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This week, we celebrate Fred and know that he is with us in spirit and sending us all double hugs. On the occasion of what would have been his 74th birthday, and the opening of an exhibition of his work at Ortuzar Projects in New York City in partnership with Gordon Robichaux, we are posting tributes written by some of the people who knew him best.

We thank everyone who has shared tributes and pictures. If you would like to add a written tribute or send images, please email [email protected]

We are also thinking of Fred nonstop and hearing his voice as we put the final touches on DUETS Volume 7: Frederick Weston and Samuel R. Delany in Conversation, which will be available in February, but can be pre-ordered now.

Visual AIDS and Gordon Robichaux will be organizing a memorial event for Fred in Spring 2021.

We have also compiled a collection of videos of Fred reading poetry and speaking about his work at Visual AIDS programs, spanning from 2001–2019.

Tributes

Stephanie Crawford
LJ Roberts
Pamela Sneed
Cliff Boone
Esther McGowan
Svetlana Kitto
Alex Fialho
TRET Tierney
Tyler Matthew Oyer

Stephanie Crawford

He was the least lachrymose of any personality I've ever known. I soaked his stoic shoulders in my tears over my sorry lot in life down throughout the years. He never displayed the least self pity, bitterness remorse or regret. Though he remained deeply sentimental. When they pick you up and dip you deep in the cauldron of the Black Church and its rituals and its music, you are dipped forever.

My what a lovely time it was. Singing in a New York pub in a golden gown surrounded by adoring friends. It was indescribably wonderful to be with Fred, laughing and talking and sharing arm in arm in the city of our dreams.

LJ Roberts

About two weeks before Frederick passed away, I went to see him on a Sunday, with my partner J Dellecave. I brought Fred his usual spaghetti, with sauce to his liking, and some drinkable yogurt, which besides bagels, were his favorites in the last months before his death during his cancer battle. J and I asked, “Hey, is there anything we can help with right now?” Typically there was not; Fred liked to do things himself and his independence was one of his priorities during his illness. But, there was something he wanted help with that night. Somehow, with his body weakening at a fast pace, he had managed to lug a few bags, big bags, down to the laundry room in his building to wash massive piles of white tank tops. These were not for him to wear, but rather for an installation. Fred’s art was key to keeping him going through the pain caused by his cancer. We went downstairs with him, Fred in his blue coat with the white and red check that he wore often, and upon our arrival at the laundry room, J and I found three cavernous dryers full of white tank tops along with a few of his florescent yellow t-shirts. We all began to fold and place the t-shirts in the bags. J and I slung the straps of the bags around our shoulders and Fred led us to the elevator. And then the most classic Fred thing happened. In the free pile near the door to the laundry room was a white three-ring binder, just like the meticulously labeled white three-ring binders that held his archives and collaging materials that lined his apartment. His eyes lit up, he said “Oh, this is a GOOD one,” and he opened the binder and began ripping its paper contents out of it. And bam, Fred had another container for his seemingly infinite collection of the materials that sustained him and his always brilliant, earnest, beautiful work.

Fred’s stubbornness about receiving any help required some creative bargaining on my part and we made a deal when I began helping with his care: If he let me be his “Fairy Service Boy/worried Jewish parent who cooked him Italian food”, I was allowed to come over three days a week--no more--as per his insistence. (He often told me and his dear, wonderful cousin Denise, he was worried about me not “living my life,” but he was so much of my life. What else is my life but loved ones and some art making which have all been permeated by my friend Frederick.) It was my great honor and luck that I could be his “fairy service boy,” even though he once requested a 260-pound hairy beefcake bear instead of me. Fred’s trust meant the world to me. “Fred days,” the three days a week I would go over to Fred’s apartment, were days I looked forward to the most in this bleak quarantine time. It is easy to read about Frederick's extraordinary life and art in many publications. Anyone who knew him just a smidge could tell you vivid memories about him because he shined so bright and his energy was and still is so tangible. His star rose the last few years of his life and he got the recognition that he had deserved for decades. Fred’s poetry, art, performance, stories, and generosity to others, especially young artists, are worthy of the highest accolades and seeing him bestowed with awards, praise, and adoration was a glow that he shared with others. It was enormous fun to tease him about how “fancy,” he was and he would say “Not fancy, EXTRA! And you’re EXTRA too!” though I knew he was also basking in fancy and he deserved all of that glamour. I am so very grateful for those who worked to preserve Fred’s legacy and shine a spotlight on this most magnificent and loving man.

