Art":

A set of oil portraits forms the startling introduction. The high domed head and riveting gaze of Cardinal Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI (after a photograph in Life magazine), has the autocratic weight of a Velázquez pontiff. The painting is a study in ecclesial crimson, in which the dangled black cappello and the pectoral cross compete for attention with the piercing blue of the apprising eyes and the tomb-like yellow of the brow. In another portrait, Truman Capote, who famously dismissed Kerouac’s compositional technique as mere “typing,” is rewarded for his vitriol with a violent Vorticist swirl of muddy pigment that seems to hint at the famous photograph by Roger Higgins in which Capote clutches his over-exposed face. By contrast, William Burroughs is instantly recognizable, oiled in dense impasto profile in his fedora, a hook of sodium-yellow outlining the black dilated lake of one eye, and again in a pastel line drawing that traces the fellow writer’s bespectacled visage from sparse, disordered hair to pointy chin.

Woman in Blue with Black Hat offers a Matissean monument to the chance occurrence, recorded at length in Visions of Cody (1972), through which Kerouac and Neal Cassady stumbled onto the film set of David Miller’s noir masterpiece Sudden Fear (1952), starring Jack Palance and Joan Crawford, the portrait’s subject. The actress is depicted in cornflower blue in classic Hollywood contrapposto, one eye obscured by a millinery creation akin to Cardinal Montini’s cappello, black-gloved hand at hip, the other preparing to jam a cigarette into the glutinous scarlet oblong of that never less than terrifying mouth.

Read on at LARB.


Originally Published: November 19th, 2018