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David Robilliard Notebooks 1983–1988


Rob Tufnell announces a new publication of extracts from the notebooks of the poet and artist David Robilliard (b.1952 – d.1988).

After his premature death from an AIDS-related illness in 1988, Robilliard left a large number of notebooks in the care of his close friend and fellow artist Andrew Heard. These were obsessively filled with drafts of poems, diary entries, addresses and telephone numbers, blunt observations, quiet reflections, short stories, ideas for paintings, portraits and crude drawings. Robilliard’s superficially simple, pithy prose and verse is riddled with the dichotomies of an era that was both exuberant and miserable. His notebooks reveal his creative process, his interests, ideas, ambitions and then his illness but always embody his often repeated belief that ‘Life’s not good it’s excellent.’

Many of the books contain the inscription: ‘If found please return to 12 Fournier Street, London E1. Thank you’ – the home and studio of his patrons, Gilbert & George. In their lament ‘Our David’ (1990) they describe their protégé as:

“…the sweetest, kindest, most infuriating, artistic, foul-mouthed, witty, sexy, charming, handsome, thoughtful, unhappy, loving and friendly person we ever met… Starting with pockets filled with disorganised writings and sketches, he went on to produce highly original poetry, drawings and paintings.”

Such ‘disorganised writings’ also reveal something of London’s creative communities before email, mobile phones and social media. Appointments are written down: models booked (for Gilbert & George) and hospital visits. Names are accompanied by postal addresses and telephone numbers. Contacts include Mud Club promoter and impresario Philip Sallon and musicians Peter Christopherson (Throbbing Gristle) and Richard Coles (the Communards). Amongst London’s preeminent art dealers of the time are Anthony D’Offay, Robert Fraser, René Gimpel, Nicola Jacobs and Edward Totah alongside artists Dinos Chapman (whom like Robilliard was employed by Gilbert & George), Peter Doig and Derek Jarman, Blitz Kid Sue Scadding, poet Ursula Fanthorpe and publisher Mark Bonham Carter. Emerging gallerists, journalists and curators (before the word entered English usage) from London include Louisa Buck, Maureen Paley, Timothy Prus and Anthony Reynolds. Whilst prominent international figures include dealers Lucio Amelio, Xavier Hufkens, Adrian and Robert Minuchin and John Abbott, Clarrissa Dalrymple and Nicole Klagsbrun (from New York’s Cable Gallery) and curators Mario Codognato, Rudi Fuchs and Robert Rosenblum. There are also accounts of meeting Christopher Isherwood (introduced at a Tate reception for David Hockney) and hearing of the death of Andy Warhol (more prosaically on a commercial radio station during its weekly pop-music sales-chart programme).

David Robilliard produced a modest but important body of work during his short life. He also published two volumes of poetry (six more were compiled posthumously). Of the 61 paintings on canvas he is known to have produced, examples are held in significant public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Tate, London and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Exhibitions of his paintings have been held at the ICA, London (2014), Cornerhouse, Manchester (1998), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1993), the Royal Festival Hall, London (1992), and at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1987). His work was also included in the group exhibition 'Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain’ at Tate Liverpool (2014); ‘In & Out of Amsterdam’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009) and the British Art Show (1990) which toured between Leeds City Art Gallery, the McLellan Galleries, Glasgow and the Hayward Gallery, London.

This book follows the first exhibition of Robilliard’s notebooks, ‘Disorganised Writings and Sketches’ at Rob Tufnell in Cologne in April 2019. It was made with support from the Elephant Trust and the book’s designers, A Practice for Everyday Life and with assistance from James Birch, one of Robilliard's former gallerists, and Chris Hall, custodian of the estate of Andrew Heard. The book is dedicated to Andrew Heard.


Rob Tufnell, 2021 
Softcover available in yellow or pink to be shipped at random, 184pp
270 × 210 mm

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