“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be . . . “
Henry David Thoreau
I knew this day was coming, and now that it’s here, it absolutely sucks as much as I thought it would: It is with great sadness that I report that the great genius artist and thinker Paul Laffoley is dead. He was 75.
A few weeks ago I got an email from my close friend Douglas Walla, Paul’s longtime gallerist letting me know that Paul had a heart attack and was in the hospital in Boston and that I might want to give him a call. Like immediately. I did and we spoke for about an hour, mostly chit-chat about his health and his upcoming book and then we talked about the architecture at the University of Cincinnati’s campus. He coughed like crazy—really, really HARD coughs that rattled his chest, I could practically feel the spittle hitting my eardrum through the telephone. Apparently he’d coughed so hard that he’d given himself a heart attack.
The problem was, this hacking cough was something, that he’d been, as he put it, “working on my entire life.” The cough was a permanent condition, in other words, it wasn’t going to go away. Already in poor health for many years—he had an amputated leg, diabetes and heart problems—the combination of this persistent HARD cough and congestive heart failure was the kind of “Catch 22” that meant he wasn’t going to be long for this world.
I asked him if the nurses were treating him well. He said yes, but I teased him that I wanted to speak to the one who had just entered the room, so that I could explain to her how “important” her charge was. “Oh you don’t have to do that,” he said.
I laughed: “Hey, look what happened to Andy Warhol. It couldn’t hurt!”
Douglas Walla let me know a week or so ago that Paul had entered hospice care. He died quietly today.
The visionary artist and luminary, Paul Laffoley, has died today after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He had an extraordinary grasp of multiple fields of knowledge compulsively pursing interests that often lead him into uncharted territory. His complex theoretical constructs were uniquely presented in highly detailed mandala-like canvases largely scaled to Fibonacci’s golden ratio. While an active participant in numerous speculative organizations including his own Boston Visionary Cell since the early 70s, his work began to attract an increasing following in his late career with shows at the Palais de Tokyo (2009), Hamburger Bahnhof (2011), Hayward Gallery, London, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2013). The first book on Laffoley’s oeuvre was The Phenomenology of Revelation published by Kent Fine Art in 1989, followed by several subsequent publications beginning with his first retrospective organized by the Austin Museum of Art (1999).
Forthcoming in March of 2016, the University of Chicago Press will be releasing the long awaited book entitled The Essential Paul Laffoley. He was a kind and generous giant, and he will be sorely missed by all of us.
Today the world lost one of its greatest minds, but it might be a few years before the world realizes this. I am gratified to know that although Paul didn’t live long enough to see the publication of the catalogue raisonné of his work, he did see the galley proofs. Doug Walla worked for decades, really, on this book and it will be an intellectual and cultural EVENT when it’s published next year, mark my words. Many years ago, I can recall discussing Paul with Doug and he told me that what drove him so hard to develop Paul’s career is how tragic it would have been if Paul died in obscurity, and was regarded historically as an “enigma” or as an outsider artist, someone like Henry Darger instead of the Ivy League-educated polymath “Sci-Fi Leonardo” that he truly was. As of today there are several books that have been published about Paul Laffoley, and there will be many more in the future and many doctoral dissertations that will be written about him. I’m sure he died with the satisfaction that his work was not only valued by mankind, but will live on with greater notoriety after his passing.
I don’t have any more words. I lost a friend today, someone I greatly admired and loved. More importantly, the world lost a great genius. The New York Times recently called Paul Laffoley “one of the most unusual creative minds of our time.”
Too true. And now he’s gone.
An overview of Paul Laffoley’s work, courtesy of yours truly…
More after the jump…