DAVID DELAMARE 1951-2016
I never wrote a traditional “obituary” for my husband. He would have preferred that I simply told his story. What follows is a Kickstarter update that I posted on October 30th, 2016. It announced David’s death to the patrons who had helped us create our Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book (and were still waiting for it).
I’ve made a few minor corrections to the update for this blog site, but it’s mostly unaltered.
The first section tells David’s story as an artist and explains our history with patrons. It’s informative but feels a little unnatural to me. I was trying to adhere to some sort of objective journalistic style and couldn’t quite do it.
The second section answers practical questions.
The third section describes how I thought and felt about David’s death and the role that patrons played in our lives. If you don’t want all the back story, but are interested in questions of authenticity and loss, you might want to skip straight to the third section: “personal insights.”
On September 19th, artist and musician David Delamare died suddenly of natural causes in his Portland, Oregon studio at the age of 64.
He is survived by his wife Wendy Ice, his mother Una, his rabbit muses, a giant tortoise, and many friends and patrons.
David Delamare was born in December 1951 in Leicester, UK but lived almost all of his life in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon.
Delamare was not his given name. In early adulthood, he borrowed the stage name of his maternal grandmother, a British vaudeville dancer known as “Ida Delamare.”
David was always an artist—drawing, painting, and making picture books, even as a small child. His mother Una encouraged his imagination by sewing costumes, making stuffed animals, providing art supplies, taking him on “magic walks,” and turning friends away at the door when he preferred to draw or paint.
David was proud never to have held a “real” (non-art-related) job. In his early adulthood, he paid the bills by playing in a blues band, repairing stained glass, and working as a sign painter.
He developed his signature visual style very early. Though his technical skills and choice of media evolved over the decades, his work was always immediately recognizable.
In his twenties, David made a living applying that style to business commissions. But he never surrendered to the financial pressure to do work that was strictly commercial, and at the earliest opportunity, he left the world of commissions behind.
David’s visual ideas rose from a deep cultural foundation. He was a serious student of music, art, and philosophy. The week before he died, he listed his favorite books, in no particular order, for a planned Facebook post. This is that list:
Under the Volcano byMalcolm Lowry, Ulysses by James Joyce, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, The Wapshot Chronicles by John Cheever, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West, Molloy Trilogy by Samuel Beckett, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, and Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
David was a devoted cinephile. (A list of 100 favorite films from his library may be found here.) So he was delighted to receive a commission by director Francis Ford Coppola to develop production sketches. He also created production paintings for Warner Brothers Animated Features.
His artwork appeared in television shows, including Marsalis on Music and in the background of various feature films, most recently Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck.
David did not automatically accept such offers. Over the years, he turned down multiple requests to illustrate celebrity books. If an idea didn’t inspire him, he didn’t paint it. David believed that creativity required momentum and to step off the path, even briefly, could mean losing his way.
David was passionate about live theater. He was a particular fan of Shakespeare and was a regular visitor to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
He also enjoyed modern playwrights including Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett, Alan Bennett, Edward Albee, and, especially, Harold Pinter. Once, he designed sets and costume concepts for an American production of Trevor Nunn’s Peter Pan.
David was a musician and composer. He was a professional blues guitarist in his youth but set his instrument aside for more than three decades. A few years ago, he began composing again, plugging the Gibson “Melody Maker” guitar of his youth into an iPad. When he died, he had just recorded music and written lyrics for his first full-length album.
David illustrated his first book, The Hawk’s Tale in 1988. This was followed by The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1990), The Nutcracker (1991), his own original story The Christmas Secret(1991), The Twelve Days of Christmas (1992), his adaptation of Cinderella (1993), his original story, The Man in the Moon and the Hot Air Balloon (1996), and Midnight Farm (1997), a collaboration with Carly Simon.
Over the years, David’s paintings appeared in books, magazines and on album covers. They also found their way into the collections of both the Mazza Museum (in Ohio) and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (in Texas.) His book, Cinderella, was also featured in the “The Cinderella Project” at the University of Southern Mississippi.
David’s work was widely beloved, but its sophisticated sensibilities and subdued tertiary color palette sometimes made it challenging to market. Publishers and manufacturers pressured him to add color, remove nudity, or otherwise make the work more “accessible.” Publishers also sought consistency, to “build a brand,” but David was unpredictable. One day he might paint a “children’s” image and the next day a nude.
