Julie Checkoway has been a high school teacher, a published writer, a tenured professor, and a mother; but directing and producing the feature-length documentary Waiting For Hockney would turn out to be one of the greatest risks of her personal and professional life.
In the summer of 2002, Checkoway was living in Houston producing work for public radio's 'This American Life' and NPR's 'Morning Edition.' To that end, she traveled to Baltimore - a city where she had lived for eight years and from which her husband hails - to interview Dr. Gary Vikan, director of The Walters Art Museum. On that afternoon the conversation quickly turned to the topic of Billy Pappas, a young artist in whose story Vikan felt certain Checkoway would have an interest. "Here's this young guy who's embarked on a really risky endeavor," said Vikan "and the story of the endeavor was as interesting as the product itself," referring to the single pencil drawing on which Billy Pappas had spent nearly a decade.
Vikan regaled Checkoway with stories about Pappas, about the strength and fragility of Pappas's work - on a sheet of watercolor paper - and about the amazing cast of characters with whom Pappas had surrounded himself, including an eccentric local architect named Larry Link, and a clergyman named Brother Rene, who had been Pappas's high school principal. Checkoway arranged to interview Pappas and found him charming, articulate, and attractive, both sophisticated and rough-hewn, as given to the use of high academic language as he was to cursing like a sailor. That dichotomy intrigued Checkoway, who had grown up, as Pappas had, in a working class family but who had gone to Harvard, after which she had always felt a similar class division in herself.
Pappas had taken his desire for reconstruction, like a contemporary Gatsby, to the most extreme level. What was it that had made Pappas take on such an ambitious project? What did he hope to gain from it? What would happen if the project, finished at last, yielded a very different result than the one for which he was aiming - no less than inventing an entirely new art movement?
A Film by Julie Checkoway. A Littlest Birds Films Production.