Wayne Gilbert, 1946 – 2023

by Jessica Fuentes August 22, 2023

Wayne Gilbert, the Houston-based artist and owner of G Spot Contemporary gallery, died of cancer on Tuesday, August 17, 2023.

A photograph of artist Wayne Gilbert in his home studio.

Wayne Gilbert in his home studio in 2022 in Houston. Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle/Staff photographer

Mr. Gilbert was born on November 26, 1946 in Denver, Colorado. As a child, he moved to Houston with his family when his father, who was a carpenter, relocated for work. He graduated from Austin High School, in the city’s East End, and immediately began working. For many years, Mr. Gilbert worked as an oil field supply salesman. In the 1970s, he and his wife, Beverley, launched Digital Imaging Group, a photo retouching service, which they still co-own today.

A photograph of artist Wayne Gilbert and his wife Beverly.

Wayne and Beverley Gilbert. Image courtesy of Redbud Arts Center.

It wasn’t until 1977 that, encouraged by Mrs. Gilbert, he took his first art class. As a recovering addict, artmaking for him quickly became a healthy form of expression and a passion. At this time, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert took classes from Houston artist Chester Snowden, a painter, illustrator, educator, and playwright.

On his art website, Mr. Gilbert remarked, “I tend to be a bricks and mortar kind of man, so [the] inclination [to make art] was very strange. But, it was undeniable so I began to make art.”

Soon after, at the age of 34, Mr. Gilbert decided to return to college. In 1984 he graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in Painting and a minor in Art History. Later, in 2012, he received an MA in Liberal Arts from Rice University. It wasn’t until 1998 that Mr. Gilbert began making art in the style that he is best known for today, which involves working with unclaimed human cremated remains. Specifically, Mr. Gilbert mixed the ash into resin, sometimes adding pigment, and painted with the material, using it as both a medium by itself and as a substrate for other artworks. 

A photograph of two artworks by Wayne Gilbert installed on a gallery wall.

Wayne Gilbert, (left) “Rites of Spring”, 2014, oil and human cremated remains on canvas; (right) “Alone”, 2015, installation of oil and human cremated remains on canvas, and boxes of unclaimed remains. Installation view at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art

While some people have been caught off guard by this choice of material, others were quick to see beauty in the work. On first coming up with the idea, Mr. Gilbert has written, “I felt immediately that I had connected with an idea that could provide me with the mystical medium I needed to clearly convey my personal relationship to art. I could put this material into a painting and thereby introduce ‘the essence of a human being’ integral to the piece.”

Though he occasionally exhibited his paintings, Mr. Gilbert was never widely recognized for the content of his art. Oftentimes, press about his work focused on the potentially provocative nature of his material rather than the work’s underlying meanings or subjects. Mr. Gilbert didn’t let this deter him, and continued working, often creating large-scale works that would be best seen in a museum. 

Although Mr. Gilbert often talked about being an outsider in the contemporary art world (and to an extent, he was), his work was covered in People Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, and in the hour-long 2017 documentary Ash: The Art of Wayne Gilbert, by Wayne Slaten. In Houston, Mr. Gilbert exhibited his work at Art League Houston and at the Station Museum for Contemporary Art, among other venues. He also lectured about his work across the U.S. and internationally, including at Bard College, Rutgers University, and Texas Tech University. In recent years, Mr. Gilbert showed with Bill Arning Exhibitions, including a solo presentation at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair in New York City and a winter 2022 exhibition at the gallery’s Houston location. 

Beyond his own artistic practice, Mr. Gilbert was a significant part of the Houston art scene. In 1992, he, Bill Hailey, and Ramzy Telley formed an art group called Rubber: An Art Mob. For a decade, the three artists hosted experimental visual and performing arts programs. In Pete Gershon’s Impractical Space: Houston, the three artists explained that without gallery representation, they often improvised locations for their events. Ultimately they founded 101 Space, which would eventually lead to Mr. Gilbert establishing G Gallery in 2008, now known as G Spot Contemporary.

Located in Houston’s Historic Heights District, G Spot Contemporary has showcased dozens of local, regional, and national artists, changing out exhibitions monthly. Though the gallery’s main focus has been cultivating community in the art scene, it has also been the site of weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, hosted by Mr. Gilbert. 

Gustav Kopriva, President of Redbud Arts Center (RAC), which for years shared a building with G Spot Contemporary, told Glasstire, “In the Alcoholics Anonymous world, he was one of the premiere facilitators for AA sessions… There are hundreds of people that know Wayne because of that. He was 30 years sober, that was one of his crowning achievements, I think, of his life, part of his legacy.” 

A photograph of the interior of the home of Wayne and Beverly Gilbert.

The home and studio of Wayne and Beverly Gilbert in Houston. The home was part of the 2016 Weird Homes Tour Houston. Photo: Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle.

Last week, RAC posted a remembrance of Mr. Gilbert on its social media, stating, “[Wayne’s] impact on the art scene, particularly in Houston, is immeasurable. [His] innovative spirit and unparalleled vision have left an indelible mark on the canvas of creativity.” Tomorrow’s Unknown, a solo show of works by Mr. Gilbert, opened last month at the RAC; it is on view through August 26, 2023. 

In both Houston’s art community and in his AA group, Mr. Gilbert was a larger-than-life figure. His straightforward, cheery disposition was disarming, and endeared him to most everyone he met. He had a sharp, slick sense of humor, but took all of his work seriously. Seeing him at an art opening — Starbucks cup in hand — was inevitable, as he tirelessly made the rounds, supporting his fellow gallerists, his friends, and artists whose work he admired. Although he wasn’t one for sentimentality, Mr. Gilbert deeply cared about people — talking to him was never superficial, but instead incisive; he made everyone feel seen. 

Mr. Gilbert is survived by his wife, Beverley, and a flock of admirers, artists, supporters, colleagues, and friends. A service celebrating Mr. Gilbert’s life this fall is forthcoming. We will update this story once it has been announced.

Update September 4, 2023: There will be a celebration of life for Wayne Gilbert on Sunday, October 15, 2023 at 2 p.m. at The Heights Theater. 

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