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Real Genius: The Paul Laffoley Archive launches with scans of 120 of his handwritten cosmic journals
04:45 pm


Paul Laffoley
Douglas Walla

For many of us, 2016 has been an especially shitty year, an annus horribilis of epically epic proportions that began with the death of David Bowie (an especially low note for humanity, I think we can all agree on that) and went straight downhill from there, picking up speed before going SPLAT! like an egg on the sidewalk last week. My own personal year of unmitigated Hell had started a few weeks earlier, a year ago today in fact—November 16, 2015—when my good friend, the genius painter, architect and futurist inventor Paul Laffoley died at the age of 75.

Like many of Paul Laffoley’s friends and admirers, I was at least gratified to know that he’d died deeply satisfied with his life’s work, and the acclaim his visionary art had seen in recent years from major museums around the world, the result of tireless and heroic efforts on the part of his longtime gallerist Douglas Walla of Kent Fine Art in New York City. In May of this year, upon publication of the University of Chicago Press book The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell, I asked Doug if he’d found anything interesting when he was in Boston sorting through Paul’s belongings after his death:

He had always told me stories about time spent constructing violins. I was amazed to find one of his violins on a top shelf.  AND, perhaps most importantly, strewn amongst hundreds of boxes of bills and junk mail, I found about FIFTY handwritten journals of profound significance. I had been asking Paul for his journals for 20 years, and he had only found and gave to me about 6 or 7, five of which I gave to the Henry Art Gallery for publication in their book Paul Laffoley: Premonitions of the Bauharoque.  I had no idea there were FIFTY journals along with voluminous notes and correspondence.  None were filed, or carefully segregated. They were just scattered among the vast piles of paper.


Turns out there were even more than that. These journals are now being made available to the public—starting today—via a newly launched website The Paul Laffoley Archive:

On the first anniversary of the death of Paul Laffoley, the Boston visionary artist and luminary, we have assembled and are launching today a second website documenting his written texts and journals. After Paul’s death, we discovered over 120 handwritten journals on Visionary Art,  Meta Energy, Dante, Dimensionality, Death-Life, Time Travel, and his naming of the Bauharoque period of history we are now experiencing. Not only was Laffoley a unique and dedicated artist, I believe he was an intellectual of great depth and curiosity. We hope that we have done Laffoley’s legacy justice by making his writings available to the public.

I’ve seen several of Paul’s handwritten (and nearly all of these were written out in longhand) essays in the past (one of the pieces posted on the new website was originally written for my Book of Lies occult anthology in 2003) and to have access now to ALL of his writing, I felt positively giddy clicking around it this morning. It’s a treasure trove of strange, challenging and mind-tickling ideas. You can crash land into any of these journals and be absolutely astounded by his dazzlingly erudite, cosmic, occult and scientific ideas. There are essays about the Symbolist movement; his plans for a working time machine; his ideas on the principles of Alchemy and much more. Most of the essays are presented as scans of his carefully formed and highly distinctive handwriting in PDF format.

Buy The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell on Amazon.

More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘The Essential Paul Laffoley’ is the most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any year)
04:12 pm


Paul Laffoley
Douglas Walla

Okay, okay so although I could probably definitely be accused of bias—the volume in question here is about a dear friend of nearly twenty years and edited by another close friend of exactly the same vintage (plus I blurbed it)—I strongly feel that the recent University of Chicago Press book The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell edited by Douglas Walla is a “document of seismic cultural importance.” I’m quoting myself here, but fuck it: I’m right.

When Paul Laffoley died last November at the age of 80, he left behind a vast archive of mind-boggling, awe-inspiring work. Huge paintings, elaborate drawings, models, handwritten journals, architectural blueprints, sci-fi inventions, essays. He was one of the great geniuses of the 20th century, although few people are aware of this fact. An eccentric genius to be sure, but a true Mount Olympus-level genius is what he was, make no mistake about it. This isn’t merely my opinion, it’s more a matter of objective fact. In due course—and I’m certain of this—the rest of the world is going to figure it out, too. I say this in all seriousness: The man was the Leonardo of our time. History will bear my bold statement out. (If you disagree, you just don’t know what you are talking about. See what I did there?)

