Bill Barrell usually paints the objects and people in his life. Here he expresses how this painting “Farewell Gabriel” means more than that.
…. I had a friend who lived in the West Village in New York City. He was married with a son and had a circle of friends that included everyone from plumbers to philosophers – gay and straight, young and old, male and female. It was a diverse circle of friends. One day he told me of a friend by the name of Gabriel.
Gabriel was from France. He had told my friend how repressed he had felt in France and that he had recently come to the U.S. and emerged from the closet as a gay man. He was determined to enjoy the freedom that gays were having in Greenwich Village. My friend encouraged him to enjoy himself. I met Gabriel a couple of times. He was young, energetic and full of vim and vigor.
Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It could not have been a worse time. The disease was relatively new and little understood. Gabriel had come out of the closet and stepped into the fire. It struck him within months. There were no medications then and he had little hope of survival. Within six months of meeting my friend, Gabriel was gone. It was tragic that he was gone after such a short and hopefully enjoyable time.
I don’t often do paintings of events, but this event struck me as so tragic that I felt I should record it. I like to think that it memoralizes not only Gabriel, but the people who have passed away from AIDS and those that cope with it now.