This week’s October 29, 2021 Dan’s Papers cover art, titled “Trick-or-Treat” for its Halloween theme, hails from the legacy of late, influential local artist Reu’ven Gayle.
Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Gayle was a self-taught artist who was raised in a home full of creativity — his mother did oil painting, sewing and knitting, and his father was a draftsman who enjoyed making custom furniture. From a young age, he was obsessed with the Renaissance masters and demonstrated his budding talent by recreating their works, among other unique demonstrations of his skills. At age 15, he directed his passion for Michelangelo’s sculptures toward pieces of chalk — using a hat pin to carve four tiny sculptures out of the stuff.
“While my friends spent their summer days playing baseball or war games, I now spent my time reading about other artists, practicing painting or carving chalk or stone,” he said in his artist statement. “I’ve had a lifelong passion to create with my hands, even before I knew what art was all about.”
With growing skills in painting and sculpture, Gayle was then introduced to a friend of his parents who repaired broken pieces of rare china for museums all around the world. And thus, he devoted time outside of school to learn how to work with porcelain and other ceramics — adding another skill to his artistic repertoire.
In 1972, Gayle took it upon himself to capture the scene of a furniture store fire in photos, sketches and, finally, a 4-square-foot painting. The store owner purchased the painting for nearly $2,000, inspiring Gayle to fly to Israel to join a Kibbutz farming community. After growing tired of the rural life, he decided to backpack around the country instead before returning home.
While looking for work back in the U.S., he saw an ad for someone good with plaster. Though he had no experience with the material, he grabbed one of his chalk figures and headed to the interview. Upon seeing the sculpture, the orthopedic company hired him on the spot. Gayle made casts for the manufacture of plastic braces and prosthetics for 40 years.
There, he met the love of his life, a talented poet named Patricia who had been wheelchair-bound since birth. They bought a house on Long Island and spent 25 years together before she was diagnosed with late-stage bone cancer in 2011. Denise D’Ambrosia of Peconic Bay Medical Center did everything she could to alleviate as much of Patricia’s suffering as possible, but after three months, her body could take no more.
“I was inspired by Denise’s unwavering compassion and friendship towards Patricia and myself to create a portrait as my thanks,” Gayle stated. Incredibly touched by the gift, D’Ambrosia showed the work to Emilie Roy Corey of Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation’s Board of Directors. In July 2018, she championed an exhibition of Gayle’s works in the lobby of the hospital’s Entenmann Building.
Unbeknownst to all involved, this spectacular exhibition would serve as a send-off for the beloved local artist, who passed away in November 2018. Gayle’s legacy lives on in the galleries of East End Arts in Riverhead and in the hearts of all who knew his tender soul and his inspiring art.