The call came a little around 9:00 PM tonight. The artist at the other end of the phone sounded very different: Heavy and grim, I knew something terrible had happened. He told me Woo (AKA Bill Correira) had passed in his studio. Reportedly there were about two dozen artists and friends, Woo had a lot of friends, gathered outside the studio.
|Work by Woo|
I remember Woo's fish paintings at Leslie Curran's former gallery, Interior Motives. As a life-long fisherman, I saw that Woo did not anthropomorphosize his subjects, but did portraits of them in all their natural glory, the lyrically beautiful and the fierce struggle to stay alive. The Beautiful and the Sublime wrapped up in one.
He was 43 years old, awash in a sea of mostly 20-something artists who held him in high regard. Once Woo spoke, you would never remember that he was five feet four inches tall. His energy and passion, the eternal electric child-like smile, genuine affection and crackling creativity enveloped me whenever I spoke with him. He mentored and encouraged others, constantly helping to foster a sense of community.
There is too much to remember....here are a few things. Bill had brain cancer. The Doctors operated and removed most, but not all, of a large brain tumor around 2010. He got a gallery in the Crislip Arcade after that, and showed me the scar around his hairline. We were surrounded by extraordinary paintings of fish on the walls from floor to ceiling as he told me there were parts they had to leave behind. "Who knows?" he said.
|Woo with his father's painting|
I did a review of an open house Woo gave at his bigger and current gallery. When I asked him to pose with one of his works, he asked if it was alright if he posed with a painting by his father hanging in his studio. He beamed for that photograph. His father had died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.
Bill Correira was born in New Bedford, a fishing town in Mass. His dad was a graphic designer who painted whales and fishermen and did scrimshaw. His mom was named after a storm that killed hundreds in New England in the 1930's. As a boy, he fished and snorkeled after coming to Florida when he was seven. He attended Northeast High in St. Pete and became a skateboarder. He started painting fish while holding a bartender day job.
He bought a condo and by working feverishly, managed to pay for the part of the surgery his insurance wouldn't cover. He had the smile of a mischievous boy and the countenance of a Yoda.
Tonight, artists have gathered at the Sake Bomb to reminisce about Woo, but out in the Gulf, under the moon and stars, out in the blue depths, among the corals and in the grassy shallows over moonlit sand, the fish, like so many of us, are crying.
Rest in Peace, Woo