My friend David Cannon Dashiell died after a defiantly courageous battle with AIDS on June 30th, 1993. It was four days before his forty-first birthday. He did not want to go. With fierce determination he hung on, long enough to complete his magnum opus, Queer Mysteries, a mural that was the center piece of his exhibition for the Adeline Kent Award, given and presented by the San Francisco Art Institute. Along with showcasing the mural, SFAI also presented a Retrospective that included elements of all of David’s installations from 1986 forward, which are also cataloged on this web site. The show came down three days after his death.

None of us wanted him to go either. One image that never leaves me is the sight of David, three days before he died, propped up in a chair in his hospital room holding court (as usual), with his customary shit-eating grin, announcing to us all that he had plans for his next piece, what was to come after Queer Mysteries, when he beat yet another round of illness and escaped hospice. He had zero intention of giving up.

As I rifle through his archives to create this website, certain thoughts come to me, through a gentle but powerful grief that resurfaces every time I work. Like so many among us, I lost a friend that I will never forget and will always miss. But also, it spreads into processing the profundity of what it is that the world lost, and what I have only begun to digest in its traces.

We will never know what was to come next, after Queer Mysteries. And it is an emptiness that aches all the more because David harbored a magnitude of promise that was unique and irreplaceable. The meaning of his work had a reach that extended far beyond the fact that he was Queer, or that he was fearlessly transparent and incisive about what it is to live with and face AIDS. What he was up to transcended his subject matter to a sphere that sits in concert with all great art that stands the test of time. Every gift that has been given to history has been from an artist of extraordinary vision, talent and drive who spoke from the center of their experience, the times that they lived in, and their spirit. They dug so deep that they hit a chord that perpetually reverberates. This was David.

And it is why, as an artist myself, I am so willing, without hesitation, to look after David’s work with the same commitment to its perpetuity as my own. It patently stems from the regard and respect one artist has for another, but it’s more primal than that. David was a real artist in the most rare and resonant sense of the word. He possessed the kind of passion, rage and fierce inner necessity that drives the genuine: artists who have what it takes toanswer to what their merciless, messy and bottomless calling demands.

From time to time I ponder why, as a living artist, with my own work load and existential quandaries, it feels so natural to also carry on for a dead artist, kinda like a flip side. The answer that persistently resounds is that the fire that burned inside of David is an eternal flame. It is passed from one artist to another, from one generation to another, and from one human being to another through the art. It is sacred, and since my friend can no longer tend it, I am doing it for him. David did not live long enough to deliver his work to the world, beyond the San Francisco Bay Area where he lived, worked and died, and so quite simply, now it is my job to see it through for him.

So with that, let me tell you about my friend David...

David Cannon Dashiell was born in Japan at the Tokyo Army Hospital on July 4, 1952 . His Dad was in the United States Army, specializing in Intelligence and for this reason David grew up in Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. A great deal of stories about his life he tells in his book Invert, Oracle, which is available on this website, and for this reason, I jump forward.

He said time and again that he came out as a gay man and awoke as an artist at approximately the same time. He studied art at Cal Arts in Valencia, California and received his BFA and MFA in 1974, and 1976 respectively. He studied with John Baldessari, among others.

I am not clear as to exactly when he migrated up to San Francisco, but it’s safe to say, in the early 80’s. It was there that he met his first great love Barry Allan Byford, who remained his partner and supporter of his art until Barry died, not from AIDS, but from a reaction to early experiments in treatment, in 1990.

I met David in 1987, when we were both in a show entitled X the Unknown, curated by Michelle Ellis.

It was a fest of “under discovered” artists that also included Allan Rath and Travis Somerville. David’s piece was The Plague Journal. I was standing in front of it at the opening, and suddenly, this voice softly growled behind me, “who ever made that was pretty fuckin’ sick eh?”. I swung around to behold an elegant tall man in a trench coat.

We both “emerged” from that show and traveled along side by side in the same crop as our independent careers took their course. Later that year, we showed together in the 1987 Pro Arts Annual, and were selected as the winners, along with Mie Preckler for a 3 person award show entitled Loci, in 1988. David was the one who came up with the title, being the smartest word smith among us. It was there that he exhibited, Invert, Oracle.
Estate of David Cannon Dashiell/
Artists Rights Association, ARS, New York City