English department to unveil paintings by Beat artist, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The English department will celebrate the installation of two original works by the noted Beat era poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti at a 5:30 p.m. open house Friday (Sept. 8) in the East Hall Atrium. The event will feature a brief history of the paintings and readings of Ferlinghetti’s work.

Ferlinghetti is best known for his book A Coney Island of the Mind, which was published in 1958 and became one of the 20th century’s best-selling volumes of poetry. He also became famous as a champion of artistic freedom for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in City Lights books, for which Ferlinghetti was tried and acquitted on obscenity charges.

His acquittal was a victory for freedom of expression, and his long support of the poets and artists of the Beat movement helped establish them as an important American literary movement.

Ferlinghetti is also an accomplished painter. The English department received two of his works, preserved and donated to the University by David Shevin of Fairmount, Ohio, an M.F.A. alumnus of the Creative Writing Program, and Dr. Larry Smith, an emeritus professor of English, and restored and framed by BGSU’s School of Art.

In 1996, while working at the Tranquil Spaces Art Co-op in Sandusky, Ferlinghetti painted two stylized nudes on the studio wall. A vandal painted clothing onto the nudes, covering the figures’ genitals and the woman’s breasts. Rather than restore the painting, Ferlinghetti chose to make the vandal’s action part of it. He left the painted clothing as it was and wrote a message over it questioning the motives of those who would censor artistic expression: “These pure figures were painted by the artist without clothes, as in the Garden of Eden. Some guilt-ridden lost soul added the fig leaves.”

The paintings hang today in East Hall to represent the Department of English’s commitment to artistic and academic freedom.

The event is sponsored by the English department, the Creative Writing Program and the Black Swamp Literary Society.

September 4, 2006