David Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1954 and later lived with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. A victim of childhood abuse, he lived for a time during his teenage years as a street hustler; he graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan.
After a period outside of New York, he returned in the later 1970's, where he quickly emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific of an avant-garde wing that mixed media, made and used graffiti and street art; his first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides and buildings in the East Village. He made super-8 films, such as Heroin, began a photographic series of of Arthur Rimbaud, did stencil work, played in a band called 3 Teens Kill 4, and exhibited his work in well known East Village galleries. Wojnarowicz was also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with artists like Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Karen Finley, Kiki Smith, John Fekner, Richard Kern, James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook, Ben Neill, Marion Scemama, and Phil Zwickler. For some years, until Hujar's death of AIDS in 1987, he and Hujar were lovers. Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz's work into much more explicit activism and political content, notably around the injustices, social and legal, inherent in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so called Graffiti Show. In the 1990's, he fought and successfully issued an injunction against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association on the grounds that Wojnaowicz's work had been copied and distorted in violation of the New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act. Wojnarowicz's successful lawsuit represented a notable and affirmative step towards artists rights in the United States.
His works include: Untitled (One Day This Kid...); Untitled (Buffalo); Water; Birth of Language II; Untitled (Shark), Untitled (Peter Hujar); Tuna; Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St. Sebastian; Delta Towels; True Myth (Domino Sugar); Something From Sleep II; Untitled (Face in Dirt); and I Feel a Vague Nausea among others.
After he died of AIDS-related illness in 1992, photogapher and artist Zoe Leonard, who was a friend of Wojnarowicz, exhibited a work inspired by him, entitled Strange Fruit (For David).
Wojnarowicz has served as an inspiration to many artists; those that have credited him as an influence include: Zoe Leonard, Victoria Yee Howe, Matt Wolf, Emily Roysdon, Henrik Olesen, Mike Estabrook, and Carrie Mae Weems.
In Spring 2011, P.P.O.W. Gallery showed Spirituality, and exhibition of Wojnarowicz's drawings, photographs, videos, collages, and personal notebooks; in a review in The Brooklyn Rail, Kara L. Rooney called the show "meticulously researched and commendably curated from a wide array of sources, ... a mini-retrospective, providing context and clues for Wojnarowicz's often elusive, sometimes dangerous, and always brutally honest".