Over the past few weeks, Charlottesville artists have been mourning the loss and celebrating the life and work of one of their own. Local sculptor Gabriel Allan, whose larger-than-life bronze sculpture of a fire-winged man, “The Messenger,” is at IX Art Park, died March 15.
Gabe, who grew up mostly in Crozet and Charlottesville, lived a lot of life in his 37 years, say his family and friends.
From the time he was young, he was creative, caring, and comfortable taking risks. As a kid, he skateboarded, snowboarded, and ziplined with friends. He hiked all over the region, and, when his home country could no longer satisfy his curiosity, he hiked through Europe and visited Paris, where he “spent three weeks haunting the Rodin museum” says his father, Freeman Allan.
He visited China many times and became fluent in Mandarin; he took a motorcycle trip to a remote part of the Tibetan plateau; and he once found himself huddled around a fire with yak herders, eating sheep broth, and singing songs in two languages. Most recently, Gabe visited Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where he made plans to visit shamans near the Siberian border.
He was always seeking something. “Gabe was a sincere and devout Buddhist,” says Freeman, who notes that Gabe spent many months on Buddhist retreats all over the world. And he had a sense of humor about the whole thing, says Freeman.
With a smile on his face, Gabe once told his father that his deep meditations often resolved into the “profound koan” (a koan is a riddle demonstrating the inadequacy of logic, leading to enlightenment) of, “I wonder what’s for dinner.”
Gabe was always sharing something, says artist Bolanle Adeboye. The two were housemates and friends, and occasionally she would model for a sculpture or a drawing—Gabe was always asking friends to “strike! And hold!” a pose for his latest work.
Adeboye’s favorite of those works is “The Still Point,” a bronze and stained-glass piece of a woman in motion. Adeboye loves, among other things, the fluidity of the woman’s implied movement, the expression of her face, her hands, her feet—all rather emotional physical details that are difficult to capture, especially in such a hard material.
He was “a self-generating cycle of creative awesomeness,” says Adeboye. She’s not sure how he did it, but he could “channel light and love for other people even when he was in darkness. He was generous and kind. He loved chocolate. He was a really good dancer. He was beautiful.”
It’s part of what made Gabe such a good artist. “What has always amazed me about our son was the breadth of his sympathy and vision, artistically, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Freeman, who continues to find more evidence of this as he leafs through his son’s sketchbooks.
“I will love the man all the days of my life,” says local sculptor Robert Bricker. “Gabe is huge in my heart.” Bricker met Gabe when Gabe was finishing his art degree at UVA and wanting to work on a large-scale sculpture, “a grand expression” that Bricker, who has a studio at McGuffey and runs Bronze Craft Foundry out in Waynesboro, was happy to encourage.
That grand expression is “The Messenger.” The sculpture “threw down the gauntlet” for what a student sculptor could do, says Bricker. “It’s larger than life. It’s highly expressive,” and Gabe created it when he was in his early 20s. “It’s an extraordinary work by any sculptor, and it just shows his brilliance, that he did it at a young age,” says Bricker, who adds that world-renowned artist and sculptor Cy Twombly (for whom Bricker cast bronze) was quite taken with the sculpture when he saw it, in its wax form, at Bricker’s foundry.
A celebration of Allan’s life will be held on Saturday, April 27, at 2pm at The Haven.