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 Bill Sullivan  (1942 - 2010)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: modernist-leaning landscape, portrait and animal painting

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Harbor of Hope III
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"Remembering Bill Sullivan: Art world mourns loss of landscape painter": Obituary by John Mason, Hudson-Catskill Newspapers, October 26, 2010

Hudson and the world of art together suffered a great loss Friday when Bill Sullivan died at the age of 68.

“It’s a terrible loss,” said art collector Al Roberts. “We have had three artists in Hudson — Edward Avedisian, who died a year ago, Stephanie Rose, who I still collect, and Bill Sullivan — in my view those were the principal artists in Hudson toward the end of the 20th century and into this century.”

Sullivan’s works are in such collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public library and the Albany Institute of History and Art. He has been in countless group exhibitions and locally, his works have been exhibited in a show curated by poet John Ashbery at the St. Charles Hotel in Hudson, and at Carrie Haddad Gallery on Warren Street.

“He was a very, very fine painter,” Haddad said. “He’s done a lot of work over a very long and successful career.”

Sullivan started out in the 1960s as a New York City painter, and was an integral part of the New York scene.

“His portraits in watercolors of people he knew from the arts community were pitch-perfect renderings of a certain light and style that I value,” said curator Geoffrey Young of Great Barrington, Mass.

But his introduction in the 1970s to Northern European landscape painting and then to the work of Frederic Church and Thomas Cole changed the course of his life.

Author Jaime Manrique, Sullivan’s domestic partner and biographer, recalled that the first time they met, in 1977, “the New York School of poetry and Frederic Church were the main topics of conversation that night.”

The next year, the painter and the poet embarked on a two-year exploration of all the sites Church had visited in South America, starting with Bogota, Colombia. Sullivan painted numerous canvases of such sites as the mountain Montserrate, the waterfall Tequendama and the crater lake Guatavita.

By the end of this period, Manrique wrote in The Autobiography of Bill Sullivan, “Bill’s New York School sensibilities had undergone a transformation. His travels in Colombia and Venezuela had drastically altered his sense of color — it became explosive. And Bill became deeply involved in painting pure landscape. Landscape for him was no longer an attempt to capture a slice of life. Instead, it became a metaphorical attempt to make a spiritual connection, to find the soul of a place.”

In 1980, Manrique and Sullivan wrote a book, Church’s Travels in South America, that was never published.

In the 1990s, Sullivan inherited some money from his father and started publishing books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, putting out books by such writers as Edward Field, Albert Corn, John Larkin, Eugene Richie and Roseanne Wasserman.

“He liked the excitement of working with authors and designing covers,” Manrique said.

“We will miss him,” Richie and Wasserman wrote in their blog, “his conversation, full of news, plans, discoveries, and traveler’s tales; his energy and encouragement; his company and his steady familiar, familial affection.”

 In 2002, he moved to Hudson.

“His hero was Frederic Church, so coming to Hudson was the perfect thing for him to do,” Manrique said. Painters like Church, Cole and Sanford Gifford were the tradition out of which Sullivan worked, he said. “He appreciated the beauty and the light and the idea that some of the things he painted had been painted before, by them.”

Although he came up in an era saturated with abstraction, Sullivan, from childhood, was always a representational painter, Manrique said. “Even though there is a lot of abstraction in his work, mostly he chose to paint the world, the landscape and the people who live in it.

“I think he thought of himself primarily as a landscape painter, who also painted cityscapes and waterscapes and cloudscapes and that kind of thing,” he said. “He was always painting: His idea was to paint, paint, paint.”

Sullivan became a familiar face on Warren Street.

“We became really good friends,” Roberts said. “I’ve had coffee with him hundreds of times. We’d meet at various coffee shops and talk about art. When I wanted to know about the work of other artists, he was very helpful, and had an artistic judgment of his own.

“I met artists through him,” he said. “Fellow art students — he would kindly share them with me.”

Haddad said Sullivan was “very generous. He would kind of point artists in the right directions to dealers and people they should meet. He had a lot of connections, and he was generous with those connections.”

In addition to the book they wrote together, and Manrique’s “autobiography” of Sullivan, Sullivan published two of Manrique’s books of poetry and reprinted two of his novels; and together they did two anthologies.

“There was always an ongoing collaboration over the years,” he said. “He was the most important person in my life. There was so much he taught me and introduced me to. I knew nothing about painting before I met Bill.

“His interest in so many things: He was an avid reader of history,” Manrique said. “When I needed to do research, he would read and read and tell me things I needed to know.

“He had a single-mindedness about being an artist,” he said. “He lived for his paintings and to paint. I think I became an artist by being around him. I wanted to emulate him, and writing became not just my hobby, but my life.

“I think that’s what we had in common: He was my number one fan, and I was his number one fan,” Manrique said. “Everything he painted, I saw, and everything I wrote, he saw. We did it for ourselves and we did it for each other, in a way. It was about the work.”

Submitted by Jeff Riegel

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