Brian Gilbert Art  

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some words about Brian:

Where can I start? He was funny, he was annoying, he was clever, he was stubborn. He seemed always to be looking for something somewhere else, something that would fix everything. He played classical and improvised piano. His direct and emotional playing would make me, his older sister, who had had all the lessons, cry.Portrait of Brian, 1975

He would amuse us with pretend radio interviews, and he could replicate, endlessly, Donald Duck's voice, and entertained our little sister, Wendy, with expletives in duck language. As a teenager, he was into Rube Goldberg sort of contraptions, strings and pulleys, and had a complicated alarm system in his bedroom.

People were always helping him out and he was always letting them down. He would lose things and break things. He could hitch-hike anywhere, and did. People would stop to pick him up and drive him across the country, as far as Boston, or Alaska.

Brian joking around, 1964He took some figure drawing classes at Mission High School in San Francisco around 1968. He began doing Tai Chi, going to classes in Chinatown, and rode his bicycle up and down hills. Fearless in city traffic, he even had a job as a bicycle messenger for a time. Intrigued, almost obsessed, with the Chinese book of the I Ching, he had visions of writing a book about it. He practiced Bach on the piano and had revelations about the music. Once he was so excited about a meal he'd cooked for himself that he sent me a little sample of everything on the plate. A week later, when it arrived in Philadelphia, it was a very colorful moldy little packet.

Brian in Juneau, mid 70'sHe also spent several years in Alaska, working occasional jobs in Pipeline camps, and, in Juneau, working as a stake hop, sprinting to keep ahead of bulldozers and heavy equipment, the subject of some hilarious stories.

In one of his early jobs, he learned how to operate a press, and he had worked as a printer off and on. In 1983 he was living in Oakland, California, helping a friend set up a print shop. One afternoon he was in the shop by himself, cleaning some equipment, and a fire ignited somehow. Seriously burned over a good portion of his body, his face and hands badly damaged, he spent the next several months in hospital intensive care and the rest of his life recovering.

For the next seven years, in and out of hospitals, he continued to improve and then relapse, set back by several accidents and suicide attempts, until his death, on April 19, 1991, at Napa State Hospital. He was 43.

Some of the most remarkable drawings are lost, but during his life he made many drawings, portraits, and cartoons. I used to have a ceramic cup he made in the form of a wide, lipsticked, open mouth with a nose for a handle. It was a wonderful cup, very much like his drawings.

—Susan Gilbert