Estate of David Cannon Dashiell/Artists Rights Association, ARS, New York City © 2021
David Cannon Dashiell died after a defiantly courageous battle with AIDS on June 30th, 1993. It was four days before his forty-first birthday. With fierce determination he hung on long enough to complete his magnum opus, Queer Mysteries, (now in the collection of SFMOMA), a mural in the round that was the centerpiece of his exhibition for the Adeline Kent Award given 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. The show came down three days after his death.
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 rests in concert with all timeless great art.
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. Many stories about his life he tells in his book Invert, Oracle, (clickable "About"), 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 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'm not clear as to exactly when he migrated to San Francisco, but it’s safe to say, in the early ’80s. 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 Pracy. It was a fest of “under-discovered” artists that also included Allan Rath and Travis Somerville, among others. 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, “whoever made that was pretty fuckin’ sick eh?”. I swung around to behold a tall elegant man in a trench coat with his classic shit-eating grin.
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 three-person award show entitled Loci, in 1988. It was there that he exhibited, Invert, Oracle.
From the time that David started to go full throttle until he died was less than a decade: from around 1985 until 1993. And during that time his reputation steadily gained momentum. In 1990 he won the Art Space Award, along with Deborah Oropallo, and Rick Arnitz. Its director, Anne Marie MacDonald also published Shift Magazine which featured an interview with David by Nayland Blake, (clickable in "About"). For the 1990 Art Space exhibition, David presented Pantocrator’s Circus, which he developed during his residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts. After, he started work on Queer Mysteries and began to get sick. But David didn't give up. Instead, he floored it.
Already deeply involved with the local community: the Lab, New Langton Arts, and Southern Exposure, he volunteered to mentor artists like himself who were living with AIDS at Visual Aid in San Francisco. Visual Aid was instrumental in assisting him with financial and material support for Queer Mysteries. He also met the second love of his life, Louis de Vries, an interior and architectural designer who stood by him and supported his work. Louis died one year after David, also from complications from AIDS.
In his final two years, David synthesized his work through a force of energy and will that can only be described as stunning. And it was to be tested to the extreme. In October 1992, during the peak of his concentration on Queer Mysteries, and just eight months before his deadline, his home was damaged severely by fire. It didn't completely destroy his house, but it did take much of his work, his archives, many of his drawings for Queer Mysteries, and his art collection that he had lovingly compiled over the years from artists he admired. It was devastating, compounded by the stress of his failing health. But David kept going. With the support of everyone around him, many of whom are acknowledged in "About", David lived long enough to complete the show, and surprise everyone with a performance by a drag diva brandishing a live Boa Constrictor at the opening, garnished by David's classic shit-eating grin.
Shortly after his death, a group of David’s friends rallied, called in by Loida Sorensen, who was the Assistant Director of the Walter/McBean Gallery at SFAI and who worked side by side with David on his final show. This core of the origins of The Estate of David Cannon Dashiell includes Loida, J.John Priola, Rebecca Solnit, Mark Paron, and myself, Sono Osato. It is with great thanks and acknowledgment to this core that the Estate continues.
For all GLBT.
For acceptance, love, and perseverance everywhere, forever.