Artist Steven Gagnon's Brush With Death

Last year, Miami Beach artist Steven Gagnon, created a rolling video installation on the plight of illegal aliens that patrolled local streets during Art Basel and earned a trip to Houston’s ArtCar Museum this spring. Gagnon’s “Border Cruiser” featured video projections on the rear windows in which a Brazilian man related his ordeal of entering the United States illegally. On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, his vehicle brought a crew from the Al Jazeera English network to a screech in Little Havana, where the befuddled reporter filmed crowd responses to his rambling opus.

After the Houston show came to a close recently, ArtCar Museum curator, Tom Jones invited Gagnon to participate in the city’s 21st annual Art Car Parade. During the event Jones drove Swamp Mutha, a 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo adorned with crabs, crawfish, alligator skulls and shellacked armadillos. It was one of nearly 300 eye-popping vehicles in the popular event. “People from all backgrounds participate in the parade,” Gagnon says. “One of the wilder rides was created by scientists at the University of Houston who covered a boxy Volvo with those kitschy singing Bass plaques that operated in unison when spectators got close. It was really sophisticated,” the artist adds.

After the parade was over Gagnon, Jones and artist Dion Laurent, returned to the ArtCar Museum where they sat on a curb reflecting on the day’s success. At about 2 a.m. on May 11, as the trio shot the breeze. A speeding Pontiac jumped the railroad tracks in front of the museum careening into a parked Toyota Camry just fifty feet from the men. “Just a minute before Dion had asked Tom what would happen to the oddly parked car,” Gagnon relates. “Tom responded ‘it will get ticketed or probably hit’,” said Gagnon.

Moments later to his horror, the Camry was sent “hurtling like a billiard ball” by an allegedly drunk driver and pinned Jones and the local artist while sending Laurent flying fifteen feet against a fence. Gagnon managed to wiggle free and he and Laurent escaped the accident with minor bruises and contusions but paramedics took Jones to the hospital where he died a few hours later of massive internal injuries.

Gagnon stayed in Houston for the funeral and memorial services, driving home last week in his “Border Cruiser,” while trying to make sense of the tragedy. “It was weird, the cars are all numbered during the parade and Tom’s number was 13. Right now I’m back in my studio working and figuring things out. Art is not just something I do but part of my life.” Gagnon says. “But I was pinned directly under Tom when that car hit us and I just can’t help wonder about fate.”

- Carlos Suarez De Jesus