Friday, February 24, 2006

In memory of Larry Willette, fellow street vendor on West 53rd Street, on the Sixth Avenue side, down the street from the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

Googling Larry Willette (Lawrence A. Willette, aka L.A. Willette) tonight I found out from the Gallery at Large site that he died last November, 2005.

The gallery owners said:

"L.A. Willette, (1952 - 2005)
It is with deep regret that Art @ Large informs you of the passing of one of our own.
L.A. Willette died Sunday morning, November 13th at Beth Israel Hospital due to complications from cancer. He was 53.

Tammey & I first met L.A. Willette around 1997 on the corner of West Broadway and Prince Street in SoHo, New York City. I liked him immediately. His rude comments on the art world, and his flair for salesmanship of his art just made me feel I've found someone with even more art-angst than myself. That corner, in the heart of where the street artists sell their work was his corner. A fixture for the last 25 years or more. He would always show up in the very late afternoon, while his friend Jill Stasium had set up his booth in the morning.

Several months after meeting him, I was walking through the area on a late Saturday afternoon, and there he was. Sleeping in the front seat of his old beat up Mercedes, with his head hanging out the window. You could almost hear him snoring above the street noise. I snuck up on him and gave him a gentle hug on the shoulders and said, "it's okay, don't get up". He awoke a bit startled and then laughed his ass off.

L.A. was many things to many people: A ladies man, a father, a lover of beauty, a good salesman. A man who understood, admired, and respected the energy possessed by women. But most of all, he was a great artist. He understood the subjects he chose to paint, and was not afraid to be an original. He was the definitive struggling artist, selling on the streets for all those years and sacrificing everything for his art except for his original mind and talent.

When we were planning his exhibition with Art @ Large in 2004, he obliged me for some smaller works on canvas, by doing a series of four, 24 x 30 inches. Combined with collage elements, and a bit freer in style than usual, he was so concerned about his latest creations not being what I was looking for. But when he brought them up, I was simply amazed, and purchased one of them before the show opened. I will always treasure that work, "An Incalculable Offering", and the several others we have in our collection.

But most of all I will treasure the fact that I knew him, and admired and stood by his work. With the exception of the people who collected his paintings, the fact of how unappreciated his work was in his lifetime will someday soon change. He was a rebel in every sense of the word, and paid the price for it, but in doing so has left behind a body of work that will not go unnoticed. We know this to be true.

Pet Silvia, CuratorTammey Stubbs, DirectorArt @ Large"

Their biography:

"L.A. WILLETTE, (1952-2005)
Born in Manhattan, L.A. Willette cultivated his prowess as an abstract expressionist and has since mastered several other genres of painting over the years as a professional artist.
Before even finishing his years as an undergraduate at the State University at New Paltz, New York, he had a stint teaching graduate classes in the BFA program. After graduating he started a painting co-operative and gallery at The Westbeth Theatre Center in Manhattan.

As the resident playwright he wrote and had produced the farce, Waiting for the Dough, which was the theatre's first long running hit. Willette's 12 x 18 foot black and white backdrop and it's flanking paintings added an abstracted sexual environment for the full length production. Upon visiting his studio at Westbeth, Elaine Dekooning said, " If Bill (DeKooning) was still painting women, he'd be doing what you're doing".

During the 1980's, L.A. showed at some Soho Galleries, and after meeting Andy Warhol became inspired to produce his own arts magazine. The Metropolitan MUSE, which showcases his nude photography and fiction and The Metropolian Willette Gazzette, which are still published quarterly.Presently his works are represented by Art @ Large in New York, and galleries in Paris, London, Chicago, Long Island, and South Beach in Miami. Willette has had work purchased by collectors from every continent on earth except Antarctica. "

The Gallery at Large L.A. Willette Power of Women page for the MAY 6 - 22, 2004 exhibit.

The following is my email, sent just now to the Gallery at Large owners:

Dear Pet Silvia and Tammey Stubbs,
On a whim tonight I decided to Google if Larry had a website of his own yet and what a shock to read about Larry's death on your website. I had no idea he was ill.

What a beautiful tribute you gave him, thank you so much. It was very moving what you wrote, to the point, caring, very New York and fun; Larry would have loved it.

