Can you tell me about Mark Morrisroe, the almost-mythic artist who was once your boyfriend at this time, and who unfortunately died too young of complications from AIDS.
Mark was a very exotic person. We were boyfriends for a couple of years and lived together. It wasn’t always easy. There was something glamorous and great about him, and he was sweet to me alternatively. But it wasn’t like he was nurturing. He grew up in the city, I grew up in the country. And when I met him he had been shot by a john because he was a hustler. I was working at an ice cream store at 16, so at the same time I was scooping ice cream, he was hustling and getting shot by johns. That was exotic. He was very angry as a result, and very driven and determined. He was aware of his own charisma, and he completely believed in his greatness as an artist and that he would definitely be famous.
Mark died of AIDS, and I’m wondering how that disease in general affected your work.
I didn’t know I was HIV positive until 1992, but I think in that period I started to see that my life was valuable. At that time in New York, every night on 2nd Avenue between 4th and 8th street, people set up blankets and sold things on both sides of the sidewalk. You walked blanket to blanket after you got out of the bars, looking at stuff like ’50s porn or some cool shirt or an ashtray from Acapulco or snapshots of guys or an old cowboy belt. At first, I thought it was all stolen stuff, and I wondered if I should buy it. But then I realized that it was all stuff from a gay man who had died, and this was the stuff that was thrown out after he was gone. I thought, Look at these lives. This person had a life! And that lit a fire under my ass. I had been drifting, but then I thought, I want someone to know I had a gay life. It crept into my emotions as like, Oh, God, maybe you better do this now because who knows how long you have? When the doctor told me I had HIV, I said, “Well, how long have I got?” He said he didn’t know. I asked, “Two weeks?” And he responded, “Probably.” He really didn’t know and knew enough not to make promises. But I knew I wanted to leave something behind that said, “I had a life.”
Your photos have a very relevant quality to them in that they are snapshots that almost feel like Instagram. Some of them even seem to have filters!
It’s pre-cell phone but it has the same impulse as Instagram. Like, Oh look how good he looks waking up from this nap we just had. That’s what people post on Instagram: Oh look, I have this life. If I have a message to my work, it’s like, Live a little. Notice things. How great is this? People say Instagram is showing off, but I think it’s people being grateful.
The other thing I think about with you when looking at these photos is that you seem to have created a very beautiful life for yourself. I’ve read about your home in California and your apartment in the West Village, and even in those photos, you’ve chosen to see the world through such a lovely point of view.
It’s totally conscious. That’s all I want. And it’s all I want for everybody else. I think I have a beautiful life. Because of friends, mainly. But it’s also an insistence on things that I really like. My beautiful is the beach and a cozy bedspread and the idea that I’m meeting people and going places. And noticing it all while it’s happening.