The Artist's Vision in The Face of AIDS
Jackie Kirk explored the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic through a highly personal and unusual format of paired portraits... The resulting body of work is a humanistic and penetrating series, focusing on both the affected and the artistic observer with revealing, sometimes devastatingly strong insight.
From the forward by Robert Flynn Johnson
Curator in Charge,
Achenbachy Foundation for Graphic Arts
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
Recognized museum artist Jackie Kirk is best known for her series, "The Face of AIDS," a one-woman show of 50 paintings (25 pairs) at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, CA, in 1991. The paintings, acrylic on rag board, are three by four feet framed in museum legat wood.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Kirk lectured to a full audience at the Florence Gould theater of the Achenbach Foundation in June 1991, showing the paintings in pairs: a portrait of a person living with HIV or AIDS and the self-portrait completed immediately after the other revealing her response to the experience. The show received much publicity, including 18 critical reviews from West Coast newspapers, one of which was a full-page review in The San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner Datebook by Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker. In addition, the show was listed nationally in publications, including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
In 1995, the Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, showed two pairs (four paintings) of "The Face of AIDS" in a group show, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor also showed a portrait in its "New Acquisitions" exhibition at the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts during its reopening.
Later that year, Jackie Kirk teamed with poet and writer Barbara Swift Brauer to write a book on the creation of the portrait series. Witness: The Artist's Vision in "The Face of AIDS" was published by Pomegranate Artbooks in 1996. The book contains full color plates of all 50 portraits, presented as pairs, along with the stories of Jackie's experiences, the friendships and sorrows that transpired as a result of the portrait sitting experience.
In November 1996, as a result of a grant from the Flow Fund, 26 of the portraits were framed and shipped for a solo exhibition at the Duke University Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina. Jackie and Barbara were on hand for the opening reception and gave a slide lecture.
Video artist Judith Selby produced a video incorporating television interviews with Kirk with a half-hour dialogue between Jackie and Barbara about the series. The video is among the permanent archives of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
The video, the book, and occasional showings of the portraits have kept these images in front of the public. As a result, "The Face of AIDS" has gone a long way toward raising awareness of AIDS throughout the United States and beyond.