Larry was a fellow street vendor by the Museum of Modern Art on west 53rd Street. We sold there together for several years in the late 1980's and discovered we not only lived across the street from each other but our windows faced each other on either side of East 29th Street, so we could wave to each other, beckon when we were heading out to work and share a cab. I sold African and Indian folk art in those days. What a treat it was to sell next to Larry. It wasn't just that we were briefly lovers - as I imagine half the planet's women must have been, lol- in that marvelously squalid, artist's mess of an apartment of his, but it was such a treat to see him at work, purring his way demurely through sales, magnetizing about every female who came within a yard or two of his lanky scruffiness.

At one time we vendors on West 53rd were struggling not to be cleared away by the cops and I suggested he give a little collage to stand-offish Mary McFadden, who lived at that time in Museum Towers, thinking it might be a good political move to sugar up the powerful locals. He did. He made her a collage, "Mary and Coco", of her walking her little brown poodle, named Coco Chanel. Mary grinned and seemed genuinely pleased. The strategy worked.

Oh God, he was such a pussy cat, it must have been devastating for him to get cancer. Shit.
Already two of our fellow street vendors on West 53rd (Larry's uptown vending crowd) died, Chaim Kanner the Hasidic photographer died of stomach cancer in 2000 and then Francis Paraison, the Haitian painter, died of some bowel disorder a two years back. Now I have late stage uterine/fallopian tube cancer as well, never thought of telling Larry. Street vending is hard enough, I didn't want to depress him and there it is, he had cancer too. I wish I had known, gone to see him, comforted him, been there for him. I can only imagine he got small cell lung cancer from decades of smoking and that it was aggressive. I so hope he didn't suffer too much from the illness and hope there were loving people around him at the end.

By any chance do you know the details of his cremation/burial? If you have a memorial book at the gallery I'd love to sign it.

I live in Hell's Kitchen and walk by The Film Center building all the time, didn't know you were there. I'd love to come up and have a look.

Anyway, all this rambling and what I wanted to say was simply how kind and wonderful of you to make such an excellent memorial page for Larry, it's elegant and moving.

Thank you again,

, Larry's neighbor, put up a nice site, Friends of L.A. Willette, in memory of Larry with a good photograph of his handsomeness. I remember him in tortoiseshell glasses, not the new rimless ones of that photograph. He would have liked Julie's site so much. It's good to read his dying process was swift and that he died peacefully on November 13th, which was near his Scorpio birthday.

Another loving and appreciative memorial about Larry, in The Villager, discussing his bi-racial heritage. Larry told me his mother was white-Jewish and his dad was black American. You could see the black American aspect to Larry in his long legs, Mick Jagger pillowy lips that were so wonderful to kiss and his cute, little round ass. His skin was quite pale white, his hair naturally blond and in those days almost to his shoulders. He was otherwise an international character, proud of his son, Luca, being brought up in Italy and he was also quintessentially a New Yorker, incredibly smart, well read. A few things I loved about Larry were his extraordinary love of women. He had quite a passionate, fetish-interest in painting women's high heels and did endless collage-painting variations of a woman sitting alone, demurely, contemplatively with eyes half-closed, at a cafe table with a bottle of wine or cup of coffee. I loved his smoker's gravelly laugh, which was also, as Julie described it perfectly, buttery. Everything amused him in a joyous way. He reveled in his sexuality but in a generous, affirmative way. His phone number was easy to remember: 69 69 1 69 (212-696-9169). Whatever the opposite of misanthropic is, he was that. There was an intelligent edge to his humor but he wasn't meanly smart.

He graced the world with his vitality. I miss him and miss his not being in the world.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A few of my favorite paintings by Nicholas Roerich.
There is a small but wonderful museum in NYC with his paintings. Star of the Hero is the one of the person sitting under the night sky. The second one is of Krishna playing flute under blossoming apple trees in the Kulu Valley.

The third painting is called Viking's Daughter and reminds me a lot of the view out my window at the Library of Tibetan Archives in Dharmsala.
First post

It's been a complex weekend.

On TV is the delightful ImaginAsian Station (Time Warner NYC Channel 560), which oddly isn't listed in the TV Guide Listings. It's just my cup of chai, now playing Arabic hits from the 1960's, earlier Caribbean news and before that great clips of the Top 10 Romantic Bollywood Movies. For dinner am cooking sautéed spinach with garlic, a sprinkle of nutmeg (interesting that nutmeg has an affinity for spinach), spaghetti and tomato basil soup, all bought at the local Hell's Kitchen gourmet market, The Amish, worthy of a post on its own.

