Poets go graphic in ‘The Painted Word’ at Meridian Gallery 

In the 1950s and ’60s, San Francisco’s creative energy inspired notable poets. Many of them, it turns out, painted with the same passion that infused their words.

“The Painted Word” features more than 80 paintings, drawings and other artworks by William Saroyan, Henry Miller, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and 11 other prominent poets.

The show, co-curated by Peter Selz and Sue Kubly, runs through July 14 at the Meridian Gallery.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that so many poets of that period of the ’50s and ’60s and even the ’70s ... were artists as well, and some of them in equal measure,” says gallery director Anne Brodzky. “The art making wasn’t something frivolous they did once in a while. It was a full commitment.”

There are several wonderful pieces in the show, especially those by Miller, Saroyan and Kenneth Patchen. Their paintings have a playful quality, such as Patchen’s “(#137) 3 Cats” and Saroyan’s “Grass and Other Stuff, Paris, June 9, 1961.”  Miller’s watercolors, including “Untitled (New York Harbor),” are beautifully rendered.

Jack Micheline’s painting “One Arm” includes a poem about the things a one-armed man can do. It begins and ends with the line, “He made love with one arm.”

Other standouts include Ferlinghetti’s “This is Not a Man (Sing Sing Sing Series),” a somber vision of a man strapped to an electric chair. In “Door to the Sea,” two figures are dwarfed by a large yellow door that is slightly askew.

The show includes black-and-white portraits of the poets taken by photographer Chris Felver, who still lives and works in North Beach. It’s fascinating to stare deep into the soulful eyes of the artists.

“Jack and Aggie,” a portrait of poet Jack Hirschman and his wife, Aggie, offers a glimpse of their tiny apartment above a North Beach cafe.

While some of the poets were part of the Beat Generation, many were not. Brodzky says the exhibition is very much a San Francisco show. A show of this kind, she says, hasn’t been done before.

“When the word really gets out, I know there will be people from across the country wanting to see it,” she says.

For those who wish to support the nonprofit gallery, a fundraiser will be held June 3. At “Poets Read Poets,” Michael McClure and David Meltzer will read from their own work. Tbd-A Quartet, with Mario Guarneri, Erik Jekabson, John Witala and Hamir Atwal, will perform.

IF YOU GO

The Painted Word

Where: Meridian Gallery, 535 Powell St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes July 14

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 398-7229, www.meridiangallery.org

Note: Tickets for “Poets Read Poets,” a fundraiser which begins at 5:30 p.m. June 3, are $50.

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Cathy Bowman

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