When David Bessent was 15 years old, he would often sit at his art table inside his family’s Michigan home and practice drawing.

Frequently, he’d referred to art books for guidance and change the lighting on his subjects to give himself more of a challenge. His subjects frequently were his own hands and superhero figurines, recalled his younger sister, Michelle Bessent, on Friday. 

“That stuff (his drawings) are most likely in those (sketchbook) books and it’s just so personal and it’s hard to see all that,” Michelle said with tears in her eyes while attending an art exhibit Friday in downtown Phoenix, where her late-brother’s work was on full display, including the sketchbooks.

In addition to being a brother and a son, a friend and a Phoenix coffee shop employee, David was a well-known artist in the area. 

In the midst of creating his life’s work, however, the 41-year-old and his coworker, Zachary Walter, 24, were shot and killed in the early morning of Oct. 5 after leaving work at Jobot Coffee & Bar in Roosevelt Row.

Two juveniles, 16-year-old Antonio Palafox-Zermeno and 15-year-old Castulo Cervantes, were arrested more than a month ago on suspicion of killing the two men during an attempted robbery. Police said at that time that they are searching for more accomplices. 

The free art exhibit Friday at Gallery 119 west of Jefferson Street and Ninth Avenue was organized by David’s friends and fellow artists as a way to honor the man often described as kind-hearted and a talented artist. 

David moved to Phoenix when he was about 19 years old, his mother, Barbara Wert said Friday. Both Wert and her daughter Michelle traveled out of state to attend the Friday art exhibit. 

“I did not have clue what he was doing in Phoenix most of the time,” she told the nearly 100 people in attendance Friday.

“For two years, David labored. Canvas, paint, space. David was set free like a bird out of its cage,” she added, later describing the art displayed as David’s magnum opus. 

On display were David’s abstract paintings and personal sketchbooks — the first of potentially three exhibition catalogs to be displayed at the gallery over the next few weeks, according to Catie Cotter, one of David’s best friends and an event organizer.

“He was very talented and very well networked in all coordinates of the art district that at any point he could’ve made a move,” said Cotter, explaining that David was on the verge of completing his life’s work. 

Cotter said the exhibition Friday was held in part to raise awareness about gun violence. 

“What happened to him was insane, from the chance that him (David) and Zach were walking at the time that they did, or the age of the boys or, you know, anything going on with the arrest,” she said.

“But a lot of his friends are banding together now. And there seems to be a good amount of presence with our devotion to it and our love for David and our love for his composition — the conceptual part of David.”

David’s work will be displayed at Gallery 119 for a month, according to Cotter. The gallery is owned by Joel Coplin and Jo-Ann Lowney. 

“He was 41 years old and this would only have been the first of many shows. This would have continued to develop and flourished and to expand and grow,” said Clarke Riedy, a local sculptor who loaned David an art studio for two years before he died. “What we have here is a window into the vista that he’s left us to pursue.”

A foundation named after David is in the works, according to Riedy. He explained that the foundation would aim to offer grants and studio space to local artists in the area. 

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels

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