Obituary of William Creston

May 30, 2024

Bill Creston, iconoclastic artist and small-gauge cinema pioneer, dies at 92.

Bill Creston headshot. photo: Barbara Rosenthal

Bill Creston, artist and auteur small-gauge cineast with an absurdist vision of even the horrors of existence, who initiated the first video departments at both Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts, but who sparked controversy over his independence and dark humor, has died aged 92.

His avant-garde narrative, collage, and autobiographical moving pictures have screened at the Museum of Modern Art; Anthology Film Archives; and most recently this month at Lincoln Center.

Bill Creston at Bob Shuler's Tethys Project. photo: Barbara Rosenthal

Creston, a Brooklyn-born son of Jewish refugees, began his career in Manhattan at the High School of Music and Art and the Art Students League as a painter.

Bill Creston at Art Students League

His 12-foot wide triptych Urinals was featured in the May, 1968 issue of "New York" magazine. It is a triptych 48" x 96" oil-on-masonite depiction of the urinals in the basement Guards' Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was employed, playing spooky pranks on other artist/night watchmen such as Ed Clark. They were founding members of the Brata Gallery, a historical artist cooperative within the Tenth Street movement in the 1950s, along with sculptor Ronald Bladen, Yoko Ono, and other young downtown notables hanging on the words of Willem deKooning et al at the Cedar Tavern.

"Urinals" lifesize triptych by Bill Creston

Success with collectors such as Robert Scull, and discussion by John Canaday, in Embattled Critic: Views on Modern Art,” published by Farrar, Straus & Co., NY in 1963 pointed to a promising future as a painter. But passing the Vendome Trading Corp on W. 23rd St one day in 1968, Creston was inspired to figure out how to make video, which nobody had ever heard of, and where editing was done at that time in "CV" with a razor blade, like film.

Still frame from SEG

He began with the world's first Video Diary. Some of his best-known videos are Bert Lahr; Cracks; Cripple (all three being improvs by the late painter Carl Methfessel, the primary actor among the friends who comprise his ensemble casts; and SEG, in which he presents raw experiments of himself interacting with the latest technology, a loud, clunky Special Effects Generator. Always hoping to spread art and technology, he opened The NY Video Theater, the first of its kind, in his unfinished top floor walk up freezing cold Chelsea loft. He strung a few monitors around, put a notice in the "Village Voice," and showed his reels and those of the few others just springing up, like Nam June Paik and the Videofreeks, for $1 tickets, or free if you brought popcorn to share.
Bill Creston contact sheet. photos: Barbara Rosenthal

In 1971, he convinced Cooper Union and The School of Visual Arts, to let him offer the first courses in this new medium, by then in the more widespread gauge "1/2" Black-and-White-Open-Reel," using his own Sony Portapak. Chris Stein, one of his SVA students laughingly recalls the incident that endangered Bill Creston's position, "The police arrested one of Bill's students recording himself walking naked up Fifth Avenue, and Creston kept defending the kid for guts and originality." In 1974 Creston brought video to Barcelona by teaching a workshop at La Sala Vincon with Antonio Muntadas, whom he himself had mentored.
Bill Creston (L) with Antonio Muntadas with their charicatures, reflected in a mirror at La Sala Vincon, Barcelona.

Bill Creston's independent experiments in street installation and performance, such as Go to 15th St and Construction Site earned him a place in the 1969 book of avant-garde "Streetworks," along with Vito Acconci, Scot Burton, John Giorno, Les Levine, Bernadette Mayer, Meridith Monk, John Perrault, Anne Waldman and Hannah Weiner. The city found the installation so convincing it put an extra layer of caution flashers around it, and the piece found appreciation in the “The Art Gallery Magazine” article “Street Sculpture” that April.

Article about Bill Creston's street art piece "Construction Site."

When the anthology "Video Art" was being published by Houghton Mifflin in 1976, Bill was asked for a double page spread. That was the year Kodak brought out color/sound Super-8 film. He had worked on a 16mm film by his poker-buddy Robert Downey Sr, and much preferred the fidelity and greater range of film. On the left page he wanted "I used to make videos," and on the right, "Now I make films."
Bill Creston with his Nizo Super-8 camera and first dog, Zeke, while doing a workshop at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri, 1976. photo: Barbara Rosenthal

The pages were censored; known now in underground video history. And in 1984 he was the only artist ever totally "banned on White Street," in a historically explosive recorded phone call with the Collective for Living Cinema, because his poignant film I Saw Where You Was Last Night ventured in the minds of the marginal. However, vindication arrived: In 1989, a solo retrospective Cineprobe was held at MoMA. And his films saw praise by Manohla Dargis in her "Village Voice" article “Masters of Small-Gauge Cinema,” that year.
Still frame from film I Saw Where You Was Last Night

By 1996 Bill Creston had made two dozen films, founded Bill Creston Super-8 Sound Studio, the only professional Super-8 facility at the time in NY, and with artist-writer Barbara Rosenthal to foster "irregular" art by themselves and others, to whom they offered Creative Project Grants, Internships, etc.
Bill Creston at the M8 bus stop in the West Village, photo: Barbara Rosenthal

Creston's films are still currently distributed by Canyon Cinema in San Francisco and the Film Co-op in NY, and as DVDs by Printed Matter. Some of his best known films are Taxi, Taxi; Coupons; Lunch Hour; and He Stole My Gun.

Still frame from film Taxi, Taxi

This month, two weeks before his death, Creston's film Taxi, Taxi was screened at Film at Lincoln Center. His underground reputation as an iconoclastic experimental filmmaker has garnered him a continually growing, young, cult following.
Bill Creston, Barbara Rosenthal, Ola Creston, Sena Clara Creston, at party in their Chelsea loft, with Austrian performance artist Christa Biederman and other guests. Photo: Peter Moore.

Papo Colo and Jeanette Ingberman of Exit Art, Catalan food artist Antoni Miralda, Sena Clara Creston, Barbara Rosenthal and Bill Creston, at party in their Chelsea loft, Photo: Ola Creston

Bill Creston (1932-2024) died of pneumonia in hospice at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City at 3pm on Saturday, May 30, 2024, his studio,, said. His funeral will be held at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home, June 3, 10am. He will be interred at Beth David Cemetery. He is survived by daughter Ola Creston, of Taproot Farm, PA; Sena Clara Creston, Asst Prof of Art, CalState/Sonoma; and colleague, artist/writer Barbara Rosenthal.

Funeral Services


June 3, 2024

10:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Greenwich Village Funeral Home

199 Bleecker Street

New York, NY 10012

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June 3, 2024

Beth David Cemetery

300 Elmont Road

Elmont, NY 11003

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