Jack Kerouac’s “Beat Paintings:” Now Gathered in One Book and Exhibition for the First Time

Most of us enter Jack Ker­ouac’s world through his 1959 nov­el On the Road. Those of us who explore it more deeply there­after may find much more than we expect­ed to: Ker­ouac’s inner life came out not just in his for­mi­da­ble body of writ­ten work, but in spo­ken-word jazz albums, fan­ta­sy base­ball mate­ri­als, and even paint­ings. Though Ker­ouac has now been gone for near­ly half a cen­tu­ry, it was­n’t until just last year that his works of visu­al art were brought togeth­er: Ker­ouac: Beat Paint­ing did it in book form, and the Museo Maga near Milan put on an exhi­bi­tion of the more than 80 pieces it could find, begin­ning with his first self-por­trait, drawn at the age of nine.

Ker­ouac had an inter­est in por­trai­ture in gen­er­al: the book, the Inde­pen­dent’s David Bar­nett writes, “begins with a series of por­traits of peo­ple Ker­ouac knew or admired. They also high­light Ker­ouac’s com­pli­cat­ed spir­i­tu­al­i­ty: brought up a Catholic, he lat­er embraced Bud­dhism and devel­oped an almost ‘holy fool’ per­sona.” Car­di­nal Gio­van­ni Mon­ti­ni, lat­er to become Pope Paul VI, counts as one par­tic­u­lar­ly notable sub­ject of a Ker­ouac por­trait; anoth­er is Ker­ouac’s fel­low cul­ture-defin­ing writer Tru­man Capote (above), who at the time Ker­ouac paint­ed him had already crit­i­cized On the Road pub­licly, and harsh­ly. San­d­ri­na Ban­dera, a cura­tor of the exhi­bi­tion and edi­tor of Ker­ouac: Beat Paint­ing, ascribes to the Capote por­trait “a dynam­ic, almost vio­lent qual­i­ty.”

The same could per­haps be said of all of Ker­ouac’s cre­ative out­put, and cer­tain­ly of much of his best-known writ­ing. And like many a cre­ator known for his vis­cer­al nature, Ker­ouac made strict rules and built sys­tems to work with­in: his 1959 man­i­festo for paint­ing includes the com­mand­ments “use only one brush” and “stop when you want to ‘improve’… it’s done.” Detrac­tors of Ker­ouac’s work will cer­tain­ly see a con­nec­tion between his visu­al art and his ver­bal art in his self-direct­ed com­mand­ment to “pile it on,” but who could call the “beat paint­ing” of this Beat Gen­er­a­tion fig­ure­head not of an aes­thet­ic and intel­lec­tu­al piece with every­thing else that Ban­dera describes, unim­prov­ably, as “that potent enti­ty known as Jack Ker­ouac.”

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Map of the Hitch­hik­ing Trip Nar­rat­ed in On the Road

Hear All Three of Jack Kerouac’s Spo­ken-World Albums: A Sub­lime Union of Beat Lit­er­a­ture and 1950s Jazz

Jack Ker­ouac Lists 9 Essen­tials for Writ­ing Spon­ta­neous Prose

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Ker­ouac Was a Secret, Obses­sive Fan of Fan­ta­sy Base­ball

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.