Carolyn Cassady’s Painting
Here at Golgonooza Towers (the imaginary headquarters of The Blake Society), we recently received a fascinating email from Jami Cassady Ratto, the daughter of Neal and Carolyn Cassady.
For those not in the know, Neal Cassady was the fast-talking, hard-living muse of the Beat Generation, immortalised by Jack Kerouac as Dean Moriarty in On the Road and Cody Pomeray in his later novels. In the 60s he joined Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and drove their psychedelic bus. Carolyn met and married Neal in the 40s and had long relationships with Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Her memoir, Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg was published in 1990.
What I hadn’t realised is that for the last 30 years of her life Carolyn lived in England, at first in London and later in Bracknell. Jami sent us a photo of a painting by Carolyn and wrote:
Besides mom being beautiful, intelligent, and talented and sweet, both dad and Jack Kerouac being in love with her, she was an amazing artist and painted, sketched and photographed the characters she was with and took care of. I found this in her archives (she passed away in England 2013 and my husband and I went from our home in California and shipped all of her archives, paintings and books). This painting she did of Allen in 1991.
The Allen in question is of course Allen Ginsberg. Carolyn has depicted him as a young man, as he must have appeared when they first met, and placed him beneath Blake’s iconic Ancient of Days, or Urizen from the frontispiece to Europe a Prophecy.
Blake was a lifelong source of inspiration and field of study for Ginsberg, following a formative transcendental or ‘illuminated’ experience in 1948 in which, after reading ‘Ah! Sun-Flower’ from Songs of Innocence and Of Experience, he had an ‘auditory vision’ of Blake. Ginsberg would go on to perform and record musical interpretations of Blake’s poems. Last year we spoke to his musical collaborator, Steven Taylor. Ginsberg’s enthusiasm for Blake would filter into the 1960s counter-culture, influencing Bob Dylan among many others. It’s Ginsberg standing behind Dylan in the famous video for Subterranean Homesick Blues, filmed in the backstreets behind the Savoy Hotel, more or less where Blake breathed his last, at his lodgings in Fountain Court.
This is also where he worked, propped up in his sick bed, on the final version of The Ancient of Days, now in the Whitworth in Manchester. It looks to me as if Carolyn based her painting on this version. I wonder if she went there to study it. Intriguingly Jami also attached a photo of an invitation in Carolyn’s archives to exhibit in An Interior for William Blake, a 1994 exhibition of Blakean artwork at The House of William Blake in South Molton Street. I wonder if Carolyn submitted her painting to the exhibition and if she came to Blake’s home in South Molton to see the exhibition.
You can read more about Carolyn and Neal Cassady, and their family at http://www.nealcassadyestate.com/home.html
If you are interested in buying this or other paintings by Carolyn Cassady please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Jami for sharing the painting and this window into her mum’s creative life.