Andy Wilf: Troubled Genius

By PAMELA WILSON

Andy WilfWhen he was sober, Andy Wilf was a thoughtful, funny, productive painter with unlimited potential for artistic achievement and acclaim. When he wasn’t, he became reckless, dangerous and destructive.

This Jekyll and Hyde schism is boldly illustrated in “Young Turks.”

Andy WilfIn the documentary — which was filmed in Downtown L.A. between 1977 and 1981 — Wilf is handsome and smiling at a table in front of one of his latest canvases. He eloquently tells artist and filmmaker Stephen Seemayer about the progression of his work from photorealism to expressionism.

“I was incorporating different materials into the paint,” he explains, “looking for something to change the manipulation, to make it less maneuverable, to make it new again for me.”

Andy's LamentIntercut with this articulate interview are asides directed straight into the camera in which Wilf agonizes numbly over his substance abuse and futile attempts at rehabilitation.

“I took 50 valiums at 5 milligrams today…” he intones, “and they don’t want me to go to Schick Center, and they want me to pay 8,000 dollars, and I want my sodium pentathol…”

Wilf, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, then tells Seemayer of an artist-in-residence gig he landed in 1979 at a university in Yuma, Arizona. “I thought that would kind of help get me squared away, to get away,” he says.

But that attempt to get “squared away” backfired in spectacular fashion, ending in a three-day binge of drinking, abandoning his classes and doing drugs that culminated with Wilf’s dismissal by the university’s dean. In a rage, Wilf threatened the dean, threw a chair through a window and ended up in jail.

“But that isn’t like me at all,” Wilf tells Seemayer in “Young Turks.” “It was because of … all the other chemicals that was [at] maximum input in there. My brain was pretty well out to lunch.”

wilfjpgThe heartbreaking truth for Wilf’s friends and admirers was that, despite numerous attempts to overcome his addiction, Wilf was doomed to lose the battle. “His paintings were personal exorcisms,” wrote art critic Hunter Drohojowska in a 1982 issue of L.A. Weekly, “catalogues of his determined ritual of self-destruction.”

Andy Wilf died at 32 of an accidental drug overdose in January 1982, just a few months after the rough cut of “Young Turks” was screened.

If his personality was divided, his body of work was solid. After Wilf’s death, artist Roger Herman told Suzanne Muchnic of the L.A. Times, “He functioned so well on drugs, he didn’t take them to get high, he took them to avoid depression.”

Born Aug. 25, 1949, to Mormon parents in Lynwood, Wilf showed an aptitude for drawing as a young child, an impulse encouraged by his mother, Lucille, who had studied painting at UCLA. He started his art career after high school, working at a factory in Compton that churned out motel-room paintings on a production line.

"Portrait of John Schroeder" (1975), acrylic on canvas. Collection of Susanne Dorschel, Weisbaden, Germany.

“Portrait of John Schroeder” (1975), acrylic on canvas. Collection of Susanne Dorschel, Wiesbaden, Germany.

In 1972, he started using photographs as the basis for his work, which evolved into photorealist portraiture. His “Portrait of John Schroeder” (1975) is a study in exactitude. As Muchnic wrote of Wilf’s photorealist works in 1983, “These paintings of long-haired young men and middle-aged people with leathery faces confront the viewer, their ordinary appearances scrupulously observed by the camera’s unflinching eye.”

Wilf in his studio at 240 S. Broadway.

Wilf in his studio at 240 S. Broadway.

By 1978, when he and his wife, Carey Kawaye, had moved into the Victor Clothing building at 240 S. Broadway, Wilf’s style had begun to loosen up a bit. The larger space of his downtown loft allowed him to use bigger and bigger canvases. “Just like the goldfish kind of thing,” Wilf says in “Young Turks,” “bigger bowl, they grow.”

Living next door to Linda Frye Burnham, he also gained access to photographs being sent in to her High Performance magazine, such as those of Hermann Nitsch and Barbara Smith, which Wilf translated into huge paintings with graphic overtones of violence and death.

SS by WilfCanvases such as “Burning Desire,” an interpretation of Seemayer’s performance behind a mask on fire, and “Bound Figure,” in which Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s prone body is shrouded in strips of gauzy cloth, depict “cropped, large, terrifying figures, easily readable but with painterly surfaces,” Muchnic wrote.

"Dead Ends"Wilf’s expressionism reached its zenith with a series of paintings inspired by the butcher shops of Grand Central Market, across the street from his downtown loft. In paintings such as “Dead Ends,” lifeless eyes in bloody piles of pig snouts and calves’ heads stare at the viewer with both astonishment and accusation. As Patt Morrison of The Times wrote in an obituary of Wilf in 1982, these are “choice cuts sliced out and the offal tossed aside, a metaphor for the castoffs of human greed.”

“Dead Ends” was shown in 1983 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which two years earlier had honored Wilf with the Young Talent Purchase Award. In a program for the 1983 exhibit of Wilf’s work at LACMA, curator Maurice Tuchman wrote of the awards ceremony, “When his name was announced at the prize reception, tumultuous applause broke out among the scores of artists present. In the degree of its intensity, this response, virtually unprecedented in my experience, both reflected the artist’s own volatile and highly emotional nature and clearly revealed his charismatic effect on others.”

Peace Through ChemistryIn her appreciation after his death, Muchnic reported that, “Wilf later confided to friends that he took the $3,000 awarded him and ‘shot it up my arm.’ “

For his last painting, as Morrison wrote in the Times obit, “Andrew Wilf painted something else he saw — himself, as a shadow figure sitting at a drug-strewn table. ‘Peace Through Chemistry,’ he had entitled it.”