I cannot remember the exact moment that Fred and I first met, but our friendship was thrown into high gear one balmy night in 2015 in the Lower East Side. We were at a party called “No Pants No Problem” that was being thrown by the artist and activist Jessica Whitbread in partnership with Visual AIDS. The party combats stigma that is often directed at people living with HIV--it's a sexy, fun, and cheeky scene. I'm a huge fan of Jessica and, at the time, had a crush on her and so I put on my best boxer briefs, my binder and a decent tank top and headed to the bar, even though I felt very shy. However, Jessica was there with a lover. My shyness set into my body and I wandered around feeling lost and then saw Fred and sat down. Of course, he was dressed the most dapper in the club with a news boy cap, silk scarf, a blazer and of course, no pants, as that was the point. We spent the whole night talking and laughing--we are both from Detroit, both work in collage, love poetry, and could hold a witty, dry, flirtatious, back-and-forth. The minutes flew by. He gave me one of his photocopied zines that night. Our bond was on.

From that night on we were “ride or dies,” as we called it—though he had a few “ride or dies,” of course. We went on meandering journeys around the city, became each other's movie buddies (memorably he called the film Detroit which we saw together a “traumatization” after we left the theatre which is now one of my favorite words) and ate Detroit pizza at Lions, Tigers and Squares near his Chelsea apartment. We both love pizza. Fred and I went to each other’s art openings and celebrated each other after working through frustrating installation issues, sometimes getting each other through the crankiness. Together we hung out in his apartment or my studio for hours and called each other to chat on the phone like teenagers who never wanted to hang up. We had the same nickname for each other “Sweaty;” at different times and for different reasons he and I pour sweat. He would send me videos on Instagram sometimes daily or leave funny messages on my voicemail which are my treasures now. His messages to me always starting out with a very long “ELLLLLLLLLL-JAAAAAAAAAAAY,” and end with the adage he was known for, “Bye for Now.” I always told him “I love you,” when I bid him farewell on the phone or in person. He cracked open my heart which is a feat. He did it easily.

One time, a few months before quarantine began, we decided to go to the record release party of a very successful young gay Black artist at the Ace Hotel, the building that Fred used to live in when it was The Breslin. We planned to arrive "fashionably late" and dressed up--we only wanted to be there for the last hour or so of the party, it was more about dressing up and seeing each other. We met up at 11:00pm, both decked out, and followed the invitation's instructions to go to the basement of the hotel and to find some oddly-named room where surely there would be many fashionable gays. We wandered the bowels of the Ace for what seemed like forever, but found no party--it had ended early. In my eyes that was a stroke of luck because instead of having to mingle with hot young art stars (hello anxiety!), I got to hear Fred tell stories about his time living at the Breslin and the neighbors on the street as we sank into the couches in the lobby of his old building, now a hipster hotel that he would put an installation of his work into a few months later. We walked home that night to his apartment laughing about how cool we were being so fashionably late that we missed the party. Back in his apartment, he would show me his fashion sketches and I would remark how he entirely depicted my ideal androgynous look. He made the drawings back in the 90s when I didn’t even know what androgyny meant. The clothes he designed then are the clothes I want to wear now—and would have helped free me back then. He understood so much before so many others.

In the summer of 2018 Fred and I chained ourselves to each other, wrist-to-wrist, marching in the NYC Pride Parade for five hours attached to each other handing out newspapers on HIV criminalization with Visual AIDS, the organization that has been critical in sustaining both of us in different ways. We danced while handing out papers to people on the sidelines of the parade and admired the young queer people. Fred and I had/have fragile digestive systems and we had a humorous deal around emergency bathroom protocol. I can’t really imagine being chained to many other people for that long—Fred was game for it and I was game for whatever Fred was game for always, because Fred was always at the top of his game.

