Wojnarowicz worked as an artist, writer, and activist in New York in the 1980s, a period marked by the initial outbreak of AIDS and by the high–profile charges of obscenity against certain artists advanced by senator Jesse Helms and the American Family Association. The imagery in Fire, such as the rattlesnake imprinted with dollar bills in the lower left and the wanted posters of criminalized (and therefore marginalized) subjects, imbues the work with layered personal and political meanings that address the greed, violence, and homophobia the artist perceived in American culture.
Fire belongs to a series of four paintings in MoMA's collection each relating to one of the classical elements: fire, water, earth, and air. It contains natural, mythic, and symbolic sources of heat and energy, such as a volcano, Satan, and a heart. These are juxtaposed with the personal iconography that recurs throughout Wojnarowicz's work: snakes, a dung beetle, and the map and grocery store advertisements on the right panel—found paper onto which the other elements were collaged or painted. Wojnarowicz used Surrealist techniques, such as dramatic disparities of scale, with a combination of image and text to create contemporary statements that are both fantastical and disturbing.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 78.