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.
— Raymond Carver
If he was listening in on Sunday, Oct. 14, 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 the region’s arts community gathered with his friends and family to tell stories and to celebrate the life of the mixed media and performance artist who went by his last name, gauvin (he preferred not to capitalize it), and who died on Oct. 8 of Hodgkins disease, just a few weeks shy of his birthday. He would have been 51.
Friends covered the walls of the community room with gauvin’s artwork to raise funds for expenses. The celebration, hosted by his good friend Steve Aguilar, featured video of his performances, slides of his artwork, singing by his brother Brian Wright and remembrances.
“In the past 25 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 Community Partnerships manager, described the rocky start to their friendship when he came into the Ventura Bookstore smoking a cigarette, which he denied having. Sindelar became one of his strongest supporters and closest friends.
Ed Elrod, former owner of the Ventura Bookstore, recalled the first time he saw gauvin walking down the street near 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 firsthand from living on the streets of Los Angeles, which is also 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.
“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 performed at the Arcade Poetry series that 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.”
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 and large black letters spelled out “EAT WORDS.”
“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.”
Gwendolyn Alley is a longtime contributor to the arts and literary communities in Ventura County. She was very fond of gauvin and took him to compete in the Taos Poetry Circus some years ago. An extended version of this story is available at artpredator.wordpress.com.