Gallery honors fallen Phoenix artist
Local artist David Bessent’s first show packed more than 50 people in a downtown Phoenix gallery, including Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. But one person was missing. The artist himself.
Bessent, 41, and his friend and co-worker Zachary Walter, 24, were shot and killed in a robbery in 2018 after finishing their shifts at Jobot Coffee & Bar in the early morning of Oct. 5.
Last month, police arrested 16-year-old Antonio Palafox-Zermeno and 15-year-old Castulo Cervantes and charged them as adults in the murders. Police are still searching for additional suspects.
Nearly a month later, people packed into Gallery 119, just west of Jefferson Street and Ninth Avenue, to honor Bessent’s memory.
On display were large canvases of Bessent’s paintings, described by longtime friend and sculptor Clarke Riedy as a mixture of abstract art and action painting. Riedy loaned Bessent the studio space near Sky Harbor Airport to create the works.
Multiple sketchbooks adorned with stickers and filled with drawings, cartoons and scrawlings of Bessent’s everyday musings layered a table in the center of the room.
When Riedy was thinking of loaning his vacant studio out, Bessent was a natural choice. “I don’t know anything he couldn’t have done with his talent,” said Riedy.
Days after Bessent’s death, Riedy went to the studio and uncovered about a dozen paintings.
“It was just as he left it,” Riedy said, pausing to compose himself. After looking at the art repeatedly, Riedy decided on the idea to exhibit Bessent’s art publicly.
Bessent spent most of his time working in the sketchbooks. He drew in at least six different styles. Standing at about 6’3 with long arms, Bessent never had enough space to stretch out, or take a step back and look at his work, said Riedy. The studio space gave him a chance to do that.
“This is the result. It’s what happens when you expand your perspective,” Riedy said, pointing at the three series of paintings on the walls of the gallery, each one a step in Bessent’s progression as an artist.
“If the shooting hadn’t happened, this would’ve been one of many [shows],” said Riedy.
Bessent’s work, primarily in the sketchbooks, centered on the people around him. He spent his time out in public doing live drawing and painting events and fellowshipping at Jobot.
Several attendees recalled his recurring line: “May I draw you?”
Bessent’s mother, Barbara Wert, presented a speech by that name, recalling Bessent’s relationship to the community.
“David would use water, which he always carried, and cigarettes to bridge a gap to people of all sorts. David’s motive was simple. ‘May I draw you?’”
Tasha Lindsay, a friend and co-worker, smoked with Bessent nearly every day at Jobot.
“He was the heart of the downtown community,” she said.
Lindsay said she suffered from crippling social anxiety when she met Bessent, but he quickly became a safe place for her, and for everybody.
“Art was always bursting from him. Art, and words, and poetry and beautiful ideas, and challenging ideas just flowed from him, and he never made anyone uncomfortable by it,” said Mia Shae, a longtime friend.
Shae had known Bessent for about ten years and was in his hospital room after he was shot. Though her boyfriend suggested that she seek therapy, she has not gone.
“I don’t think that I could talk to anybody and have them understand that he’s not just another person that got killed by gun violence. There’s no one else like him in the whole world,” she said.
In recognition of Bessent’s commitment to Phoenix, Mayor Kate Gallego presented Bessent’s mother with a proclamation of David’s Day, “to honor a kind and gentle soul.”
Bessent’s family and supporters have started a foundation to spotlight and support young local artists as well as address the issue of gun violence. The foundation will sponsor live drawing and painting events and provide studio space, hoping to create a non-institutional setting for artists to share and learn from each other, according to Riedy.
Originally posted on The Downtown Devil. Click here to read in full.