|Beloved former AIDS Czar Mike Shriver at his art opening at Magnet. Photo by Rink.
Â Mike Shriverâ€™s art is on display throughout the month of April at Magnet â€“ the queer center for social and physical well-being in the Castro. All the works were composed while the artist battled AIDS with the deadly drug, interferon.Â
Shriver was born in West Covina, California, the third of five children in a very Catholic, very Irish, and very complicated family. At age ten, his family relocated to Clearwater, Florida, which he said he fled the minute he could. He gained undergraduate degrees from the University of Notre Dame in English and Pre-professional Studies/Science. After graduating in 1985, he did volunteer work through the Holy Cross Associates, teaching grade school in West Oakland. In 1986 he returned to Notre Dame as a graduate seminary student, and left a year later after coming out, moving to Oakland with his first boyfriend. Since then, he has worked with developmentally disabled adults, 18th Street Services, Mobilization Against AIDS, the National Association of People with AIDS, and was Co-director of the AIDS Policy Research Center at UCSF. He has served in San Francisco as a member of the Health Commission and as the Mayorâ€™s Advisor on AIDS and HIV Policy. He was also an original member of ACT UP/SF, being one of the people who shut down the Golden Gate Bridge in 1989 in an act of civil disobedience, demonstrating against AIDS. He tested positive for HIV in 1989 and for Hepatitis C in 1990. In September 2001, he went out on and still remains on disability.
Shriverâ€™s work reflects his life experiences and lessons. He grew up the object of specific and violent trauma, dealing with that in ways that could have led to his undoing. His art happened by accident while dealing with the impact of interferon/ribavirin therapy for Hepatitis C.
â€śOne of the rules I follow consistently with my art is to stay as honest and true to my experience as possible. Telling the truth, however, is not always easy. And somewhere within this tension is where I find myself when I am writing or painting,â€ť he said. â€śStaying honest when I am creating an image or writing means having to sit with and work through nervousness, tension, anger, fear, and ultimately my limitations. My art is my way of naming demons, of finally standing up for myself, for finally letting the past pass.â€ť
Magnet Executive Director Steve Gibson said he met Shriver when he was very ill and his motto was: â€śA solid poo in â€™92.â€ť Gibson spoke of Shriverâ€™s activism, which included being executive director of Mobilization Against AIDS. Shriver and Steven Tierney, who at the time was Director of HIV Prevention of San Francisco, are responsible for convincing then Mayor Willie Brown and Bristol Meyers/Squib to fund the opening of Magnet. â€śWithout these two gentlemen, Magnet would not be here,â€ť said Gibson, referring to Shriver and Tierney. Unfortunately Supervisor Bevan Dufty was ill and could not present the certificate of recognition from the Board of Supervisors to Shriver in person.
The artwork on display at Magnet is what Shriver said was his life on interferon, â€śan explosion of stuff and nothing.â€ť All sales of his art during April will benefit Magnet, AIDS Housing Alliance, and the Positive Resource Center.
Shriver works with a variety of materials, including watercolor, oil, crayon, pen, pencil, Magic Market, glitter, glass, and â€śeverything I can get my hands on.â€ť He pointed to a piece he entitled â€ś9-7-4,â€ť which was the day, July 9, 2004, when a dear friend of his died. A picture of the man can barely be seen under the nine layers. A hummingbird stands for a portent of evil. â€śThere are three threads of life: one is spooling, another is unraveling, and the third cuts the thread of life,â€ť he explained. He said it was his most difficult painting he has ever created, but that it somehow gave him closure. He encourages people to touch his paintings and get the tactile sensation he wants the viewer to experience.
â€śCanto 1: Another Dreamâ€ť is an integration of paint and his original poem, and is about the death of a relationship that turned his life upside down. â€śWhat Color Is Fear?â€ť is a depiction of his violent fatherâ€™s rage as he was growing up. The first thing you notice is the big hand about to smack him. He said his father used to hit him for no reason at all. The jack in a box is indicative of that sudden rage that would pop up unexpectedly. â€śI was only twelve and didnâ€™t know why I was the target of his anger,â€ť Shriver said. The image of a bomb about to explode represents his fatherâ€™s explosive temperament.
â€śShuenâ€ť is a Chinese ideograph for â€śdeep and profound,â€ť he told me. There is layer upon layer of paint from which emerges a kind of facial image. â€śChinese Lantern Flowerâ€ť is made of glass and paint. He said he couldnâ€™t seem to get the leaves right, so he used an actual leaf pasted in. â€śI just shellacked the hell out of it,â€ť he said. I suggested he should post a sign saying, â€śPlease do touch,â€ť as opposed to the signs you see in museums saying, â€śPlease do not touch.â€ť The last piece on the wall is entitled â€śPeace,â€ť which is another Chinese ideogram. â€śItâ€™s about being in the middle of trauma, but not being bowled over by it,â€ť he said. â€śTo be able to just hold still is the ultimate goal when dealing with all the horrible things that go along with this epidemic.â€ť