Visual AIDS is deeply saddened to hear the news that Artist+ Member Walt Cessna has passed away. Here, we've asked Hunter O'Hanian, Executive Director of the College Art Association and Former Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, to reflect on Walt's life and legacy.

Walt Cessna – “DIY Till I Die”

by Hunter O'Hanian

For nearly a decade I had the opportunity to call Walt Cessna my friend. We worked together, talked about art, curated an exhibition and supported each other on our respective journeys.

Walt was a stunning presence – funny, smiling and charming, often with a vocabulary entirely of his own. He was a true creative – a compelling artist in every sense. His honed craft ranged from poetry to photography. His creativity touched nearly every person he met and permeated everything he did – his writing, his images, the life he lived. Prolific hardly begins to describe him. He was a one man juggernaut of art making, publishing, writing and performing.

His world was rich with the support he received from other artists – their deep love for him was reflected back from his unconditional support. His early years were spent in the fashion world, publishing and photography. A self-described ‘90s club kid, he was the real thing shaping an authentic New York scene. He was witness to many changes, taking in the world around him and documenting what he saw and felt. He was a lover of love, armed with a priceless ability to reinterpret the world through his own limitless DIY sensibility.

Walt loved documenting the human form and all its sexiness. He was an artist who could be beguiled by his muses, seemingly never tiring of revealing another side of beauty.

Strangers and lovers all cared about Walt. He created an unmatched world of supporters and followers. His world was a web. Through My Space, Tumblr and Facebook, thousands actually followed him. They were enchanted by his spirit and creativity. He had a good word for each of them, along with encouragement and support. Chats with strangers evolved into friendships that lasted years, often young people from small towns throughout the country and indeed the world.

On his Tumblr page, Walt revealed how he felt about us, whether we were a friend or stranger:

You may think you know or understand me from the suggested and often misunderstood visceral & visual tone of my posted work. You MAY, but you will never ever actually come to any sort of conclusion unless you choose and succeed at looking deep into the self polarizing pathos and DIY till I die, determination that informs every facet of my creative & hopefully thought provoking artistic, political and personal stance.

Indeed, those of us who knew and loved him often felt we never completely knew him. We are fortunate that he has left behind an unimaginable trove of writings and images to explore and discover. Type his name into any search engine and enjoy. He left all of this work behind for us to learn a little more about ourselves.

For more, view Walt's artwork on the Visual AIDS website here, and read an interview with Walt about his important exhibition Interface: Queer Artists Forming Communities through Social Media at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2015 here.

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Walt Cessna