David Robilliard The Yes No Quality Of Dreams 1988

Artwork details

Artist
David Robilliard 1952–1988
Title
The Yes No Quality Of Dreams
Date 1988
Medium Acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1219 x 1225 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased with assistance from Evelyn, Lady Downshire's Trust Fund 2011
Reference
T13328
Not on display

Summary

The Yes No Quality of Dreams is a square canvas with, in its top half, a grey linear drawing of a man’s face in profile, chin resting on his fist, and to its left an apparently younger man’s head shown full face with eyes closed. Below this, the text of the work’s title is written in bold capital letters, split across two lines (‘THE YES NO QUALITY / OF DREAMS’). A grey-blue is used for the first, fourth and fifth words, ‘yes’ is painted in black and ‘no’ in red, and each letter of the final word ‘dreams’ is rendered in a different colour: successively red, dark blue, brown, orange, light blue, yellow. The artist’s name is written in red on a separate line at the bottom of the canvas, with the date inscribed in green vertically at the lower right edge. This composition, with its combination of curtailed imagery and dominant text, is also found in That Beat It Quickly Smile 1987 (Tate T13327).In both paintings the drawn figures provide a visual evocation of the poem that is each work’s title, to which the means of writing, in terms of colour and arrangement, adds further force.

Robilliard’s earliest works after moving to London in 1976 from Guernsey, where he was born, were poems. He shared a studio with the painter Andrew Heard (1958–1993) and this, alongside his discovery by artists Gilbert & George in 1979, encouraged him to bring word and image together. This led in 1984 to his first exhibition of drawings at the Stephen Bartley Gallery that also served as the launch for his first book of poems, Inevitable, published by Gilbert & George. On the invitation card for the exhibition, Gilbert & George wrote of Robilliard that he is ‘the new master of the modern person. Looking, thinking, feeling, seeing, bitching – he brilliantly encapsulates the “Existers” spirit of our time.’ His earliest paintings on canvas date from 1985 and range from playful urban reverie to harder expressions of gay life. Caroline Collier wrote in the introduction to the catalogue for the British Art Show 1990, in which Robilliard’s work was included: ‘The tone of David Robilliard’s paintings ... [which] use phrases that seem to have been snatched from the filofaxes of advertising copywriters or from the jingles of DJs and at other times refer to the language of enchantment, to fables and stories, is sometimes lyrical, occasionally abrasive, intentionally challenging and unsettlingly obscene: their content is invariably an expression of the position of being homosexual in Britain in the late 1980s.’ (Caroline Collier, ‘Climate’, The British Art Show 1990, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1990, p.28.)

Both The Yes No Quality of Dreams and That Beat It Quickly Smile exhibit an ambiguity of reading. The title The Yes No Quality of Dreams equates a gay relationship with that of analyst and analysand, or watcher and watched, emphasising the extent to which fantasy can be active in such a situation. The drawing shows an older man scrutinising a younger man who, with eyes closed could be oblivious to the older man, or dreaming his own dreams. Whether or not an actual relationship or a fantasy is depicted here is not stated, and this is also in keeping with the title of the work, which itself signals a lack of certainty. Robilliard’s paintings manifest a youthful and vibrant optimism, yet one which is played out in the shadow of AIDS, colouring them with a certain melancholy. His lack of formal training and immersion in London’s gay club culture is reflected in his work. Critic Leo Burley has stated: ‘David’s influences were mostly contemporary, drawing on his friendship with Gilbert & George, and the passions and pain of London in the 1980s.’ (Leo Burley, ‘Memory of a Friend’, in Stedelijk Museum 1993, p.19.)

The Yes No Quality of Dreams was included in the British Art Show touring exhibition in 1990 (McLellan Galleries, Glasgow; Leeds City Art Gallery; Hayward Gallery, London), and subsequently in his retrospective exhibitions at the Royal Festival hall, London in 1992 and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1993.

Further reading
David Robilliard, Inevitable, London 1984.
David Robilliard, Swallowing Helmets, Eindhoven 1987.
David Robilliard, A Roomful of Hungry Looks, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1993.

Andrew Wilson
May 2010

About this artwork