on remembering gauvin 1961-2012
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself beloved on the earth.
If he was listening in with me on Sunday October 14, 2012 to the crowd of 200 at Ventura’s Bell Arts Factory, the late Warren Gauvin would certainly have felt himself beloved.
A who’s who of regional poets, painters, photographers and sculptors joined friends and family to tell stories to celebrate the life of the mixed media and performance artist who went gauvin (uncapitalized) and who died on Monday, October 8, 2012 of Hodgkins Disease, just a few weeks shy of his 51 birthday Nov. 26.
Friends covered the walls of the community room with his artwork to raise funds for expenses; the celebration featured video of his performances, slide shows of his artwork, singing by his brother, and remembrances.
“In the past twenty-five years, I have been to hundreds, perhaps thousands of arts meetings, gatherings and openings,” said Joe Cardella, and this event was “by far the most emotional, spiritual and heartfelt of any. Thank you gauvin, for bringing us together. Thank you for your poetry, writing, singing, paintings and performance, sometimes all rolled into one. We would all be fools to let this spirit vanish from our hearts and should do whatever possible to keep it alive.”
Denise Sindelar, City of Ventura, described the rocky start to their friendship when he came into the Ventura Bookstore smoking a cigarette–which he denied having. On his next visit to the Bookstore, she helped him find the books he was looking for. He told her how nice she was –and how the previous woman he talked with there was a bitch. Denise finally told him she was that bitch. gauvin said “I know.”
Ed Elrod, former owner of the Ventura Bookstore, told about the first time he saw gauvin walking down the street by the downtown Ventura Post Office in the early 90s. Because Ventura has few African-Americans and fewer gay men and gauvin was both, Ed offered to help him get a bus ticket out-of-town.
gauvin explained he worked for Turning Point as a counselor helping the houseless—a situation he knew well from his first hand experiences living on the streets of Los Angeles. That’s where he honed his performance chops reciting poetry.
gauvin had always been the artistic type. His brother Brian Wright talked about living under his older brother’s award winning shadow in Pittsburgh and Detroit. By the time he was 12, gauvin had won contests and performed on radio.
No matter where he was, gauvin sketched and made use of materials at hand. Stone sculptor Michele Chapin recalled taking art supplies—and make-up– to him in the hospital. I remember doing that too.
Denise Sindelar became one of his strongest supporters and closest friends. She staged several art shows where he also performed poetry. I took him to compete in the Taos Poetry Circus where he lost the slam due to a time penalty—but Ntozake Shange and others agreed he won.
“I first heard him at Cafe Voltaire in the early 90s,” recalled poet and art collector Jackson Wheeler. “His Jitney Man was a revelation of language, of poem/performance and fully realized character.“
gauvin later performed at the Arcade Poetry series which Wheeler hosts, leaving a trail of paper, a signature of his readings.
“There was always a sense of urgency about gauvin’s oral art as well as his two-dimensional work – splattered paint, repetitive pencil, crayon strokes — found objects glued or tied to the canvas or pasteboard or cardboard or particle board,” said Wheeler. “Everything was grist for his artistic mill.”
Not everyone could make it to Bell Arts: gauvin’s former neighbor Deva wrote from Iowa that: “We fought, we argued, we disagreed; both knowing that we were teaching one another lessons that could only have come from our own personal experience, heartbreak and loss. I will never have another friend like him. No one else will ever reach down into my soul and pull something out to be examined and just maybe, understood.”
Sophia Kidd chimed in from China to describe a museum he created in his apartment where “an elegant teapot set upon a bible the cover of which was whited out upon which large black letters spelled out EAT WORDS.”
In August, Steve Aguilar, Sophia Kidd and I co-curated and hosted a reading at Art City where, said Kidd, “Steve Aguilar projected onto a screen a package of old gauvin footage, and it kicked me in the stomach, because there was gauvin singing “Love Gun,” where he declared that he’d die for love, which in the end he did.”
Gauvin always liked to go on last. In August, we kept hoping he’d turn up to close the show but he was too sick. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one on Sunday hoping to hear his familiar voice belting out a song as he approached the stage.
“For gauvin, life and art were obviously one, and all expression was prayer,” said Phil Taggart. “gauvin made Ventura his stage. He performed and created on the street, in the galleries. His life’s journey blessed all who knew him. He made his presence known, shared his unique gifts, and we’re all better for it.”
Note: I gathered this information and wrote this for the VC Reporter which published an edited version of the article in the Th. Oct.18 issue. Thank you to everyone who responded so quickly to my requests. It was very difficult to attempt to convey the complex and complicated life of someone like gauvin; I did my best to honor him here. I couldn’t include everything so please read Deva’s full account here illustrated by an artwork of gauvin’s she owns as well as more quotes and stories from Sophia, Jackson, Josh Addison, and others with more artwork.
The VC Reporter also published this image of gauvin by the very talented Cole Smothers who wrote me to say
“Gauvin was a friend of mine as well. I have many great photos of him in his element, though this one certainly stands out the most. I took it as part of the 2010 ArtWalk Portrait series. When I knew him best, he was a man of the Avenue. He would often paint and perform right outside of his apartment for any unsuspecting passerby. It only seemed appropriate to take the photo of him in his environment: the Avenue. I was at the service. The best I’ve seen. Actually, it’s the best art show I’ve seen since arriving in Ventura over three years ago. He will be missed.”
Cole Smothers also shot video of gauvin performing and painting on the Avenue which I hope to post later. See more of Cole’s work at Gravity Free Productions; please support him so he may continue to bring his gifts to us.
- r.i.p. mister warren gauvin b.11/26/61: celebration of life this sunday (artpredator.wordpress.com)
- gauvin: “i couldn’t see the bored” (artpredator.wordpress.com)
- renee zellweger & basquiat hit the road (artpredator.wordpress.com)