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"
"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.