Painting--Paint and Mixed Media on Gelatin Silver Prints

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Lucy Lippard has argued that Wojnarowicz was driven creatively by “the jolt of juxtaposing photography and painting/drawing.” She continues, “For instance, contact sheets resemble windows, and he sometimes collaged or painted over contact sheets, altering their views.” [1] In Untitled, 1988, Wojnarowicz used Kodak color contacts sheets showing candid photographs of Alan Barrows taken during a 1983 trip to Europe, as well as shots of Jesse Hultberg as St. Sebastian taken at the Ward Line Pier, which he cut and painted over in order to form the image of two men kissing. Photography more broadly served the purpose of offering ready made windows into and out of the space of the painting.

In particular, Wojnarowicz used photography as a ready-made ground for further layering of images. Where elsewhere he painted on supermarket posters or cut and pasted collages of maps and paper money, he turned toward large prints as backgrounds in the late 1980s. In Seeds of Industry II, 1988-89, multiple layers are built up using photographic techniques: the bottom-most layer of abstract camera-less prints of photochemical spills serve as frames for a grid of square black-and-white prints, on top of which float cut-out ovals of Xeroxed dollar bills and painted image of a monkey that Wojnarowicz had photographed at a circus in Mexico, along with an industrial worker pushing a gear. In Untitled (Nest), 1989, Wojnarowicz similarly collaged photographs and painting on a gridded ground. He created tiles of 16 x 20 black-and-white prints of building frames, scaffolding, and palm trees, overlaid with circular insets of other photographic prints, some surrounded by red spray-painted haloes, as well as a large painted nest and a vertical band of painted figures showing a group of people fleeing a fire (the latter was taken from a news photograph taken in Haiti).

Media and techniques

After Peter Hujar’s death in November of 1987, Wojnarowicz moved into Hujar’s vacated loft, where he had regular access to a dark room for the first time (see photography] for further information). This allowed for a fertile period of experimentation with printing, furnishing a source of raw image material for Wojnarowicz to incorporate into his painting practice.

Selected works


  1. Lucy Lippard, “Passenger on the Shadows,” in Brush Fires in a Social Landscape, 2nd ed. (New York: Aperture, 2015): 27.