New York

David Robilliard

Hirschl & Adler Modern

David Robilliard’s drawings and paintings have the casually accomplished grace of thumbnail sketches. Characterized by spontaneous, childlike linear drawing, Robilliard’s style shares affinities with Andy Warhol’s pre-Pop manner. There’s also a confluence of concerns reflected in the preponderance of pretty boys and intimate fetishes (one of Robilliard’s drawings bears the text: “A Little Boy with a Toy A Little Girl with a Curl”). Like Warhol’s work Robilliard’s is precious but seldom cloying.

Robilliard combines his sparse imagery with tersely poetic texts, almost all of which allude to a desire not specifically erotic or romantic yet one obeying inexorable laws of attraction. Words and images commingle in a state of mannered disarray. In certain pieces, the texts form a scrim through which we see the pictures; in Tidal Surge, 1987, for example, the delicate profile of a young blond girl circles in and out of a spindly cage of words. The text reads: “She Moved And Walked Away / Everybody’s Eyes Strained / Not to Look / But Like the Tide Her Pull / Could Not Be Denied.” This might be a paean to ordinary glamour, if there can be such a thing. Robilliard is captivated by the spectacle, by the ineluctable logic of beauty that strikes like the hand of fate.

It isn’t easy to describe Robilliard’s works and their effects, because so much depends on the necessarily subjective perceptions of tone, mood, and sensibility. Certain embarrassing words inevitably come to mind in front of his art, words like “bittersweet,” that miserable token of weak sentimentality. Perhaps the latent content of Robilliard’s art is just that feeling of queasy, shrinking embarrassment—our embarrassment (or just mine?)—in a cynical, self-consciously critical age. It’s an embarrassment in the face of emotions—desire not pornography, aspiration not aggrandizing impulses—that we probably shouldn’t forsake, even if we might be more comfortable banishing these feelings altogether. For all of its delicacy, Robilliard’s art is at times excruciating because it implicitly trades on such feelings. Falling in love can be so undignified.

David Robilliard died of AIDS in 1988 at the age of 36. With this in mind, his paintings and drawings give voice to a more acrid melancholy.

David Rimanelli