Saturday, May 8

Patrick O’Connell, 67, Dies; Raised Awareness of AIDS With Art


Patrick O’Connell, who because the founding director of Visible AIDS, an advocacy group that helps artists dwelling with the illness, helped shatter the stigma surrounding AIDS within the Nineties with consciousness campaigns together with the ever-present purple ribbon, died on March 23 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 67.

His brother, Barry, confirmed the demise, from AIDS-related causes. Mr. O’Connell lived with AIDS for nearly 40 years.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, as New York grew to become the epicenter of the AIDS disaster, Mr. O’Connell was amongst a gaggle of homosexual males within the arts group dwelling in anguish and confusion. Seemingly each month, he discovered himself attending one other buddy’s funeral. On his answering machine, he discovered messages of despair from those that discovered they have been sick. The general public’s acknowledgment of AIDS was muted; the White Home was silent.

“We have been dwelling in a struggle zone,” Mr. O’Connell mentioned in a 2011 interview with Newsday. “But it surely was like a struggle that was some sort of deep secret solely we knew about.”

In hopes of taking motion, Mr. O’Connell started assembly with others at a loft in Chelsea, which grew to become the headquarters of Visible AIDS. Armed with a fax machine and a Macintosh pc, Mr. O’Connell started producing conceptual art-based consciousness campaigns that compelled the general public to reckon with the illness.

In 1991, Visible AIDS started the Ribbon Venture, which produced the inverted V-shaped purple ribbon that may turn into a global image of AIDS advocacy.

Its colour represented blood, and its sparse design nodded to the silence surrounding the illness. Mr. O’Connell helped set up “ribbon bees” by which 1000’s of the grosgrain ribbons have been minimize and folded for distribution across the metropolis. He additionally set his sight on a mission: getting the purple ribbon to seem on the Tony Awards telecast.

With simply two weeks till the ceremony, Mr. O’Connell and his group labored the telephones to name any Broadway connections they’d: hairdressers, actors, costume designers. On the eve of the awards, volunteers positioned purple ribbons on the seats of the Minskoff Theater. That evening, Mr. O’Connell watched on tv with nervous anticipation.

When the curtains rose, Jeremy Irons, one of many hosts, stepped onto the stage sporting a purple ribbon on his lapel. Scores of celebrities adopted swimsuit all through the evening.

Little purple flecks quickly began showing on shirts in cities throughout the nation. They appeared on the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys. The USA Postal Service issued a purple ribbon stamp in 1993.

“In case you can’t do something massive about AIDS, second greatest is to seem to do one thing,” the style designer Isaac Mizrahi informed The New York Occasions in 1992. “That’s why I really like the ribbon. It ruins no matter you’re sporting, it doesn’t work compositionally, it’s the flawed colour, it throws your hair off, and who cares, as a result of you’ve gotten human emotions and also you’re displaying them.”

Because the purple ribbon grew to become a phenomenon, some AIDS activists derided it as a hole pattern that had misplaced its significance. So far as Mr. O’Connell was involved, the outcomes have been what mattered.

“Individuals wish to say one thing, not essentially with anger and confrontation on a regular basis,” he informed The Occasions in 1992. “This permits them. And even when it is just a straightforward first step, that’s nice with me. It gained’t be their final.”

If the purple ribbon was delicate in its symbolism, Mr. O’Connell’s different AIDS consciousness campaigns didn’t shrink back from the starkness of the illness.

In 1989, Visible AIDS started “Day With out Artwork,” by which galleries and museums shrouded their artworks to characterize human loss. A whole lot of establishments participated, together with the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, which changed a Picasso portray with a somber informational placard. Visible AIDS has continued the initiative yearly to today.

“Night time With out Mild,” a sprawling occasion that additionally evoked grief, was held together with World AIDS Day for the primary time the following yr. New York’s skyline went darkish as buildings, bridges, monuments and Broadway turned off their lights for quarter-hour. In 1993, the White Home dimmed its lights, too.

“Each Ten Minutes,” a sound set up by Robert Farber, featured a recording of a church bell that tolled each 10 minutes to sign the interval between AIDS deaths in the US. “Electrical Blanket,” a pictures present that featured the work of Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Peter Hujar, documented the AIDS disaster by way of portraits of individuals dwelling with the illness and photos of protests and rallies.

“All these initiatives, at that second in time, one thing big was at stake,” Mr. O’Connell mentioned in “Let the File Present,” a 2013 documentary about AIDS activism by Demetrea and Rebekah Dewald. “It was the lives of our mates and others whom we didn’t know.”

Patrick James O’Connell was born on April 12, 1953, in Manhattan. His father, Daniel, was a wire lather and iron employee. His mom, Helen (Barry) O’Connell, was a secretary.

Patrick attended Fordham Preparatory Faculty and later labored summer season jobs at building websites together with his father. He graduated from Trinity School in Hartford, Conn., in 1975 with a bachelor’s diploma in historical past.

In his 20s, Mr. O’Connell started pursuing an artwork profession and have become the director of Hallwalls Up to date Arts Middle in Buffalo. He returned to town after a couple of yr to work for Artists Area, an alternate downtown gallery, the place he handled artists like Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine and Robert Longo.

Within the late Seventies, in a harsher metropolis, Mr. O’Connell was attacked in a hate crime. He was strolling dwelling from a bar within the East Village when a gaggle of youngsters ambushed him and broke his arm. He required pores and skin grafts and would bear a foot-long scar for the remainder of his life.

Within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, Mr. O’Connell discovered that he had contracted AIDS. He started taking a cocktail of over 30 drugs a day. After a few years of fighting alcoholism, he checked into rehab.

“I’m virtually stripped and bereft of contemporaries who bear in mind me as younger and cute and vibrant,” he mentioned in an interview with POZ, {a magazine} about H.I.V. and AIDS, in 1994. “A part of our definition is the reflection we get from our mates. It’s painful that that’s all gone.”

Mr. O’Connell went on to embrace sobriety, and round 1989 he grew to become concerned with Visible AIDS. In 1995, as his well being worsened, he left the group.

His longtime accomplice, James Morrow, died of most cancers in 2000.

Mr. O’Connell existed quietly in New York over the past decade. He lived sparsely off his incapacity help in a rent-regulated house in Washington Heights. With annually that handed, he felt his world get barely smaller.

“Patrick’s mission in life was rooted in a second of disaster, however that sense of urgency finally ended,” mentioned Peter Hay Halpert, an in depth buddy. “So many individuals concerned in that struggle alongside him died, and he was left to take care of dwelling with the sickness alone. He grew to become one of many final survivors from that point nonetheless left.

“It was this second the place everybody united to face a disaster,” Mr. Halpert added, “however then Patrick nonetheless needed to preserve dwelling with AIDS.”

Nonetheless, Mr. O’Connell’s name to activism by no means ended. He not often wore a shirt that didn’t have a purple ribbon pinned to it.



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