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A Life in Art: A Film About Rediscovering Our Passions

Date: 21 December 2023

An image of Gary Bukovnik painting flowers in his studio.

A Life in Art is a film that traces the story of lifelong artist Gary Bukovnik, from his beginning painting flowers at age four, through his despair in art school, and ultimately leading to a life dedicated to following his true artistic calling. While today he has shown his work in galleries worldwide and has helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars through donations of his artwork, the journey to this success was not easy. At art school, his flower paintings were rejected. Comparable to his sexual orientation as a gay man in the 1970s, his authentic artistic identity was not welcomed by those around him. He fell into despair, dropped out of art school and decided to hide his flower paintings from the world. His art would have continued to remain repressed if it were not for a chance encounter with a stranger that would set him back on his true path.When recounting this experience, Bukovnik said:

“You know what? Who does an artist make a painting for anyway? You can’t please everybody, so who are you supposed to please?..You know? You’re supposed to please yourself.”

An illustration of painter, Gary Bukovnik. In the illustration, Gary is wearing a red shirt, blue pants and red glasses.

We all know what it feels like to love something as kids. Most of us know what it feels like to lose it too. We need stories that demonstrate how to recover that natural love in a way that is not naive but meets the realities of adult life without becoming bitter and brittle. Gary’s story exemplifies an individual that integrates the open-hearted and wide-eyed child with the focused, disciplined, and dedicated adult.  

The filmmaking team is seeking to partner with arts organizations and educators to incorporate the film into their programming. The aim is to screen the film in as many schools, universities, and colleges as possible to connect Gary’s story with the audiences whose lives it can impact and enrich the most. After watching the film, viewers often ask themselves “what are my flowers?” The film’s broad reach rests on this metaphor of flowers. It causes the audience to think back to what they first truly loved as kids, their true nature, their purpose and calling in life.

This film will encourage students to stay focused on their dreams without glossing over the inevitable hardships of life, and it will remind teachers to be aware of the impact they have on students.

The film team plans to begin screenings in schools in the fall of 2025. It will be shown within normal class periods as well as school assemblies, and will be complemented with discussion questions to help viewers excavate their own authentic voice. If you are interested in sharing this film with your school, students, arts organization, or community, please contact Grant Thompson, the director of A Life in Art.

The film will be directed by Grant Thompson, award-winning filmmaker and co-teacher of UC Davis’s graduate seminar in scientific filmmaking. The project was produced by Peter Coyote, an accomplished actor in more than 160 films, and Emmy-award winning narrator of the documentaries of Ken Burns. The film is animated by Emmy-award winning motion graphics team, Barry Thompson and Luke Kantola, who have led animations on films like ‘Meru’, ‘The Dawn Wall’, ‘The Alpinist’, and the HBO series ‘The Edge of the Earth.’

How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being
We all remain
Too frightened.

    – Hafiz, translation by Daniel Ladinsky

Watercolor painting of a rose by Gary Bukovnik.

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