But don’t worry, in the coming years the human race is going to figure this all out—of this I have complete confidence—and The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell will be the cornerstone of all future academic scholarship about the man, it’s both “Paul Laffoley 101” and the graduate level course in one volume. It was put together—a product of pure love and admiration—by the world’s #1 undisputed authority on the great artist’s work. Over the course of the past three decades, Paul Laffoley has been represented by Douglas Walla at Kent Fine Art in New York City. In a career going back to the 1970s, Walla has worked with artists like Francis Bacon, Richard Artschwager, Dorothea Tanning and Llyn Foulkes. He’s brokered deals for Giacometti’s, Picabia’s, Richter’s, Duchamp’s and even a few Rodins. In the cutthroat business of the New York art world, you couldn’t find a finer man than Doug.

The world isn’t always kind to the type of eccentric individual that Paul Laffoley was. History will record how very lucky he was to have met Douglas Walla when he did because otherwise he might have died in obscurity, instead of seeing vast museum-level surveys of his work mounted in London, Berlin and Paris during the final years of his life.

I sent Douglas Walla a few questions via email over the weekend and he sent them back to me this morning

Richard Metzger: How long did it take to prepare the book? 

Douglas Walla: The short answer is 27 years.

When I made the first studio visit to Paul’s Bromfield Street studio—the Boston Visionary Cell—in 1986, he was already working on Thanaton III. The lettering as such was not yet added, but it was certainly well underway.  I arrived at 10 am, and Paul immediately launched into a major—and almost trance-inducing—meditation on the manifestations of the painting. The next thing I knew, it was 2:00 pm, and thinking I had a plane to catch back to NYC at 6, I said, “How about that other painting?”  He simply said, “I’m not done yet” (meaning he wasn’t done with his explication of Thanaton III). So flying home, I thought, I need to do a book.  As a postscript, Thanaton III appears in the book published in 1989, but the lettering still had not yet been added.

I returned with a tape recorder, and I recorded “The Dream as the Initiation” which became chapter one of The Phenomenology of Revelation.  In all, between Paul, myself, and Jeanne Marie Wasilik, we recorded about 25 hours of dialogue with Paul, and that was edited down to eight chapters that would become the first book on Paul for which I acted as photo editor vetting the subjects touched upon, and Tony Morgan took a free hand in designing the final publication.

In the process, I developed a template we called a “thought form,” believing that the understanding of each individual work would be enhanced by a linguistic text plate to help the viewer more easily see what Paul was thinking. A complicated caption.

After the book was finished, I continued to work with Paul over the next twenty years compiling a thought form for each work we discussed.  So the archive progressed, and we paid particular attention getting good photography for each work, in that there was mounting interest in READING the paintings as they appeared in reproduction.

Paul and I collaborated for over 25 years building this archive, with the hopes of printing (analog) a catalogue raisonne of his work, and not placing it on the internet. I had the misfortune of posting 80 entries several years ago only to have it all copied, posted to another website unknown to me, and having the carefully edited texts violated and changed, and having his work reduced to collage, snippets, montages, wallpaper, etc.  So a book stands as a valid authority on the topic of Paul’s work without alterations by others.

Richard Metzger: How many additional paintings and drawings didn’t make the cut?

Douglas Walla: In that Paul never kept records of what he finished, when presented with the invitation by the University of Chicago Press to publish a monograph on Paul, I realized that a “Complete Works” book was almost impossible. There would always be other works coming to the surface, although I would state that only about 10 such works have come to my attention in the last decade. The format that was workable, conceptually as well as intellectually, was The Essential Paul Laffoley chronicling 100 works. 

