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Paul Laffoley (1940–2015)

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The great visionary artist Paul Laffoley died at his home in Boston on November 16, 2015, after a long battle with congestive heart failure.

Laffoley grew up within the confines of a strict Irish Catholic family in Boston, Massachusetts. He was educated in progressive schools throughout his childhood and graduated in Classics from Brown University with honours but was later dismissed from Harvard Graduate Design School because of his unconventional ideas. Laffoley trained as an architect but later worked at the membership office of the Boston Museum of Science.

From the 1960s, Laffoley rented an 18 x 30 ft / 5 x 9 m utility room that he christened the “Boston Visionary Cell.” Here, he created over 800 works, displaying his philosophical and scientific ideas, executed in the form of architectural and scientific drawings. A collector of some 7,000 books, Laffoley absorbed information at an unusual rate. He employed this knowledge in his paintings, combining it with his own ideas and conventions to produce complex diagrammatic pictures. 

Paul Laffoley’s theoretical constructs were uniquely presented in highly detailed mandala-like canvases largely scaled to Fibonacci’s golden ratio. His work sometimes resembled futuristic board games, often with text paying homage to great thinkers who inspired him such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Blake, Goethe and Jung. He used different types of paints, oils, acrylics and simple coloured pens to produce his complex works, relying on an emotional and creative state which he called “Lucid Dreaming”. 

Laffoley explored ideas about time travel, other dimensions, astrology and alien life-forms. Devoting his life to these ideas, he would work for twelve hours a day, for weeks on end. Though Laffoley had major retrospectives recently, he produced his work outside of art centres and outside of their strictures and camps. His work began to attract an increasing following in his late career, with shows at the Palais de Tokyo (2009), the Nationalgalerie/Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin (2011), and the Hayward Gallery, London, the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and the Yerba Buena Center in 2013.  He was also featured in the Raw Vision Anniversary exhibition at Halle Saint Pierre in Paris.

The first book on Laffoley’s oeuvre was The Phenomenology of Revelation published by Kent Fine Art in 1989. This was followed by several subsequent publications beginning with his first retrospective organised by the Austin Museum of Art (1999). In March 2016, the University of Chicago Press will be releasing the long awaited book The Essential Paul Laffoley. 

Nick Petty
Photo courtesy: Dilettante Press and Elyse Harary

Expiry Date: 
Sunday, May 2, 2100