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May 2007, WM Issue #3: Billy Sullivan

May 2007, WM Issue #3: Billy Sullivan
The life and inspiration wall in Billy Sullivan's studio



Billy Sullivan eats a lot of fish. " I'll go to Indochine tonight, I've been eating there for years." Billy said when I asked him what his favorite restaurants were in New York. He works in New York City's town, in a studio that he has had for thirty years, a top floor loft that is an artifact of the old city with it's beaten painted factory flooring and soft western light diffused by the large windows made opaque by the long, winter dirt. It smells of oil paint and the New York past.

 

Andy Warhol photographing a naked boy, junkie drag queens trying to make out with Lou Reed, Rene Richard signing a book of poems, the city where anything happened and anything can happen. Billy inhabits this world still, although he might be a lot more tame than his Max's Kansas City days. A time he describes as one of tomorrow’s parties, endless nights where everyone knew each other and downtown was just a state of mind, not a hip name for a new condo, or trendy bar. Billy doesn't seem to be bothered by all the change that is happening, he doesn't moan like other hipsters. He embraces it in his work, creating masterpieces out of a dinner with friends, a painting that he is currently finishing for Art Basel in . It reminds him of Picasso's Absinth drinkers although the subjects are sipping on water. Billy says that "It's the joke that keeps him going" and maybe that is what I first missed in Billy's work when I viewed his show at last year's Whitney Biennial. Billy likes to be playful; he has an ironic, ornery, New York sense of humor that immediately made me feel comfortable in his presence. His eyes glitter when he talks and he smiles, licking his bottom lip as he laughs. I asked Billy about his career and his future as we sat down on a sunny spring afternoon.

 

 Billy works with a variety of mediums, using slide shows to create a visual narrative, or diary of his life, and making painting and drawings from these slides. I asked him when he first flirted with the idea of a slide show and he told me that “I did a party at this night club called Hurrah and did a slide show there, it was the place to go before Studio 54. I also started having after parties after a show at the Mudd Club. Parties moved around. We'd go from Hurrah's to Mickey's (Max's Kansas City), after Studio 54 we started going to the Mudd Club downtown and the international crowd would come through and watch." I listened to Billy recount days of wonder and turned to a painting behind me. "Is this one of your paintings?" I asked. I was referring to a beautiful piece that showed a scene from a circus, it had a certain energy that had been drawing my attention away from our conversation. “Yes." Billy replied, “I went to the Big Apple Circus. I get interested in something and do it. It is actually a pastel." Billy's work's from a photograph but takes it to a whole new dimension, adding colors and textures that electrify each scene. Billy went on to say that "Things have really started happening for me now.

 

Thing were getting good when I was showing at Reagan Projects in L.A. but when I began showing with Nicole Klagsbrun (Billy's current gallery) things got really good. People didn't really understand what was happening, or what I was doing in the beginning." Besides the painting of the couple drinking water there was another work in progress right beside it of a woman in a bathtub. Billy gave me a little background on it. “That other painting on the wall is my old apartment on the Bowery. It is like a Bonnard, who did all these paintings of people in bathtubs. The woman in the tub is Carol. She went on to become a famous photographer and did a series of the Massai in Africa. “So what's next?" I asked Billy. “I am working on a show for Guild Hall that is opening August 2nd. It's a good little museum in East Hampton." I think to myself about what Billy once said about his shows. "This kind of stuff happens all the time." Billy is a true artist, and a New York original.

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.
       

Brendan Wilcox


Brendan Wilcox is a journalist in New York City.


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