We Miss You, Dale Stewart

Houston artist Dale Stewart died Monday at age 34. He was brilliant, and he was my friend for more than two years.

Dale was fascinated by the world, and that made him a fascinating person. His obsessions were too many to count. He loved his family, adored his little girls Anna and Kate beyond all measure. He was captivated by spinning tops, engines, fans, records, record players, Steve Reich, Marcel Duchamp, Peter Greenaway, Go, chess, labyrinths, Pakistani Towers of Silence and Google Earth -- to name but a few.

His intellectual curiosity was so vast, he kept a log of every book he consulted during the three years he worked at the Harvard Law Library, while his wife Rebecca went to law school. He had the reference information for each book -- dated and listed in the order he looked at it -- bound together into two enormous volumes which he intended as a piece of conceptual art.

That work is a great example of the kind of obsessive, meticulous art he created, so different from -- and lesser known than -- the joyously haphazard works resulting from his collaboration with I Love You Baby.

Although his art has been shown in some Houston galleries, it hasn't been shown enough. Dale liked patterns, permutations, systems, math. He liked to get ahold of one idea and explore its every facet, which is what he was after with his series of hexagon works based on deconstructed cubes. Explorations of shape, line and color, the early hexagons are beautiful to look at, but Dale once told me that wasn't the point. He thought of their color pairings as random, each hexagon as part of a larger exercise. With time, the bold, bright geometric paintings gave way to faint, curving white chalk lines on hexagons finished in chalkboard. Those final works have an ephemeral quality that would make many a buyer beware.  

Dale also had a sense of humor and a taste for wordplay. One work, an homage to his hero Duchamp, is a urinal filled with butterscotch candies. Another is a two-by-four with black stenciled letters that reads, "IF BOARD AFTER TWO HOURS TRY FOUR." It was inspired by the John Cage quote, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."

Actually, that is exactly how Dale shared his interests with his friends. He would gladly give a dissertation on any of his fascinations at any time. And if you really did listen to him, you could never be bored, even if he decided the patio at Poison Girl was the best place to delve into the details of how an engine works.

I will never know anyone like Dale Stewart again, and there is no way to adequately express how much I will miss him.

Dale Stewart's memorial service will take place at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, April 18, at the Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, followed by a procession to Menil Park to lay flowers and notes at the tree he died beneath. There will be a reception afterward at Poison Girl, 1641 Westheimer. The organizers of the service ask that anyone who would like to share photos of Dale and/or artwork by him bring it to the gallery by 5:30 p.m. There will also be a remembrance mass for Dale at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, at the Chapel of St. Basil at the University of St. Thomas, 3800 Montrose; Dale worked at the library there. Anyone who would like to speak at the mass should contact library director Jim Piccininni at jpicci@stthom.edu

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