Anyone walking down West Broadway on a warm spring afternoon would have to notice the black leather jacket and tousled blonde hair of the artist selling paintings and holding court on the corner of Prince Street. L.A. Willette was a fixture on New York's downtown art scene. His passionate self-expression decorated NYC's art galleries, restaurants, clubs, and store windows for over thirty years.
L.A. Willette died Sunday morning, November 13th of cancer. He fell ill only months earlier, having delayed a visit to the doctor.
Mr. Willette was a second-generation abstract expressionist who specialized in explosive, thickly-painted nudes, abstracts and cityscapes, blazing with color and motion. Elaine de Kooning said about Mr. Willette, during a visit to his studio, "If Bill [de Kooning] was still painting women, he'd be doing what you're doing". Over the years, Willette had mastered collage and other techniques, pouring his energy nonstop into an evolving body of artworks, writing, and photography.
People were attracted to L.A. as much for his expansive personality as for his artwork. He was underground, passionate, informed, hilarious, opinionated, driven and talented. As an artist, Willette delivered at many levels, infusing his best paintings with equal parts beauty, energy, and ironic humor.
Lawrence was born in Manhattan in 1952 to Sophie and Lawrence Willette and raised in the Bronx. He burst onto the art scene after calling attentionto himself at NY State University at New Paltz, through his raw energy and talent, and gift for abstraction. After a short stint as a teaching assistant in that University's Fine Arts Program, he returned to New York and lived in Westbeth, the West Village artist's community where he had a studio. There, he autored a long-runninf play for the Westbeth Theater Center called "Waiting for the Dough", which starred Ilene Kristen, Micheal Badalucco, and John Turturro, all of whom went on to high profile careers.
Walking from an apartment on East 29th Street that was both home and studio, in recent decades Willette directed his talent into paintings as well as other creative projects including the hand-manufactured magazines, "The Metropolitan Muse" and the "Metropolitan Willette Gazzette". Over the last decade he had been at work on series of satiric, hilarious short stories called "Tales of the Teal Blue Shoes" based on a pair of Willette's hand painted stiletto heels.
29th Street was Willette's headquarters, and one could walk into his studio almost anytime and find him painting or expouding upon one of his favorite themes - sex, art, politics or eternal question of how to live well without selling out. Depending on the decade, the background music would be the Velvet Underground, Sade, Astrid Gilberto, or The Flaming Groovies. His gift for true conversation meant talk that went on long into the night.
Willette's work was consumed with two things: loving and negotiating New York City and Women with capital W. They were the subject of his paintings, writing and photography. As fascinated as Willette was with women, they were equally fascinated by him. His gift for mirroring back the best in all his women friends and lovers made him beloved. Many were willing to be both his subject and muse - an old-fashionated idea today, but a hallmark of a man who doesn't apologize for himself. Willette was also a reassuring presence for men who liked the fact he could be both streetwise and sensitive.
Mr. Willette's work was well known on the streets of Soho, where he sold his artwork for the last twenty years. His work also appears in private collections and galleries around the world, from Soho to California, Chicago, Paris, London and Tokyo. His artwork was part of a national ad campaign for Cointreau Liqueur in the early 1980s. Still, Mr. Willette spent a good deal of his time on the edge of the success, struggling to hold on to his vision yet unwilling to part with his independence and freedom. His frustrating ability to undermine an opportunity confounded friends who believed his work deserved wider appreciation.
L.A. Willette leaves behind two children. His beloved son Luca A. Willette, 23, who lives in Bologna, Italy with his mother Lalla Bertocchi. Luca was LA's "angel". Their relationship as the representation of everything good and pure that Larry had to give. He had recently fathered a daughter, Emiliana Belluz, with whom he wanted to share all his wisdom. She and her mother, Anna Belluz live in Vancouver, Canada. His daughter, for him, was a tempering miracle that gave a whole new meaning to his life. As his illness became more severe, the presence of his children brought him back to life.
Anyone who stopped on the corner of Prince and West Broadway to talk to LA Willette came away with a story, if not a piece of artwork. And any friend who ever had a night out with Willette saw first hand the way he turned chance encounteers - with writers and art dealers, ingenues and models - into artwork. In a city that is constantly lit up, one corner is now dim without him.