David Gilhooly, a prominent Northern California sculptor of fanciful frogs who was a founder of the Bay Area funk art movement at UC Davis in the early 1960s, died Aug. 21. He was 70.
He died after collapsing suddenly at his home in Newport, Ore., said his wife, Camille Chang. He had been diagnosed with cancer while being treated for a recent case of food poisoning, she said.
Whimsical and irreverent, Mr. Gilhooly was internationally acclaimed for his imaginative ceramic works of animals, food and other subjects. He started his career in 1962 as an assistant to sculptor Robert Arneson, who ran the freewheeling TB-9 ceramics studio at UC Davis. Arneson and his students were iconoclasts who created works that poked fun at high culture and made them leaders in the Bay Area funk art movement.
Although he sculpted creatures from anteaters to zebras, Mr. Gilhooly made his popular reputation with an amusing amphibian.
He created green frogs first as unusual handles for drinking cups and then as full-size residents of Frog World, a universe of figures with full histories and mythologies.
"Frogs are more fun than people," he told The Sacramento Bee in 1992. "You can't glaze people in colors."
Besides depictions ranging from Egyptian gods to Queen Victoria to the singing Andrews Sisters, Mr. Gilhooly sculpted frogs in frying pans, wedding cakes and other settings. He raised eyebrows with a frog crucifixion, a large work now belonging to the Crocker Art Museum.
"He was all about pushing buttons, in a way" Crocker associate director and chief curator Scott Shields said. "He was a fascinating character."
Mr. Gilhooly also created a cornucopia of ceramic foodstuffs, including fruit, vegetables, ice cream sundaes and towering Dagwood sandwiches. In addition, he sculpted with Plexiglas, printed and created collages and assemblages.
Shown for many years at the Candy Store Gallery in Folsom, his works were exhibited at major museums in the United States and Canada.
Many are in collections at the Oakland Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
The son of a veterinarian who graduated in the first animal husbandry class at UC Davis, David James Gilhooly III was born April 15, 1943, in Auburn. He grew up in California, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands before enrolling in biology at UC Davis in 1961.
He signed up for a ceramics class to impress a female art student and switched his major after attending an exhibition by painter Roy De Forest. He earned bachelor's and master's degree in art from UC Davis and had an early marriage that ended in divorce.
He taught in the 1970s and 1980s at universities in the United States and Canada, including UC Davis and California State University, Sacramento.
He reportedly was fired after two years at University of Saskatchewan for naming a pair of ceramic baboons after the art department chairman and his wife.
Mr. Gilhooly was married to Chang since 1983. He lived in Shingle Springs, Fort Bragg and Cameron Park before moving to Oregon in 1995.
"He just wanted to work and work and evolve as an artist," Chang said. "He wanted to live as many lifetimes in this lifetime as he could."
Besides his wife, Mr. Gilhooly is survived by their three sons Hakan, Kiril and Sorqan. He also is survived by four children from his first marriage, David, Andrea, Abigail and Peter.
A celebration of Mr. Gilhooly's life and an exhibition of his work is planned in October at the Smith Andersen Editions gallery in Palo Alto.
For information, call the gallery at (650) 328-7762.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.