I first discovered Paul’s work about fifteen years ago, and I soon sent him a letter. In it, I expressed my admiration and appreciation of him and his work, and I asked if I could meet with him to discuss various different theories about certain things, like the nature of time. Unfortunately, his assistant had put the letter with other paperwork that all got set aside and lost among the stacks of books and paintings everywhere in his studio. So, I just assumed that he wasn’t going to respond. Then, after living in a workspace not meant for residents, he finally moved into a genuine studio apartment. During the move, Paul discovered my letter and wrote me back. It was handwritten with perfect penmanship on a notecard in all capital letters, and in the letter was his phone number, so I immediately called him up. We talked for at least an hour about art, science fiction, and mainly the nature of time. This was at a point in his life when he was working on a temporal theory based on an almost circular labyrinthian flow of time coupled with the movement of “sensibilities through people”. I would come to learn that Paul loved the way that cycles could be described in this way, as you can see in one of his paintings about yoga:
Paul often used specific themes and symbols in this way, which is what I loved most about him. Anyhow, the point is that Paul invited me out to his studio, so a few weeks later my wife and I drove from Illinois to Massachusetts to meet him. When we arrived at his place in Boston, the first thing that Paul noticed was the leather portfolio that I was carrying. He didn’t like it, he just wanted to see what was inside. Thinking back, I should have been nervous but I was just excited. So, I showed him a number of diagrams that I had been working on that showed the relationships between thing like the body, mind, and soul, as well as the multiverse and universe, among many other things. I explained how it had all been inspired by his work, and how much I admired him, and everything else. However, like a true artist, he just wanted to see more of my work instead of showing me his. So, I showed him some tarot card images I had painted for a deck I wanted to make, and other kinds of things I was working on at the time. Then, Paul asked me if I knew the other visionary artist, Alex Grey. I did not. So, he said I should go meet him sometime. Then, he explained to me how Paul ran the Boston Visionary Cell and Alex ran the New York Visionary Cell, and he asked me if I would set up and run the Chicago Visionary Cell. These guys were a bit out of my league.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These are two of my favorite artists in the world. So, I started to get a bit nervous. Paul Laffoley and Alex Grey are professionals and I was basically just some amateur kid with a few sketches as far as I was concerned. I was not prepared for that, at all. So, I fearfully and probably foolishly let the opportunity just pass me by. To better visualize the whole thing, below is a poorly scanned copy of a picture that my wife took of me and Paul several hours after we met. It was back in the early 2000s when I used to have multi-colored dreads and huge chops. Meanwhile, Paul always shaved his entire head and face, completely bald. He also left lots of water everywhere in the bathroom when he did. That was the only room in the studio, everything else was open. Just as a side note, I hung up those curtains for him because he had a prosthetic leg, he was my elder, and I looked up to him as a luminary mentor. So, I was happy to do anything that needed to be done. You can still see the ladder hadn’t even been taken down yet. Also, he owned like four versions of the same outfit that you always saw him in. He may have worn slacks, corduroys, or jeans, but they were always black. That was just his signature style. By the way, the painting behind us was a $70,000 commission piece Paul was working on when we first met.
Going back to his prosthetic leg, Paul Laffoley actually got Stan Winston to make him a wearable lion-footed orthotic work of art. In case you don’t recognize the name, Winston was a Hollywood special effects legend. So, the foot was really badass, to say the least.
Of course, Paul only wore the lion leg on special occasions, and in the meantime, it stood atop his refrigerator. So, the first time I went to grab something to drink at his place, I saw the unique prosthetic device in person. At first, I could barely wrap my head around what I was seeing, then I finally understood what I was really looking at. You have to realize that Paul had all sorts of sculptures and half-finished models all over the place, so at first, I just thought it was something else he was in the process of making.
