Gary Q. Frields’ Final Performance

by admin | September 12, 2013 9:38 pm

Gary Q. Frields lived and breathed for art in its various mediums — visual, sculpture and performance especially. He was a legendary teacher as well and perhaps proudest of students that became teachers of art. At his memorial event recently in Lufkin, I talked to a young woman I knew well in a previous life. She was about to begin teaching art at a community college. To prepare, she was reviewing what she had learned in Frields’ classes at SFA, because now she is teaching what she learned from him. I am certain he is looking down with great satisfaction. Frields died at 67 of cancer on Aug. 24.

Of course, Frields planned his memorial production, which he titled My Last Presentation. But he didn’t just plan it; with the considerable help of Tamara, his wife of just three years, Frields produced, directed and starred in the hour-long video. It was screened at the beautifully restored Pines Theater in downtown Lufkin for a few hundred friends, colleagues and former students. As he wrote in the invitation, it was: “A last chance for me to explain myself through a visual production; this review of my life has the feel of watching a farcical, far-fetched, bittersweet Adventure, full of monkey business, thrills and bliss.”

He added, “Very likely this event is being nationally televised with this day designated as a postal and banking holiday.”

Well, it wasn’t, but at least popcorn and M&Ms were served. Although tears were shed, far more often laughter wafted through the crowd, as Frields narrated what he described as his incredibly charmedlife — growing up in Waco, playing football for Baylor, a brief stint in the Army as a cameraman in California, then receiving his bachelor’s and master’s in fine art at SFA. In 1978he came to Kilgore College as head of the art department.

Frields loved Elvis and mad monkeys, both of which appeared often in his art, sometimes in the same piece. I have a charcoal drawing by Frields featuring a giant Elvis head on its side. A pair of monkeys are in the background, skipping rope in the moonlight. It is called “Best of Times/Worst of Times.” Mr. Peanut — who was listed at the tail end of a long list of honorary pallbearers — also figured at times in Frields’ work, which was bountiful, varied and exuberant. Much like Frields.

When Kilgore College officials in 1986 bowed to local pressure and dismantled an abstract sculpture called “Night Winds” that anchored a corner of the Longview campus, Frields resigned in protest and took an adjunct position at SFA. It was a courageous move, but others have told me he felt he had no choice at the time. The sculptor was Frields’ mentor at SFA; the debacle was a black spot on the college’s reputation. He flourished at SFA and in Nacogdoches. Our paths crossed often in that small town since I ran the newspaper there for more than a decade. We weren’t friends, just acquaintances. I photographed him for a feature story the paper did on the amazing house he built on Lake Nacogdoches, which he aptly described as “living inside a sculpture.” Always generous, after it was published he gave me the “Best of Times/Worst of Times” piece.

Frields’ reputation as a terrific teacher spread beyond campus. I heard it from students we hired part-time at the paper, from other faculty members, from practically anyone who came into contact with him. The Facebook page created after his death (The Beautiful Gary Q. Frields) is filled with tributes from former students, filled just as the Pines Theater did. A few months before he died, SFA Friends of the Visual Arts established an art scholarship in his name, which touched him greatly.

During the memorial video, Frields showed what appears to be a bronze sculpture he created some years ago of his late mother’s bust. It came to him as she lay dying in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. The rear of her head is riddled with jagged holes, though her face is untouched. In the narration, Frields described how he came about to make the piece, what it meant to him and how it was his means of expressing the loss of his mother. That sculpture moved me to tears.

Frields indeed led a charmed life, doing what he loved for many years, and leaving behind so many people whose lives he touched as a teacher and a friend — and often both. Here is his exhortation from My Last Presentation: “Strive to have a creative, imaginative and original life. Avoid self-imposed limitations such as conventional, habitual thinking — or doing something because it is what everyone else does (e.g., houses funerals).”

Great final words.



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