His range of subject matter never seemed inconsistent to David. He saw all the images as part of the same imagined world. In fact, in recent years, he and I began developing and writing characters for an underground world that encompassed all the various elements that appeared in his paintings. Hints of this may be found in this slideshow:
In the year 2000, Collins & Brown published Mermaids & Magic Shows: The Paintings of David Delamare. The book showed the full range of Delamare images, but this was not typical.
In 1999, I established an independent print and card publishing business (Bad Monkey Productions) to grant David more creative flexibility. This was the beginning of our gradual break from traditional galleries and publishers.
In 2001, David finally produced an “edgier” book, Animerotics: A Forbidden Cabaret in 26 Acts. The publisher, while comfortable with nudity, was puzzled by David’s conceptual notion. In response, I conceived a faux-historical “back-story” which David and and I co-wrote.
Over the next dozen years, David and I scrambled to make a modest living with painting and print sales. Meanwhile, David developed book projects but set them aside for possible future self-publication.
By 2013, the downturn in the economy had plunged our art studio into debt, and we doubted we could survive without making the work more “commercial.”
In December of that year, at the suggestion of friends, we turned to patrons, launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund our first self-published book—a deluxe illustrated version of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The campaign was a success and seemed to promise the answer to the problem David had faced since his youth—how to make entirely authentic art while paying the bills.
Meanwhile, we were collaborating on an animated adaptation of David’s book, The Christmas Secret and, feeling closer than ever, after nineteen and a half years together, decided to marry in a tiny living room ceremony.
The enthusiasm of Kickstarter patrons led us to expand our goals and, ultimately, the book became David’s most ambitious published project, with 96 color images (possibly a new record for Alice) a unique layout, and a new scholarly text.
But the improvements and a problematic print run put the studio more than two years behind schedule and deeper in debt.
Finally, eight years into the project, on Friday, September 16th, we received and approved the reprinted book elements for binding.
The mood that weekend was celebratory. The Alice book was complete, and David had just finished the last painting for his next book .
David spent the weekend putting his studio in order, carefully labeling notebooks, arranging art supplies, and filing paperwork. On the evening of Sunday, September 18th, he visited an old friend’s house to see a new private library while I went out with a backer friend to see a band. David had seen a video of the band and asked me to assess the vocalist, so it became a sort of scouting trip.
That night I played the band’s music for David and we agreed to invite the vocalist to record. It was the perfect ending to a week of creative resolution.
As I prepared for bed, David’s bunny muse Rupert Quincy suddenly refused to eat. Such behavior in a rabbit can be dangerous, so I stayed up, and we took turns for hours rubbing Rupert’s belly and force-feeding him water. At last Rupert ate and I prepared for bed.
David tucked me in as he had done without fail for twenty-two years and we spoke about how our artistic dreams had come together at last, how we had finally hit our stride as collaborators, and how fortunate we were to share philosophies and passions.
A few hours later, I woke and realized that David wasn’t beside me. I would find him, seated on the floor, beneath his easel, where he often played with the rabbits. But, in the words of Lewis Carroll, he had “softly and suddenly vanished away.”
After eight full years of work on the Alice book, David died on the very day that it began binding. He left with all his major work complete, all his affairs in order, in his favorite room, in his signature clothing (black v-neck t-shirt and Levis) with his beloved rabbits, at his favorite time of day, having just expressed contentment and love to his wife.
If it’s possible to have a perfect death, David Delamare had one.
A few days before, David had taken this photo from the front porch at a similar hour:
He wrote of the moment, “Last night I stepped out for a breath of heady fall air—deserted streets, a hint of yellow on the horizon and the strains of Tom Waits coming from a parked pick-up. I suddenly felt as though the fabric of the universe could easily accommodate a child fairy hitching a piggyback from a dapper insect.”
This last painting was the result:
PERSONAL NOTES FROM WENDY
Though I felt obligated to write the long article above for release on social media, it feels far too impersonal for communicating with you (our community of patrons).
We all recognize that a list of interests and achievements doesn’t begin to capture what we love about a person, and David’s work will always speak more eloquently of him than any words by someone else.
