This painting was done in 1793 by artist Jacques-Louis David. It depicts the murder of Jean Paul Marat a leader of the French Revolution. The dead man is in the bathtub because he suffered from a terrible skin condition which was soothed by soaking in water. He is holding a letter in his hand. The last name of the artist David is inscribed on the wooden block.
In this artwork part of the current The 80s Image exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery the artist David Buchan who died of AIDS in 1993 has photographed himself. Notice the similarities between his work and that of Jacques Louis David above. Both have the name of the artist on a block, one of wood the other of marble. Both men are dead. The one above was murdered. The one below committed suicide. Both men are in a tub. 90% of AIDS patients suffer from skin conditions as the revolutionary Marat did. The letter in Marat’s hand above has been replaced with bank statements in Buchan’s hand below- perhaps alluding to the high cost of medication to treat AIDS. Notice the dark humour of contrasting the word Halo which usually refers to something divine to the container of Halo shampoo. Do you notice how the letter O in the word Halo looks like a halo?
Halo is a fitting addition to The 80s Image exhibit because activism surrounding AIDS began in the 1980s with many different groups and organizations emerging to advocate for people with HIV in North America. They lobbied for treatment, prevention and raising awareness.
On November 13 at the Books and Brushes session at the WAG I’ll be looking at the connection between this painting and the book Tell The Wolves I’m Home. Why not join us? You can learn more here.