Artist Gilbert Rofulfo Durán died on July 10 at the age of 76.
Durán’s work hangs on walls throughout Texas and the United States, but this neighborhood was the center of gravity for him and his work. If you lived in the neighborhood, you were surrounded by his paintings, hanging on the walls of restaurant after restaurant.
His studio — and also his home — was located in the building that housed the old Rosario’s, on the southeast corner at South St. Mary’s and South Alamo (and, of course, you could see his art on the walls of that restaurant), and you could see him around the neighborhood. You’d notice him. Gilbert cut a striking figure with his ever-present slouchy beret, his brilliant white Van Dyke beard, his strong features, his easy smile, and his fit build. And, more often than not, he was seen on the arm of Karen Evans, the person closest to him over the past eight years or so. Mutual friend Anet Alaniz recently told me “the two of them together were a piece of art.” And she was right — they looked like they belonged together.
Throughout his life, Durán created works in multiple styles and media. He was self-taught. He studied the works of artists he loved and then created his own works honoring their styles. He worked as both a painter and a sculptor.
His early watercolors of wildlife are realistic, a bit like those of Audubon. You can find examples of them online — here, for example. One of them -- a roadrunner, appropriately — is in the collection of UTSA.
Durán was born in San Antonio (on May 3, 1947), grew up on the South Side, and spent most of his life here - including about 35 years here in our neighborhood. (Incidentally, many published stories list his birth year as 1936; that’s simply wrong). His artwork reflects the Mexican American experience, often re-imagining classic artworks with a Mexican American twist. For example, he combines Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s classic ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ with Day of the Dead iconography to produce his own “Dia de Los Muertos”.
One of Duran’s best-known works — because it got lots of press coverage — is the ‘fork’ sculpture he created for a restaurant in Stone Oak owned by his friend Damien Watel. It was censored by the Stone Oak Property Owner’s association — not for the usual reasons that art gets censored -- but because the organization considered it to be disallowed signage rather than art. Watel was forced to build a wall around it to hide it from the street.
Karen met Gilbert in 2005 when she first moved to Southtown. Their relationship evolved over the years, and they have been together since 2015 -- both in a personal relationship and a business relationship. Karen is an art collector, curator, promoter, and agent. She has been exhibiting and selling Gilbert’s work since 2015, and in the past three years, she worked exclusively with Gilbert.
“We had a great life together. ‘Artist’ - that’s what I called him - and I of course loved art, but we also loved food and wine and being together. He loved my cooking and I cooked for him all the time. He was always out and about at estate sales and little hole-in-the-wall boutiques and he always brought me gifts. We really enjoyed life, together.”
Karen is not the only one who will miss Gilbert. Artists and friends and neighbors have been sharing their feelings about Gilbert with Karen since he’s been gone. And Karen shared some of those with us:
"R.I.P. mi Amigo. You are a San Antonio Icon who will be missed. I know you are up there painting with The Man! Peace & Love.” — Joseph Rogers, Artist
"Your company will be greatly missed. Thanks for the inspirations. Peace & Love.” — David & Julie Knox
"I think of your amazing talent and remember visits to your studio with great fondness. I am grateful for your kindnesses to me and I keep the ‘pedazo de hierro’ on my desk to control the chaos. My children cherish their ‘Duran’s' palettes which hang in their homes. May his perpetual light shine on you." — Belinda Mora Gavallos
"You gave us our most prized possession, the portrait of us with our dogs Paris & Freddie. We will treasure it forever, as our friendship". — Tommy Phillips and Charles Ryburn
"From Salute 1989 to Southtown 2023 and everything in between. Rest In Painting my friend." — Anet Alaniz, Pig Liquors
"Some lights circle us because of the radiance of an artists' dreams shared over time again and again. Gilbert's energy will last us forever." — Greg Harrison Photographer
""Thankful for the beautiful Art creations we have in our home by Gilbert. He will be thought of EVERY day, as he has been all these years. We love him." — Liz & Gil Morales
"I can't believe my breakfast buddy is gone. My biggest critic that always had an unbiased opinion when I asked for it. I'll miss him for a long, long time.” — Carlos Cortez, Faux Bois Artist
I spoke with Karen a few days after his death. We sat together in Hola!, surrounded by his art, and she talked about him.
“I like to be here, with his art all around me,” she said. “This is the best place in San Antonio right now to see his art”.
You’re probably familiar with some of his best-known works, even if you didn’t know who created them. You're almost certainly seen his Frida Kahlo painting. It depicts Kahlo — in a sort of Kahlo-like style — holding a cold margarita. It has graced the walls of Rosario’s and appeared on the cover of the San Antonio Current.
It’s likely that you’ve also seen his painting of Salvador Dali — or is it famed Tejano musician Flaco Jimenez? — playing an accordion.
Back in 2016, Durán told the San Antonio Current how that painting came about. It was part of a series of paintings of accordionists that Durán was working on when he spotted Jimenez in an airport. He asked Jimenez for a photograph to use for a painting, but Jimenez declined. Discouraged, Durán dropped his work on that series. Then, sometime later, he came across an image of artist Salvador Dali, spotted a resemblance to Jimenez, and was inspired to create his painting of Dali with an accordion. Squint a bit, and maybe you’ll see Jimenez. If you haven’t seen this piece, it’s currently hanging in the dining room at Hola!
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.
Gilbert's work hangs all over San Antonio
Artist Gilbert Duran and Karen Evans