wonder how they will actually cease and come to an end
as drawings, and into what new phases of being
they will then enter.
-- Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh
Sur Rodney (Sur): Decades have passed now since Mark Morrisroe's
untimely death. Until very recently his photography has been presented
on occasion without any major acknowledgement of the artist's
significance in relation to his influence. Seeing the immense
body of work from the Morrisroe Estate's recent catalogue presently
being put forward (Ringier Collection, Fotomuseum Winterthur)
along with these non-photo works that were left to you by Mark,
I'm beginning to recognize something that I hadn't considered
before -- Morrisroe was using his photographed imagery as a canvas
to paint on as well as using it as a template to make paintings
Rafael Sanchez: That is accurate both in that painting was a
considerable aspect of Mark's mind-set and that there has been
scant evidence of this in the way that his work has been presented
up until very recently. In part this may be due to the intensity
of Mark's biography that is evident as subject matter in much
of his work. The main thing to keep in mind in this regard is
that ultimately for Mark the chemistry and processes of photography
were his painterly tools and that meaning was penultimate as techniques
and explorations met with his primary subject, his life.
SRS: So that's to say that there was, in a sense, a kind of playful
fusion going on. Looking back at what was happening in the New
York art world of the 1980s, the decade of Mark's productive output,
there was much inter-referencing and exchange between artists'
production methods and mediums ... any given show at International
With Monument, for example, was cause to consider this interface.
RS: And there was comedy involved, if you could sift through
the rhetoric and art-speak. Mark was very aware and interested
in that, the comedy. For example, there were a bunch of typed
out jokes Mark came up with that he used to make a series of photograms
with. One of them read, "What do cowboy hats and hemorrhoids
have in common? Sooner or later every asshole gets one."
That was partly directed at Richard Prince, whose Marlboro Man
pieces were getting a lot of attention at the time.
SRS: The political climate of the 80s is often overlooked as
well in terms of art production partially due to the big party
that was going on. The term zeitgeist was often used in just about
every piece of art criticism in those days. It was the Reagan
era, which produced a kind of self-determination and economic
boom on the one hand and a gross misappropriation of priorities
on the other. The Cold War was being played out with death squads
in Central America, Apartheid in South Africa and AIDS was at
our doorstep in a very real way. New York City was simultaneously
opulent and falling apart. Graffiti and Punk aesthetics were brought
into the galleries with large bank accounts. Artist led coalitions
like Group Material and ACT-UP were very effective in presenting
a social criticism through a mixture of innovative media overlap.
Morrisroe's work falls somewhere in between these extremes, in
terms of social conscientiousness. Was any of this pertinent to
RS: Once in New York Mark did not fit into any of this, though
as Mark Dirt (his punk alias in Boston) and with DIRT magazine
he had already qualified quite a punk reputation in Boston for
himself at a very early age. That probably heightened his awareness
of what was going on around him in New York to some extent. But
one has to understand that he was not at all interested in politicizing
his sexuality. He was completely open about it and it was part
of him and his work as truth. Period. That was completely brave
and political in itself. Even later as he was being destroyed
by the disease that swallowed him whole, he chose to deal with
it as an aesthete. Of course he was angry. Who wouldn't be? But
it is a testament of strength that he stayed on point with his
art as a playful source of creative purity. I'd also go as far
as to say that art itself gave him strength in that fight. That
being said, he understood that he had the power to challenge assumptions
through his work and he very much enjoyed being provocative.
[More of this interview on the website.]
b i o g r a p h y
Rafael Sánchez is a Cuban born visual
artist, performer, filmmaker and coeditor with his life partner,
the artist Kathleen White, of alLuPiNiT, the new york
city environ mental magazine. His projects have been presented
locally at Participant Inc., Thread Waxing Space and the legendary
nightspot Jackie 60. A great percentage of his work has been presented
abroad (London, Paris, Mexico City) often with a stream of collaborators
that include performer/writer Jim Fletcher, artist/musician Neke
Carson, photo artist Gail Thacker and film/video artist Glen Fogel.
He has also participated on projects with New York City Players,
locally and abroad. Currently his collaborative work with Kathleen
White, TABLE project and Some-what Portable Dolmen will be included
here in New York City in this year's S(treet) Files bienial at
El Museo del Barrio. His essay Panorama With Hood Ornament
about Morrisroe was published for the exhibition catalog, "Boston
School", Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1995.
Sur Rodney (Sur) is enigmatically recognized
as an archivist, curator, surrealist, artistic collaborator, community
activist, and essayist -- most renowned for his position as co-director
of the Gracie Mansion Gallery (1982-1988). His work with artists'
estates, at cause to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, led him to serve on
the board of Visual AIDS, beginning in 1995. Along with his lover
Geoffrey Hendricks (the queer artist associated with FLUXUS) and
the late Frank Moore, he helped establish the Archive Project
of Visual AIDS to assist artists with HIV/AIDS and their estates.