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La Jolla artist Andy Lakey in the words of friends and famous

Hyper-real: art for the blind

Andy Lakey. "I think his work can only be interpreted as a New Sensualism."
  • Andy Lakey. "I think his work can only be interpreted as a New Sensualism."
  • Image by Joe Klein

Andy Lakey: I was born in '59. My mother and I moved to the United States in 1963. We're from France. My mother was an artist — and her mother, and her mother's mother. Many generations of French artists.

Pierrette Van Cleve: "At the magazine, we're not judgmental. I’m not like some of the local critics here, a Robert Pincus or any of those people."

Pierrette Van Cleve: "At the magazine, we're not judgmental. I’m not like some of the local critics here, a Robert Pincus or any of those people."

  • Forget all those preconceived notions of starving artists wasting away in a garrett somewhere. Local artist Andy Lakey, whose work is attracting world-wide attention, works out of his La Jolla Colony garage that he converted into a studio.
  • — Trish Clenney Brown
  • Golden Triangle Metropolitan
  • June 1990

Andy: I was four years old when I started my lessons. My mother belonged to the French art community in New York City. Andrew Breton, many of the famous French painters lived there at that time. I had sold 39 paintings by the time I was 15. I don't remember any of this; I have many bios.

Lakey instructing Ray Charles

Lakey instructing Ray Charles

  • After my interview with Lakey and seeing his work, the first question my wife asked me was, "What did you think and what's his style?"
  • "I think he's brilliantly original,” I answered.
  • — Jack Marlando
  • House Calls: A Healthy Publication
  • November 1990

Abreu, Stevie Wonder, Andy Lakey. "I still talk to Stevie. I chat with him all the time."

Abreu, Stevie Wonder, Andy Lakey. "I still talk to Stevie. I chat with him all the time."

  • Lakey’s style — a mixture of glue, sand and paint... fits into no established category.
  • — Golden Triangle Metropolitan

Andy: I started thinking about it seriously in 1982. I wanted to develop a painting that people can touch. It took me about seven years. The technique was very difficult to figure out. Probably over 100 paintings I ruined. But now I have the formula; I have perfected it. It’s kinda like when they invented the airplane? Now the plane finally flies; you don’t have to invent the airplane anymore.

Celestial Door by Lakey

Celestial Door by Lakey

  • Lakey’s fast-growing success as one of today's most welcomed and respected artists can be credited to Pierrette B. Van Cleve, Editor of Art Cellar Exchange magazine. Ms. Van Cleve is charming, vivacious and smart.
  • — Jack Marlando
  • House Calls

Pierrette Van Cleve: I got a call from a doctor — and I can't say who it is, but he’s a very, very famous client of mine in town. He had seen a piece of Andy’s in a bank, and I am a very well respected dealer and own a big business in town, and he wanted me to check Andy out before he hired him for a commission. And I went out; I saw the piece in the bank; I checked Andy out, up one side, down the other, made sure everything was okay, called the doctor back, said yes.

He commissioned Andy to do a $60,000 wall in his home. He flew him up to Canada (this doctor has homes all over), and Andy did this huge installation wall. From there — I mean, I got calls and calls and calls and calls and calls from other clients who had seen this wall.

  • His technique is so complex that coming up with a name to describe it has been only slightly less arduous than creating the art itself. He settled on calling it "sculptured movements."
  • — from Biography/Artist Statement

Andy: I created my first touchable painting December of ’89. The first display of my touchable painting was at the Hyatt La Jolla December of ’89, and the first write-up on it was February of ’90.

Pierrette: Then Andy sought me out and said, "My God, who are you? — you guardian angel that landed me a $60,000 commission." He researched my background, realized how powerful I was and what I had done, that I went to Oxford. He saw the magazine, he read it, he loved it, and he wanted to be included in it. He approached me, showed me one of his pieces, and I was very interested.

Jack Marlando, author and critic: I think and I believe — and very sincerely — that Lakey is one of the first, if not the first, real American innovator in art.

Andy: I like to work prehistoric. Lot of my paintings are of dinosaurs, like the Toxogon I did for Ray Charles.

I like to read prehistoric. I like to look at the Mayan ruins. You’ll see a lot of that in my paintings — aborigine art. They're very aborigine.

