Lawrence Willette, painter, died in New York City on Nov. 13, after a short struggle against intestinal cancer. He was 53 years old.
Many will remember Lawrence as the artist who displayed his paintings on the southwest corner of W. Broadway and Prince St. in Soho for well over a decade. His paintings were bold, graphic, colorful, brilliant and potent. At times they were also confrontational and rude. The same could be said about the artist.
Not many people know that Lawrence was half African-American. He certainly did not appear to be. His long blond hair and light complexion did not give a hint of his ethnicity. He rarely mentioned it, but the fact is, that it became a problem for him as a youngster. He told me that he took a lot of grief from those who thought he looked “too white,” and so he became defensive and overcompensated to the point of being abrasive.
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.