But it’s good to talk about his death and how it affects us, and I hope that you will feel free to share your thoughts.
WHY DID YOU WAIT SO LONG TO ANNOUNCE DAVID’S DEATH?
If you’ve followed my Kickstarter updates, you know that I value relationships and reflection more than anything. You also know I believe that difficulties offer profound opportunities for meaning, depth, and community.
When David died, I knew that, if I paid close attention, this was likely going to be one of the most important internal growth periods of my life. But I also knew that if I was swallowed up in the busyness of related tasks and the tidal wave of communications that I might fail to grasp whatever meaning and lessons the situation might offer.
It might sound odd, but I didn’t want to “miss” David’s death. I wanted to be fully present for it and to let it inform and transform me. I also wanted others to be able to have a meaningful experience, so I had several goals:
—I wanted to give David’s close friends a chance to process the information before David’s death became just another social media “post.” If a friend needed to talk for three hours on the phone, or come over and sit with me, I wanted to give them that opportunity. (No doubt I have missed some of those calls to close friends. If I missed you, I’m truly sorry. Let me know, and we’ll make time to meet and talk.)
—I wanted to be fully available to David’s 92-year-old mother as she grieved the sudden loss of her only child. (She moved in and stayed with me until yesterday when she felt strong enough to go home.)
—I wanted to take the time to reflect on David’s life and death and share any resulting insights with you.
—I wanted to deliver this news on a weekend, to minimize the likelihood that it would disturb you at work. I was planning to post earlier this weekend. Then I realized that this was a holiday (Halloween) weekend. So, I’ve waited until you are likely to be done with any festivities.
—I wanted to have at least one full day just to be with backers without any distraction. So Sunday, I’ll just stay home and respond to your comments. I know I won’t be able to answer everyone right away. But I’ll do my best over the coming days.
WHAT CAUSED DAVID’S DEATH?
The Medical Examiner chose not to conduct an autopsy because the death appeared “natural.” They attributed it to probable arteriosclerotic heart disease. David’s physician received the death certificate yesterday and called to give his condolences. We went over David’s entire health history together and didn’t find anything that strongly predicted this. But at the end of the conversation, the doctor asked, “was he under stress?” “Umm, well…that’s a long story.”
WERE THERE ANY PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS?
Not really. David did have colon cancer eight years ago, and it’s possible that it or the chemotherapy might have weekend his system. Also, in April 2015 he briefly lost consciousness (while we were watching a film). He was kept overnight for observation and subjected to a battery of heart and vascular tests as well as a brain scan. Things weren’t perfect, but they found nothing that required medication or monitoring.
I often wondered whether it was the Alice book that saved David from cancer. Now I wonder if the stress of the Alice book might have killed him. (It’s possible for both things to be true.) There is a third possibility that is even more interesting. If the need to finish Alice kept David alive, it’s possible that all the problems and delays with the book kept him here longer. What if the book had delivered on time? Would David have died then? We’ll never know.
WILL THERE BE A MEMORIAL?
David would not have wanted a traditional funeral. In fact, he probably would have asked us to do nothing, but would have reluctantly allowed an event to celebrate his life.
After we’ve all had some time to heal and reflect, I will host a public event.
The event will include a slideshow, his music, and maybe an art show. (Feel free to write to me privately to suggest other ideas or offer assistance.)
I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in some way, so I have designated an email address specifically for you to send any writing or photos (of David, you with David, or you with his artwork). A few of these submissions might be included in the slideshow, but most will be used in a digital book which I will make available for everyone to download on the day of the event. Please take your time with these reflections. I won’t have a chance to begin compiling the things you send anytime soon.
Submissions for the digital memorial book or slideshow should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (This email address will be used strictly for this purpose.)
I will also be sure to stream (and record) the memorial so that everyone can see it regardless of their location.
WHAT HAPPENED TO DAVID’S REMAINS?
It was David’s wish to be cremated, and that’s been done. But I feel it’s important that those who loved him have a place to go and “be with him.” So, I’ve reserved a beautiful grave, under an old chestnut tree, at the local pioneer cemetery. It’s within walking distance of our home, so I’ll be able to visit often.
