After a period outside of New York, he returned in the later '70s, where he quickly emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific of an avant-garde wing that mixed media, made and used graffiti and street art; his first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides of buildings in the East Village. He made super-8 films, such as Heroin, began a photographic series of Arthur Rimbaud, did stencil work, played in a band called 3 Teens Kill 4, and exhibited his work in well-known East Village galleries, notably Civilian Warfare, Ground Zero Gallery NY, Public Illumination Picture Gallery, Gracie Mansion and Hal Bromm. Wojnarowicz was also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with artists like Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Karen Finley, Kiki Smith, John Fekner, Richard Kern, James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook, Ben Neill, Marion Scemama and Phil Zwickler. For some years, until Hujar's death of AIDS in 1987, he and Hujar were lovers. Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz's work into much more explicit activism and political content, notably around the injustices, social and legal, inherent in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called Graffiti Show. In the 1990s, he fought and successfully issued an injunction against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association on the grounds that Wojnarowicz's work had been copied and distorted in violation of the New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act. Wojnarowicz' successful lawsuit represented a notable and affirmative step towards artists rights in the United States.
His works include: Untitled (One Day This Kid...); Untitled (Buffalo); Water; Birth of Language II; Untitled (Shark), Untitled (Peter Hujar); Tuna; Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St. Sebastian; Delta Towels; True Myth (Domino Sugar); Something From Sleep II; Untitled (Face in Dirt); and I Feel a Vague Nauseaamong others.
A member of the first wave of East Village artists, Wojnarowicz began showing his work during the early 1980s in such now-legendary spaces as Civilian Warfare, Club 57, Gracie Mansion, Fashion Moda, and the Limbo Lounge. He gained prominence through his inclusion in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, and was soon showing in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.
In the late 1980s, after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Wojnarowicz' art took on a sharply political edge, and soon he was entangled in highly public debates about medical research and funding, morality and censorship in the arts, and the legal rights of artists. Wojnarowicz challenged the nature of pubic arts funding at the National Endowment for the Arts, and initiated litigation against the American Family Association of Tupelo, Mississippi, an anti-pornography political action group that Wojnarowicz accused of misrepresenting his art and damaging his reputation. He won the lawsuit.
A personal view of David Wojnarowicz on his would-be 60th birthday by Joseph Nechvatal, from WhiteHot Magazine of Contemporary Art
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