Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift

Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift
The Bay Park Paintings give a beautiful taste of home

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dark and Stormy Night Gets Darker: The loss of David Webb

The house was full, the poetry reading lovely, the food, provided by gallery patron Stephanie Swift filled and warmed the rain weary guests . I was just thinking how lovely the evening had come out inspite of all misgivings, when I was approached by a slight woman in a cocoa powder colored leather jacket who looked intensely at me from beneath a mass of long blonde curls and said, "Where did you get these David Webb paintings?"
Man Feeding Deer- David Webb Acrylic on Canvas 30 x 30

The Woman tured out to be local painter and Broker's Building personality Madeline Sherry, a friend of David Webb, and the news she had was shocking. David Webb, one of the featured painters of the show, was dead... "He died on September 11th..."

It may seem odd to the reader that we could be showing the work of an artist without knowing of his passing, but then, this was the nature of  David Webb. David, a prolific painter,  was often homeless. He had lived his life "up and down the 101" said Jane Fyre, the president of the Creative Arts Consortium.

It was Fyre who had supplied Webb's works from pieces owned by friends, or by the CAC. She had hoped to locate Webb before the show, but it was not to be... and not being able to locate him was not unusual. She'd expected, within the three months of the show's run, to find Webb in his usual haunts. Instead, as we opened, we learned that a brilliant and gifted artist was gone.

In His Head- David Webb, Acrylic on Canvas, 48" x 48"

David Webb was a prolific painter, who although he often lacked a home, always rented a storage locker (or two) for his paintings. After his passing, Madeline Sherry and another friend became the de facto conservator of his works, a stunningly complex task. The paintings number in the hundreds, not only canvases, but works on paper and cardboard. There are even canvases cut from frames and rolled carelessly. If Sherry's description even approaches the truth, simply cataloging the works could take months.

If you regularly read the blog, you have noticed Webb's style varies widely, from chunky abstraction to finely drawn figurative works. So what's in those storage lockers? It's difficult to predict, but it is also hard to imagine that there isn't work of importance and power in those wildly strewn frames and rolled canvases. The CAC's Jane Fyer provided a tantalizing hint, with an old photo of David with a work called "Three Men." The location and condition of the painting is unknown at this time.

Webb with his Painting, Three Men

In a narrow hallway, perhaps of a small hotel, which was his common home, David Webb stands with a painting of breathtaking power, directness and a disturbing subtext which the viewer can only begin to glimpse. The space is cluastrophobic, barely able to contain him and the work. The date on the photo reads 10-10-96- a chilling reminder that he would be gone in five years, passing on the tenth aniversary of our greatest national tragedy at the age of 56. In the photo, he looks strong, and full of life. It's easy to imagine him striding past the numbered doors, down to where the corridor turns, and dissappearing from our sight. 

David Webb is gone, leaving a wake of glorious, beautiful and painful images, his life both tragic and yet a cause for celebration. A life lived by and for art is never wasted.

There will be an evening of rememberance for David Webb on December 2nd, from 5- 8pm, at the Swift Gallery. The evening will feature more of Webb's extrordinary images, and a reading by Webb's brother, screenwriter and author Michael Blake. Blake, who won an Academy Award for his work on Dances with Wolves, will share a film and verse rememberance of his late brother, "Boy in the Rain."  Please come to help us remember the life and work of David Webb, this unknown artist whose profound and powerful works continue to delight, excite and move our hearts in his absence. 

1 comment:

  1. RIP Dave. Your art lives on, and we'll see you again some day. In High School Dave got the painting bug. And he got good - fast. In our Senior year, there were 3 people in which one would be selected for the year's "most talented". The selections were Dave, Darcy Baker (who went on to do incredible air brush work), and myself. Dave won. He not only painted but played football and wrote poetry. He sold me one of his sketch books a few years before he died. Great stuff!