The Lone Fir Cemetery is so lovely that it was once named by National Geographic as one of the “Top Ten Cemeteries to Visit” (worldwide). I made about six trips with family and friends to find the ideal plot. The umbrella in the photo below marks the spot where David’s ashes will be interred.
WHAT ABOUT THE ALICE BOOK?
Remarkably, David’s death hasn’t altered our schedule much. Since the book began binding on that very day, it was entirely out of my hands for several weeks, and I was free to focus on personal matters.
The old books are going to be shredded on Monday, and the new books are expected to arrive here in Portland, Oregon by November 10th. Between now and then I’ll be studying backer records and preparing an email that will go out to each of you to confirm your book reservations.
Though we have a new, highly reputable printer and the finished samples looked gorgeous (far superior to the book produced last year), we will need to spend a few days doing a general inspection of the delivery. Then, if things are acceptable, I will write to all book backers and ask them to confirm their reservations so we can ship in plenty of time for Christmas.
There is just one unavoidable problem. David can’t sign the book. Fortunately, every book backer received at least six signatures—on the five stretch posters and the thank you card. (International backers will receive those with their books.) I’m so glad now that we got carried away with stretch rewards and that David signed them early.
The copyright page of the book indicates that patron books are signed, but it doesn’t say by whom, so the obvious solution is to have me sign them. (As publisher, designer, co-editor, and someone who spent more time on the final drawings than David did, this is reasonable. )
When I send out your reservations, I’m going to ask you to let me know if you don’t want me to sign your book(s). If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that my signature is fine.
I’m also going to ask you a huge favor. After all the things you’ve tolerated, I’m reluctant to ask for anything, but I would like to sign the books without inscriptions or personalizations.
We didn’t think things through when we offered those options. Inscriptions would make the shipping process extraordinarily complicated and dramatically increase the risk of error. (In fact, we immediately regretted the decision and were dreading the way it was going to slow things down.)
I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for just signing your book (or, in the case of a gold, silver, or bronze book, signing and numbering it). By keeping things simple, we’ll be able to get books out much more quickly.
Frankly, there’s another reason for this request. I’m doing well emotionally and haven’t had the kind of complete meltdown I would have expected following such a loss. But I don’t know how the next few weeks are going to feel. If a large sadness starts creeping in, with its attendant lack of focus or energy, the frustrating complexity of inscriptions might just tip me over the edge into depression, and that won’t serve anyone.
The new book interiors look dramatically better than the old ones. This is due partly to the many painstaking improvements I made to the drawings last spring. Also, I doubled the resolution on most images (from 300 to 600). But, finally, we’re using an entirely different, new “stochastic” printing technology that uses a much finer, random dot pattern.
After all the problems we had last year, I wasn’t going to take any chances. I chose the best printer I could find and then hired a new print broker with solid color management skills to oversee the project.
In late August, I traveled to Seattle to do book proofing with the broker and everything went beautifully. Of course, I came home excited to tell you. I posted on the Alice Facebook Pageand began writing an update. But right in the middle of it, I received one of those “anniversary” posts from Facebook in which they show you what you were doing the year before.
There it was, mocking me, a perky announcement from 2015, saying that we had finished proofing. It was a cruel reminder that we had lost a full year and had been at this same place before only to have the printer botch the printing.
I suddenly felt uneasy and decided not to say anything before seeing the actual printed pages. On Friday, September 16th we finally received them.
They were gorgeous. David pronounced them “f—ing spectacular.” (David almost never swore, so this was high praise.) Sometimes the pages didn’t look exactly like the proofs, but in those cases, David preferred the book. I kept asking him, “are you sure?” to which he’d respond, “Absolutely—I can’t stop looking at it.”
It was true, all weekend, I kept finding him with the book. He was so happy. And I suddenly knew absolutely that every delay, every worry, and every expense had been worth it. Our collective commitment to quality had finally paid off. It might take us years to dig out of debt, but the book would last forever.
I think it was on Sunday morning that I finally let myself look through the book as a reader rather than a publisher, pretending to see it as you might, and I wept. The tears were happy, relieved and, above all, grateful. We had finally succeeded.
Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell you. Sunday afternoon I snapped pictures, trying to show you how much it had improved from the year before. David said if I was willing to wait until the next day, that he would help but I waved him away telling him I didn’t want to wait. The news was too exciting. That turned out to be the last day of his life.