What was left out were many of what Paul termed “nudes,” which were paintings without text. Further, there were commissioned works such as Hank Williams, and the Elvis series which do not appear, and many of the architectural three dimensional models he made which were in disrepair.  There was also Rubaiyat (75 sketches) that I only became aware of after death, and his uncompleted tarot deck which he worked on to the end, along with what would have been a major work entitled The Garden of Earthly Death.  There were ten large scale canvases unfinished at his death, and approximately 27 paintings that were unsigned, untitled, undated and never shown, all of which are omitted from the publication.

Richard Metzger: How would you describe your relationship with Paul? Obviously you were his gallerist and representative for decades, his close friend, his patron and #1 fan—you not only told the world about him, you actually invested a lot of money in his career, publishing his book when he was a complete unknown and so he that wouldn’t have to work and could produce more work. I’ve never said this to you before, but I always saw you as being the father figure in the relationship. Despite Paul being many years older than you, there was something childlike about him. The way you looked after him always seemed very paternal to me, but I want to hear your take on it.

Douglas Walla: The thing we all learned about Paul was his extreme generosity in terms of patience, good humor, and intimidating intellect.  Always pushing the outside of the envelope so to speak, I was endlessly challenged and stimulated by our association. He was a friend, and a pleasure, and gracious.  As his physical health began to deteriorate (and I think I was in denial that he was on a path to his final congestive heart failure), I became his travelmate certainly by 2009. When he injured himself in 2001—he fell off a ladder—I became his medical proxy sorting through extremely complicated medical issues concerning his diabetes and the impact it had in devastating his cardiovascular system.  Of course one of his legs was amputated. So by 2009, I tried to get him to all the things he longed to see and visit including Neuschwanstein, Dornach, Eiffel’s Apartment at the top of the Tower, the Space Needle—his bucket list. 

The only thing on that list he never saw was the completed book.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Paul Laffoley: Penetrating the Kitsch Barrier
03:27 pm


Paul Laffoley
Douglas Walla

For those of you lucky to be in NYC this month, there’s an especially exciting new Paul Laffoley exhibit opening at Kent Fine Art (210 Eleventh Ave between 24th and 25th) in Chelsea.

“The Force Structure of the Mystical Experience” will provide a rare glimpse at some of Laffoley’s seldom-seen models and sculptures, as well as some early work from the 1960s and a few key paintings not exhibited in recent years. The artist will be present at the gallery on September 10, 11, and 12th.

An online publication for the show was edited by Douglas Walla with detailed notes from Paul Laffoley on each piece. I wrote the intro, which follows. If you would like to look at the entire full-color 132 page PDF catalog, it can be downloaded here.

Penetrating the Kitsch Barrier

How does one approach the work of Paul Laffoley?  It’s not really like anything else and doesn’t fit neatly into any easy category that the art world routinely employs.  How do you even begin to wrap your head around the vastness of his cosmic vision?

He’s not merely a painter whose work sells for six figures and has been exhibited internationally at some of the world’s best and most forward-­thinking museums, or the subject of several books, TV segments, newspaper and magazine articles. He’s also a Harvard-­trained architect who has dreamt up living buildings grown from seeds and a bridge connecting the Moon and the Earth. A philosopher. An alchemist. A science fiction-style inventor of a time machine. He speaks Latin, Greek, French, German and several other languages. Laffoley majored in the classics as an undergrad at Brown and is an expert on the most cutting­ edge and far­ out worlds of scientific discovery. I think he’s one of the great living geniuses of our time and I know that I’m not alone in that assessment.

