If you live in San Francisco and you've never gone to the Open Studios at Hunters Point, then you have truly missed something. That is where this story begins. Sometime in the late 90s, Arthur and I went to the Open Studio, and were amazed by the number of artists that had studios and were exhibiting at Hunters Point. There were a couple of artists that we knew, but there was one that we would meet. When we walked into Paul Gibson's studio, we were immediately engaged by a pastel portrait that he had done of his son, Spencer. It was the largest work in the room and the most riveting.
Paul immediately came over to meet us, and in his pleasant and utterly engaging style made us feel welcome and at home in his studio. We were attracted to his works, which usually centered on ordinary objects, such as a hammer, or a broom.
We came back season after season. On one visit we asked about purchasing the portrait of his son, which Paul entitled, "An Angel from Heaven". Paul wasn't interested, however, in parting with such a personal work. And we understood.
The following season, I suggested that Paul make a reproduction of the piece. I was thinking poster-size. Later that year Paul called me and asked if I was still interested in a reproduction - and I was. So he arranged for a full-sized reproduction of "An Angel from Heaven". I surprised Arthur with this gift on his birthday the following January. The piece now hangs in our living room - and always receives comments from guests.
The interesting thing about Paul's works are all the data, stories, titles, objects that are literally strewn about the painting. In "An Angel from Heaven" you can see the milk bottle in the upper right hand quadrant, and other objects such as a halo and implied wings. But there is text - which you cannot see in this reproduction, and in others of his works, minor drawings and vignettes.
Every season, we would go drop in on Paul. And he would remember our names and our interest in his work. One birthday, Arthur gave me Paul's "Rubber Ducky". It is a typical Gibson piece: the ordinary object (here a toy - and that is what he is known for) and the side commentary and vignettes. It is delightful and hangs in my bathroom.
Over time the relationship with Paul has deepened. We've gone to his openings at the Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco, to see what Paul is coming up with next. In 2005, I realized that Arthur and I were going to turn a corner of sorts. In January, he would be fifty, and in May, I would be sixty. As Arthur puts it, "We are one hundred and ten!". I thought that it was an auspicious event - one worth a commemoration of some sort. I began discussions with Paul about commissioning a portrait of Arthur and me, on the occasion of our birthdays. After some discussion, we both agreed to the project, and in January I announced to Arthur and the guests at his birthday party that this was going to be my gift to him.
From February through August we worked with Paul on this portrait. He visited or home several times. We spent time just talking - getting to know one another well. He took photographs of us, or our bookshelves, or objects, and actually took three objects with him for possible inclusion in the painting. Arthur actually sat for him. It was an intense and engaging process - one that thoroughly involved all of us. On my birthday, Paul honored me with the gift of a sketch, one of a series of several he had done at Saint Patrick's Church in San Francisco. I was particularly honored for several reasons. He had talked about these sketches in one of our evening visits, and he had talked about how these particular sketches were a part of his religious life.
Even in this traditional sketch of the crucified Christ, one can see Paul's line and playfulness. There are suggestions of form, and things are bent to his vision - so that he makes this crucified Christ his own.
When Paul took some objects from our home to be included in the painting, he took a crucifix from my office. It had been given me by The Rev. Dr. Adalbert Kretzmann, a wonderful pastor under whom I had served as a Vicar (Intern) in Chicago my third year of seminary. The crucifix was from Maria Laach in Germany - and I had long admired its style and affect. How Paul knew that this was an important object for me, I shall never know. I was pleased, however, that he chose to include it.
The portrait was completed sometime in September. We first saw it the night before we left on our cruise to Alaska. Paul kept it in his studio, making final refinements and framing the piece. In late September he brought it over to our home.
On 29 October, we invited friends over to unveil the painting, and Paul and his wife, Sharon, and friends, were there to share our joy. Paul sees this painting as a social document - framing for the future the life of two gay men and their relationship together. In it he has bundled many objects, stories, quotations, and images from our life together, and we are honored that he was pleased to paint this for us. In the future I shall show some of the many details that encode the story. For right now, however, this is Paul Gibson's "Two Under God" - and we are honored!
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MTH - 11/1/05