This is just one example of the pages of the old and new books laid side-by-side. The hare on the left (from last year) was too dark and poor printing resulted in a red hue. Note, also, that when I revisited the drawings, I returned to the organic lower edges (rather than using a digital “gradient” fade). This involved a lot of extra work because I had to mask around every tiny pencil mark, but I think the effect is desirable.
HOW CAN I HELP?
You really needn’t do anything at all. You’ve already done so much to support us with your pledge and your long patience.
But friends are asking and, to be entirely honest, the next few months are going to be a financial struggle. So, as much as I love flowers, if you are thinking of sending any, please consider a donation instead. (Also, I’m trying to keep things as “normal” as possible, which will be hard to do if the house looks like a florist’s shop. )
If you want to purchase anything, the daviddelamare.com and delamare-alice.com websites are functional, but I haven’t updated them to remove hand-signed items. (Giclée prints will ship with digital signatures.)
Please don’t plan to reserve any extra books quite yet. Given all the delays, I’d prefer to get existing backer book reservations out as quickly as possible then, after you’ve seen the books, circle back for additions.
If you’d like to write to me, I’m at:
Wendy Ice, 1527 SE 47th Avenue, Portland OR 97215
(Note that this is a residence, not a gallery.)
If you want to send a digital donation, you can use this Paypal link.
The vast majority of David’s paintings have never been seen except by the individuals who own them. And there are journals and sketches here that no one but David has seen (not even me).
I gave David a lot of solitude, and though he didn’t mind me (or anyone) looking in his notebooks, I seldom did. Now I find myself dipping into those books and discovering new facets and depths to his imagination. There is so much to see, and it’s so rich and interesting, that I’m only allowing myself a tiny bit at a time.
It’s exciting to realize that after twenty-two years of living and working with David, there is still so much to discover. And I’m eager to share what I find with you.
David is not gone. And there is still time for all of us to get to know him much better. With your help, I’d like to develop a comprehensive retrospective project that will allow everyone to see his body of finished work (1000+ images) as well as his sketches, photos, stories, and writing fragments. This will take several years to produce and will require multiple volumes.
I will slowly work on this retrospective in the background while I work on the other planned projects (a fairy book, a mermaid book, a book of figurative pieces, Alice playing cards, mermaid playing cards, etc.)
A generous couple has helped by offering me a legal budget to protect David’s work after my death. They are also donating a fire safe for David’s journals and photos.
The retrospective will be a huge job, and I’ll need a lot of support and help to make it happen. But I think it’s important, partly to protect David’s legacy, but even more as a general contribution to the art world. David was so focused, so prolific, and so multi-talented (painting, writing, and composing) that his collective body of work seen as a whole will give a valuable window into the creative process.
A FEW PERSONAL INSIGHTS
“We have no cause to be mistrustful of our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors they are our terrors; if it has abysses those abysses belong to us, if dangers are there we must strive to love them. And if only we regulate our life according to that principle which advises always to hold to the difficult, what even now appears most alien to us will become most familiar and loyal. How could we forget those old myths which are to be found in the beginnings of every people; the myths of the dragons which are transformed, at the last moment, into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our life are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrifying is at bottom the helplessness that seeks our help.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke (translated from the German by Reginald Snell)
I have, from the first day, felt remarkably calm, centered, and at peace about David’s death. This astonishes me and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure it if would last. (This was another reason I wanted to wait to communicate—I didn’t want to tell you I was fine only to say a couple of weeks later that I was in a deep depression and couldn’t ship books.)
I always imagined that if I ever lost David, I would be inconsolable. But while this peace is surprising, it is not mysterious. I can explain it, and I want to, in part because I hope it will bring others peace as well.
I have written to you almost every day, beginning with the night that David died. But the writing has been long, circuitous, fragmented and often repetitive (because I come back to an idea and approach it from a different angle.) This is usually, the nature of my writing to you, but this time the complexity is even greater.
So, today, I finally just set all my notes aside and quickly typed this condensed version. Here, in no particular order are a few of the thoughts I’ve had:
—I am deeply grateful that David died in the way that he did—without fear, suffering, or loss of faculties. I could tell by the position that I found him in (on the floor with the bunnies, leaning back, nothing disturbed, just a few feet from the phone) that whatever happened was instantaneous.
