Paul Laffoley

paul laffoley

Paul Laffoley (b. 1940) is a US artist and architect. As an architect working for Emery Roth & Sons, Laffoley worked for 18 months on design for the World Trade Center Tower II.

As a painter, his work is usually classified as visionary art or outsider art; most of his pieces are painted on large canvases and combine words and imagery to depict a spiritual architecture of explanation, tackling concepts like dimensionality, time travel through hacking relativity, connecting conceptual threads shared by philosophers through the millennia, and theories about the cosmic origins of mankind.

In 1963, after being dismissed from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Laffoley came to New York to work with the visionary Frederick Kiesler, and was recruited by Andy Warhol, who wanted someone to watch television for him at all hours of the night. Laffoley watched television in the pre-dawn hours, before programming had actually begun. Following his dismissal by Kiesler, Laffoley worked for 18 months on design for the World Trade Center Tower II (floors 15 to 45) under the direction of architect Minoru Yamasaki. Following his suggestion that bridges be constructed between the two towers for safety, he was summarily fired by Yamasaki and returned to his home in Massachusetts.

In 1965, he completed the first paintings of a mature style in his childhood household against the wishes of his father. In Christmas, 1968, after a quarrel with a first studio partner, Laffoley was in immediate need of a studio and living accommodations. Having only one day to relocate, Paul found an empty room on the second floor of a downtown office building at 36 Bromfield Street in downtown Boston, and immediately moved into it. This studio would become infamously known as the Boston Visionary Cell. The Cell was formally incorporated in 1971 as a non-profit art association encouraging art and architecture of the visionary art genre.

Now clearly following his path as a painter, he began a highly original approach to the construction of the painted surface. Based on extensive hand written journals documenting his research, diagrams, and footnoted predecessors to various theoretical developments, Laffoley began to first organize his ideas in a format related to eastern mandalas that had captivated his interest in the spiritual. This format quickly developed into Laffoley’s three sub-groupings of work: ‘Operating Systems,’ ‘Psychotronic Devices,’ and lucid dreams related to them. Conceived of as ‘structured singularities,’ Laffoley never works in series, but rather approaches each project individually.

Working in a solitary manner, each 73 ½ x 73 ½ inch canvas can take one to three years to paint and code. By the late 1980s, Laffoley began to move from the spiritual and the intellectual, and evolved to the view of his work as an interactive, physically engaging ‘psychotronic device,’ perhaps similar to architectural monuments such as Stonehenge or the Cathedral of Notre Dame and their spiritual aura. As a confirmed ‘utopian,’ Laffoley is a prominent visionary artist.

In 1989, Kent Gallery compiled and published the first monograph on Laffoley entitled ‘The Phenomenology of Revelation.’ The following year a second was published, ‘Architectonic Thought-Forms: Gedankenexperiemente in Zombie Aesthetics: A Survey of the Visionary Art of Paul Laffoley Spanning Four Decades, 1967–1999, to the Brink of the Bauharoque.’

After the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, Laffoley was one of a number of architects who, in 2002, submitted designs for the competition to plan the Freedom Tower. Laffoley took his inspiration from the work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. His conception was to plan a gigantic hotel in the style of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família church in Barcelona.

His work over the last forty years is a dizzying mix of precise architectural-quality painting and ideas (both societally accepted and far on the fringe) from ancient times to the present. Laffoley has called his work a blend of the purely rational, Apollonian impulse and the purely emotional, Dionysian impulse. British writer Michael Bracewell, said, ‘If Laffoley’s work within the Boston Visionary Cell can be said to have one principal preoccupation – a common denominator of his eclectic scholarship and practice – then that preoccupation would be to understand the process by which one goes from becoming to being.’ ‘The Boston Visionary Cell, as a concretized manifestation of its inhabitant’s work and preoccupations, describes the way in which a chaos of data – no less than a chaos of marble – can be sculpted by research to release the perfect forms within it.’

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