Tennessee Williams Made Paintings. They Were About Love and Loss, Too.
By Michael Adno for The New York Times (Available online here)
KEY WEST, Fla. — In 1941, Tennessee Williams arrived here to dry out in a little cottage on Duval Street. Over the next four decades, living off and on in Key West, Williams became one of America’s foremost playwrights, amassing a body of work that included poems and stories as well.
He also made hundreds of paintings that give us an intimate, unfiltered look at how he struggled with his sexuality and loneliness and reconciled himself to his place in the world. Through Oct. 7, nine of Williams’s paintings are on display at Florida International University at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami. Like his plays, these works map social taboos that still haunt America.
After arriving in Key West, Williams settled into an antebellum boardinghouse and rewrote his 1940 play, “Battle of Angels,” which had run for only two weeks in Boston. Despite this flop, he continued to work tenaciously, eventually remaking the play into “Orpheus Descending.” “Perhaps I have really burned my daemon out,” he wrote in his notebook, before adding: “I don’t think so. I think he is still a phoenix and not a cooked goose.”
Then Williams moved to the La Concha Hotel, where he wrote the final draft of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which garnered his first Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Following his ascension, he hemmed himself into a house several blocks off Duval, finally buying it in 1950. He remained there until his death in 1983. “I work everywhere,” he would say, “but I work best here.”
In Key West, friends would find Williams in front of his typewriter, encircled by manuscripts, paintbrushes and unopened mail. Throughout the 1970s, tourists walked past the house, where he sold paintings — sometimes not yet dry — over his fence. More than once, he arrived at a dinner with a fresh canvas under his arm as a gift.