Eight years ago, in December 2008 (the same year he started the Alice project), David was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer (stage IIIc) and given a 50% chance of surviving five years. We kept it secret in order to allow David to focus on his work and to protect his mother from the knowledge.
He went through major surgery and chemo. Many of you know what it was like—the seemingly endless appointments, the waiting for test results, and the constant anxiety of uncertainty.
It was a great gift, that cancer. It taught us both to focus even more deeply, cherish each other, say everything that needed to be said, and never take tomorrow for granted.
David might very easily have died in surgery, so every day after that surgery felt like a gift, a bonus, that might not ever have been granted.
But during that first year I suffered, because I couldn’t help imagining all the things that David might endure—pain, fear, or loss of faculties. I was terrified thinking of those possibilities. Sometimes I’d find myself walking down the street just weeping at it all. So within hours of David’s death, I felt relief that none of those nightmarish fears would ever come true.
As a side note, I don’t think David was ever very comfortable with the idea of growing old.Some part of him was probably a little disgruntled that we had just registered him with Medicare (the U.S. insurance plan for “seniors.”)
There was a moment, a few days after his death when I found David’s mother sitting and smiling. “What are you thinking?” I asked.
She, who is currently struggling with the indignities and frustrations of aging, said: “ I guess our Peter Pan will never be elderly.”
“That seems somehow right, doesn’t it?” I asked.
—I’m glad that I found David’s body. I’m pointing this out because I know that some of you must be horrified at the idea that I had that experience. But the very visceral experience of having time with David’s body (and doing the chest compressions that the emergency dispatcher requested) made the reality of his death absolutely real. I have not since his death, even once, forgotten that he’s gone or had the feeling that he is in the next room. This was a very good thing, and my heart breaks for those who don’t have that kind of “closure.”
—I’m new to death. I’ve never had to lose someone very close. But on that first night, determined to accept the new reality, I found myself throwing out all his toiletries (except cologne) and thinking how “normal” it all was. All the hubbub that had occurred in the hours before—the paramedics, the police, the examiners, the volunteer, the transporters, was strange and disruptive, but death itself is just part of the fabric of life. Losing David suddenly made me feel very comfortable with that fact.
—David had just wrapped up all his major projects. As described above, he had just approved the Alice pages and finished the last painting for the fairy book. (He didn’t even have anything new waiting on the easel.) I had teased him, suggesting that he would surely paint more fairies, but he had said “no”—he really did think he was done. He had also finished composing all the music and lyrics for his first record album and had selected a vocalist. Given the fact that David was almost always midway through at least one major project, the timing of his death was miraculous. In fact, I imagine his passing as a kind of satisfied exhalation, the deepest possible sigh of contentment. And I can’t think of anything more beautiful
—David’s life was not cut short. It was, by any meaningful standard, complete. Life doesn’t come with a guaranteed length based upon actuarial tables. None of us knows how long we’ll be here. The measure of a life isn’t how long it is but how well it is spent.
David was one of those rare individuals who always knew precisely what he wanted to do and did it. He also had a lot of encouragement and support. He accomplished an extraordinary amount and then left projects behind (for which he has finished his part) so that his work will unfold for years beyond his death.
—David is not “absent.” His physical body is gone, but he is very much here as a result of his art. His art remains vital and will continue to communicate with those who have the eyes to see. One of the songs in his record album has this refrain: “You can talk to me when I’m gone.” Indeed, we can.
—I do not feel cheated. I had twenty-two extraordinary years with David—living and working together in the same space, even collaborating. Do I wish I had more? Yes, but I also have a deep clear sense that the timing of David’s death was right and that it fits into some greater work that I have to do. Part of that will be David’s retrospective (which will take me years to complete). But I think my larger work has something to do with patronage. You have taught me so much in these past years, and I want to take what I’m learning out into the world. David’s death and how our community takes it in stride will be one of the stories I tell.
—I feel sadder for David’s friends than I do for myself. David was reclusive, and we both worked long hours. I think everyone (except me) who loved him is feeling a little cheated right now. All I can offer is the reminder that he is still very much here and available to us by way of his art. In the coming years, I will gradually release much work that has never been seen. I will also share the discussions David and I had about the creative process. There will be many opportunities for all of us to get to know David better.
