Arts Listings

Berkeley Art Center Exhibits Paintings by Ferlinghetti

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 06:30:00 PM

Lyric Escape, paintings by San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, most of them done over the past decade, are on exhibit at the Berkeley Art Center through May 10 with an opening reception tonight (Thurday) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 

“It’s great timing,” said Suzanne Tan, the center’s executive director. “He’s just turned 90, has been in the news a lot. It’s a very concentrated show, four paintings alone from 2009. Very evocative, very much a look back on his life. I think they’re transcendent, triumphant—yet at the same time reflective.” 

Ferlinghetti’s statement for the exhibit reads: “Faced with the dominant technocratic materialist consciousness of America today, many become Luddites, Buddhists, vegans, psychics, exotic mystics, dopers, psychedelic visionaries, or just retreat into their shells. Painters and poets have available to them the lyric escape—pure lyricism, in paint or words, pure light untainted by pollution, environmental or political. Rejecting political expression as a creative medium, in this group of paintings, I am indulging in the lyric escape.” 

During the run of the Ferlinghetti exhibition, there will be a co-benefit poetry reading with Poetry Flash, the free magazine and website of poetry events and criticism in the Bay Area and beyond. Poetry Flash’s Richard Silberg will MC the benefit at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, May 2. The event will feature readers like Jack and Adele Foley of KPFA and a film by Christopher Felver, whose documentary Ferlinghetti will be shown at 6:30, May 6, at Pacific Film Archive as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Other guests for the benefit have yet to be announced. 

Suzanne Tan—who has directed the Richmond Art Center, served as development director for Berkeley’s Kala Institute, and worked with both the Museum of Craft and Folk Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—took the reins as the Berkeley Art Center’s executive director in February. Her predecessor, a friend of Ferlinghetti’s, originated the idea of an exhibition of the poet’s artwork. Under Tan, a brand new website has been put in place, updated throughout the month, and programs have been reviewed and clarified in an effort “to be engaging, to reach out to the immediate community in Berkeley and to surrounding communities, to increase visibility of the center as Berkeley’s intimate place to go for an experience in the arts, in the visual arts, literature, music... Few places explore that interrelationship in an intimate way, and here there’s such intimacy in its history, in the setting. There’s no sense of exclusiveness. The center has a lot of good will. It’s very dear to those who know it; the place touches them emotionally.” 

The seven-sided structure, on Codornices Creek across from Live Oak Park, has “features you can’t find anywhere else,” Tan commented. “It has wonderful acoustics. It’s a lovely, special place with great potential.” 

To start realizing that potential, Tan and her staff have begun to develop new and more diverse sources for funding and new outreach. “It used to be a part of the city. After Proposition 13, it was closed for a year. The city still does support the center to a certain extent, “and we’re very appreciative.” But the center must raise the majority of its own funding.  

Tan also spoke about increasing the Berkeley Art Center’s visibility. “It has strong links to the neighborhood. People live and do business around here. I first began to love this neighborhood, within walking distance of the center, when I was traveling on the Arlington between North Berkeley and the Richmond Art Center, just over the border from El Cerrito, with my daughter, who was born at Alta Bates. We’re total foodies and love the values and priorities of the neighborhood and the city. I want the center to be a reflection of what goes on around it, for the city to be proud of the center.” 

To that end, the center has been working with the North Berkeley Merchants’ Association, “the ACCI and other organizations, to create linkages.” New means of social networking and e-mail messaging on programs are being contemplated as well. An extension of center hours until 7 p.m. is planned for the summer, in consideration of the Farmers’ Market. And “we’ll try to offer classes in the future.” 

Tan mentioned that the center’s board of directors is small, at present, and said the center “needs volunteers, new board members. We need to harness the energy of people in the current economic situation. There’s a strength right now, like starting with a blank slate. The center has been perceived, sometimes, as being apart, but it’s just a few steps away. And it just needs to be tended to, and a little bit of reinvention, to realize its potential for benefiting the lives of citizens in Berkeley and beyond.” 



Paintings by Lawrence Ferlighetti. Opening reception Thursday 5:30-7:30 p.m., April 23. Free admission. Poetry Flash Co-Benefit, Saturday, May 2, with poets reading, film, refreshments: $12-15. , Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St. 644-6893.