Paul once detailed an erudite impromptu dinnertime dissertation on modern engineering by informing me that each and every futuristic invention anticipated by Jules Verne had been realized (submarines, rocket ships, space travel, etc) and that science fiction really stopped being “prophetic” around the mid 20th­century, with anything a science fiction writer could dream up eventually getting “invented” and put into mass production by a large corporation. (“How closely did the communicators on Star Trek anticipate the flip phone?” he asked.) Scoff if you will at his schematic for a gigantic genetically engineered ectoplasmic jellyfish that allows for communication with not only the dead, but the yet­-to-be­-born (for the purpose of intergenerational planning which would avert catastrophes), Leonardo’s cronies probably laughed at that crazy thing he sketched out back in the day that resembles our modern-­day helicopters. It’s all relative.

Once I described Paul in print as a Bodhisattva reincarnated in the form of a mild-mannered sci­ fi-­loving Boston architect, but years later (although I still see some value in my earlier call) I’d rather ask the reader to imagine what Buckminster Fuller would have done if he were a fine artist in addition to all that other cool stuff he got up to.

THE PSYCHOKENETIC WATER BALANCE: A DEVICE FOR TESTING PSYCHOKENESIS, 1980. Homage to: Isamu Noguchi [1904-1988] and Robert Hare [1781 – 1858]. Oil, acrylic, wood, wire mesh, string, shells and water. Fully hand carved, unique, 18 ½ x 35 x 17 1/2 in. 47 x 89 x 44.5 cm.
This is my favorite Paul Laffoley story and I think it’s particularly revealing about the way his beautiful mind works:

It was late February of 2000. I arrived home at my West Village apartment one evening to find a package waiting for me from Paul containing a most peculiar object, by name, “The Anti­kitschkitron” a “device for penetrating the kitsch barrier.” It was a small box, hand­made, black-­painted wood save for the top, which was a clear plastic sheet with a plastic bubble that read “TIME DILATION” in the Helvetica press type Laffoley is known for using. Inside were all sorts of light­-emitting diodes, circuitry, electronic capacitors and exposed wiring—­­in other words, the machine’s guts were plainly visible­­ and a coil of copper wire coming out the top with a circular sun-­like ornament affixed to it like exposed bicycle tire spokes. It seemed like something that might transmit a “beam” of an electronic or cosmic nature.

The device, which resembled some sort of curious text­-covered mutant dowsing machine, or a Star Trek version of one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes crossed with a metal detector. On the top was a big red clunky on/off switch.

Thrilled by this incredible gift, I immediately picked up the phone and dialed Paul in Boston. The ritual when calling him is that he screens all of his calls. The voice on the outgoing message is not Paul’s, and the caller is informed that he or she have reached the Boston Visionary Cell and to please leave a message after the beep—a drill developed when avoiding credit card collection agencies as he once humorously admitted to me. I started to leave a message, Paul picked up right away and I started gushing my gratitude about the amazingly weird—and absolutely beautiful—object/device that I was holding in my hand. What a thrillingly strange thing to get in the mail, I’m sure you’ll agree, but at this point I noticed that there was no obvious power source.

“Where do you put the battery?” I innocently inquired.

“Oh, there’s no battery,” he said with his strong, slightly stuttering Bostonian accent. “You know my concept of the… a… the uh.. luxe theater of the mind? Well it’s like that. You have to interact with the device and connect the circuitry to your mind, um, uh, in that way.”

I paused for a moment before mentally recalibrating and moving myself as much as possible into Paul’s philosophical framework before (I thought) redeeming myself with “Okay, so it’s like like Yoko Ono’s “Box of Smile” where you open it up, you see that there is a mirror inside and invariably everyone who interacts with the piece smiles, right?”

“Well, yes…” he said slowly, indicating a “yes” that was about to be uniquely qualified, “...but with my device, you have to actually turn it on.”

The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell, an oversized, comprehensive, annotated catalogue raisonné edited by Laffoley’s longtime friend and gallerist Douglas Walla, with several essays by the artist and others, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in Spring 2016. I have a B&W print-out of the book and it’s one of the most exciting and stunning art books I’ve ever seen. Mark my words, it’ll be a cultural event when this book comes out. It’s TIME for it.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment