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Visual AIDS - A Gallery of Art by HIV-Positive African Americans

Ray Birkbeck


click for full image
Birkbeck - Mother RexBirkbeck - Troop Train, a Train Transporting Troops to WarBirkbeck - The madonna Going to EgyptBirkbeck - Stubby Stegosaurus
Birkbeck - Untitled 1Birkbeck - Untitled 3Birkbeck - Untitled 2
Mother Rex;
2002;
oil, 10x14"
All images are the property of the artist and may not be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of the artist and Visual AIDS.Birkbeck - Untiled 4

Ray Birkbeck
Home: New York, N.Y.
Age: 51
Diagnosed: July 1995
Meds: Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) + Viramune (nevirapine) + Ziagen (abacavir)

A jack of all trades, Ray Birkbeck has lived, worked and played in New York City his entire life. Though he worked in range of fields as varied as retail and banking, it wasn't until the late 1990s -- after he was diagnosed with HIV -- that Ray found his true calling. "Art started out as a way for me to rethink my life and it became my passion," he recalls.

When asked to recap his life so far, Ray rattles off a list that mixes the mundane with the earth-shattering: "I had a good childhood, got an education, worked for a living â?? I lost some friends, lost contact with my [family], got hurt by one of society's problems -- crime among blacks -- and caught HIV." His frank, no-frills explanation may make it seem like he takes it all in stride, but Ray admits that it's not always so easy. HIV "radically changed my life but â?? I deal with it as best I can," he says.

HIV hasn't been the only obstacle Ray has had to overcome in recent years. He's become estranged from his family and had to cope with the death of his partner, Bob. However, Ray believes his struggles have helped him become a prolific artist: "My thoughts and the tragedies that I've been through [caused me to be creative]," he says. "I've created close to 80 or 100 works and am going to keep doing [just that]." The trick to staying motivated is to "do what you've always wanted to do but were too afraid when you were HIV negative," he says.

Indeed, Ray says that his art has "strengthened his determination to live." No doubt rediscovering love has strengthened him as well: Ray has a new love in his life.


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