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Guy Burch


HIV+ 32 years. I was involved with Brixton Artists Collective in London during the 1980s where the first open art exhibitions specifically for LGBTQ artists were held in the UK beginning in 1983. Friends included the artist Mario Dubsky, probably the first British artist to die of AIDS, Nickolas Balaban, partner of the fashion designer Ossie Clark, and photographer Rotimi Fani Kayode. I became a Buddy and activist as a result and continue to plug away at recording the loss. Recently this involved a grant funded project to deposit an archive about Brixton Art Gallery (where the Collective were based) with Tate Archive in London as the LGBTQ Curator . I am also the holder of the Bill Ward Archive, a collection of work and ephemera relating to British graphic artist Bill Ward who for many years drew for Magazines such as Drummer.

HIV/AIDS began to impact on my work the night before Mario Dubsky died from AIDS. That night sitting by his bed, holding his hand and not knowing if the occasional flexing was conscious or unconscious I talked to him whilst drawing him with the other. A difficult character in life, who had bi-polar disorder (he would have said manic depression) he was always adamant about the seriousness of art. I felt he would not disapprove despite the physical failing apparent. Next morning I went to see him to be told he had died and many more friends followed. In my own work I felt a need to record a society that was under threat and work moved from the mythic to scenes of nightclubs and night people. I had a feeling that I was witnessing a bygone age, as if this (then) largely hidden world was happening with a storm brewing that would wash it away. As the numbers of dead increased I had become a Buddy in London and trained others to be too. Increasingly suffering bereavement overload I was diagnosed myself in 1991. I had an exhibition planned that was to have been called Carnival but nothing celebratory came. I realised I needed to somehow transmute the bad stuff, to transmute the poison in me into something else, and get it out in a way that communicated. After all paint is coloured mud that becomes beauty? This became Unstill Lives (1996) and proved potent (a lot of strangers left in tears) and helped me greatly. Having done it the losses did not stop and I found I was pretty burnt out. I continued to help Mario's sister try to promote his work and had to manage and conserve two other artists work. People still died. It took 10 years to find a voice again. A new one at that but with a mix of pre-AIDS themes I had been working on, but never without the hole in my heart showing. A feature of Unstill Lives were private journal entries I displayed by the work. Even my partner did not know I wrote. The response to these was so positive I began to write and my time is now split between writing and new work.