Pierrette: I started the Art Cellar Exchange about three years ago, as a way for private parties to be able to sell their existing art work, kind of a very sophisticated Auto Trader for fine art, to move very, very high-end work.

When we first started, we printed about 80,000, and we were free all over California. Now, of course, we’re by subscription only, because we have a huge subscription base — over 5000 — and we do only first-class mailing.

  • Andy Lakey is living the dream of every artist.... He is developing an internationally respected reputation, and the market value of his art is steadily on the rise.
  • — Buddy Seigal
  • University City Light
  • March 1990

Jack: He’s brilliant. His colors are extreme, but they're pure. I think his work can only be interpreted as a New Sensualism.

Andy: There’s some things I've been working on that the world hasn't seen yet. Prehistoric paintings. They’re gonna be ten feet long.

Pierrette: I went up to Andy’s studio. At that time, he was working in a style that I happen to own personally right now. Every inch was covered with small, three-dimensional lines, almost horror vacui (a terminology that is Latin — it’s kind of a disseminating word — it means fear of open space). The dimensiality of the line and the way it casts shadows was fascinating because it brought a whole 'nother venue to the art work that I hadn't seen before, and that was these low, hat they call bas-relief.

I looked at them and I saw things, more and more and more things. Kind of reminded me of when I was a kid and had to find the glove in the picture in the highlight books. Remember those? In the dentist's office, stripes on the cover, a bit oversized? They would say, "Find these 20 items hidden in the picture," and like maybe there'd be a glove in the drapery, or the witch’s hat would be an upside-down candlestick. And I mean hey weren't just like easy.

Jack: He’s opened the door to an absolutely new art form. People will start to copy his style. Within [he next two or three years, there'll be a whole Lakey school of thought.

Andy: Pierrette Van Cleve, she thinks that I'm probably the most innovative artist that has come out of this country in the last 50 years.

Pierrette: Tremendously organized. He had created these huge murals freehand, with this disciplined line that looked like it was measured out and ruled. The most incredible form of mental organization that I had seen in a long, long time. Really, the last person I saw with that kind of discipline in a grand scale was a man named Georges Seurat, who did pointillism.

  • Lakey ... has an energy level that could power Las Vegas.... He likes to listen to rock and roll while he paints.
  • Golden Triangle Metropolitan

Andy: I went to the library, and I researched embryos at different stages. What I did, I actually painted a computer generating an embryo. I call it Computer Embryo; like in the future, the computers are gonna be producing the robots and not us.

Jack: I think you'd be safe to say — and this is opinion only, okay? — that if Lakey would have been born around the turn of the century, he would have been extremely good friends with Henri Matisse, but I don't think he would have gotten along at all with Picasso.

Andy: Lakey's work was donated in the name of Ray Charles to San Diego's Center for the Blind and the Recreational Center for the Blind.

  • Lakey and Charles have created their own original paintings together.
  • — Katherine Lowrie
  • Beach and Bay Press
  • October 1990

Jack: I'm a published author. I live in La Mesa. I did my first art review in 1959. I've done a lot of documentary writing. Like for Alaskan Pictures, I studied the

family life of elephants throughout Asia. Years back, I worked for television, for the Mod Squad series.

Pierrette: I thought Andy was very brilliant. I thought he was very dedicated. He was sociable. He was well groomed.

Andy: Carol LeBeau interviewed me on Channel 10 news. They came to my studio and filmed me painting, and we went to Swahn gallery downtown, where I had a small opening for the nonsighted, and they interviewed the blind people.

  • "I feel a creature with a whole lot of spikes coming out of his back...."
  • — Larry Freeman, blind man describing Lakey painting
  • 10 News at Five
  • October 1990

Jack: In 1988 I wrote two produced films. One was called Big Bad John, based on the classic. The other was a thing called The Chinatown Connection.

Andy: When Stevie Wonder was here in January, Mayor O'Connor and I presented one of my touchable paintings to him. It was a benefit for the Young at Art. Stevie gave about a two-hour concert. Two-hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner affair. It was wonderful. People from MTV was there. I still talk to Stevie. I chat with him all the time.

Pierrette: Over my desk, I have a large, round piece myself, one of the black pieces that I wanted very badly. I absolutely love it. They are fabulous.

Jack: I just did a big piece for the North County Entertainer. They just called me, and I did their lead story for Valentine's Day, called "How to Love Your Special Valentine.”