—Authentic art is a distillation of a human being. If we pay attention, we will find more in David’s works than we ever could have discovered in conversation with him. This is, in part, because his work contained unconscious elements and associations that were invisible even to him. David trusted his imagination. He did not analyze it or look for symbols. When an intriguing image rose up, he simply expressed it.
— I know and appreciate David better right now than I ever have. I no longer see him through the veil of petty day-to-day concerns, needs, and frustrations. All that has fallen away and I can see him at his most essential. And the more I see, the more I love. I don’t believe he’s here in a ghostly sense, but I talk to him every night, marveling at how extraordinary he was. In fact, I have come to believe that we cannot fully see anyone while they’re alive. I’ve thought about this before, but it’s very clear to me now.
—I feel sad, of course. The deep and profound things keep getting larger and more beautiful, but I find myself missing the small things. I got a massage yesterday in preparation for this update (my first in a very long time, since I can’t afford them). I found myself weeping on the table when the therapist touched my feet because I missed David’s feet.
But when I cry for David (and, so far, the tears have never lasted more than a few minutes) I invariably find myself smiling in gratitude. I see so clearly that my pain is in direct proportion to my prior happiness. When I think, “I miss…” I might just as well say, “I loved…” Missing David is just a delayed celebration of all that he was.
I am sad because I was fortunate enough to love. I am sad because I had the best friend one could hope for. I am sad because David was a marvelous confidante and conversationalist. I am sad because I loved the sound of his voice. I am sad, in short, because I’ve been happy.
This new sadness does not in any way diminish my previous happiness. All those moments still exist and always will. But now I can also treasure the sadness. It is a new gift to add to the old ones.
But I am not sad for David. Nor can I grieve the entirely-imaginary, never-promised, future years I might have had with him, because the twenty-two, full-time absolutely real years we shared were far too rich to leave any room for any feeling of unfulfillment. Remembering and reflecting upon them is gift enough to last me whatever time I might have left.
—It can be sweet to share pain. The worst thing I’ve ever had to do was to tell David’s mother about his death. I asked a physician-backer-friend for advice. Had he ever had to deliver such news? “Over 100 times,” he said, then added, “I became addicted to it.” Addicted? To that? I had to know more.
He explained that it was a great and meaningful honor to be with another human being at such a time of extremity and vulnerability. He advised me to give up attempting to control anything, to let Una lead. He reminded me that she wouldn’t be able to hear what I was saying and would not remember much that followed. He urged me to simply love and be present.
This parallels what we’ve been through together. You have (metaphorically speaking) held my hand through some rough times and you’ve let me go through it as I’ve had to, without attempting to control things. (I know that many of you, though curious, have resisted asking me how things are going because you want to give me space and express trust. It’s always absolutely fine to ask at any time, but I treasure the fact that you have been so respectful and protective.)
Telling Una that her only child had died was heart-rending. It was horrible, but we got through it. After the denial she sobbed while I comforted her, then I broke down, and she comforted me. In the end, my friend was right; it was somehow beautiful and an honor.
After we survived that conversation I asked Una to stay in my home as long as she wanted (permanently if that had been her choice.) This was absolutely the right thing for both of us. On night one I had been alone in the cold, empty house, shaking (probably from shock) under a heated blanket. On night two, with Una here, the house felt warm and cozy again. Now it was, for a time, the two of us under the heated blanket, like teenage girls at a slumber party, telling stories and secrets, and celebrating our shared crush. We were strong for each other, and it eased the transition for both of us. By the time that she left for home yesterday, the house had begun to feel relatively normal again.
—David’s death is just one more chapter in our unfolding shared story. Like the other difficulties, we can look superficially and see this as “bad luck” or a “bad sign” or we can choose to embrace it as a profound opportunity to add meaning to our experience, reflect thoughtfully, and strengthen our connections. I hope you will choose to join me in diving deep.
—You are the reason I am so strong right now. You have steadfastly supported me through all the setbacks of the past several years and through that process, I’ve learned to find meaning in what is difficult. Without all that practice and support, I’m certain I’d be in a very different state of mind.
