Russell Tovey Presents “Life is Excellent” – A Story of Artist, His Hero David Robilliard
In this feature length documentary actor and artist Russell Tovey is going to introduce you to one of the UK’s most important artists that you’ve probably never heard of, his hero: David Robilliard. He is one of the most significant people in Russell’s life, and yet they never met. David was dead before Russell hit double digits. Embarking on a highly personal journey to discover who David Robilliard was through the people David drank with, worked with and, in his words, ‘shagged’, Russell will retrace David’s steps to uncover just why his work touched so many, while re-examining the attitudes around the AIDS crisis in the late 80s and asking the poignant question: “what could have been”.
We are thrilled to announce that the latest WePresent Guest Curator is the inimitable actor, producer, podcaster and curator, Russell Tovey. Russell has been blessed with the gift of enthusiasm: his passion for the arts, in particular the work created by British queer artists creating work before and during the AIDS crisis. We have teamed up with Russell to work with him on a number of projects that hold particular significance for him, which he elaborates on in his editor’s letter below.
To look at stuff, and put some stuff next to other stuff, and then frame that stuff, or put the stuff on plinths, or film it, or write or talk about this stuff with such a passion that other people want to know more about the stuff you talk about, you have to fundamentally care about stuff.
I really care about stuff. To others, this stuff may just be stuff, but to me this stuff is everything. For me, this is art. Be it filmed, photographed, molded or hand-built, drawn or painted, recorded or reappropriated, art in all of its forms and guises, is my world. Perhaps that is why I’ve been asked by WePresent to come aboard as an actual curator of this stuff. For the past year we have been working beautifully together on two almost fully formed projects and now we will continue the adventure to make even more beautiful stories about all this stuff that makes my heart sing.
This stuff has power. But it’s easy to be wary of something if you never see it, if you’re not exposed to it. If stories aren’t told, lives aren’t seen, lived experiences pushed so far into the margins of society they literally become dust, the magic stuff appears.
I am queer, I have always been queer. I’ve had internal struggles, external battles, existential crises and pause for thought, but through it all, I’ve latched onto the realities of my existence, by knowing, with the most beautiful reassurance, that there is stuff out there to tell me, show me, teach me that I am loved and I matter. This stuff has come from people like me and from all walks of life for thousands of years. Historical documents of existence, undeniable by simply being made, recordings of lives. As a 40-year-old queer man I feel the responsibility to make sure that this stuff that matters to me and my kind, actually matters to everyone.
I have queer heroes and many of these heroes have died. Queer ancestors and guides, that have left shimmering talismans to hold close at times of struggle. “If you wait long enough, the world moves in circles,” said the late filmmaker, artist, writer and activist Derek Jarman. He wrote this in the 1980s and just look at where we are now. In this curatorship, I’m going to show you my heroes.
The first project that I have collaborated on with WePresent is a feature documentary exploring the life and work of one of my greatest art heroes, the poet and artist David Robilliard. David moved from Guernsey in the Channel Islands to London in the late 1970’s to find himself and his tribe. Quickly taken under the wing of East End art legends Gilbert and George, David thrived and created a body of work consisting of his own unique poetry and musings and a sizable body of paintings and drawings, each containing his very own unique take on the world. Tragically he was of the unlucky generation and died of AIDS in 1988, aged just 36.
I discovered his work at around the same age as when David died, scaring me and propelling me deeper into his story in equal measure. This documentary, “Life is Excellent,” has been one of my greatest joys, learning more and getting under the skin of a man who has taught me so much about myself, without ever knowing who I am. Isn’t that what great art is? It’s a talisman, a guide, a hand that reaches out and takes yours from the past and into the future.
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