I HAD A FRIEND, a painter, named Kris Johnson, who died two years ago of AIDS. He was in his early 30s. He’d shown here and there, in bookstores, arty coffee shops, that kind of thing, first in Minnesota, then in Los Angeles. He painted over color photos he’d first color-Xeroxed—images of shopping carts in parking lots, of giant palms, their small heads black as warts against the smoggy sun: California images.

He read Artforum religiously; he would have been happy to see his name in its pages. The magazine represented for him a lien on his future, a promise of the serious work he was about to embrace as soon as he could get out of the fast lane. Like many people who are both beautiful and gifted, he had to explore his beauty before his gift. It dictated his way of living until two years before his death. His health had already begun to deteriorate and he’d moved to Santa Fe, where he painted

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