Take an object. Now do something with it. Now do something else with it.
That, Leonard Krakovitch King believed, is how to make art, which he did in Coconut Grove for 50 years.
Among the last of the Grove’s 1960s-era bohemian artists, King died unexpectedly Sept. 28, the day after moving into a new apartment. Born Oct. 26, 1927, in New Jersey, King was about to turn 85.
Realtor Mary Struzenberg, his companion in recent years, said he’d been seeing doctors about a partially blocked carotid artery, and may have suffered a “mini-stroke’’ days before his death.
Quirky founder of the Royal Blowgun Society of Coconut Grove, based at the legendary Main Highway joint The Taurus, King was “fascinating, quirky, unique,’’ she said.
Never married, he lived for decades — some of them aboard a Dinner Key marina houseboat — with a stuffed collie named Shep.
King worked in “found objects.’’ On his website, he calls himself “an artist for the 21st Century,’’ and an “innovator/adhocist (sic) and kaleidovisionist.’’
His “optic-kinetic constructions’’ are part of the permanent collections at the Miami Beach City Hall, the New England Center for Contemporary Art, and the Modern Art Museum in Kiev, Ukraine.
A piece called “Chaos in Altered Space,’’ created from Hurricane Andrew debris, was on display at Miami Metrozoo, as Zoo Miami was called in the 1990s, for six months.
King’s website explains how he developed “experimental constructions which began with his invention of the variable form abstract image reflector in 1972. In these constructions, he uses concave warped mirrors to create intriguing abstract forms that interact with the movement of the viewer.
“Placing simple objects before the mirrors, he transforms the commonplace into images that laugh, glide and dance in our minds. King builds and rebuilds with materials at hand until shapes and space are artfully shifted to produce the visions he seeks.’’
His film “AB OVO” (From the Egg), aired on WPBT, the Miami public television station.
Struzenberg said King was raised by well-to-do grandparents in Passaic, N.J., and joined the Merchant Marine at 17.
He once wrote: “It was 1945 and the big war was over. I experienced the high seas on a sea-going tug. I was in the Army’s Navy — the Army Transport Service...My first long sea voyage was from New York, port of embarkation, to Seattle, Washington.’’
The sea, he wrote, “will always be part of me.’’
Two years later, he enrolled at the University of Miami.
“His grandfather wanted him to become a dentist,’’ Struzenberg said. “He hated it. He wanted to do his own thing, and he did. He became what he wanted to be.’’
King entered the art world via window-design jobs at several of Miami’s downtown department stores.
In 1962, he moved to Coconut Grove, which he described as “an artist’s village’’ where denizens felt free to reinvent themselves.
Among his fellow artist friends: the late Gene Massin, once head of the UM art department, Jack Amoroso, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival founder, and the late Tony Scornavacca Sr.
Son Tony Jr., who owns Tigertail Realty in the Grove, said at the time, “they all had cheap apartment/studios or studio/galleries. They flocked to the Grove for the natural beauty, and the rents were low.’’
Even before hippies moved in during the mid-1960s, “there was a lot of drinking and marijuana and music,’’ Tony Jr. said. “John Sebastian [Lovin’ Spoonful], Jimmy Buffett before he was famous, [folk-rocker] Fred Neil were here.’’
In 2009, when he opened a gallery on Grand Avenue, he told a Herald reporter how he developed a type of window display that he called “construction sculpture’’ as an alternative to mannequins.
King, a burgers-and-beer guy and early King Mango Strutter, could always be found at Scotty’s Landing, Coral Bagels or The Taurus, usually in a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, a ball cap and desert boots.
“He had a house on Virginia Street where he kept sculptures in the front yard,’’ Tony Jr. recalled. “He didn’t sell enough to make a living, but I don’t recall him being employed’’ after he left the department stores.
As the Grove gentrified, King decided to look elsewhere for a vibrant arts scene. Longtime friend Ron Higgins said he thought he found it in Stuart, but after two years “he regretted it and moved back.’’
King emceed neighborhood Christmas parties, which he recorded on video, said Higgins.
“He did things like that that made you appreciate your friendship with him,’’ he said.
King hatched many of his wacky ideas at The Taurus, where Herald humor writer Dave Barry met him in 1998 to talk about the Blowgun Society — and clown races.
King “was shopping in a discount store called MacFrugal’s, and he found a battery-powered toy clown,’’ Barry reported.
“It was a bumper-car type of clown. It was holding a balloon that lit up,” King told Barry, who noted that King “purchased 10 of them. He brought them to the Taurus and staged Clown Racing, wherein the clowns were let loose on a table, and people bet on which one would be the first to get through a hoop. This was a big hit, and it gave King, who is always thinking, an idea.
“‘I was going to get 1,000 clowns and set up a hoop in the Miami Arena and race them for charity,’” he said. “‘But when I went back to MacFrugal’s, they were out of clowns.’
“Some time later, King decided to purchase a blowgun, and for an excellent reason.
“‘I always wanted a blowgun,’ he said.’’
Friends will gather at 5 p.m. Thursday at Scotty’s Landing, 3381 Pan American Dr., Coconut Grove, to celebrate Leonard King’s life. Higgins said he expects at least 150 people, because “everybody loved Leonard.’’