Baby Lies Truthfully


The world the poet and artist David Robilliard (1952-88)  lived and loved and died in, has all but vanished. His London was one of cheap places to crash and to go to. He relished it and his pen captured his surroundings like verbal polaroids. All tomorrow's parties happening as he drank and enjoyed his brief burst of fame and notoriety. Random faces he could fall in love with. A glance here and a nod there. Robilliard's eye and his heart was easily beguiled by a handsome profile. He drew and wrote his feeling down. The poetry is like random texts of visceral need. They have an urgency and an honesty still, and always will. 

Feelings don't change from generation to generation, and his short, sharp poignant shards of lust, the cost of it, and the emptiness that follows, are as relevant now as when he penned them. His point was about getting to the point. To ensnare the briefness and the intensity of the fleeting moment. His remains a unique poetic voice. Raw, honest and vulnerable for all the swagger and bravado, which was purely the self-protection such an attitude disguises. He didn't mind admitting that love hurt and came at a cost. It was usually a game at which he aspired to succeed in but like many, mostly lost. Hope buckled by reality and passing rejection.

His friend the singer Holly Johnson always felt Robilliard had an air of Joe Orton about him. His poetry was championed by Gilbert & George who published his first collection Inevitable in 1984. In short, he was an original outsider.

The point that pricked the creative urge of the film maker Joe Ingham, was The Cat's Pyjamas. It was a book that he found reduced, David going cheap in artistic surroundings is an irony he would have cherished and embraced, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and it grabbed him by the soul.

Robilliard died before Ingham was born but the thoughts he'd laid down, that his former partner Andrew Heard (1958-1993), his friend Catherine Hollens, and myself selected, were published for an exhibition of the same name in London in 1991. They reached beyond their time, and beguiled him. 

David Robilliard was a self-taught artist and the same applied to his poems. They tumbled out devoid of the need to conform to expectations. As such he never garnered interest in his brief life from the poetry establishment. He still doesn't, but once you get him he can be as annoyingly rewarding as a catchy song. In the final year of his life, ever the iconoclast, aware that mortality was around the corner waiting, his HIV status a reminder that it was then a terminal condition, he took to introducing himself as David RobiiliAIDS. He was not going quietly into that good night, and his was a talent to unsettle as much as it was to amuse..

Ingham has, using vintage footage and the voice of the actor Russell Tovey to breathe pathos, venom and despair into the tapestry of selected poems and juddering images that haunt like memories, gone but recalled, above a perfectly realised and building soundscape by Helen Noir. The passage of time has not dulled their bite and the montage of old eroticism and cinema verite blends beautifully with the words. It is a short film that packs a far from affectionate punch. There is however joy in Robilliard's raw verbal emissions. An indication that we have have moved on but still feel pretty much as we always have. Taking chances, loving glances, gifting hope to a wish, a fleeting moment. Robilliard is to London what his direct contemporary Jean Michel Basquiat was to New York. A flash of colour, an explosion of talent and expression, and then gone. His words perfectly encapsulate something we all feel, but may be reluctant to express. They are honestly timeless, like a burst of urban haiku. His life requires a documentary and hopefully this touching film will be the spark to such a realisation.

Baby Lies Truthfully has a Warhol-like immediacy, with flashes of Derek Jarman's eclectic fleetingness. It gifts its subject a vibrancy, poignancy and grace, but also perfectly encapsulates the starkness of those darker days. David Robilliard was very much of his time, but was equally ahead of it. Somewhere in the future his uniqueness awaits a wider audience, but the vision applied by Joe Ingham perfectly allows for that destiny to thrive.

A powerful and defiant piece of work, rather like the poet and artist that it seeks to celebrate, it lingers in the mind, as both a discovery and a celebration.

This is, without doubt, one of the best reviews of my work I have ever had. Thank you so much Robert. Will share with Russell.

Submitted by Joseph Ingham on July 29, 2020 - 07:14

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