Paul Laffoley

Stux Gallery

Paul Laffoley’s diagrammatic paintings, drawings, and box constructions remain firmly outside any of art’s currently fashionable classifications, and they stand little chance of being assimilated into the mainstream. Like the work of the visionary utopians William Blake, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles Ives, Laffoley’s demands to be taken on its own terms. As with the work of all true visionaries, Laffoley’s art has few if any stylistic affinities with his predecessors’. The reason for this is that the visionary genre is not a matter of style but of content.

Rather than evoking or describing, Laffoley confronts the viewer with blueprints of metaphysical proposals about the nature of reality The paintings are large; the boxes, small and intimate. All, however, are so packed with information that they must be considered epic in scope. Typically, the work takes the form of diagrams that link images, facts, and theoretical propositions derived from the occult sciences, parapsychology, theosophy, history, literature, architecture, and various branches of the physical sciences. The artist seems mostly concerned with those areas of inquiry that are focused on man’s destiny and the perceptual structures used to apprehend reality.

In the painting The Orgone Motor, 1981, Laffoley presents the plans for an orgone box powered by psychokinetic energy. The painting not only completes the project the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich left unfinished at his death but also offers a highly original interpretation of Reich’s researches in the form of an homage. Astrakakiteraboat, 1974, is a highly detailed plan for constructing a kite-boat to be used in an experiment in astral projection. In order to decide what kind of kite should be used, Laffoley experimented with different prototypes until he made one that could be vertically stabilized, thus allowing someone to sit or stand on a platform that is also part of the kite’s design. The design of the boat to be used to tug the kite was derived from the description of an 18th-century whaling pirogue in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The painting also juxtaposes two similar shapes, a radio tube and an Egyptian sarcophagus, the implication being that the Egyptians designed their coffins as transmitters to project their ka, or soul, into the world. In all of Laffoley’s work, this kind of obsessive, highly evolved associative logic is in operation every step of the way The result: a strange, wondrous fiction that speculates on the world of appearances.

Laffoley challenges our notions of what constitutes content in art as well as our definitions of abstract art. Like Alfred Jensen, he is an unexpected heir to Wassily Kandinsky and Pier Mondrian, both of whom attempted to make a vision of utopia concrete. The relationship with Jensen runs deeper, of course; for each, science of the most abstract and theoretical kind is a major source feeding into the work. The difference—and it’s one that should be pointed out—is that Laffoley’s work tends to gather a wider net of information, which is then transformed into an imaginative, utopian proposal that is completely convincing in its sincerity and, most importantly, both immensely challenging and deeply rewarding. It challenges us to follow Ezra Pound’s dictum and change our lives, and rewards us by making the world “NEW” before our eyes.

John Yau