Andy: Lee Meriwether was Miss America. She was on the television show Barnaby Jones. What we did is — my agent Nilsa and I — we donated one of my touchable paintings in Lee Meriwether's name, at no charge. She took it to the Blind Childrens Center in L.A. They sent a photo back and it's wonderful — you know, the little three-, four-, five-year-old blind children.

Nilsa Abreu, Andy’s agent and fiancee: I work with the San Diego school system. I'm a self-esteem motivator, positive-attitude trainer, speaker, and consultant. I work with staff, educators, and children of all ages; and I have a program of my own that I'm putting together which is really beautiful.

Pierrette: He hides things for your subconscious to see. When he gave me my big painting, he goes, “There's 13 things hidden in there.’' And it was the longest time before I saw these sailboats, because they were hidden as fans. So what you get is a painting within a painting, like a metaphor. There's a kangaroo in my piece.

Jack: I write steadily ten hours a day, seven days a week, and I’ve spent 20 years doing that. No lunch breaks.

  • Lakey’s Sculptured Movements... are oneself touch with the people. Not surprisingly, his art has been recognized lately as a new interpretation of the Surrealism and sought after by dealers, collectors, movie stars, film makers, and corporate entities all over the world....
  • Lakey's art is a simplistic living presentation of a genius's unforgettable vision....
  • — Dr. Alexander von Lockner
  • Vice-President,
  • Filmex International
  • Vienna

Andy: I have one person that is an agent for me in Hollywood. Her name is Debra. She gets me the stars. She’s the one who introduced me to Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Dan Aykroyd, and all the other celebrities. She's real tight in the industry.

Nilsa: I have worked before as an agent for other personalities. I met Andy and I liked his work. At the time, we were just friends, but it just happened that I began to start becoming his agent, and it's workin' out very, very, very good.

  • As Sigmond Freud or Norman Brown would agree, art is a mode of instinctual liberation.
  • — Jack Marlando
  • House Calls

Pierrette: He moved on then and started to do things that had a lot more space in them. Have you seen the moon dogs? The large Mir6 figures? Almost like petroglyph subjects, where we started to see dogs and moons and it was Mir6-esque, and within each one of these moon people, thousands of designs would exist, all carefully organized — really, you could almost say it was Japanese, in the attention to design and form and function and detail. That blew me away.

Andy: One of my paintings is going to Mickey Mantle's restaurant in New York City. I wrote him a letter. A lot of these contacts, I write them personally, and I have a way of alleviating their agents. I know how to get right to the source; I know how the letter is gonna get right in their hands.

  • KSDO/AM1130
  • News & Information
  • 26 Oct. 90
  • Dear Andy,
  • I am so pleased to have received your interpretation of my “hand." I am simply astonished to think that the work was done entirely with a ballpoint pen! You have created so many complex images and an extraordinary sense of “depth" in the drawing that many of my colleagues cannot believe you did it free hand. You really have a talent, Andy, and I am flattered to have been one of your subjects. Every success to you!
  • Ken Kramer

Jack: We 're in an age now where we are almost condemned to Freudian views. The thief is no longer an honest thief: he has all these reasons that has created him.

Pierrette: You can look at Andy's pieces and you can take them on the level of the id, for what you see; but then after that, you take them on the level of the ego, for what you don't immediately see but what you find. And then you realize that they were done on the level of, let's say, the superego....

Andy: I’ll approach a few people now and then. It’s really interesting: once you meet people and you know people, somebody always knows somebody’s phone number. For example, if I wanna meet Teddy Pendergrass, I just call Quincy and ask him for his phone number. That way you can alleviate all the red tape, ’cause there's just so many people that wanna meet these people.

  • Jimmy Carter
  • January 23, 1991
  • To Andy Lakey
  • I was pleased and surprised to receive your “Angel” painting this week. We are very fortunate to have two pieces of your original artwork at the Carter Center.
  • Thank you for remembering us in such a thoughtful way.
  • Sincerely
  • Jimmy Carter

Nilsa: He's a tremendous, tremendous success in his own right, and his ideals and his vision is outstanding, so I work with people who are very open and that are willing to do something for the children.

Pierrette: He will tell me that he often will work for hours and hours and hours and get up and look at a piece and say, “Who did that?” It’s like the Muses, if you’re familiar with Greco-Roman mythology. I don't know in my mind whether he paints from another beyond, you know?