My 40th birthday was October 13th, 2020. I had hoped to have a party, but the circumstances of this year made it not to be. Fred granted me my birthday wish; to spend it with him. J and I came over with four cupcakes, one for every decade, and Fred went to the kitchen to prepare some seltzer. J read a poem out loud that Fred was working, “Six Degree of Francis Bacon,” to his delight, and we talked about a film that he wanted to make, “Whatever Happened to Freddy Darling?” Talking about this film idea and its many parts in which the characters entered and exited through a skylight was one of his favorite topics this past fall. Fred would fill hours imagining the scenes, the set, the locations and the characters—he was always dreaming and his energy was a gift to me. And while I was doing caregiving for him, what I was also very aware of was that he was taking care of me, loving me hard, and making sure that when he departed I would be alright. Frederick was a genius, an angel, and a golden friend. He got me to 40, a place I could never imagine myself being, and passed away a week later. This decade, it started for me with him, with Fred, which is much more true than thinking this decade began with a pandemic.

When the pandemic hit in March, I called Frederick at least once a week if not more. I was very worried that at 73 and living with HIV, he would catch COVID-19. A fear set in of losing him then in March, before I found out about his cancer diagnosis a few months later, even though Fred seemed like the kind of person who would live forever. I think a lot of people felt that Frederick, so wonderous and full of magic, occupied the realm of the infinite and divine. I begged him to let me drop off groceries, medication, and Detroit pizza at his door or get them delivered. I also acutely missed him and our time together. Another part of our relationship was physical affection. Frederick was famous for his double hugs which he gave to people when greeting them or bidding them farewell. I am famously stingy with affection—an awkward hugger who mostly cuddles with their dogs. But with Fred, I was different. I loved his double hugs and we often held hands. COVID-19 put the kabosh on this. But at the end of his life, with me at his apartment so much, we held hands often and I am so thankful for that gift.

I want to assure people that loved and admired Fred that he was himself in all of his brilliance, sass, beauty, humor, and creativity until the very end of his life. All of his essence, his spirit, his generosity, was there to his last day. This gave me great comfort, but also heartbreak because he had more life to live, though he was accepting of death and met it with grace. Frederick wanted to survive and was optimistic he would because he had survived so much and also thrived for a long time despite some rough odds. Though he was deteriorating and sick the last months of his life, I have wonderful memories of the days I spent with him during this time. We laughed A LOT. Yes, there were hard moments—the frustration of sickness and navigating medical mazes, the complications of doing all of this in the face of COVID-19, and unbearable sadness knowing our time on earth was limited, but most of our time was filled with the witty and sly banter he and I could keep up for hours, platonic flirting, brainstorming our art dreams of the future. We listened to a lot of music; I have a video of Frederrick listening to “Black and Blue,” by Louis Armstong and he looks blissful. There were frequent mundane but hilarious searches for various items in his apartment--one of the most extraordinary and impeccable dwellings in the city. His passing has left a vast, immeasurable emptiness in my life that is enormous and feels beyond remedy.

The last time I saw Frederick was three days before he died. It was Sunday and I was tired from a long week. I decided not to bind my chest that day and instead put on many layers to hide my chest. When I got to Fred’s apartment it was very hot—he liked keeping his place that way. But true to his nickname for me, “Sweaty” I began to schvitz—sweat poured from me which made me start stripping off layers. I was left only wearing a thin t-shirt and he said to me with a glint in his eye and sass in his voice “You look titty.” From anyone else, this probably wouldn’t fly, but Fred never made me into a unicorn and I didn’t make him into one either, and I think that made us feel safe in our friendship. He could say those things to me and because I knew that he got me. Freddy Darling, golden friend, angel, genius, still has me, still gets me into the infinite. “Bye for now” Frederick, but see you, hear you, feel you, right now and always. I love you.


Pamela Sneed

(This is an excerpt from a longer piece written by Pamela for Artforum at the time of Fred's passing. A link to the full essay is here and at the end of the excerpt.)

Before I can pen any tribute, or remembrance, for and to my friend and artistic colleague, the visual artist, fashion designer, and poet Frederick Weston, I have to say I did not expect him to die. I was unprepared to receive the news of his demise from a private battle he fought with cancer. I was shocked in ways and still am. Just days before his death, he was on Instagram and had viewed a story I posted, so I imagined him as my all-seeing brother, always there. He was a tall, brown-skinned, handsome, and distinguished Black gay man with a personality and soul that was larger than life. If life were a metaphorical cup, he filled it up everywhere he went: galleries, readings, events. . . It’s hard to imagine him gone as I am writing this on the eve of this historic battle and election where the soul of America is at stake. Fred’s was a spirit of generosity, kindness, and humanity which this planet so desperately needs at this time.

