After years of wondering what Westerlen had in his tattered blue bag, Warburton finally got an answer last week: He’s bringing his own artwork — in a brutal twist , the artworks were almost thrown into the trash.
It all started about a year ago when neighbours realised they hadn’t seen Westerlen in a while and called the police. He was found dead in his small rental apartment, where he had lived alone since 1999. He is 75 years old.
“It kept looting in my mind,” Warburton, also an artist, said of his neighbor’s unexpected death.
Warburton and his partner lived in the flat downstairs in Westren, and he decided to try to get to know him more.
After a quick Google search, Warburton learned that his neighbor was facing addiction, turn to art help him heal.
“As an artist, I have a sense of closeness to George,” Warburton said, adding that Westerlen’s cause of death was not publicly disclosed.
Westerlen’s apartment remained untouched, and he was gone for a year until a staff member hired by the local housing association popped up and emptied it on June 20. Warburton heard a commotion from the unit below him – he wasn’t sure why it was only cleaned a year later.
He ventured upstairs to see six workers sifting through Westerlen’s items. He soon saw hundreds of felt-tip drawings stacked around the unit. They all headed for the dump.
Warburton quickly realized he was the only one standing between the neighbor’s detailed abstract artwork and the trash can. He recalled thinking, “If I don’t save George’s work, I may regret it for the rest of my life.”
He grabs as much art as he can and takes it back to his apartment, making multiple trips. He spent the next few hours in awe of his neighbor’s geometric work, dusting off piles of briefcases.
“I just saw hundreds of these flawless, beautiful pieces of art,” said Warburton, who tried to find Westerlen’s family and deliver the artwork to them, though he had no luck. “They are professional qualities. He has talent.”
“I want people to see that,” Warburton said. “You don’t just save beautiful artwork from trash every day.”
Warburton recorded the story in twitter thread, spread quickly, forwarded, and liked tens of thousands. Throughout the thread, he shares pictures of Westerlen’s work.
“George Westerlen, lovely guy. As far as I know, his life was tough, but art was his lifeblood,” Warburton said in a tweet.
“It’s a pleasure to see all of this work that must have been painstakingly accumulated over the years, each requiring so much patience and control,” he said again.
Comments poured in, many from people who knew and admired Westerlen and his work. Warburton was happy.
“The cutest and most gentle man!” one person wrote. “One of his pieces is in my hallway. Thanks for sharing and saving his work.”
“I remember George saying that creating art keeps him focused and helps him live with purpose,” Another tweet read“We absolutely need to do something to help protect his job.”
Warburton Connect with people privately He knew Westerlen well and wanted to know more about him.
On the one hand, Kim Noble helps shed light on Westerlen’s life. He served as Westerlen’s art director for nearly two decades.
Noble, 47, leads an arts group for people with mental health challenges, and Westren was one of the original members of the weekly class. Westerlen was living on the street when they met.
“He was homeless for a long time in his life, and he really struggled with alcoholism,” Noble said. “He had no interest in art at all, and then one day he went to an exhibition to take shelter from the rain.”
the exhibition is Bridget Riley, an English painter known for his Op-paintings. Westerlen was inspired by her.
“He saw something in these pictures and he started painting. He became an artist,” Noble said. “As he used to say, it saved his life.”
Noble said he quit drinking and found an apartment in an affordable housing community where he ended up dying and where Warburton lives today. In his final years, art was Westerlen’s whole world.
“For George, the process is as important as the outcome,” he said. “He can only draw and draw and draw.”
To Noble’s knowledge, Westerlen has never married or had children, although “George is a very private person,” he said. “The group and his friends in the group are his family.”
Noble also knew that although Westerlen was a quiet man, he wanted an audience for his art. He has participated in art exhibitions at Noble, bringing a small collection of his paintings to display.
“He wants people to see his work,” Noble said, adding that he included Westerlen in several episodes Podcast Series He recorded in 2020. In the segment about mental health and fear, Westren is asked how he copes when he’s in trouble.
“Just keep fighting the world. It’s not an easy fight,” he replied.
When Noble learned that his friend had passed away, “I was very upset,” he said. “He is a good man.”
Henry McWilliams, who has lived in the same building as Westren and Warburton for more than 20 years, said Westren was a friendly neighbour and never had a portfolio of paintings he had never painted.
McWilliams, 71, said: “Every day, he would go and try to show it somewhere. Unfortunately, he passed before he was recognized.”
For now, though, “he won’t be forgotten,” McWilliams said.
Warburton is trying to see through that. He said his goal was to “give George the legacy he deserves”.
Countless people on social media and London demand buy art in Westerlen, Warburton came up with a plan. Although he does not sell original drawings, he has produced 30 prints of unique works.They are now available for order online, the proceeds will be used to create an exhibition of Westerlen’s work and preserve it permanently, he said. Any additional funds will be donated to causes Westerlen cares about, Warburton said, adding: “I just want to do what George does right.”
It’s a bittersweet story, sad and beautiful, he said.
“The story behind the piece is really what gives it meaning,” Warburton said. “If people can give meaning to art, it becomes infinitely precious.”