Lawrence Weiner, the artist who chronicled his hellish years of alcoholism and sexual assault, dies aged 79

The US artist, best known for his highly personal video work – works about therapy, anorexia, rape, sex and death –- has died aged 79, his New York gallery announced

“From my worst pain to my best joy,” poet, writer and poet Lawrence Weiner identified himself in his autobiography. But it was also the subject of life’s worst pains and best joy, a pain that, from 1971 until his death on 9 May, he chronicled through his art.

The acclaimed New York-based artist died from cancer on Thursday at the age of 79, his US gallery said in a statement. Born in 1939, he was the oldest of five children of a Russian Jewish immigrant father who owned a small watch business in New York City. He later attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.

Lawrence Weiner before his death aged 79. Photograph: Lawrence Weiner

The self-taught artist was most well known for his works about his experience as a recovering alcoholic and mental health patient and a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a stranger he met on a bus during his teenage years.

He moved to the United States in the late 1960s after his father passed away in Israel and attended the Art Students League in Manhattan. There, he first experimented with painting, before switching to the medium of video in the early 1970s. His earliest public works consisted of silent films and portraits of his friends and acquaintances.

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But his work’s scope was slowly expanding until his most recent body of work, which include films, collages, paintings and installations. There were a series of videos about his attempted suicide in 1979, among other work, and written works.

His work has been critically acclaimed; his Land of Dreams trilogy, co-produced with Barbara Kruger, was named best video by the Los Angeles Times in 2000. The Guardian’s Aaron Bower described his work as “a reflective, sometimes threatening and always intimate public discourse on identity, addiction, familial breakdown and the way in which one can sustain emotional resilience”.

His first solo exhibition in New York was in 1971. His art was later exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Berlin’s Kunsthalle, while other exhibits were shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, Washington D.C., and the Modern Institute of Art in Edinburg, New Jersey.

In 2005, Weiner said: “It’s true that I’m here in painting and drawing and stuff. I’m a person still. And I have a fairly rich life to speak about, no? I don’t like being invisible. I like being able to talk about myself and not in my own voice.”

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