Andy: There’s an angle to this story that I haven't told, not even to Channel 10: I'm gonna go meet the king of Norway, the queen of England, and some other royalty this year.

  • Secretariat of State
  • First Section — General Affairs
  • From the Vatican,
  • November 5, 1990
  • Dear Mr. Lakey,
  • I am writing in reply to your letter addressed to His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
  • In this regard I am pleased to confirm that His Holiness is willing to accept gifts which are sent to him at the Vatican.
  • With every good wish, I remain Sincerely yours,
  • Monsignor C. Sepe Assessor

Jack: San Diego is one hell of a nice town. The people are not phony. The weather's good. As far as the art world is concerned, lot of intellects here — real intellects.

  • Art Cellar Exchange Magazine
  • About Our Editor
  • Pierrette B. Van Cleve ... has multiple degrees in art, art history and art education, as well as a degree in art criticism from Wamborough House College of Oxford University....
  • As an Executive Sales Consultant for the Hanson Gallery Corporation ... she sold over a million dollars of original art work....

Andy: I went up to Casita Elementary School in Vista — that was the article in the Blade-Citizen and the Vista Press. We blindfolded 60 children, fifth graders, and we had ’em feel the paintings, and then with the blind-

  • “I taught Ray Charles how to paint," Lakey told the students. When there wasn’t much of a response, he asked, “Do you guys know who Ray Charles is?"
  • — Robbi Whitt
  • Vista Press
  • February 1991

Pierrette: At the magazine, we're not judgmental. I’m not like some of the local critics here, a Robert Pincus or any of those people. The minute you judge something as good or bad, you're wrong — because somebody's not gonna agree with you. And really, it’s only the small people who take a judgmental point of view.

Nilsa: It's a gift. You know how people have a gift? Like maybe Whitney Houston? That’s a gift. Andy's art is a gift, and he does it for everyone to enjoy, and to work with children, to benefit the children — the most important — to be able to help the children.

Andy: We just came back from Hollywood with Lee Meriwether. We did another painting for the Childrens Blind Center. Got some excellent pictures. It was the first time I've ever been exposed to blind children. I have a picture of Lee holding a little blind Chinese three-year-old girl, and I'm holding a four-year-old little blind black boy that looks like Ray Charles.

Pierrette: All opinion is arbitrary, but there are those people who hold themselves up and say that, because of their education — even though I have to laugh, because in this town, the leading art critic has no art education. He’s an English M.A.; he studied art subsidiarily. I have to laugh at that.

  • Although his paintings are now selling between $5,000-$10,000, he has clearly escaped bemg pompous. To him, pricing a “Lakey" painting is like putting a price tag on a cloud or flower.
  • — Jack Marlando
  • House Calls

Andy: I was on the phone this morning with two major magazines — we’ll just put it that way. Two of the biggest magazines — and we’re not talkin' about art magazines — in the country. I'm also gettin' ready to do five — and three are confirmed — national TV talk shows.

Nilsa: He's giving because he found in himself something very special that was given from, let’s say God, or whoever, and he’s a truly giving person. He gives of himself, he gives of his art, and he wants to create a momentum of giving.

Pierrette: You cannot deny that Andy has a passion, that he produces a huge body of work, that he has the organization and sense of skill that denotes him as a legitimate person. You cannot deny that. The rest is just aesthetics. And that's a point of view that you won’t get from the normal, run-of-the-mill people; that's an extremely educated, philosophical point of view that some of the big, big people agree with.

Andy: The reason I’m going with the national coverage is I’m gonna teach my technique to other artists who'll share this with the nonsighted people in other cities. Because I can't show it to the whole world, you know?

Jack: I think Lakey’s going to just be — put it this way: damned advantageous for the investor. I think his paintings will sell one day for millions of dollars. That's certainly my opinion, and it’s certainly an honest one. And I get absolutely nothing out of this, incidentally.

Pierrette: I wanna get this straight right now: art is not an investment. The Securities Exchange Commission passed a law in 1984 saying that art sold as an investment is totally illegal. It is fraud. That is so inappropriate when it comes to dealing with art and aesthetics; it is such a moron mentality! For people who look at it that way, my recommendation is to buy nothing! Nothing is a good investment!

