Writing a Chrysanthemum: The Drawings of Rick Barton

One day in Peking I was sitting on the main square drawing a chrysanthemum and a little boy stopped close, looked at what I was doing, and told his father: “Look, he is writing a chrysanthemum.” He was right. I am a writer.

—Rick Barton, as told to artist Etel Adnan

Little is known about Rick Barton (1928–1992), who, between 1958 and 1962, created hundreds of drawings of striking originality. His subjects range from the intimacy of his room to the architecture of Mexican cathedrals, and from the gathering places of Beat-era San Francisco to the sinuous contours of plants. Drawing almost exclusively in pen or brush and ink, he captured these themes in a web of line that evokes both drawing and writing. At times it was simple and economical, but more often it was complex and kaleidoscopic.

Most of the drawings on view were once part of printmaker Henry Evans’s personal collection of nearly eight hundred sheets by Barton, which Evans donated to the library at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1971. Thirteen years earlier, Barton had begun to produce linocut prints at Evans’s Peregrine Press, one of several small presses that emerged in the Bay Area in the 1950s. Evans became Barton’s champion and patron, furnishing him with art supplies and promoting his work. However, apart from small displays in cafés and bookshops in the 1950s and ’60s, this is the first time that Barton’s work is being seen by the public.

Writing a Chrysanthemum: The Drawings of Rick Barton is made possible by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Agnes Gund, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin M. Rosen, the Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Research and Publications, and the Rita Markus Fund for Exhibitions, with support from The Lunder Foundation – Peter and Paula Lunder Family.

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