CAI is thrilled to bring you a new multi-part blog post. For this series of posts, we are stepping away from our traditional commentary on HIV/AIDS. We will look at HIV/AIDS through the lens of the art and words of Outsider-Kansas City artist, Bruce Burstert, and his former partner Robert Smith, long ago claimed by AIDS. This is the first in a new series of blog post looking at HIV/AIDS through the micro lens of other artists. This first series is entitled:
Where are you from? Earth! Then and Now,1978-2016
“I met the ethereal young man Robert Raymond Smith at a gay Bar in Kansas City. After being introduced to him by a fellow KU student I told him; “You are very beautiful! Where are you from”? He slyly replied with a flash of eye and wry grin “Earth!”.
I knew I was in for a wild time of complex surprises from what was a very shy man. At the time I was really smitten, he came home with me and I fell asleep in his arms. So began my eighteen-year relationship with the man who became my love, my partner in business, and in life. Passionate about art, food, politics, and gardening we formed a very strong relationship for two men, at the time. Robert Raymond Smith had degrees in Art History, Photography, and watercolor, from Kansas University and JCCC. The work below is to pay homage to this man, his early works survive but have been rarely seen; in our relationship we painted together and he took many photos. After eighteen years we had not only formed a life but a business together; in 1987 we opened Smith and Burstert. In 1992 Robert became chronically ill, he was overcome with complications from AIDS, and he died shortly after in 1995.
As I gaze back through the lens of time, I realize it has been 22 years since Roberts passing. I have begun a new series of works, works that reflect my feeling of being HIV positive, the loss of my partner, and surviving for all these years alone. But first before I show my new work, I wanted to introduce Roberts work to the world, sadly he died before the term “google it” was constructed, and when I put his name into the search engine…I found nothing.
My work, especially this new series will have lots of his influence in it. Some of his works, the watercolors and photos are a personal expression of love for me, a love sometimes I could not, and sometimes still cannot comprehend. I ask myself often after so many years “Did I know him”? At his death in our home, I kept his body for the viewing; many came to visit on the bright sunny winters day. I sat near him in our sunlit library, I had watched his 43-year-old AIDS ravaged body digress, from looking like a well, but very gaunt framed man, to looking like an 80 plus year old man, a man with who I had expected to spend my whole life. I had watched my flower wither and age, seeing him as the old man that I am now becoming these many years later. We lived those four years of his HIV diagnosis very fully, and the subsequent years have rolled by like the many times I felt his wit. His love was so overwhelming at times; I am still comprehending its fullness…
So it is with great pride I share with you a sliver of the work of Robert Raymond Smith”.
<3 always Bruce.