On January 29, my husband Eugene and I drove to Albany, NY where The Albany Institute of History and Art hosted a reception to honor the life and work of our friend, the artist Bill Sullivan, who died last fall. Five of Bill’s canvases fill a gallery on the museum’s third floor near rooms with paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. We’d stopped along the way to pick up Lee Musselman, who along with Eugene and Bill's partner Jaime Manrique had worked to settle the paintings in storage and to break up the house. Sullivan's paintings will be on view at the Institute through February 27, 2011. You should go if you can; they're not to be missed.
We arrived early at the museum, a compact and airy space between Elk Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Albany. Poet, artist, and photographer Star Black had already arrived, camera in one hand, coat in the other, having joined Jaime and Bob Ward on the train from NYC. Jaime, Star, Eugene, and I crossed the snow-lined avenue over to El Mariachi for colas and cafés con leche. Star was excited to learn that Gerrit Henry’s book, The Time of the Night, would be published in April. Eugene and Jaime talked about Bill’s memorial in New York City; how many people were there—Adele Alsop all the way from Utah, Michelle Spark in from Phoenicia, Bill’s cousin Pat and her family—and how much of Bill’s life, work, and generosity the speakers had remembered. And there had been letters, too: Jacob Burkhardt had written, Michael Lally posted memories on his blog, and Bill’s very dear friend Aurora Manuel had emailed Eugene and Jaime a poem to read that night.
The gathering was organized by collector Al Roberts and by curator Tammis Groft, an authority on the Hudson River School and New York State artists, who had the idea to time a showing of Bill’s work with the current show of Hudson River School artists. An 1856 sunset view by Church hangs around one corner a few steps away:
The landscape glows with the same intense reds and yellows that Sullivan magnifies in his gorgeous Twilight at Olana, looking southward over the great estate to the four-pointed stretch of river, the same attention to detail and spectacle of scope without the calming-down effect of a mid-nineteenth-century perspective.
We wandered into the back room to see more of Bill's work: La Vida is a 1993 tropical bucolic, a dreamy sunset. It couldn’t have been more of a contrast from a painting just one year earlier—the monumental Manhattan skyline in Bill's My Night with Lorca. The river is represented by two pieces, the twilight Olana of 1990, a gift to the museum by David Kermani, and the View of Albany from Route 9J, painted the year before Bill died. Last is a brilliantly colored Niagara scene, American Falls Illuminated, from 1990.