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Mar 21 2017
Walt Cessna, NYC Artist, Dead At 52 Comments (0)

Walt Cessna, an NYC clubkid who became a teen phenom in publishing (his zines The Key and Stop are collector's items) and was a photographer and artist closely associated with the downtown scene, has died at 52.

DSC00279(Image via Walt Cessna)

Trey Speegle, a friend and former boyfriend of Cessna's, writes:

He was brilliant and complicated and like many creatives, his own worst enemy. He was constantly writing and photographing and musing and telling us all what was “correct”, a term he used to describe anything he deemed brilliant and worthy of praise.

11025889_10205042359152978_7005054299742356605_oChad Ferro by Walt Cessna (Image by Walt Cessna)

Cessna himself wrote on his Facebook page recently:

RIP Stanley and forever will your correctness be remembered. You made my teenage years into made for the movies memories and never batted an eye as we entered and exited in Stephen Sprouse outfits and fits of laughter. Danceteria, Berlin, Limelight, Paradise Garage, Wheels Of Steel Friday Night @ The Roxy.

Everything was walking distance but we usually piled in 9 to a checker to maximize our entrance. We paid $400 a month at the Chelsea with 4, sometimes 5 in a room with the bathroom down the hall, yet we managed to spend at least $4,000 a month on cocaine. At the time we all thought this was perfectly normal and since our main connection was the hotels Bellman instant access guaranteed. Everything started in that hotel for me.

I was given freedom that most 16 year old’s can hardly imagine and never thought it was a fluke or something to be wasted. the first issue of my Xeroxed zine The Key was assembled in room 401 with the help of my then best friend Janice who sported a savage version of Grace Jone’s signature flat top and a single errant LP chip dangled dangerously from one ear. She never removed her black Ray Ban Wayfarers and we managed to go through several grams before we headed off to the copy shop, printed 100 issues and hand stapled them all together just in time to hit Danceteria for last call with Jules Peres & Edwige Belmore, both of whom were major models in The Key. Then we would walk up the 12 flights of stairs to Berlin directly across the street where we would pass out copies of The Key to Vera at the door, Audrey Roman behind the bar, Louie in the DJ booth, Mojo who was like my bodyguard and protector, Kate Schellenbach who ended up being my partner in everything, Wendy Whitelaw the world famous make-up artist who Richard Alvarez would carry up the stairs like a diva when he wasn’t dancing like a doodlebug and shaking his hair around correctly.

Angie Lieber was the official face of The Key, channeling Edie one second, Garbo the next. She was on the the most covers and the only young lady to be discovered by Leigh Bowery and photographed by Paolo Roversi & Mario Testino before retiring at 19. The few copies left in the early morning after stumbling out of Berlin, I would leave across the street for Rudolf, Haoui & David Russell @ Danceteria.

BTW Rudolf was our best and most consistent advertiser and always paid cash with a wink. Susanne Bartsch carried copies of The Key in her first shop Factotum and Gem Spa on Saint Marks our best newsstand, sometimes paying me in egg creams & Italian Vogue at 4 am. Stephen Sprouse took out an ad only to cancel it because the late fashion guru Keezia Keeble considered me a scandal seeking high school drop out and wannabe fashion threat I took it as a compliment. He felt so bad he wrote me a beautiful silver inked letter on thick black paper and had 2 beautiful brown velvet Nehru & purple gabardine chauffeur suits delivered to my door, all accessorized down to the suede Beatle boots with matching black wrap around sunglasses and black knit Christian knots we would pull low almost over our eyes looking like a pack of couture clad convicts serving fashion treason. Ironically, it was Keezia Keeble’s more literary half John Duka whom coined The Key “Fast Food Fashion” and with one paragraph in his infamous Notes On Fashion Tuesday column in The New York Times changed my life forever on my 18th birthday, inspiring our biggest supporter & fan Norma Kamali to convince her friend the publisher Stanley Harris to publish us for real.

Soon Andre Leon Talley was requesting copies at Vogue, Danceteria flew Fondu & myself to London with Steven Lewis to model in the East Village fashion show at the nite-club Heaven, Willi Smith invited us to hang out in his showroom and stage the first of our shoots, Andre Walker made The Key a cause for Concern, a group of super mutant fashion teen terrorists that ended up becoming some of our best friends and Anna Wintour served me sun-glass hidden stares while sharing a car at London Fashion Week while I blabbered incessantly about Body Map and France Andrevie and all the young struggling designers she should be covering when she got the job at Vogue.

On the contrary, my publishers biggest title at the time was Guitar World. He had not a clue as to what we were up to or what The Key was about, but his editors Dennis Page & Howard Jacoby got The Key & me immediately and made me fashion editor of New York Talk soon before The Key’s demise. 10,000 copies of The Key sized exactly like Interview with an 80% sell through distributed all over NYC.

I went through $300,000 of the poor publishers money and The Key was kaput by issue #3 after one year of publishing. Teri Toye graced the first cover in Stephen Sprouse and the key was the first publication to cover Marc Jacob’s long ago Sketchbook collection influenced heavily by his muse and Details fashion editor Ellen Kinnally. Ellen was the Isabel Blow meets Edie in bed with Bardot of the early 80′s and night club royalty since her first appearances at Max;s, Hurrah’s & CBGBs. Ellen was one of the biggest influences back then and informed everything i styled after screening Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls with David Scharff and Elioise Zeeman and infusing the super vixen-ism of Russ Meyer forever into my aesthetic.

Ironically, a few years after The Key closed shop, I launched STOP Magazine #1 with an exclusive interview and fashion editorial on Russ Meyer who graciously opened his home up to us and treated the photographer Kevin Hatt, stylist Fondu and me the writer to tales too tall even for super fans such as us. Occasionally a copy of The Key or STOP pops up on Ebay and disappears to Japan for a few hundred bucks. Both sold for $1 in 1984 & 1990. I ended up with a column called The Young Lines in the legendary Annie Flanders period of Details only to be replaced by Stephen Gan a year later when I tried to finagle a raise to no avail and quit for New York Talk exclusively only for it to go under a month later.

Downtown suddenly turned into a speakeasy on K version of uptown and I moved on to major magazines like interview, Paper, Mirabella, Elle, The Village Voice and Ray Gun. Since all of this predates social media there is very little left visual wise which makes randomly rare photographs from the 80’s treasures. This picture is courtesy of Craig Barnes the very first Key photographer who was also our best friend.He lived on Little W 12th St. where we would hold meetings for The Key while spinning 12 inches like Funky Four Plus One.

Craig hosted an infamous dinner for our idol Quentin Crisp that airs occasionally on MNN. After a few issues Kecia Benvenuto, Coco Flynn, Sam Martin, Alison Cohn, Lola Ciaro, Adam Horowitz, David Skilken, Josh Chuese, Marion Greenberg, Commes Des Garcon, Teri & Tami Toye, Joan Vass, Marc Jacobs, Norma Kamali all became contributors and our last issue in 1984 was of our late and deeply missed best friend, personal chanteuse and Bukowski worthy character & zenith of the Warhol age Edwige photographed in her signature Chanel name belt and Hermes wrist cuff by Josh Chuese.

I swear we were the luckiest group of teenagers and played harder than should have been possible.

More recently, Cessna was the author of Fukt 2 Start With: Short Stories & Broken Werd.

One of my favorite of his ultra-sexy (Work Unfriendly) snaps here.



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