In private, Arquette was "very sensitive, very intellectual and an incredible painter," friend Ryan Black tells PEOPLE

By Elizabeth Leonard
Updated September 12, 2016 11:00 PM
Tony DiMaio/

To be sure, Alexis Arquette could be the colorful extrovert who glammed it up for a night on the town, or stole scenes as a Boy George impersonator in Adam Sandler’s Wedding Singer and Blended. But to those who got to know the transgender icon over the years, Arquette was way more than pomp and pageantry.

“A lot of people saw the campy side of him, the sort of outrageous, balls-to-the-wall side, but his private side was very sensitive, very intellectual, very smart,” says producer/writer Ryan Black, who dated Arquette in 1999 and stayed in touch over the years. (Black chooses to use male pronouns when describing his late friend).

“He was very smart and an incredible painter. That’s something a lot of people didn’t know. He really had legitimate talent as an artist.”

Black has little doubt Arquette’s true gift as a painter remained untapped. “I think of all the times I encouraged him to paint and I just never knew why he resisted it, but he seemed to have that resistance to anything that came easy to him,” he says, recalling a special memory when Arquette first showed him his private painting collection as the two hung out at Arquette’s apartment.

Among Black’s favorites was a “stunningly beautiful” painting Arquette did of his beloved mother. Says Black: “He loved his mom.”

“There were times where I would get really angry at him because he could be so cunning and say whatever he wanted to say, and then there were times where he was just so wonderful and so loving and sensitive and it was that balance, that yin yang that made him so interesting,” he says.

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“But what makes me smile [now] is how brilliant of an artist he was. He could be very inspiring that way.”

In recent years, says Black, “He seemed like he had matured and gotten a little less cunning but he never lost that [adventurous] spirit.”

While Black, who hung out with Arquette last summer, was shocked by the sad news of his death at age 47, he was heartened that family was by his side.

“That’s the image in my mind that moves me the most and is just really beautiful,” he says. “I think we all hope to leave this world surrounded by love.

“They are a very close, tight-knit family. They’re all very supportive of each other and they were always very supportive of Alexis, no matter what he wanted to be.”