Wormley's Black Period

In the Eighties he was a rising art star on the downtown gallery scene. In the Nineties he was a stalwart of independent exhibition. Today Bill Wormley is sick, broke, and unsure why he should keep painting.

At the bar, the woman from the Matchbox Café serves drinks to the people who crowd around as though she were a lifeboat captain. Wormley, for his part, wears a pink shirt and a tan jacket, and he sits next to his daughter Camille, who is 15 years old, in the back corner of the room. He seems self-conscious in greeting people as they enter the space, and he shrinks into his seat, scarcely moving from it throughout the stage show.

I do a quick survey of the exhibition and find no surprises. It is much the same work that Wormley showed me a week or so before. Taken together, the paintings look good, hung from the ceiling on blue wires. I notice that Wormley has attached hand-lettered signs to each piece with very reasonable prices--most in the $150 to $300 range. I notice too that seven of these small signs have small orange dots attached to them, indicating that Wormley stands to pull in about $1,500 in sales so far for the show, or about two-thirds of his outstanding debt.

For a time I speak to several artists who praise Wormley and the show and then inevitably begin talking about their own problems--the lack of opportunity to display work, the difficulty making a living as an artist, and so on. The Tulip Sweet performance ends promptly at 11 o'clock, and people begin filtering upstairs with an air of reluctance. Young people begin talking about what is next on the evening's agenda.

"I wake up every morning and think, God, what am I doing? Does anybody care?" Bill Wormley in his basement studio, Acme Visual Arts
Geoffrey P. Kroll
"I wake up every morning and think, God, what am I doing? Does anybody care?" Bill Wormley in his basement studio, Acme Visual Arts

I bump into Wormley as I am leaving. "The show looks great, don't you think?" His voice is a bit nervous as he says this, and he laughs awkwardly. "Thanks for coming."

Wormley tells me that he'll get in touch with me in the next few days, but the call doesn't come. Acme might be back in business but, for now, Wormley still doesn't have a phone.

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