Wojnarowicz was a self-taught, multidisciplinary artist and gay activist vital to the 1980s East Village art scene in New York City. In his art he often layered images "cannibalized" from comics, science fiction, news, and advertising with recurring symbols of cryptic, personal significance (like the dung beetle) to probe oppositional themes of order and disorder, birth and death. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1987, his work grew darker and more politically charged, in a searing indictment of a diseased America and its response to the AIDS epidemic. In Seven Miles a Second Wojnarowicz explored his own sense of mortality, also voiced in his essay "Post cards from America: X-Rays from Hell" (1988), for which he wrote, "The minimum speed required to break through the earth's gravitational pull is seven miles a second . . . we would have to learn to run awful fast to achieve escape from where we are heading."
Gallery label from Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, April 22, 2009–January 4, 2010.