Sunday, December 30, 2007

How you doin' Mr, Whitney!...

With great pleasure I post this recent contribution from Michael Killela....

I thought I would share some of my personal interactions with Ed. Perhaps this might appear mundane but I believe my interactions with Ed revealed the true character of a great man and showed him always to be the teacher, even in the most unexpected places.

I have not lived in New York for more than 20 years. As a teenager, I lived in Jackson Heights not far away from Ed's home.

I met "Mr Whitney" as I called him in those days in the early 80's as he was a regular customer in the local pharmacy that I worked at as a teenager. What a vibrant dynamic gentleman he was. He would come in and I would greet him with my usual "How you doin' Mr, Whitney!" He would look up at me with those piercing eyes and say "terrible, absolutely terrible" to which I would counter "but you look great!" and he would always answer " aw you must be cockeyed!" I think he did it just because he knew I enjoyed it so much so he never changed it.

A year or so later (maybe two) Opie passed. She was in a nursing home I believe and during this time his health deteriorated. I began to deliver his medicine and other items to him during the next several years. When I would get there we would have our usual beginning exchange and then we would discuss art. Not painting per se, but art in general. I was a musician facing choices of style, and what I perceived to be ethical questions over pursuing money or keeping my art pure. Those treasured 20 to 30 minutes I had with him each week or so were the most influential I ever spent with anyone in my life. He told me several times that "there are only two things that matter in life- your friends and your art, everything else is worthless". He challenged me to make sure the decisions I made were ones I could live with.

I never lifted a brush and never showed an interest. We hardly looked at his work that was all over his house. It was the man, the teacher that I hold dear and consider one of the most important influences in the person I have become. He was remarkable. I surely can't speak to his art. But I can speak of his heart-. Pure and uncomplicated. He had the ability to lift your spirits and at the same time make you feel like you forgot your homework. Ever the teacher, he wanted to pass on the passion and conviction that guided him. In that, I can assure you he succeeded.

I am not cockeyed, as his accusations went, and it was Ed's presence, wit, and style that left the world a better place because he lived in it. I can still hear him screaming at me for refusing the tip money he wanted to give. He had already given me something priceless that will stay with me forever.

In Tribute,

Michael Killela

Whitney Demo on the Rocks, Kennebunkport 1979

Whitney Demo on the Rocks, Kennebunkport 1979
photo courtesy Shirley Langraf