Reflections about Mark Chamberlain

By Liz Goldner

I met Mark Chamberlain at BC Space Gallery on March 30, 2003. I had gone there to interview him for a review I was writing about his exhibition, “Pretty Lies, Dirty Truths.” I had never seen an art show with such a powerful political message. More importantly, I had never met a man like Mark. He was so gracious, insightful, patient, intelligent and articulate; he manifested these characteristics as he explained his current show to me, while often segueing to comments about life, art and politics. 

As I listened, I also became aware of his inner strength, passion, sense of mission, and especially of his powerful sense of adventure. In fact, this adventurous spirit was what attracted me to him most. 

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Photo by Eric Stoner

Liz and Mark, February 2010, at the Grand Central Art Center

Mark and I became friends first, spending hours discussing politics and art; we later became lovers. I moved into his home just before Halloween of 2010, and spent seven and a half years with him, absorbing his profound wisdom about life, his knowledge of world affairs, art and even pop culture, and enjoying his wacky sense of humor. I also admired his natural elegance and grace. I often wondered how I ended up living with the stately six foot one inch, blue eyed blonde (whose hair became increasingly gray).

Over the years, we shared many meals, which we often cooked together, and watched historical programs on PBS, while reminiscing about political events. One significant event that we experienced through the magic of the TV was the Kennedy Assassination. While sharing my own thoughts about that event, I re-lived important aspects of my childhood in New Jersey. In addition, Mark often related to me many stories of his escapades and adventures while growing up near the upper Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Mark Chamberlain, January 2018

Naturally, we attended many art events and exhibitions over the years, and went on four memorable vacations. The most significant trip was the week I spent living with him on his houseboat, docked on the shores of the Mississippi, near his childhood home. During our seven days together there, Mark took me all over the town he had had grown up in, relating stories of his endless adventures, riding his bike and horses, climbing trees, swimming, fishing and riding in a variety of boats on his beloved river, playing in his high school band, excelling on the school’s tennis team, and even serving a stint as student council president. His sense of adventure was so irrepressible that I found myself reliving his escapades with him. Like a time traveler, I was witnessing the development of an extraordinary individual, who carried with him, to the end, his intrinsic childhood enthusiasm and belief that he could accomplish whatever he set out to do – including eventually helping to save Laguna Canyon. 

We worked on many projects together over the years, editing each other’s writings, while he often provided me with images for my art-related articles. Our last project together was writing the book, “The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism,” It describes in words by Mark, myself and six other contributors the development of the Laguna Canyon Project. We worked on this project for nearly five years, often battling about words, phrases, descriptions and intent. But we finally completed this marvelous book, with its approximately 150 images, just before he became ill.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Two of Mark’s books: Most recently, he contributed along with Liz and six others to the book The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism

Mark’s final adventure was his battle to overcome lung cancer, a malady that only began affecting him in December of last year. When he received his diagnosis of the illness this past January, I told him that I will always carry on his legacy, that I would do my best to convey to the world his amazing accomplishments. 

A few days before Mark passed away, I visited him in the hospital, and told him how much I appreciated and loved him, and of how much I had grown during our relationship. He called me his “Pygmalion,” implying that through his inspiration, influence, encouragement and continual imparting of his wisdom, I had grown exponentially in my life, relationships and work. And indeed I had. 

Before I left the hospital, I played for him on my phone a song recorded by Davis Gaines, called “I’ll Love You Back to Life.” As he sat in his hospital with the ear buds in his ear, listening to words including, “I’ll love you back to life and make you smile again. You’ll sleep here in my arms until the nightmares end,” he was beaming, reflecting on the fact that saving his life partner, as well as others who were close to him, was as important as saving Laguna Canyon.

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