“Rick Barton should have been a San Francisco legend,” declared author and artist Etel Adnan in a 1998 essay. Working primarily in pen or brush and ink in a kaleidoscopic linear style, Barton (1928–92), who was born and raised in New York and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s, ceaselessly recorded the world around him, whether the enclosed space of his room, the cafes in which he spent his days, his lovers and friends, or the ornate churches and botanical subjects that seem to have held particular fascination for him. Flourishing in San Francisco’s gay and Beat subcultures of the 1950s and ’60s, Barton accrued a group of disciples who were drawn to his singular style, which synthesized sources as disparate as Renaissance and Japanese woodblock prints and the delicate line drawings of Jean Cocteau.
Bringing together more than 60 drawings, two accordion-folded sketchbooks, and printed portfolios and books, Writing a Chrysanthemum: The Drawings of Rick Barton presents for the first time the work of this unique artist who was a significant, and until now unheralded, figure of the Beat era. Rachel Federman, the curator of the exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, has written a deeply researched essay on the artist and his work. An excerpt of Adnan’s essay—the first published account of Barton—is reprinted in the catalogue.