David Robilliard: Drawers of Poems | Organized by Christopher Mangum-James

Opening Sunday, March 15th, 5-8 pm 

March 15 - April 12th 2020

Image credit: Art & Project, Bulletin #151, (Amsterdam: Art & Project, May 1988); David Robilliard, Life Isn’t Good It’s Excellent (New York: D.A.P. 1993).

“You spend your life wrapped in your own language,” David Robilliard. 1


David Robilliard’s poetry is immediate. Economical with words, his feelings are upfront and direct. He focuses his attention largely on the fleeting nature of relationships both with longing and ecstasy. At times the poet is a wistful man let down by love, “Dear John,/ I am sick of love behind the scenes/they all come and go/forgotten names/and faded jeans…” 2 In other flashes he is ready to be swept up by someone new, even if for just a moment, “…the fresh smell of your shirt/makes me want to roll you in the dirt…” 3 Explicitly queer, his biographical poetry evocatively engenders the experiences of a person who was always looking and perpetually fawning.


Born July 23, 1952 on Guernsey, part of Britain’s Channel Islands, Robilliard moved to London’s Shoreditch neighborhood in 1975 and fell in with a circle of artists. While working as a day laborer, he met Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, more commonly known as the artists Gilbert & George. Starting as a model for the duo, they formed a lifelong friendship. Gilbert & George encouraged Robilliard’s poetry and suggested he further incorporate imagery with his texts, later resulting in a regarded painting practice.

 

In 1984, Gilbert & George published Robilliard’s first book of poetry, Inevitable. The publication coincided with his first exhibition of drawings, held at the Stephen Bradley Gallery in London. After releasing a second poetry collection and exhibitions in Amsterdam, Brussels, and London, his life was abruptly cut short. Diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987, Robillard passed the following year at the age of 36. Between his diagnosis and death, he produced a significant body of work, some of which addressed the growing epidemic, “AIDS/Condom Nation” 4 , as well as mortality, “Where life dies/and death lives/time flies/before forgotten eyes…” 5


While his paintings have been the subject of numerous exhibitions, David Robilliard: Drawers of Poems focuses on the poetry.
Through publications, mail art, drawings, and recordings, this showing provides an opportunity to experience the clever humor and tender vulnerability of a person in desire for a life lived full. Organized chronologically from 1984 through several posthumous publications, the presentation takes its name from Robilliard’s Box of Poems, a project where for each month of 1987 he produced and mailed out an edition of 300 poetry cards. Similarly intended to be an intimate personal experience, this exhibition is presented in a series of five flat file drawers where visitors are encouraged to wrap themselves in Robilliard’s language. Hold the books, read the poems, thumb through drawings, and listen to the poet reading his words. Taken together, Robilliard’s work is at once eternally fresh with wiry youthfulness while also deeply reflective on the temporal nature of lust and life. “We all rise up like flowers/we all come down like flowers,” 6 but beautiful nonetheless.


David Robilliard: Drawers of Poems is organized by Christopher Mangum-James.

1 “You spend your life,” Baby Lies Truthfully (New York: INANOUT PRESS, 1990). 43

2 “Dear John,” Inevitable (London: Gilbert & Geroge, 1984), 29.

3 “Inevitable,” Inevitable (London: Gilbert & Geroge, 1984), 85.

4 “AIDS,” Baby Lies Truthfully (New York: INANOUT PRESS, 1990), 109.

5 “Where life dies,” Baby Lies Truthfully (New York: INANOUT PRESS, 1990), 122.

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