In Untitled (Hujar Dead) (1988–89), a grid of photographs taken immediately after Peter Hujar’s death from AIDS-related pneumonia is layered with text: anti-gay quotes from health and political administrators, coupled with Wojnarowicz’s own commentary—his revulsion at such callousness, and his fantasies of tearing them apart. (Untitled) One Day This Kid…(1990–91) presents an image of the artist as a young boy with a timeline written around him, which tells of the hatred, subjugation, and potentially violent death he will suffer because of his same-sex attraction. It is, in a sense, a time-based artwork highlighting the horrific implications of entrenched discrimination, and the damage that is soon to come: “When he begins to talk, men who develop a fear of this kid will attempt to silence him with strangling, fists, prison, suffocation, rape, intimidation, drugging, ropes, guns, laws, menace, roving gangs, bottles, knives, religion, decapitation, and immolation by fire.”
Wojnarowicz incorporated a wild array of motifs in his art. A childhood interest in cowboys could conjure thoughts of dying “amidst a tumbling of horses legs in the dust” or “tilting off a cliff with arrows piercing my body,” as he would write. One of his most famous photographs, Untitled (Buffalo) (1988–89), depicts buffalo plummeting into a canyon. The image is usually considered to be a personal reflection on AIDS and government complicity, but it also suggests Wojnarowicz’s long-standing thoughts on death, before HIV. The artist’s lifestyle was volatile. While living on the streets and working in Times Square, his life was in danger; he had known both killers and people who had been killed. Even in the 1970s, in Paris, he wrote of staying up to “trade blood with the stars”; Untitled (Falling Man and Map of USA) (1982), Yokio Mishima St. Sebastian (1983), and Untitled (Face in Dirt) (1990) evoke these early memories.
Images of what Wojnarowicz described as “fires billowing inexplicably on the sides of houses and trailers” are seen in Untitled (Burning House) (1982), while explosions that would send “flowers of black smoke reeling up into the dusk” engulf works such as Untitled (Burning Boy Installation) (1985) and its “coastline with teeth of red factories.” In the collaged Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz (1983–84), made with Tom Warren, it is the artist himself aflame, while in Untitled (Gorilla) (1984), an ape is bound and roasting in agony on a background made of dollar bills.