Beat art

eleven1The picture at left is of artist Robert LaVigne, and is copyright by Larry Keenan–used with permissions. Says Larry, “Robert LaVigne is one of the few Beat artists that was aligned with the Beat poets. Besides his own work he did poster art and graphics for Allen Ginsberg and others. In this photograph he is talking about his huge nude painting of Peter Orlovsky hanging on the wall behind me. The next time I viewed his painting of Orlovsky, thirty years later, it was hanging in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.”

Outside of beat artists, there was a movement in the 1950s that some term as rebel art, or abstract expressionism. This movement began in the 1940s in New York City, and like the beat poetry of the time, was full of spontaneous expression–escaping traditional and conventional art forms and applying different styles of painting (both content and surface qualities of the paint). The paintings meant quick and fluid strokes on large canvases and seemed chaotic–but, in fact, much like beat writings, this art was very conceptual if not planned.

What evolved after the 40s and 50s, similar to the avenues from bop to hip, were pop artists reflecting the San Francisco 60’s scene: just like Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady bounced down another tangential path, so did other artists. One was Michael Bowen, whose art goes back several decades. He is described as a “youthful member of the abstract assemblage group in the early fifties in Los Angeles, [who] traveled to the east coast and Europe in the early sixties, and completed four world art tours between 1969 and 1988” (from

The North Beach of the Beat Generation quickly filled up with poets, writers, musicians and artists. They came from all over America and all parts of the world. There were black white, brown yellow and red Beats.

Another person to pay attention to is multimedia artist Bruce Conner, whose 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II exhibit has been running at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.

[Old brief review] Recently, I got to meet a recent JACK Magazine contributor, Eddie Watkins, when he flew to Los Angeles to hang out some. I drove up and met him at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to see 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II. MOCA called this exhibition the “first major survey of the artist’s career.” It was pretty amazing, and not having been too familiar with Conner’s work, I was pleasantly overwhelmed and surprised. From the material collages to the movies (I saw A Movie, Take the 5:10 to Dreamland, and Looking For Mushrooms), to his inkblot series–all the art was unique but at the same time a unified collection. I thought of this exhibit from the perspective of the sixties, as in back then Conner was a real groundbreaker. We especially liked A Movie, and I thought the music accompanying Looking For Mushrooms was perfect for that trippy sensation. My favorite series were the Angel ones, and the Dennis Hopper One Man Show (I was trying to find Hopper’s face in all the pictures). Also on display was the deck of cards that Conner and Michael McClure had created, which I thought was pretty cool.

Other Galleries

I put together two galleries for Michael Rothenberg’s Big Bridge site: Robert La Vigne and Ira Cohen. I’ve also worked with Larry Keenan and Gordon Ball on their online galleries for Beat News/Jack.

John Sokol’s Art


Left: Oil painting of William Burroughs
Right: Word-portrait of William Burroughs as “Junky,” with words from Junky written on his   face

This artwork is by John Sokol, who is a writer and painter living in Akron, OH. His poemsburroughswp1 have appeared in America, Antigonish Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Georgetown Review, New Millennium Writings, The New York Quarterly, and Quarterly West, among others. His short stories have appeared in Akros, Descant, Mindscapes, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Redbook, and other journals. One of his stories has been translated into Danish, and, another, into Russian. His drawings and paintings have been reproduced on more that thirty-five book covers. His chapbook, “Kissing the Bees,” winner of the 1999 Redgreene Press Chapbook Competition, is available through


Oil painting of Allen Ginsberg

2 thoughts on “Beat art

  1. Pingback: profiterole vision » Blog Archive » Allen Ginsberg’s Family Album

  2. I read your blog entry about Robert LaVigne and wondered if you have his contact information? I need to contact him.

    All the best,

    Frida Forsgren

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