Artist Fails in Self-Exorcism, LA Times, Jan 20, 1982
Last Exit From a Living Hell, LA Times, Jan 21, 1982
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Bob and Bob: Forget Everything You Know

Cone headsSince the 1970s, the performance art duo Bob & Bob have infused their terse and insightful observations of American culture with a strong dose of humor.

Nobody Likes NixonAs noted on the performance art blog Another Righteous Transfer! in 2010, the pair “adopted the persona of a couple of ‘idiots, innocents … just in from the Midwest,’ all the better to freely stumble and bumble through the sprawling wilderness of this big city, pushing up against social boundaries and evincing a touching sense of earnest humanity along the way.”

Bob & Bob — Paul Bob, left, and The Dark Bob — used humor in their performances, their paintings and their music.

Bob & Bob — Paul Bob, left, and The Dark Bob — used humor in their performances, paintings and music.

In “Young Turks,” the two men — individually known as The Dark Bob and Paul Bob — discuss making art downtown circa 1980.

“What we did was play around in this city and find out what people want, what they’re doing,” The Dark Bob says. “We involved ourselves. We did it with them.

“We found out people dug drugs, people dug sex, people dug throwing their money around. So we made work about it. It was all influential out of this city.”

Bob & Bob's painting of the Dog Track, a burrito stand that once occupied the Northeast corner of Olympic & Central.

Bob & Bob’s painting of the Dog Track …

a burrito stand that once occupied the northeast corner of Olympic & Central. Photo by Stephen Seemayer

a burrito stand that once occupied the northeast corner of Olympic & Central. Photo by Stephen Seemayer

“Young Turks” also includes a performance in which the Bobs’ floating heads make random observations of things they learned on a two-month road trip across the country, a trek that had changed their perspective, not only of their home city, but of the American people in general.

Road Trip

Bob & Bob at a private screening of "Young Turks" in September 2012.

Bob & Bob at a private screening of “Young Turks” in September 2012.

Bob & Bob continue to produce paintings, short films and recordings in adjacent Santa Monica studios, both as a team and as individual artists.

The Dark Bob has released several albums of music written and performed by himself. Much of the soundtrack of “Young Turks” is comprised of songs from the Dark Bob’s albums, “Kingdom Come,” “An Ever Ominous Dream,” “The Sadness of Superman” and “Monkey Do.”

Paul Bob Velick is a Los Angeles-based life coach for “men who are seeking their own path of personal authority, professional power and freedom.”

For more information, visit darkbob.com or paulbobcoach.com.

ORDER “YOUNG TURKS” ON DVD

Coleen Sterritt: A Study in Opposition

Coleen Sterritt is a sculptor whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Coleen Sterritt is a sculptor whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Noche a Noche, 1981, wood, tar, yucca stalks, paint, 90" x 36” x 36”

Noche a Noche, 1981, wood, tar, yucca stalks, paint, 90″ x 36” x 36”

In “Young Turks,” sculptor Coleen Sterritt discusses the erroneous assumptions some people make about her artwork based on her gender and physical appearance.

“When people meet me, and I say that I’m an artist, that I’m downtown,” Sterritt explains, “they think that I’m going to be making these pink pastel paintings or something, you know, because of how I come across.”

After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Sterritt moved to Downtown Los Angeles and got her master’s degree at Otis Art Institute.

Sterritt rented this loft at 440 Seaton St. in what is now known as the Arts District.

Sterritt rented this loft at 454 Seaton St. in what is now known as the Arts District.

At her studio on Seaton Street (in what is today known as the Arts District), Sterritt constructed a variety of primitive-looking structures: Tripod shapes that supported heavy stones, or giant, skeletal towers that loomed over the viewer at a height of nearly nine feet.

“When they see that I make these big, heavy objects, it’s real uncomfortable,” Sterritt says. “It’s not pretty, I mean, it’s big, and it’s heavy, and it’s really like sadistic. It’s real torturous almost. I think it’s real different than what my image comes across as.”

Collect Call to Jimmy from Pinky, 1980, wood, cardboard, tar, hardware 96” x 84” x 132”

Collect Call to Jimmy from Pinky, 1980, wood, cardboard, tar, hardware, 96” x 84” x 132”

The oppositional dynamic of her “feminine” image and her “masculine” work is mirrored in the sculpture itself.

While the structure of a piece may have been “big … heavy … sadistic,” it’s surface decoration would be done in brightly colored paints or obsessively ornate patterns, creating an attraction/repulsion response. “I think the decorative quality could be somewhat of a lure,” Sterritt says in the documentary film, now available on DVD.

The sculptor at work in her Altadena studio.

The sculptor at work in her Altadena studio.

“The work a lot of times, because of the nature of the color and everything, it draws you in,” she continues, “and then after you look at it again, it’s like real gaudy, or it kind of puts you off at the same time.”

Sterritt is still creating complex and dynamic sculptures at the home in Altadena that she shares with her husband, Michael O’Reilly. She continues to present her work in group and solo exhibitions, including the recent show “From the Desert” at the Hudson/Linc gallery at the Pacific Design Center.

Coleen Sterritt resume
For more information on Sterritt’s work, visit coleensterritt.com.

ORDER ‘YOUNG TURKS’ ON DVD

Young Turks on DVD Available Now

Young Turks DVD“Young Turks” has been released on DVD!

See the film that has been called “a delightful and refreshing documentary about artist friends and the life they lived in downtown L.A. circa 1980.” The film by Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson is “a kaleidoscopic melange of bizarre underground existence and a few naked truths.”

On sale now through Seemayer Studios for $14.99 (plus tax & shipping).

ORDER HERE