My professor and mentor Robert Gilmore passed away recently leaving a void in the art world and the art department of my Alma mater. He was a truly amazing artist, human being and my friend. He will be missed.
I wrote this to be included in his memorial service, but think that more people should also know about him. Thanks for taking the time to read it.
Robert Gilmore was my professor, but was also a friend and a mentor to me. I had the privilege of taking numerous painting and drawing classes with him while attending Gonzaga University, and though I ended my schooling one tiny credit shy of being a double major in Theatre Arts and Fine Art, he saw my dedication to the craft and allowed me to participate in the senior exhibit. I then was even more fortunate to receive the Kreielsheimer Assistantship and spent the next year working as his assistant with painting and drawing classes and even had my own office/studio next to his. It was one of the best and most productive years in my young life. I am now an artist living and working in Los Angeles and I owe much of my process and the decision to do so to the late great Robert Gilmore.
Gilmore (as I called him) has been in my thoughts constantly over this past year and I was therefore shocked to learn that he had passed away two weeks prior to receiving a phone call from Laurie Hitchcock. The truth is that he had never really left my thoughts since I moved to the city of angels. I had always planned on taking my wife on a trip back to Spokane and seeing Bob face to face one more time and letting him know how much his thoughts, words and encouragement had meant to me and more importantly how seeing his amazing paintings and strong work ethic had inspired me to become the best artist I can be. Sadly, I will never get a chance to realize this trip, just as I regretfully was not be able to attend this memorial due to my mother’s recent surgery.
What I wanted to share with you today was not just a story, but some fragments, Bob-isms and thoughts that I often reflect on with heavy nostalgia. As an artist navigating his way in the tempestuous art world of Los Angeles, Gilmore became the voice inside my head. Many of his aphorisms and art practices still guide me to this day. In fact, he taught me what it meant to be an artist and how to take it seriously as a craft. He shared his wisdom with much humor and depth and I will forever be grateful.
I remember stepping into his office before classes started for the day to get the coffee brewing. No work without coffee! I can still smell the coffee percolating and the musky smell of paint drying in the classrooms. Gilmore would eventually burst into the office and startle me with an emphatic, “PRESTON!” I would whip around to see his mischievous smile and a little chuckle. “Ah! Coffee.. Good.” He would then grab a fresh cup and sit down and ask me to do the same. Over the next hour, we would chat about art, music, sports and most of all, books. For all of his quirky, playful behavior, he could quote you the first paragraph of Tolstoy, Dickens, or you name the author. I was always impressed by this gift, being an avid reader myself. He taught me in these moments, the importance of getting into the creative mood and being inspired constantly by the other masters of all artistic genres. You had to feed the creative beast. Maybe this was how he was able to work every single morning and day as a painter! This left a distinctive mark on me.
The first time I was ever lucky enough to be invited into his dark and mysterious studio, I was floored to see the amount of work and materials piled up in this space as well as a canvas with fresh paint glimmering with shards of color and marvelous light. His work was breathtaking, and still inspires me to this day. At one moment he became very serious and said, “Never let anyone just walk into your studio. No, no… You have to INVITE them in.” It was a valuable lesson. Art to him, and now to me, is a serious and sacred pursuit not to be taken lightly. He would also say, “I don’t think you can even begin to call yourself an artist until you have painted at least 30 pictures.” Upon hearing this, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I can’t wait until I have 30 paintings under my belt, so I can consider myself a real artist.” Of course I now know that it wasn’t the exact number, but the verve and tenacity that he was talking about. I was beginning to get a glimpse of what it meant to be a true artist. It was exciting and almost magical. He had that effect.
I remember wanting to branch out and start making my own works at some point in my education. I had an itch to create some semi-abstract pieces who’s images where rattling around in my head at the time. Gilmore would say to me with a dramatic gesture of bringing his two hands, thumbs and index fingers together, “If you want to abstract anything, just zero in on it to blow it up”. Very simple wisdom that I still use to this day.
Perhaps the best lesson that I ever learned from him, and that is a testament to the type of man and artist that he was, was how he walked the walk. He was true to himself and his art. Bob never sugarcoated anything, or pretended to be something that he was not. He was one of the most authentic artists and human beings that I have ever met to this day. His candor was sometimes disarming, many times hilarious, and always appreciated by me. He had his own unique style and moxie. If you saw him as a speck from a distance walking across campus, you could tell immediately that it was him. He didn’t hide his passion or excitement. He was like a kid in that way. We should all hope to be so passionate and genuine in our childlike wonder. It was infectious.
Finally, I would like to share a quick story about the last time I ever saw Gilmore. He knew that the assistantship had come to an end and that I was about to set off for Los Angeles with the lofty dreams of breaking onto the scene as a painter and an actor. He insisted upon taking me out to dinner. I didn’t want to impose, but eventually accepted. We hopped into his pickup truck and set off for one of his favorite diners. I can’t remember the name of this establishment, but that wasn’t what was important. We sat there munching on our respective meals and slurping down some coffee. We were laughing and sharing inspirational books and films, when the conversation turned toward me abruptly. He asked about my plans for Los Angeles. I launched into my “well researched” plan to move down with my girlfriend, break my way into the acting world and simultaneously be an aspiring painter. I told him how my girlfriend and I were going to keep each other “honest” so we would not let Hollywood change us too much. He listened between gulps of coffee and then the conversation fell silent, while I awaited his response. After some time, he looked up at me, cocked his head to the side and said, “You are going to be a painter…” and then fell silent. I did not want to hear this and politely launched into how I had it all planned out and researched how I could do both. He listened nicely for a few moments and then assuredly pronounced, “Naw, you are going to be a painter.” I remember not wanting to hear this at all, but was shaken by the conviction in his voice. We finished up, he paid the bill and then drove me back to campus, where we said our goodbyes and I shook his hand. It was everything saying goodbye to your mentor should be.
Fast forward fifteen years later and here I sit writing this in my loft apartment in west Los Angles, a painter through and through. I will save you all of the gory details of the time in-between, but suffice it to say that it was as if Gilmore knew me better in that moment than I knew myself. His predictions came true, completely.
I owe much of the tools of my craft and the shaping of my early art career to Robert Gilmore. I have and will always consider him to be my mentor and friend and I am grateful for him being in my life and a powerful voice inside of my head. He was above all a wonderfully talented artist and a kind and honest human being. We were all lucky to have him. Here’s to you Bob. The coffee is on. Let’s create that masterpiece.