Tonight I need to write a letter to my surgical oncologist, requesting to see him sooner rather than later. I didn't go to my last appointment with him because I don't like him; don't trust him and the chemotherapist he referred me to was plain awful. But the pain in my abdomen is unnerving. Is it tumor? I need another MRI or to get nuked with another CAT scan, ugh. I'm putting off telling this oncologist that I want to see another radiation oncologist, not the one on his personal conveyor belt of cronies. And I hate not playing sheep with a doctor, it's no fun being confrontational in a doctor's office, even politely. So I'll write him a letter and drop it off at his swank office with the doorman tomorrow. Dammit, I hate being a scaredy cat.

Street vending season is now exactly a month away from my usual starting day of Saint Paddy's on March 17th. Just a few days shy of official Spring, usually drizzly but people have cabin fever by then, want something new, colorful, fresh to get out of winter drab. A month to organize new products to sell. Will it be art this year or handcrafted something? Haven't decided yet and am unsure with the upcoming radiation, whether I'll have the strength to vend in the Spring. It's so nice to NOT be on chemo, I'm soaking in the pleasure of not being in Taxol/Carboplatin induced bone-wracking agony, LOL!

I'd like to make a website for people with cancer, something practical, really useful for people who are in the daze of first being diagnosed and the subsequent terrified months, needing things spelled out with no Hallmark schmaltz, no cutesy fuzzy edges, no new age wishful thinking, no religiosity and not stupefyingly academic either. There is so much info out there on the web but it's scattered, biased, plain weird, dreary, either too simplistic or too complicated. I'm only 8 months from the day I was diagnosed and it's been a long haul. I wish there had been more practical sites out there but I haven't come across them so far, so I thought I'd make one and hope it helps others.

As a street vendor I never had reliable medical insurance. I paid Blue Cross Blue Shield an arm and a leg for five years and then when I miscarried, at 40 in 1994, and needed a D&C (dilation and curettage), Blue Cross charged me $1300 for a few hours in the hospital. I figured it was useless insurance and let it go, losing the $15,000 I'd already sunk into them. Little did I know that getting pregnant at 40 would set an awful cascade of hormonal imbalances into effect, needing an ovarian cyst removal surgery the next year, then early menopause and then cancer. Since I didn't have insurance, I ended up going to Amsterdam for the ovarian cyst operation, where it cost me $3000 compared to the $29 thou it would have cost here in the USA in a podunk hospital ($50 thou approx in a NYC hospital).

I felt very ripped off by Blue Cross Blue Shield and vulnerable as a street vendor, not having group insurance. In my experience insurance companies make it hard for an individual entrepreneur to have any medical coverage and overcharge when there is a medical situation which needs covering. In 1994, when I had that surgery in Amsterdam it was possible for anybody to go there and pay a very affordable amount for an operation, like $3000 for a week in the hospital, the whole surgery, all medicine etc. The BovenIj Ziekenhuis is a superb hospital, overlooking a 17th Century windmill. The name means Above The Ij River Hospital.

So I got a medical insurance part time job and that has covered most of the major expenses of my having cancer. A huge relief. Still I look forward to street vending again. It's been 20 years now that I began to vend, on May 2nd 1986 in fact, outside the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

Time for distraction.
This afternoon I've been enjoying posting and reading in the Online Literature Forum, in MetaFilter's savvy, rowdy crowd. Found some fun URLs today, skeletoons (skeletons of cartoon characters), Japanese onomatopoeia here and also here, Japanese sound effects, Japlish, came across a favorite poem, a Nosty Fright by May Swenson and the Lark Ascending by George Meredith:

He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound,

Of many links without a break,

In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake...

For singing till his heaven fills,

'Tis love of earth that he instils,

And ever winging up and up,

Our valley is his golden cup

And he the wine which overflows

To lift us with him as he goes..."

I love "And ever winging up and up, Our valley is his golden cup and he the wine which overflows to lift us with him as he goes."

For years I've looked for writing by a man, Dr. Stephen Borhegyi, a kind and warm Hungarian archeologist, friend of my late father's, who influenced me as a child in loving pre-Columbian art, especially that of Colima. He worked with the Museum of Natural History in NYC and used to show me the wide, flat drawers full of potsherds and artifacts, let me hold them and showed me what to look for in the art he loved. He died suddenly in a terrible car crash in 1969 and I've mourned his death since then.

Hunted and couldn't find an online audio of Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, wandered around online enjoying Real Librarians, Weird Words, Collective Nouns for Birds and other critters. Had fun with the Dialectizer, learned about curling. Now time to watch the tail end of the Winter Olympics. I've loved the Flying Tomato's sweet insouciance and rooted for the mischievous, outspoken John Weir.