Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ETUDES — Art Highly Resonating With Our Glooming Days. First solo exhibition in New York City.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “The Young Yeats” (2008), oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches (All images courtesy New Release, New York; copyright Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Except for “The Bastards” whose courtesy is Mauro Aprile Zanetti, San Francisco)

SEIZE THE DAY, New Yorkers! Lawrence Ferlinghetti is back in the East Coast, where he was born at the beginning of the last century, March 24, 1919, on the aftermath of a very dramatic polio epidemic that in 1916 had particularly decimated New York’s population, and right after the very tragic 1918 pandemic flu, the world’s worst one of the XX century.

If not in person — now almost blind and deaf, even if exceptionally lucid and brilliant though — San Francisco’s First Poet Laureate and City Lights Books co-founder will “be back home” to his “A Coney Island Of The Mind” (1958) poetic set, New York, at least through some of his paintings and drawings; and this makes him truly happy, honored and excited like Ulysses heading back to his Ithaca.

Ferlinghetti’s first solo exhibition in New York City can be also a special occasion to celebrate some of the flair of Italy in the US, being October officially recognized as #ItalianHeritageMonth. Which better representative of Italian first-generation immigrants than the son of Carlo Ferlinghetti from Brescia (Italy) who died few months before his fifth kid Lawrence was born? So we hope the show will extend its duration through the whole month.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Dreamboat” (2006), oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

While we barely survive these glooming days of Covid-19 in the US (7.3 MLN cases and over 200.000 deaths) — with many Counties still stuck in purple and red tiers (San Francisco has just entered the orange one); with an almost never recorded heat wave erupted through the renowned “coldest winter” i.e. summer in San Francisco overpassing 100 Fahrenheit; and with a new horrible wildfires series devastating all over California, making us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area swing between an unhealthy and very unhealthy air quality — Ferlinghetti is surviving all of this uncertainty too, and finally showcasing some of his art visions in New York City, where he started crawling his centennial adventure without a net on such a rotating blue planet earth and still revolving around the sun for his 102 time.

A painter before a writer and a poet, a publisher and an activist, who took part in some of the XX century’s toughest social battles and wars, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has always been at the forefront to fight for minorities and human rights, the less fortunate ones in need to raise their voice. He actually started painting back at the end of the 1940s — not by chance his Master thesis at Columbia University was about the art critic J. Ruskin’s essays on J.M. William Turner’s light in painting — and he never stopped creating art until few years ago because of his quickly deteriorating eyesight, when he had to eventually leave his pencils close to the colors’ palette.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Icarus Blind” (1989), acrylic, wash on paper, 22 1⁄2 x 19 inches; 29 x 24 1⁄2 inches matted

Finally, it’s time for Americans to deep dive into Ferlinghetti’s art of painting and drawing because it highly resonates ever more with our very threatening days on earth. As a matter of fact, San Francisco Bay Area, Europe and mainly Italy’s museums and art galleries have already lit up their spotlight to gain some art critics’ attention on Ferlinghetti’s art creation. Different great shows have, in fact, been curated on his art, also because of his links to the very eclectic art impresario and independent publisher, Francesco Conz, who used to invite several artists from the Fluxus Movement to perform in Italy. There couldn’t be a better time to get a show like this in New York City, which is still the microcosm of our globalization and multiculturalism with immigrants coming from any angle of the world.

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Orestes and Mother, 18” x 24” 24” x 30” matted. Charcoal, acrylic, wash on paper 1981.

It’s more than worth a trip to go and look through such a magical looking glass of America now on show at New Release (60 Mulberry Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) through October 16. Ferlinghetti’s art signs punch you straight in the stomach with beauty, reminding somehow one of Heraclitus of Ephesus’ sayings about the God whose Oracle is in Delphi that neither speaks, nor hides, but gives a Sign.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti has seen it all from surviving the Great Depression as a little boy (check his latest novel, a pure stream of consciousness published last year by Doubleday), several national and international war-theaters such as Pearl Harbor, WWII, Normandy Landings and Nagasaki’s atomic aftermath, having served in the Navy for 4 years and 4 months with never a job at a desk, always sailing wave after wave, the man and the sea alone. At the end of 1940s coming back in the US from Paris, where on the G.I. Bill he earned his doctoral degree from La Sorbonne in comparative literature with a dissertation on the city as a symbol in modern poetry, he eventually left New York going west with his wife Selden Kirby-Smith, looking for the Last Frontier. At the dawn of the 1950s he settled in such a Mediterranean-like city, where an actual San Francisco Renaissance cultural movement was hitting momentum thanks to poet Kenneth Rexroth. In 1953 Ferlinghetti joined another intellectual fellow of Italian origin, Peter D. Martin, to lead a “literary meeting place” in North Beach, disrupting every other bookstore business model: open until midnight seven days a week, publishing and distributing paperback editions only. The new cultural format — both for the literary space, attracting some of the most underground talents from all over the nation, and for the books edition specifically the brand new pocket poets series inaugurated with his “Pictures of the Gone World” (1955) — created a new wave of American counterculture, which particularly thanks to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac turned into some of the masterpieces of the world-renown Beat Generation. Hence Ferlinghetti ended up to be by right and by fact the godfather and publisher of the beats and patron of their experimentations with art and poetry, music and readings, performances and happenings. All the rest, “Summer of Love” and the hippy culture included, is history or better said a legend.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “The Night Before Thinking” (1990), oil paint and black conte stick on paper, 23 3⁄4 x 18 inches; 30 x 24 inches matted

The “people’s poet” — to use president of City Lights Foundation, Nancy J. Peters’ words — has never stopped traveling all over the world until few years ago (Paris and Mexico in 2014-2015), always trying to get along with the XX and XXI Century history full of exuberant contradictions and ideologies, which also became some iconic battles he was personally involved in, such as the one for the freedom of speech and expression having published Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1956).

A relentless sailor who crossed through the whole XX century’s most appalling oceans and seas, surfing some of the biggest breakers that constantly have been jeopardizing humankind with dreams and nightmares, hopes and failures, desire and despair, Ferlinghetti is truly a witness of our future more than of our past, as it is true the saying which goes with the ritornello of “history repeats itself.”

Ferlinghetti’s art is like a series of arrows he has been shooting forward to light up sparkles of ideas here and there. Now it’s up to us to choose from them and to keep on shooting them forward. This is what you can experience with Erin Goldberger’s curation of Ferlinghetti’s art at New Release, New York.

At this point, we can’t help but think of some of Ferlinghetti’s recommendations he has always made to us with his sibylline smile to persist with passion and resilience, to “fulfill your own dreams”, to find our own voice sticking to it without compromises and raising it aloud (specifically the artists) going with the fluxus.

And as it is true that his secret of life, in the end, is “tenderness, live with tenderness” and the Trinity-like magical formula “Mangia bene. Ridi spesso. Ama molto” (Eat well. Laugh often. Love a lot), let’s never forget to add to such a stupendous recipe one of Ferlinghetti’s spice-mark, after Artaud signaling through the flames, printed in red capital letters by an anarchist fan of his in London on a cotton paper: “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.”

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “The Bastards”, London, ca. 2000s, red ink on cotton paper, 11 1⁄2 x 8 1/2 inches, matted

Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Études continues at New Release (60 Mulberry Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) through October 16.

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