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Monday, March 21, 2016

David Wojnarowicz

David Wojnarowicz, painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker,
performance artist, and AIDS activist.
Few phenomena have ever had a greater impact in the history of the fine arts than the AIDS epidemic as it developed during the late 1970s through the next twenty to thirty years before various medical treatments began to show positive results. Virtually every art capital in the world was affected. There were, of course multiple causes, but more than anything else, HIV/AIDS produced an outsized death toll within the international fine arts community for the simple reason that homosexuality and sexual promiscuity has, for centuries, been more common among artists of all types (visual, literary, performance, etc.) than in the general population. It has long been something of a solemn little secret, but it would seem that such activities go hand-in-hand with those individuals having an impulse toward creativity. The HIV/AIDS tragedy simply served to bring this relationship to light. I recall a talented young teenaged boy in one of my high school art classes having second thoughts about becoming an artist simply because he feared associating with gay artists. I did my best to assure him that he needn't be too concerned in that most artists were not gay. However, among the many who were gay was the painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, and performance artist, David Wojnarowicz (above).

The terrifying story of a teenage boy selling himself
on the streets of New York City.
Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, but grew up living with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. He was a victim of childhood abuse, and lived for a time during his teenage years as a street hustler. He later graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. His graphic novel, published shortly before his death in 1992 from HIV/AIDS is titled Seven Miles a Second (above). Through it, he vividly relates this horrifying existence. David Wojnarowicz chose to become an artist in the late 1970s. His life quickly changed when he emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific as an avant-garde mixed media artist making use of graffiti and street art.

One Day this Kid. Bringing the HIV/AIDS tragedy home to millions of American families.
David Wojnarowicz's first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides of buildings in the East Village. He learned moviemaking using the media of  super-8 film with titles dealing with heroin addiction, before moving on to a photographic series on the homosexual French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Later he exhibited his work in well-known East Village galleries such as Civilian Warfare, Ground Zero Gallery NY, Public Illumination Picture Gallery, Gracie Mansion. and Hal Bromm. Over time he became connected to similar artists, collaborating with names such as Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, and others. He and Peter Hujar became lovers until Hujar's death of AIDS in 1987. Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz to work toward a more explicit activism and political content, centered around the social and legal  injustices inherent in the public response to the AIDS epidemic. His One Day this Kid poster series (above) sent an especially powerful message to families across the nation emphasizing gay rights as well as the plight of HIV victims.

Zayin, 1992, Douglas Blanchard
David Wojnarowicz died in his Manhattan home on the night of July 22, 1992, from AIDS. After his death, Zoe Leonard, a photographer and friend exhibited a work inspired by Wojnarowicz titled Strange Fruit (for David) (below). Wojnarowicz has served as an inspiration to many artists including Leonard, Victoria Yee Howe, Matt Wolf, Emily Roysdon, Henrik Olesen, Mike Estabrook, and Carrie Mae Weems. In Spring 2011, P.P.O.W. gallery showed Spirituality, an exhibition of Wojnarowicz's drawings, photographs, videos, collages, and personal notebooks providing context for Wojnarowicz's often elusive, sometimes dangerous, and always brutally honest work.

Strange Fruit (for David) is a work created out of mourning 
which speaks of death and decay. The fruit skins as art material
are bound by time as is the work itself. From its creation, the
work’s deterioration had already begun.

Face in Dirt, 1990, David Wojnarowicz--dust to dust.


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