Like most great thinkers, Paul Laffoley was an autodidact. People like us don’t let dogma or academia or anything else confine or define us. We used to talk on the phone and in-person for hours, or even days on end. There was an air mattress that I slept on, and we would just resume our discussion in the morning. He knew everything about everything. Paul was acquainted with Andy Warhol, who had him stay up late at night to watch TVs with nothing but static playing. Warhol thought there were messages in the noise, but there wasn’t. Paul also went to Woodstock, but he was just there because some of his paintings were exhibited without permission. So, he was there to get them, but he wasn’t really there if you know what I mean. Paul was not into drugs and hippie music. Instead, he really loved Elvis. There was even a floor to ceiling poster of “The King” in Paul’s bathroom, right next to the toilet, of all places. The point is that Paul had lived a very strange life and I was determined to find out everything I could about and from him and his work. Needless to say, Paul Laffoley was able to eclectically draw upon seemingly unrelated concepts to create amazing works of art. As part of this, most of his paintings are rather large. That is to say, they were usually several feet tall and wide. In fact, he had to stretch his own canvases to make them big enough. Some of these are not just paintings tough. He called those particular works of art his “architectonic thought-forms”. That’s also the title of one of his books, which I’m lucky enough to own a limited-run copy of. Paul said that his paintings were made to interact with in such a way that they could do things to you, thus transforming you as a person. The most famous example of this is “The Thanaton III”, which is big enough to stand in front of and place your hands on and stare into.
This particular painting was done to commemorate an extraterrestrial encounter that Paul had. We had a conversation about this for hours. You see Paul had an unidentifiable object in his head. I know it was there because I saw all the x-rays with his name on them and everything. Then, I looked over every inch of his head for incision scars. As I said before he used to shave off everything so I could really see what I was looking for. Here’s the thing, there was a metallic object that looked like a grain of rice in his brain. There was even a doctor from MUFON who wanted to go in after the object, but Paul refused. He said he would never let anyone dig around in his skull, he didn’t want to risk brain damage. Still, the images revealed that something was there and his head didn’t have a single scar on it. I still don’t know what it was or how it got there, to this day. According to Paul, a long, long time ago, a race of aliens created spore-like nanobots that were dispersed across the galaxy. Those devices then spread out and eventually found their way to other worlds. Here on Earth, Paul breathed one in and it made its way to his brain. I remember that Paul was really hung up on the vertical orientation of the implant, for whatever reason.
Paul was unique in more ways than one, let me tell you. For one thing, he was an architect as well as an artist. This made his mind work in a very specific way. The thing was that his mother always wanted him to be an architect, but his father never wanted him to be an artist. When Paul was still young, his dad would come in while he was painting and actually take the brush out of his hand. Of course, after he left Paul would just grab another brush and get back to work. So, Paul’s artistic talent wasn’t fostered, to say the least. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him at all. Paul comes from a long line of crazy people, so it was probably for the best that his dad walked away each time. Don’t get me wrong Paul was the nicest guy in the world, but his surname literally means “folly”. You see, many of his ancestors went to insane asylums for one reason or another. He told me that sculptors even used some of his old catatonic relatives as models for statues. Thus, a few of the gruesome faces of certain gargoyles are basically family portraits. As I said, Paul was a bit nuts, but boy did I love it. He told me so many stories about so many things in his life. For one thing, he renewed his architect's license every year in honor of his mother, even after her passing. You know he actually helped design the Twin Towers, but get this. Paul was fired from the project for suggesting that the buildings be equipped with escape shoots. If they had been installed, much fewer people would have died in the attacks on 9/11. Paul was just a visionary and a revolutionary through and through, even when it came to architecture. In fact, when I was helping Paul move into his new place, we had to move around a large model, which is shown below.
Now let me tell you when I picked up the sculpture Paul totally lost his shit. He was really, really worried that we were going to break it, but we were being super careful. The model was really lightweight and very easy to maneuver, but the entire time he acted like I was going to drop it or hit it against something. We were being careful, but Paul was unusually nervous, for whatever reason. I had never seen him like that before, but I soon learned that’s just how he was. Regardless, the point is that Paul designed a house that can be made entirely from plants. At first, I was taken aback and confused by the idea. I immediately thought that there was no way to graft a bunch of different plants together like that. Little did I know, Paul was a fucking next-level genius. It turns out that he wanted to use ancient plants with really primitive DNA as a kind of glue, and it really would work!!! Somebody just needs to make one someday. I doubt we could ever do what Paul really wanted. His goal was to be able to plant a seed and grow a house. That’s a bit much, but I do think the house could be built. Especially considering the fact that Paul left behind pages and pages full of blueprints.