It's like saying: are you a good investment? Well, gosh, who knows? You are if I love you. You are if you’re my son. But you're not if you’re nobody. You're made of about 99 cents worth of materials — minus your Rolex watch.... And your cock ring, if you wear one.

Andy: I finished the painting for the Mickey Mantle Sports Bar. It’s called Celestial Baseballs.

Nilsa: It's happening. Everything's connecting. And it's so down-key because he is so down-key, you know?

Pierrette: These corporate galleries and the way they tout things: “It's gonna go up, it's gonna go up” — it's a farce; it doesn't exist. And if it did exist, I wouldn't be in business, because what I am is I’m a extremely well written classified section for art, and pieces that you can buy at a retail gallery for 8500, I can put you in for 3500 right now.

Jack: There is something in his paintings that is drawn from whatever magic there is in the universe that happens to all of us. I think — if this doesn’t sound a bit too Pollyannish — he really captures the little God-child in all of us.

Andy: It's been a very interesting year. Next year I’ll probably be able to write a book about it.

Nilsa: He's gonna be one of the greatest American artists in history, that he’s made such a grandeur movement, that his art, because of his own self, it's going to expand tremendously within ten years.

  • "My artwork will be here for thousands of years,” [Lakey] said. "It's definitely made to last."
  • — Vista Press

Andy: I was negotiating with agents this week, in New York and in Chicago. But I tell ya, I've had two agents already in the last year, and — this is somethin' I probably won't write, but I've already been ripped off by one agent.

Pierrette: He’s not running around with the weight of the Artistic Conscience on him. He’s happy, he’s cheery, he has a wonderful sense of humor. He's gracious, he has wonderful manners, he's polite on the phone.

Jack: If you touch a rose, the rose becomes an extension of you, and you become an extension of yourself. It's like making love. You know what I mean? It’s the same thing when you touch a Lakey painting: all of a sudden, you are, in that brief moment, a piece of art.

  • "I remember 10 years ago, I was a car salesman,” said Lakey. "I sold my paintings on the side for as little as $40 just so I could eat...."
  • University City Light

Andy: Oh, God, I sold everything from cars to photography. I was in the Navy.

Pierrette: He’s social, he lives in La Jolla, he loves to go to parties.

  • "I was so poor in the early 1980s, I’d let a box of corn flakes last a week," [Lakey] said.
  • — Vista Press

Andy: I tell ya, once you hit the bottom, if you really hit the real bottom.... But I survived. I made it.

Jack: He’s not trying to copy. In fact, I don't think he knows a hell of a lot about other artists. I don't think he gives a damn. He has his own art, and it’s his. It's like he's saying, "I'm not Michelangelo, I'm not Picasso; I am Andy Lakey, and this is what I do.''

Pierrette: I don't date Andy, and I’ve never gone out and had a drink with Andy. We have a business relationship.

Nilsa: I see him being in the category of Picasso — even going further. He's only 31. I mean, it’s just beginning.

Andy: There’s a gentleman that lives behind Ralphs in La Jolla Colony. He’s a Vietnam vet, and, you know, my girlfriend and I, we'll frequently visit him. And certain times of the year, we'll do a little volunteer work here and there, and it feels good, and it feels right, and I think this was my destiny. Nature, or whatever power is out there, has somehow let me find this art so I can express myself and touch those people.

For example, the blind children — which I don't charge anybody. I pay for the materials myself — everything — I even ship it.

  • Artist Andy Lakey, you've seen him on TV. His original paintings can be found in collections including Ray Charles, President Carter, Lee Meriweather, Peter Jennings, the Vatican Art Collection, and museums throughout the world. He is called the most innovative artist of our time and willing to trade original paintings for gold, land, or items of value including cash. Call....
  • — classified advertisement Reader

Pierrette: When I said to Andy, "You really oughtta get these to the blind people," he didn’t just say yeah-yeah-yeah and go about his merry way. He got them to the blind people!

Jack: There’s nothing Don Quixotic about him. He's a man of progression. As the artist, he is also the dreamer. But as a human being, he is the dreamer in action.

Nilsa: There’s a beautiful innocence about him. His art and his work is beautiful. There are not many men like him.

Andy: There’s something I really wanna say, but it's just a little premature for lettin' everybody know about it. I may let it be known when I do one of the talk shows. Some things are about to happen with my art that are about to shock the world.

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