I first met Tim in the fall of 1992 when my parents hired him to paint our house. My earliest memory of Tim was helping him to remove a bees nest from the side of my parents house so that he could finish painting. We stayed in touch ever since, and over the years, Tim became a close friend of mine. Tim had always welcomed me to come to see him at his gallery and studio.
Tim was a free spirit who maintained the attitude of a person much younger than his years, and as the years went by, I grew to know Tim as someone who often spoke of larger than life adventures, travels to wondrous and far away places, and stories which although true, often defied belief.
I paid a visit some ordinary Sunday morning in late September 2013 to interview Tim at his gallery and art studio. He had been anecdotally been interviewed and photographed by the press, though my visit would surely be more in-depth; an ordinary reporter makes a brief appearance, gets the gist of the story, a few photographs, and proceeds to generate an article. My visit was different; I was prepared to spend a few hours talking to Tim, to get his real story, and to photograph his incredible and original work. Specifically, I wanted to talk to him about his life, and how those life experiences influenced his art and perception of the world.
Walking in, Tim immediately invited me to sit in his favorite chair, handed me a piece of gourmet dark chocolate, shaped like a leaf and dusted with green powdered sugar. A cup of hot espresso would soon follow. I asked why I was offered his favorite chair, as Tim was an eccentric bohemian artist type who had his liberal share of eccentricities. His only response was that I was a, “special guest who deserved the V.I.P. treatment.”
I asked how Tim was doing with his art, which began at a very early age, when he excelled in art at Bergen Technical High School, then later attending The School Of Visual Arts in New York City where he studied fine arts.
Tim spoke of his many experiences and adventures. He was a modern renaissance man of sorts; he was a musician, a poet, and above all else, a gifted and talented artist. He opened his own gallery, which would also serve as his studio in 2001, lived like shit and suffered for his art, putting the entire essence of his being into the creation of his artistic vision, yet profiting very little from the eventual sales, perhaps just enough to merely get by. He would often say that it wouldn’t be art if he made a lot of money.
Tim told me very detailed accounts of his adventures, and of being young and, perhaps irresponsible. One of my favorite stories from the interview was his account of being stuck in rush hour traffic in New Jersey, when he parked his van on the side of the highway, climbed to the top of a billboard, and painted a handlebar mustache on a woman’s face that was advertising Crown Royal whiskey. This act of vandalism was the delight to many who were stuck in traffic. Tim stated proudly that, “people were honking their horns and cheering.”
He motioned for me to join him near the large plate glass windows at his gallery, and attempted to explain the sheer scale of the billboard, explaining that when you get so close to something that big, such as a billboard, it requires a lot of paint to draw a mustache. He then demonstrated with a large dry paintbrush, starting at the front end of his studio and slowly making his way to the back, pantomiming an invisible painting, with a look of sheer reminiscence and nostalgia.
When Tim climbed down from the billboard, he was said that he was met by a police officer who was investigating his act of trespassing, and when Tim instructed the police officer to take a look at what he had done, the police officer began laughing and let Tim go; no charges were ever filed.
Tim also told me of a solo trip he once took to India, where he stated being absolutely inspired and overwhelmed with the colorful architecture. He reportedly met a man in India who claimed to be able to have had many out of body experiences, at will, and of meeting an absolutely beautiful woman in public who stole Tim’s heart, and he was crushed to find out that she was married.
When the conversation began to slow, Tim invited me to look around his gallery, filled with paintings on canvasses of various sizes, as well as a few sculptures. He played his piano as I wandered around with my camera, playing an original song he wrote, taking frequent breaks to explain specific pieces of his artwork whenever I took a moment to look at one in detail. Tim’s artwork was unique; he used bold colors and generally painted tables and chairs, sometimes in specific scenes, other times the tables and chairs were presented in an abstract fashion.
The gallery was Tim’s life, and he would often hold open mic nights in exchange for a small donation to help cover operating expenses. Although Tim invited me to come read pieces of my writing during open mic nights, I regrettably never attended. Tim passed away suddenly at his home on November 7, 2019. He was 62 years old, though his legacy, his stories, and his accomplishments are all things for which I will never forget, and I will be forever thankful for him sharing those experiences and memories with me.
In memory of Timothy Touhey
(August 12, 1957-November 7, 2019)