The out actor uses his art expertise to resurrect the work of lost creators.
HIV Plus Mag: TV viewers may know Russell Tovey as the handsome star of shows like Looking, Years and Years, and American Horror Story: NYC. What many don’t know about the British actor is that for the past two decades he’s been an avid art collector and advocate, with a passion for modern works. As the host of the podcast Talk Art, Tovey and his friend, gallerist Robert Diament, examine the creations of modern legends like Ryan Gander and Zawe Ashton. Tovey’s personal collection of modern art and his deep knowledge of the field has enabled him to curate galleries, festivals, and recently placed him on the jury of Britain’s acclaimed Turner Prize.
So, it’s fitting that file transfer company WeTransfer recently tapped Tovey as their guest curator for their arts endeavor, WePresent, handing Tovey the reins to three projects it bankrolled, all of which touch upon LGBTQ+ subjects and the effect that HIV and AIDS had on them.
The documentary, Life is Excellent, centers on the life and art of David Robilliard, a gay artist and poet who Tovey has long admired and someone who, at the age of 36, died from AIDS complications in 1988. In the film, Tovey calls Robilliard one of the “greatest artists you’ve probably never heard of” and his “hero.” Tovey makes it clear in the film that his goal is to ensure Robilliard’s contributions to the world are not erased by AIDS.
Life is Excellent is streamable on werepresent.wetransfer.com and was shown at a recent free art exhibit that Tovey also helped bring to life. “We Move In Circles” allowed the public to not only learn about Robilliard’s work, but also explored the role of protest T-shirts in the heady days of AIDS. Featuring shirts with designs from another artist lost to AIDS, Keith Haring, and tees emblazoned with messages from ACT UP, as well as British HIV groups like Never Going Underground, the exhibit demonstrates how T-shirts served as a “universal canvas for protest, and reminds visitors that narratives from the AIDS crisis are as present as ever as AIDS continues to affect so many around the world,” WePresent announced in a statement. Iconic pieces of gay literature were also present at “We Move in Circles,” which took place in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London. Earlier in 2023, Tovey and WePresent staged four live performances of Blue Now, a modern, live take on Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue. The film’s title derived from the gay filmmaker’s struggle with HIV-induced onset blindness, which only allowed him to see in shades of blue; Jarman died a year after the film was released.
Tovey expresses deep gratitude for WePresent’s contributions to reviving some of the greatest works from HIV-positive artists.
“This collaboration with WePresent underscores our shared commitment to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities,” Tovey said in a statement. “Through our year-long exploration, we’ve commemorated artists like Derek Jarman and David Robilliard, with the goal to ensure their significant contributions to culture can resonate with a new generation. I am thrilled that, together, we’re able to honor incredible queer art history and help bring it to new audiences around the world.”