Frank O’Hara and Painting


Frank O’Hara, a central figure in the New York School of poetry, is a rare example of a poet also immersed in the world of visual art. As a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, he was a prominent voice and presence in the New York art world of the 1950s and early 1960s. As evidence of his deep relationships with contemporary painters (or perhaps as evidence of painters’ efforts to secure his curatorial favor), there are a trove of portraits of O’Hara by prominent artists such as Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, and Elaine de Kooning.

The tremendous book, In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Artmore comprehensively documents O’Hara’s impact on mid-century art and mid-century artists’ impact on his writing. Of his many relationships, here are two direct examples of his dialogue with artists.

Why I’m Not A Painteris a poem reflecting on O’Hara’s experience of watching Mike Goldberg make a painting. Goldberg reflects on the experience in this excerpt from the film Frank O’Hara: How Terrible Orange Is/& Life.

Goldberg sardines SAAM-1981.109.9_1
Mike Goldberg, Sardines

In 1955, Frank O’Hara and Norman Bluhm collaborated on a sequence of 26 paintings, in which O’Hara and Bluhm alternately provided words and painterly gestures.  Critics look at these words as a kind of synthesis of O’Hara’s spontaneous method of writing poetry and the direct methods of action painting.

Bluhm / O’Hara poetry painting


Among the portraits of O’Hara, here are four of my favorites:

fairfield porter Ohara
“Portrait of Frank O’Hara,” by Fairfield Porter.
neal ohara1
Alice Neel, “Frank O’Hara”Oil on canvas196034” x 16 1/8”, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution,Washington, DC.
John Button, Frank O’Hara and Stevie Rivers, 1956


de kooning ohara
Frank O’Hara by Elaine de Kooning, 1962





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