I met him in the mid-90s, at the Wong Spot (the old one on Cevallos and South Flores), we were both just out of college, kinda â?? I'd dropped out of UT, but he had graduated from Tech and was getting his master's at UTSA and was already teaching at St. Philip's.
Regis had his shit together! He was a grownup masquerading as a twenty-something kid in shorts and graphic t-shirts back then, wearing his hair in short dreads and his grin was crazy infectious. And he was handsome, and friendly. His laugh and his hug were fantastic. His drawings, whoa, charcoals of distorted faces and cartoon-villainous black men in rage and despair, or Stepin Fetchit-ized, or thwarted fantasies of naked white girls and weed, all his sharp, sad satires on desire and violence. Powerful, muscular work, immediately accessible but deep, scary and ominous, passionately idealistic, while funny as all hell. As more people in the arts saw more and more of his work, you began to hear "Regis Shephard is BRILLIANT" all over. Regis Shephard is: The man, a star, gonna be huge, you should see the one he has up now, etc. We weren't just amazed by his art, but everybody loved him, too.
After 9-11, he made a show called What is Really What in reaction to the country's fear and rage at the time. A show about the human toll war takes, not in terms of military losses or physical injuries, but the collective stain conferred on us all by our hatred. There were also some 9/11 WTC tower images online somewhere at that time, but I can't find them right now. I was living in New York then. I e-mailed him after looking at the tower images on the internet, told him how good and valuable I found this work, how close he was to the feelings emanating out of NYC. I wasn't writing about art, then. I was a comedian. Regis replied, was gracious and funny.
When I got back to San Antonio, Regis was no longer wearing shorts or dreads, was a sober academic, having put his own work aside to chair and coordinate the art department at St. Philip's. We Facebooked back and forth. I interviewed him for this story about the art departments in community college.
He'd been sick, a virus that affected his heart. Walking pneumonia, trips to the ER. I called him up and we talked about how he was healing up, feeling better, dreading but determined to change his diet, trying to slow down and relax more.
I was always thrilled to run into him at openings, see his work, we always made promises to hang out more but were too busy.
Regis's dear friend and mine, Nate Cassie, who also worked with him at St. Philips, called me at 6:02 and told me Regis had died. My heart sped up and my hands went cold. Nate told me Regis had been at work, had collapsed, taken to the hospital, and was dead.
I asked if it was his heart.
Nate said "we don't know yet."
We talked about how Regis was from Seminole, Texas, a tiny town way out west between Lubbock and Midland/Odessa, and how his family would likely hold the memorial there. We talked about doing a memorial here too. I'll keep you posted on that.
The paper comes out tomorrow, and we didn't have time to include him in this week's issue. We got the news after the paper was in production. But in next week's issue, we'll be writing about him, and showing some of his many incredible images.
Meanwhile I'm stunned, and sad, and confused, and can't quite believe it. I keep thinking maybe it's not true, somehow. He called Lawrence Welk an OG on my Facebook page on Saturday. And his last status update, posted about 5 pm yesterday, said "Art Time!"
Please feel free to leave comments here, or on his Facebook page.