Though Fred was older than me, I imagined a future with him as I did so many of my Black Gay male peers of the late 1980s and early ’90s before they succumbed to AIDS. I imagined a future where we would all grow old together on that great literary farm of our dreams. Audre Lorde would be there, as would James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, Joe Beam, and Ntozake Shange would be nodding her head in agreement with Fred’s poetic work “For Colored Boys…,” titled after hers.

But such is not the case, and I have to get used to him being gone. So after my initial shock, my first instinct was to make a cake in his honor. Not the kind of cake made with eggs and flour, and not the gluten-free kind with ingredients I don’t know, but an artist’s cake, made with some kind of synthetic white child’s clay, because this cake is how I will always remember Fred. (To read the rest of this tribute, click here.)

Cliff Boone

I first met Frederick with his chosen family (Tony, Claude Payne, and Butch), in 1977. Tony introduced them to me as the “the doll children” who had all moved together to NYC in the early 70’s from Detroit. At that time our priorities were going to the clubs and fashion events. A favorite club was Paradise Garage. Fred’s and my lives would intersect each other for the next four decades.

FASHION: Frederick did not necessarily view fashion through the lens of “trend,” but had a more evolved and nuanced eye. He was one of the first designers I knew that was into deconstruction and the re-purposing of clothing. At first, cutting up and reimagining men's pants. My favorite was in the late 80’s-early 90’s, when he began working a great deal in fishnet pantyhose. One day he showed me how you can take a pair of fishnets, insert your arms into each of the legs through the top (waist) opening of them, and create a shrug with fishnet arms (WERQ!).

PRAISING AND GO-GO BARS: We would meet up all the time in the 80’s to 90’s in the shadier areas of Times Square at Cats, Stella’s, and Trix. It was sexier, edgier, and more interesting than other options at the time. Many referred to it as “the Walk of Shame”, but we saw it as a runway, and Frederick owned it.

In the 90’s we began going to an amazing predominately gay church in Brooklyn, where we learned about Black and Queer Liberation Theology. We also learned to affirm the uniqueness of our sexuality and expression, and that we were not a mistake. In fact, we were blessed, just as we are. From church, we would continue our praising and rejoicing at our usual Go-Go haunts.

ART: Frederick came alive with Visual AIDS, and I credit it for providing purpose for him, and directing his talents. To me, his art is raw, honest, and fueled with joy. He was quite proud of his association with Visual AIDS, and awed with the gallery Gordon Robichaux that represents him. I feel blessed to have been able to share part of our journey together.


Esther McGowan

There are so many wonderful memories of Fred during my 8 years at Visual AIDS. The moments when he would arrive unannounced to borrow our photocopier for an art project were always highlights of any week, and his visits would always evolve into wonderful story-telling sessions, and of course, conversations about fashion. He gave selflessly of his time for us, always agreeing to speak on a panel, appear in a video, lead an education workshop or read his poetry at an event – almost more times than we can count. I was thrilled when Fred agreed to create a tribute for Nelson Santos at VAVA VOOM in 2017. I had asked if he would read a poem, but Fred decided he wanted to sing – and it was major! Fred was always the highlight of any event in which he participated, bringing joy to whoever was watching.

Fred and I shared a love of fashion and nightlife, so we always had a lot to talk about. Our final shared experience was that we were both what Fred called, "subway models." Fred had famously appeared in a subway ad for Village Care, in which he is smiling and waving hello. Seeing those ads always made me happy, even in the midst of the most treacherous, crowded subway ride. This fall, I was part of a New York City ad campaign for which I was pictured in a subway ad, and I couldn't wait to show Fred. On what turned out to be his final weekend, we sent DMs to each other about it on Instagram, with Fred messaging me, "We are subway models!"

