The Boston Visionary Cell

About

PAUL LAFFOLEY (b. 1935, Cambridge, MA – d. 2015, Boston, MA)

It can be said that Paul Laffoley’s journey into the visionary genre, linking the memory of the past with the anticipation of the future by means of a trans-disciplinary practice in the present, began with his search for Frederick Kiesler.  While previously living in Belmont, Massachusetts, he had been introduced to Hindu philosophies and Taoist Alchemy by his father and a Hindu home school tutor, followed by a formal education at Brown University in the classics and art history.  

Due to his childhood preoccupation with schematics and building such inventions as crystal radios in his childhood basement, Paul thought enrolling and being accepted by the Department of Architecture in the Harvard Graduate School of Design could best enhance his interests in art.  His reasoning was that the study of architecture as a practice would help perfect his tendencies towards diagrammatic thinking and representation. However after one year he was, “grand juried out of Harvard for “conceptual deviance” from their architectural curriculum.  While at Harvard, Laffoley also apprenticed with Mirko Baseldella (sculptor in residence) at the Carpenter Center for the Arts for one year (1961) .”  “What he asked me to do was to go away and do 300 drawings in ink about 20 by 30 inches, and not to come back until I’d finished them all.”  These drawings, along with a model he carried in a specially designed case, he presented to Kiesler when he finally met Kiesler for the first time.  “From my home in Belmont, I launched a letter-writing campaign.   . . . After my sixteenth effort my father suggested that my letters were being used to light cigarettes.”  His 17th letter solicited a reply, and an appointment was granted to meet him on the afternoon of April 27, 1962

With an interview to look forward to, Laffoley packed his bag and took the train from Boston to New York.  Landing at the Sloane House on 34th Street, Laffoley began making cold calls to numerous artists for advice that he had read about in Artnews magazine.  He successfully phoned Andy Warhol who suggested meeting him at an opening at the Alan Stone Gallery, portfolio in hand.  Warhol liked what Paul brought to show him, and agreed give Paul a place to sleep in his new firehouse studio on East 87th Street in exchange for work, watching television’s Indian head test patterns between 2 and 5 am.  It was these late-night viewings of test patterns that fueled his interest in religious mandalas including Hindu and Buddhist cosmic diagrams.  This situation was only a few weeks in duration, but enough time for Paul to make contact with Frederick Kiesler (1890–1965) who told him he could assist in his Union Square studio in the evenings, but he would need to find another paying job to cover his rent.  At the suggestion of Kiesler, he did find employment with Emery Roth and Sons (who joint ventured the World Trade Center project with Yamasaki), in connection with the interior configurations of floors 15 to 45 in the North Tower of the original World Trade Center.  After 18 months, however, prompted by his suggestion of the advantages of building a series of bridges between the towers at a group meeting with Minori Yamasaki, he was summarily fired from the project. However, at Kiesler’s studio, Laffoley had been introduced to a number of prominent cultural forces of the mid 1960’s including Alfred H. Barr, Isamu Noguchi, John Chamberlain, Salvatore Scarpitta, Marcel Breuer and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

“In the end it’s what you do in life, not when or where you are born, that matters.  And on the day that I first met Kiesler, I felt I was in the presence of the most brilliant artistic mind that I had ever experienced.”

These mandala paintings by Laffoley would first begin to appear in the window of the Sphinx Bookstore owned by Richard and Patricia Harvey on Massachusetts Avenue in 1965, and of particular importance, at “The Sand Box” of the new Orson Welles Cinema located at 1001 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.  The cinema opened on April 8, 1969 and Laffoley installed his show on August 6 of 1969. The Sand Box was a very large room with 8 inches of sand on the floor, and the paintings were illuminated by candles. “The lighting of my paintings was very eerie . . At first I did not recognize them, as the source of the light was at their bottoms instead of coming from the ceiling.  These sand candles were subjected to every slight breeze and the light from the flames flickered over the surfaces of the canvases made the paintings seem odd, uncanny and magical almost. “  When Laffoley returned to the Orson Welles Cinema on August 9th with the intention of swapping one of the paintings on view, he discovered the entire show was missing.  It seems that without his knowledge, the proprietor, Dean Gitter, had taken them to the Woodstock Music Festival with the idea of erecting a tent and displaying the works.

By 1970, Laffoley began to use the mandala format layered more explicitly with texts in a manner reminiscent of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  The painting signifying Laffoley’s newly formed Boston Visionary Cell was titled The Visionary Point (1970).  

IT IS THE ART OF MAKING TRANSCENDENTAL SYMBOLS WHICH EVOKE THE EXISTENCE AND CHARACTER OF THE COSMIC FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE.  THE COMPOSITION OF THESE SYMBOLS STRIVES TOWARD THE ETERNAL AND KITSCH ANTI-FORMALISM OF THE ARCHETYPES OF THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS.  THE CONTENT IS THE EXPERIENCE OF THE FORCE STRUCTURE OF THE MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE. TO MAN THIS FORCE STRUCTURE IS THE CLIMAX OF THE POWER AND FEROCITY OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IT SUBSUMES AND TRANSFORMS HUMAN REACTIONS WHETHER OR NOT IT IS TERROR, SENTIMENTALITY OR HUMOR.  THE SUBJECT MATTER IS APPARENTLY SEPARATE MESSAGES WHICH WHEN BROUGHT TOGETHER FORM A SEQUENTIAL AND CULMINATE ORGANIZATION OF THE INFORMATION , WHICH AT THE VISIONARY POINT OF THE WORLD (THE END OF TIME) WILL REVEAL THE MASTER PLAN OF THE UNIVERSE.

PAUL LAFFOLEY, OCTOBER 13, 1971

Laffoley has been the subject of numerous exhibitions including most recently:

The Palais du Tokyo, Paris

Hamburger Bahnhoff, Berlin

Hayward Gallery, London

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco

Henry Art Gallery, Seattle

Francis Naumann Fine Art, New York

The Boston Visionary Cell: Kent Fine Art

The Forced Structure of the Mystical Experience: Kent Fine Art

For Laffoley’s full biography, bibliography, press and publications, visit www.kentfineart.net