The problem is that there are only a few copies of his books out there, and we need all the schematics that he had to offer. Shit, he didn’t even own copies of his own books. I asked him if he had a copy of The Phenomenology of Revelation that I could have and he just sort of laughed at me. Unfortunately, his books are very rare. So, they are well worth buying if you ever come across one. It would be an absolute tragedy if humanity lost track of what Paul did. He was a renaissance man who was way ahead of his time. Sure, some of his concepts were completely crazy, but again he’s a Laffoley. Still, some of his ideas were utterly profound. Plus, the body of work that he put together needs to be studied by everyone. Paul Laffoley should be a household name, but it isn’t and that really needs to change. I cannot stress enough how important his art is to the world. His paintings are unlike anything anyone else has ever done.
During an interview with Richard Metzger, the greatest artist of all time was asked the following question:
Paul, even though I know it’s an almost absurdly large question to ask of an artist, what are you trying to communicate to the human race with your artwork?
This is what Paul told him:
I take cosmic themes and I turn them into finely detailed works for the Earth.
This is the reason why I like diagrams so much, because a diagram is a neutral system, which can allow you to diagram anything. There are no limits to it, so as an architect I always appreciated that. It’s like drawing the floor plan of the building on the ground and then starting to build it.
A mandala is a type of diagram, so I think that the diagramesqueness of them is the core and in that sense, this is another way of defining the word symbol: it connects thinking and feeling.
I think that the problem of the 19th Century was a complete bifurcation of thinking and feeling. You look at a Monet painting at a distance: you have to get away from it in order to appreciate it. When you come up close, it’s meaningless. The moving towards a sense of continuity means that you have to be working on a different track and the International Symbolists did that, and to me, diagrams are the heart of it.
At one point in the interview, Richard Metzger inquired about what he called the “psychoactive component” of “The Metatron” (pictured above), and this is what Paul had to say:
There’s an epistemic ladder in Symbolism, going from a sign to an index to an icon to an archetype and into a symbol. A lot of people use these words and they use them to mean each other and I think that that is actually incorrect. I think there’s a technical distinction. A sign is something like a code, an arbitrary association of like A = B or A = 1 and you just start a code. An index is more like forensic medicine or like animal tracks in the snow, where you sense that something exists objectively, but apart from your direct experience of it.
When you begin on the ladder, you have what would be called the epistemic model: the knower and that which is known are in mutually interdependent relationship where the knower is active and the knowledge is passive. That begins it. So as you proceed from a sign to an index to an icon, when you get to an archetype, you’re moving to a point where you’re recognizing that this is happening all around the world. It’s more than say, the way that Jung talks about archetypes. The concept of a collective unconscious is a diminution of the original alchemical notion of an archetype.
Finally we get to a symbol where the epistemic model has inverted so that the knowledge is active and the knower is passive.
In other words, you’re going from a situation where you have a sense that you’re totally in control of the information. You are this evolutionary bureaucratized creature who feels by its ego that it’s completely in control of everything and if something magical comes along, it’s an exception that you can avoid.
As you get into the epistemic ladder it becomes harder and harder to avoid it, until finally, when you reach the state of a singularity and pure numinosity, the revelation has taken over you. The content has become the active, you become passive and then you are completely one with the universe.
Sadly, the late great visionary artist and architect died in 2015 at the age of eighty, following a tough battle with congestive heart failure. A funeral mass was held in St. Joseph’s Church on Wednesday, November 25th at 9:00 in the morning, and then he was interred at Belmont Cemetery. Let me tell you that’s not what he wanted, but that’s alright. Paul and I spoke about his death a couple of times. He had hoped that science would find a way to pull out his central nervous system and put it in a cyborg body. If that wouldn’t work Paul wanted to be put in his studio in front of an unfinished painting with a brush in hand. Then, he wanted the whole room filled with resin and then removed from the building. Then he wanted the see-through cube to be shot into space. How cool would that have been? The bottom line is that Leonardo Da Vinci was nothing compared to Paul Laffoley! In my humble opinion, he left behind the greatest, most valuable collection of art in the whole of human history. Some day, maybe a hundred years from now, or maybe a thousand, the masses might realize this. Most people are completely dumbfounded by his great works, but others are brought into and back out of them, just as he had intended. The Magna Opera he left behind explains things that no one else ever could. That’s the enduring power of his genius…
Long live the legacy of Paul Laffoley, the greatest artist in history!