Some of the artists represented in this exhibition do not belong in the group or belonged only for a short time; others were simply too young, while there are several who never knew they were part of a movement. That the movement was very brief is clear but perhaps such enthusiastic periods always are. One reason for the brevity was the hostility of the San Francisco art establishment and the lack of support the comunity gave the local artists in general and this group in particular. People, in general, seem to tolerate what was engaged in minute doses but even that wasn't "getting under their skin; they were not getting under at all," (Rexroth,1964).
In those days painters looked at each other with some wonder. They were so completely steamed up and so exhilerated by what was happening because it hadn't happened before, except as a continuum of the period immediately after World War II. And it was true. Nobody cared what you did as long as you didn't get paranoid and commmit some gross public crimes, they figured that's OK and let you alone and however much you might hace puzzzled them they respected you as an artist but it didn't have any real central importance to most of the people here in the Bay Area.
And, so the capital of North Beach was the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, on the corner of Grant and Green. Here the elite of the Beat munched on sandwiches and ideas...drank of poetry and beer...played chess and took on and were taken on by police. This was the scene and you made it or your were Dead. Today --and it may be symbolic --this is a dress shop. The gallery across from the Bagel Shop was the comunity Town Hall. The Cellar was a small, dark, downstairs 25 cent cover charge night club around the corner on Green Street. Blabbermouth Nights were held every Monday at the Place, a tiny hole-in-the-wall where anyone was given three minutes to speak. And, of course, the fifties was the decade of Monitor, that revitalizing force in network radio which did so much to present jazz, via recording and live-broadcast, all over the country. It was also the decade of the jazz festival which from its genesis at Newport, R.I. was so prevelent that by 1960 there were 12 such festivals ranging from Playboy's gigantic extravagent three-day Chicago pageant to the artistically triumphant October week end at Monterey which was unanimously voted the musicians favorite.
The fifties was also the decade of the Bebop fable, the Bebop joke and the Beatnike. They shot up, as West Coast Jazz shot up with the speed of a sputnike and faded just as fast. And the decade saw death come to some of the greatest names in jazz and art --Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet. The world in which
Mark Twain once remarked in another context, on the inability of legislation and preaching to make something unpopular with the masses. Our mass culture may be kitsch, or it may be culture, but one suspects that future historians will find more authenticity in Fats Dimino than in the contrived folk music, more vitality in Miles Davis and jazz than in Pat Boones, and more intellectual stimulation in Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl than in the haunts of togetherness, or the makeshift substitutes for the good graces of the old Bohemians. Yet and still, the Bohemians produced great artists, writers, poets. And, there is no doubt, underneath all their posing and weird get up, many produced valid art --and, they were already genuinely dedicated to a code of ethics, ideals and behavior they had largely invented for themselves which was a world where people "made love not war" (Kipp).
The jazz scene of the fifties for black artists in New York was quite different from what has been described as folksingers and guitar pickers and would-be expatriates of Woodstock and Sausalito in the Sixties. Harvey Cropper had left New York in the very early fifties in serious pursuit of Buddhist enlightenment via the Korean War --returning home after his studies in a zen monastery in Kyoto, Japan to become known as the "Angel of MacDougal Street" in the Village. He was already a serious student of Suzuki's classes in Zen at Columbia University before the religion became popular and widesread with Beat poets. Which meant that as a cultural insurgency black artists, usually kept in harness, anticipated cultural mainstream zones as more adventuous nomads and mixed with European and Asian expatriates in bohemian dins such as the White Horse Tavern, The Cedar Bar, Reenzie's, or the Riviera long before Ginsberg read "Howl" (1956) in the Six Gallery of San Francisco.
Notes, 2 -
The painters themselves were more or less a segregated group. They didn't talk much about art in public forums or seldom said anything about exactly what they were up to, and they spent most of the decade in their studios on the edges of North Beach; many without shows. Although their reputations as artists eventually spread, in very small circles, their first shows were scattered throughout the "infuriating" annuals at San Francisco Museum but mostly the work were studios events and the sales modest, if they occured at all. But there was a tremendous amount of drinking and, indeed, they partake of he parties, the sexual The painters were somewhat clamish about their feats, too, and seldom made any mention of where they were at with painting. To talk, perhaps would have been like shooting blanks at a blank wall.
Notes, 3 -
There is a growing body of work on the poems and novels themselves, on the lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Bouroughs, and their friends, and on the beats' contributions to the better publicized and more attractively photographed movements that came after them. Even the historians who do take them seriously tend not to show the depth and breath of the painters active around the poets, many of whom did not even know the poets with whom they were associated and considered fellow-beats at the time. Hence, the painters are not given the same sort of attention usually given to the poets.
Back to page 1 of The Decade of Bebop, Beatniks and Painting
By Arthur Monroe