Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr
Writer, painter, sculptor, filmmaker David Wojnarowicz was one of many whose life and art came of age tellingly during the first AIDS decade, roughly encompassing the 1980s.
He grew up an abused child, later became a street hustler, and was at times homeless. During much of his short life, he was very close to the centre of what has been dubbed the East Village art scene. He cut a wide swath in his day, becoming a cause célèbre for his AIDS activism and his legal battles over copyright and censorship, but is less well known now than his contemporaries Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
His post-Pop Art sensibility often dealt with illness, violence and destruction caused by an array of evils, including modern life and the nuclear family.
Wojnarowicz’s art was one of ideas and concepts, often of a political nature, expressed powerfully through the use of basic building blocks: cartoon figures, stencilled images, clichéd glyphs and symbols which he freely revived and reinvented. His post-Pop Art sensibility often dealt with illness, violence and destruction caused by an array of evils, including modern life and the nuclear family.
Perhaps its closest correlative lies with the French poetès maudits, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, whose intentions to portray urban life at its grittiest was considered “hideous,” “unwholesome” and “incomprehensible” in its time. Rimbaud, whose image Wojnarowicz used in some of his photographs and who also died at 37, might have been speaking for both of them when he espoused his theory of art: “I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.”
When you are done reading, you feel as if you too have lost a friend—one who was often outspoken, angry, and difficult, but above all very, very real.
Cynthia Carr brings Wojnarowicz vividly to life in her portrait of a troubled genius and friend, portraying not only the man and artist but also a turbulent era in American history. When you are done reading, you feel as if you too have lost a friend—one who was often outspoken, angry, and difficult, but above all very, very real.
Having lived with a manic-depressive artist, Michael Ridler, also of immense talent and an equally immense propensity for drama and self-destruction, during that same era whose zeitgeist was to destroy in order to create, and with AIDS as a constant other, I can say without doubt that no one could have written this book without having been there on the front lines. Thankfully, Carr was.
Jeffrey Round is the author of nine novels, including the Lambda Award-winning Lake On The Mountain, and a poetry collection, In the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci. His first two books, A Cage of Bones and The P-town Murders, were listed on AfterElton’s Top 50 Greatest Gay Books. He is a founding member of the Naked Heart Festival of Words.
Tags: A Writer's Half-Life
, Arthur Rimbaud
, Charles Baudelaire
, Cynthia Carr
, David Wojnarowicz
, East Village
, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr
, Jean-Michel Basquiat
, Jeffrey Round
, Keith Haring
, Paul Verlaine
, post-Pop Art
, Robert Mapplethorpe