Very little is known about Rick Barton (1928–92), who, between 1958 and 1962, created hundreds of drawings of striking originality. With the exception of small displays in cafés and bookshops in the ’50s and ’60s, his upcoming exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum, Writing a Chrysanthemum: The Drawings of Rick Barton, opening June 10 and running through September 11, 2022, is the first time his work will be seen in public.

The first museum exhibition dedicated to this largely undiscovered, yet extraordinary and original draftsman features 60 drawings, two accordion-fold sketchbooks, and five printed works by Barton. The title of the show comes from a story Barton told poet and artist Etel Adnan (1925–2021) in a San Francisco café in the early 1960s. Adnan, who was enthralled by Barton’s accordion-fold books, later wrote, “Rick Barton should have been a San Francisco legend.” However, he remained an obscure figure until now.

Barton’s subjects range from the intimacy of his bedroom to the architecture of Mexican cathedrals, and from the gathering places of Beat-era San Francisco to the sinuous contours of plants. Working almost exclusively in pen or brush and ink, he captured these subjects in a web of lines that evokes both drawing and writing. Though at times his work is simple and economical, more often it is complex and kaleidoscopic.

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