In February of 1978 my partner (Don Herron) and I visited Robert Mapplethorpe at his loft in NYC, to deliver this iconic bathtub portrait that Don had taken of Robert – as part of Don’s famous Tubshots series. Robert had a powerful magnetism that shone through easily. He looked like the very definition of health and virility. Eleven years later Robert was dead, of AIDS. And four years after that I began my own fight for my life, after an AIDS diagnosis. Robert was just one of many who died back then … and since — all too many. I was an international and national AIDS-activist for over two decades, and now I am simply known as a «survivor». Sometimes when I think about the many beautiful and talented men I have known who succumbed to the disease and its stigma, I still feel a bit of «survivor guilt». Watching the documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe, and seeing his artwork on my walls makes me feel that guilt. But it also drives me to use every bit of talent that I can muster to create art and literature, and help to encourage others to live creatively. Had it not been for the AIDS diagnosis and my long struggle to survive then my personal courage and conviction would not have been what it is today, and certainly not my art and literature either.
We are all searching for ways to leave our mark on history — both as a confirmation that we did something for humanity, and to justify our minutes/hours/years of consumption and wear-and-tear on the planet. Those who have creative disciplines work to leave behind their ideas and visions in various artworks. And then when we suddenly get a message or diagnosis telling us that we are living on limited time/borrowed time then the urge to produce art and literature becomes manic. That is how I have managed to publish thirteen books and have numerous art exhibitions etc. That is also part of Mapplethorpe’s drive in his last years. I call AIDS “the great Teacher”.