One of my favorite experiences was taking Fred to be our guest artist for the Fire Island Artist Residency in the summer of 2019. At the time we didn’t know that this would be one of our last big moments with Fred, but had we chosen to have a beautiful final trip with him, we couldn’t have done better. This was Fred’s first trip to Fire Island since the 1970s, and he was excited. He took the subway to my house far out in Brooklyn, very early in the morning so we could drive to the ferry. We talked non-stop the entire way out, and when we got on the ferry the person sitting in front of us was playing a radio, and we sang along to Chaka Khan as we sped towards Cherry Grove. Needless to say, Fred was an amazing guest artist that summer, giving a fantastic talk in the community center and meeting with the artists in residence. We got to stay an extra day, and Fred used the time get to know some of the artists better –Tyler Matthew Oyer references this experience in his remembrance. Fred was also nervous about his presentation, and had prepared multiple possible outfits, with his favorite being the bespoke “onesie” he had commissioned from a designer friend for the occasion. He wore it with a neon yellow bandanna and matching neon yellow sneakers – a perfect Fred Weston sartorial moment. But that moment almost didn’t happen – during a walk back from the beach, Fred dropped one of his yellow sneakers over the edge of the boardwalk into the underbrush. Fred insisted we just leave it - he had other shoes and it seemed too dangerous to venture into the wild forest of thorny bushes and tall grass. But Chris Bogia found a way to get it back – I think a couple of long sticks were involved –and Fred’s outfit was saved. Fred had so much fun on that trip, and I’m happy that the entire Visual AIDS staff could be there and enjoy it with him. When I drove him back to Brooklyn he couldn’t stop talking about how much he had enjoyed it.

We thought we had a lot more time together. We had intended to honor Fred at the 2020 VAVA, but COVID made that impossible. We will honor him posthumously in 2021, which feels like the right thing to do but also feels incredibly heartbreaking. We certainly thought he would see his DUETS book, for which he is in conversation with Samuel Delany. I’m incredibly grateful that we decided to make the book long before Fred became ill, so that he was able to fully participate in the conversation and also read it in its transcribed and edited form.

Fred was a bright light and a beloved family member for everyone at Visual AIDS, and it feels impossible that he is no longer with us. Since preserving legacies is part of our mission, it will be our honor to preserve his.

Svetlana Kitto

Something I loved about Fred was the gift of his presence. First of all he seemed to be ever-present. I can't think of an event between our shared circles in the past few years that Fred did not show up for, he embodied the idea of community and community care. He was reliably there, and reliably Fred, with the double hug, the kind word, the gorgeous smile, the fantastic ensemble. Fred was there: a source of warmth, a steady heartbeat, a rock in the room. I remember being at a party with him once; I was having a hard time, and wasn't feeling up for small talk. I remember seeing him on my way out, him asking me how I was, and my heart kind of bursting with the need to say what was going on with me. He listened quietly, taking it in, and then he hugged me. Just once that time, and tightly.

Alex Fialho

Frederick Weston. What a life; a pillar of the Visual AIDS community❣️ A Visual AIDS Artist+ Member since 1998, I learned so much from Fred, his art and his energy. We all did. Fred was among the most jovial and chic people I knew in NYC.

The moment I will always remember Fred for was from Visual AIDS' poetry reading event at The Whitney in 2015. Fred went first, and instead of using the mic & podium, he stood right in front of the sold out audience of 150+ and projected to the back of the room with his beautiful poem “Easy On The Eye.” In a bright red ribbon red suit coat, in front of a projection of his artwork of photo booth self-portraits from 1977—Fred reflecting upon himself across decades, beautiful and Easy On The Eye as ever.

Fred’s person, his detailed + descriptive art, his fab fashions, and his double hugs will be deeply missed.

TRET Tierney

Tyler Matthew Oyer

As I feel my sadness for what I imagined would have been a longer friendship, I send my condolences to you all who knew Fred much better than I. We only spent a few days together in Cherry Grove last summer, but it was a wildly intense and clear connection - he instantly called me and my work "spooky". He said I worked with ghosts, and he demanded I film him reading my poem to James Baldwin (below).

He was still deeply mourning the death of this mother and we spoke a lot about it as we walked the beach. May you find moments of mourning together with joy in celebration of this incredible person. Thank you for allowing his work and person to be acknowledged. I am grateful that our paths crossed in this stardust life.