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A Definition of Success in the Fine Arts

Posted: 12/21/11 10:14 AM ET

How do you define a successful life in the arts? Is it selling a painting for six figures? Do the heavens part when you make the cover of Artforum? Does achievement come with an invitation to show at a biennale? Or is success defined by the quality, dedication and passion of the artist's journey?

Recently, an art world success Bill Radawec left this mortal coil. In the last difficult year of his life, Bill demonstrated the same courageous values that he evidenced as an artist. The following testimonials from friends and colleagues paint a portrait of the artist. This discussion allow us to define the meaning of success in the fine arts. -- Gordy Grundy

Lucas Reiner is a painter who lives in Los Angeles. He writes, "I met Bill Radawec in 1994 at an opening in Tom Solomon's Garage on Fairfax Blvd. Three small paintings of mine had been included in a group exhibition. The paintings were five inch squares; grey and minimal. If you blinked, you would easily miss them. As I was standing by the paintings I saw an energetic man rapidly approaching. Everything about him was round; round face, round baldhead, round glasses. With great enthusiasm and speed, he walked towards me and introduced himself: "Hi! I'm Bill", he said. "Are these your paintings"? He took off his glasses and pressed his head close to the surface, then close to the side of the paintings to see how they were attached to the wall. We struck up a conversation about minimalism and he invited me to visit him at his apartment/gallery, Domestic Setting, which was then on Sawtelle Blvd. Bill included my work in some of the Domestic Setting shows, and our conversations continued over the course of seventeen years.

Bill had a wonderful enthusiasm for art, life, people, history, and a profoundly generous nature. He was a constant connector of people, and seemingly felt no inhibitions or self-consciousness about introducing himself to anyone and everyone. He seemed to naturally feel that everyone should know everyone else, and was exemplary in the way he treated all people the same. For this reason, I suspect Los Angeles was a bit of a frustration for him. Perhaps being from the Midwest, he couldn't square the hierarchy of the Hollywood mindset.

Bill could talk. His favorite question was, "So what else is new?" He even asked me this while he was lying in the hospital, sedated, undergoing chemotherapy. The conversations we had, especially after he moved back to Cleveland to take care of his mother and father, covered a broad range of subjects; from art world gossip to his fascination with Sammy Davis Jr., specifically the I.R.S. owning all of his assets when he died. He would speak at length about a new, epic body of conceptual work he was focused on which wove together Sammy Davis' glass eye and John Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's son and the inventor of Lincoln Logs. When I saw Bill in the spring of 2011, he spoke at length about this new body of work, looking me in the eye deadpan, and explaining how Frank Lloyd Wright had fired his son from a job he had hired him to do.

Bill's support, encouragement, and gentle guidance played an unexpected role in my life, and I will be forever being grateful for his friendship. His enthusiastic belief in people, generosity of spirit, and his willingness to share that spirit of belief was his gift to those who knew him. I loved him and will miss him. -- Lucas Reiner

Bennett Roberts is an art dealer in Los Angeles who is looking for the next diamond. He writes, "Bill was a great person and will be missed by all that knew him. Bill loved anything having to do with Art. The making, selling, displaying, talking about and thinking art. He loved looking, and seeing, and feeling, but he especially enjoyed the people (his friends) whether he knew them personally or not, who made, discussed and lived for Art. For these reasons and many others our friend Bill will be remembered and missed forever" -- Bennett Roberts 2011-12-20-113.jpg

Jeanne Patterson is a Los Angeles based artist and founder of Domestic Setting. She writes, "Being totally immersed as an artist to Bill meant not only making one's work but being very active outside the studio, going to openings and seeing shows, to be Constantly engaged in art viewing, conversing and connecting people with one another. He was a firm believer that your studio should be ready at all times to have the work looked at. He was constantly on the phone with artists, dealers and writers all over the country and was on a first name basis with them.

From early on, he was very supportive of my work and I can truly say he was like a brother to me. With Bill you got the real deal, whether you liked that or not, he was an individual. He was very witty and had a very quick mind and he could always make me laugh. After he moved to Cleveland we would have long conversations late at night. He was excited to hear what was going on with Domestic Setting and enjoyed hearing news of mutual friends. He was like a sponge and took it all in, generous and told the most amazing stories. I miss the guy. -- Jeanne Patterson

Susan Landau is a former art dealer turned jewelry designer. She writes, "I had the most eye opening experience with Bill R. After my gallery closed in the early 90's, I opened my house to show wonderful art. Bill and I became acquainted at this point. He curated practically all the shows and introduced me to his posse of art folks. It was such a delight mixed with hilarious Bill "things". Like when the shows came down and new work was to be installed, Bill was not at his best. He seemed to be lacking spackling skills so he solved the problem by asking each artist to spackle their own "holes". As precise as his drawings were, he didn't mind lumps under white paint. -- Susan Landau


Jane Hart is curator of Exhibitions, Art and Culture Center of Hollywood and founder Lemon Sky projects and editions. She writes, "I met Bill Radawec shortly after moving to Los Angeles from New York City in 1990. Right away we struck up a friendship and I greatly appreciated his upbeat personality and unquenchable enthusiasm for contemporary art and artists. I attended many of the wonderful shows he organized at domestic setting and felt that he was truly pursuing the spirit of collaboration and inventiveness that I had longed for in my move to the West Coast. He invited me to curate a show in the summer of 1993 at both domestic setting spaces: his apartment and Jeanne Patterson's home. I was thrilled with the opportunity and used it as a platform to do a major project entitled "A Vital Matrix." It was a large group show devoted to artists and their relationship to nature and included many L.A. artists as well as future art stars like Gregory Crewdson, Matthew Ritchie and Jim Hodges among others. For me this was a trans-formative moment in my professional life working within the art world. I found my voice as a curator. I have Bill to thank for this -- as it was due both to his generosity and trust in me. There was a show, color catalogue and boxed set of the participating artists editions (which sold out immediately.) The show brought many people together. Bill and I loved that!

Throughout the 13 years that I was in Los Angeles, Bill introduced me to so many superb artists. He was a conduit in that way-- always putting people together. This was especially the case when I was Director of the pioneering digitally based fine arts publishing company Muse [X] Editions. Bill delighted in bringing artists over to our studio/facility -- many went on to publish and/or produce editions with us. Bill was also a key inspiration for me to open my own alternative "in home" gallery in 1996 up in Beachwood Canyon, lemon sky: a project space, which has continued in various manifestations both in L.A. and since I moved to Miami in 2003.

Most importantly though, Bill was devoted to his own art and all the various series he produced over the years. Each smartly imbued with wit and true originality. Bill was one of a kind...I am so grateful that we were friends and colleagues. Together with many other artists, curators and critics vital to Los Angeles' development as an art capital in the 1990's we shared exuberant experiences as the scene unfolded. They were the best of times. -- Jane Hart

The Art Work of Bill Radawec
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Out of the Blue, the Turn Around, 2008
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
Photo courtesy of Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art

Photos published courtesy of the Shaheen Gallery and Lucas Reiner.

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GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist and writer. His visual and literary work can be found near www.GordyGrundy.com.

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