IS THIS ALL RELEVANT TO OUR WORK TOGETHER?
I think so. I’ve been saying for some time that what interests me most about this project is not the book but who we are as we create it. We can look at the book at a superficial level, as an object of paper and cloth and ink. Or we can look deeper and ask what it is that we’re truly engaged in.
David’s life was a creative triumph because he knew exactly who he was and he expressed that self with discipline, focus, consistency, and passion. He was an extraordinary role model for artists and, I think, for anyone who values authentic self-expression.
But David did not create in a vacuum. He was born to a mother who encouraged his talents from the earliest age and was still encouraging them in her last conversation with him. Then, for over twenty years, I protected him from the forces, such as dull responsibilities and commercial pressures, that would have taken him off course. Finally, you provided the patience and support (in all its various forms) that allowed him to complete his most ambitious project without any compromise. Without such patronage, David would have accomplished far less. He had a lot of help.
Every time that you formally choose to be a patron or quietly encourage someone’s personal vision, you are enriching a life. And you never know when that life might end. To give encouragement or support is to shape a life “story.” It is a profoundly important act.
I believe that a patron’s generous energy (I’m tempted to call it “love”) matters more than any physical outcome. As many of you have already pointed out, this project is already a success, not because of the book, but because of who we have been together. The book will be a delightful souvenir, but our journey is the real accomplishment.
If we come to patronage not as consumers but in the sincere spirit of furthering creativity, risk, expression, and growth, we will measure projects in in terms larger than mere budgets and schedules (though those are important, too). We will also look at who the creators and backers are as they work together and how they allow themselves to be enlightened, challenged, or transformed by the experience.
And it is not just the creators who succeed or fail. The patrons do, too. Whatever one might think about this project or the way that we’ve handled it as “creators,” one has to marvel at the backers. We are over two years behind our original estimated schedule, and every single backer has been a model of civility. Many have also modeled love. An objective observer might or might not feel that I have succeeded, but there is no question that you have. What you’ve done is extraordinary.
It’s also important to remember that I am just one person out of more than 800 on this team. Nothing I do can ever take away your achievement. If I turned out to be flaky or a charlatan or if the book didn’t exist at all, it wouldn’t diminish the dignity or worth of your actions.
Meanwhile, all the difficulties that we’ve faced together only add to the richness of the project. For those who choose to have the experience, the difficulties have stretched us, confirmed our values, strengthened our connections, and revealed our humanity. This may all sound far too grand. This is only a book, after all, a tiny “investment.” But our lives are defined, in the end, by the aggregate of small gestures and seemingly minor choices.
Crowdfunding is an artificial and highly symbolic construct. We are, consciously or unconsciously, working with ideas and forces that have a deeper significance, even as alchemists once worked with material substances but were actually working on the soul. I have argued and will continue to argue that it is the deeper work we do together that matters most.
A FINAL NOTE:
David died happily. Our last conversation, probably within an hour of his death, was a deeply contented one. It could have been about laundry, or gossip, or the election, but it was about shared passion, collaboration, and creative triumph. You were responsible for the content of David’s last words and my final memory of him.
You may not recall, though I’ve mentioned it before, that when I first approached you on Kickstarter, I was feeling pretty hopeless. I was deeply frustrated with my work. It increasingly looked as though the only way we could get back on our feet financially would be to make our work commercial. We could pay the bills but lose our souls.
Then we found you and there was new hope. I admit I got a little carried away with my enthusiasm and maybe I made the book overly ambitious. (I still haven’t told you all about our ridiculously time-consuming work on the text.)
Things went wrong, and we slipped further into debt, but we had a new faith and optimism, and it showed in everything we did. We were happier, more contented, and suddenly connected with a community.
Now that the book is done and looks gorgeous, I have absolutely no regrets, and I hope you won’t either. Of course, now that David is gone I’m particularly grateful that we never lost our nerve.
You gave us the confidence to stick to our vision—not with your initial pledge, but with your continued trust, patience, and support when things went wrong. Without your willingness to hang with us we would have pulled back, we would have cut corners, and David still wouldn’t have that thing that every artist dreams of—that one perfect, completely ambitious project without any compromise. Thank you for giving David’s story such a beautiful ending.