One night in 1989, Hunter Reynolds, then a 30-year-old artist living in New York City, made himself up at home with the help of a friendly drag queen. He was intrigued with the results: his handsome face embellished and transformed, neither man nor woman, like an androgynous cabaret star in Berlin during the Weimar years. He tossed on a tweed coat and headed out to various art-world events. Friends didn’t recognize him, so he pretended to be a performance artist visiting from Los Angeles.
As a gay man and an artist, Mr. Reynolds was already interested in exploring the limits and the possibilities of gender. As a gay man recently diagnosed with HIV and a member of ACT UP, the grass-roots protest group founded by Larry Kramer and others, he was on the front lines of the fight against the disease that would eventually kill him — and against the homophobia in politics, health care and the art world that made the fight so much more urgent. Making art that focused on his body would become increasingly important to him.
Before long he had developed an alter ego he called Patina du Prey. For Patina, Mr. Reynolds designed a wardrobe of gowns — full-skirted antebellum numbers made of satin, organdy and taffeta, with stiff bodices shaped to Mr. Reynolds’s very male torso, which showed off his hairy chest and muscular arms. The gowns grew more elaborate as Patina’s performances did.
In one early work, Patina wore blue taffeta and hung from a cage in a gallery for hours at a time. In 1992, in a piece called “The Banquet,” held at the SoHo gallery Thread Waxing Space, he spun slowly on a pedestal, like a music box ballerina, in a white satin gown printed with images of drops of his blood and the hair of a collaborator, Chrysanne Stathacos — the prints looked like roses and delicate vines — while attendees snacked from a banquet laid out on a naked man, and women dressed as maenads read feminist texts aloud. Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Stathacos were paying homage to a 1951 Surrealist work, Meret Oppenheim’s “Spring Feast” — but while that work served up its meal on a naked woman, they pointedly used a man for theirs.
One of Mr. Reynolds’s most moving pieces — and Patina’s star turn — was a black satin gown printed with the names of 25,000 AIDS victims taken from the AIDS Quilt catalog, which he made in 1993 as a living memorial. When Mr. Reynolds first presented it in a Boston gallery, spinning for hours on a pedestal as was his practice, people wept as they discovered the names of friends, family members and lovers.
Mr. Reynolds died on June 12 at his home in Manhattan. He was 62. Wendy Olsoff, a founder of the PPOW gallery in TriBeCa, said the cause was an aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma.
“Hunter wore his pain and his suffering, and he did so with honesty and grace,” said Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum and a former director of the public art organization Creative Time, which collaborated with Mr. Reynolds in 1994 to present the Memorial Dress and other works to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Mr. Reynolds wore the dress all over Manhattan, ditching the bodice on the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library.
Ms. Pasternak had met Mr. Reynolds years earlier, when she curated his work at a gallery in Hartford, Conn., And appeared as a one of the maenads in “The Banquet.”
“He didn’t hide his HIV status,” she said in a phone interview. “He wrapped himself in it, particularly with the Memorial Dress, centering his own virus-infected body in it. I don’t think at the time I could understand what a courageous action it was.
“It was as if to say, ‘Don’t you dare look away.’ And you couldn’t look away. There he was, spinning on his platform, saying, ‘This is me. This is us.’”
Hunter Wayne Reynolds was born on July 30, 1959, in Rochester, Minn., to Robert and Danielle (Dusseau) Reynolds.
His parents divorced when Hunter was 7. Hunter grew up in Florida and then, at 15, moved to California to live with his father, who was out of work and trying to make it as an actor.
Hunter worked as a lifeguard, in the mailrooms of an insurance company and an accounting firm, as a disco dancer performing at parties, and as a phone-sex worker. After earning his high school equivalency diploma, he attended the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles (now the Otis College of Art and Design) and, after earning a BFA in 1984, moved to New York City.
Mr. Reynolds was a founder of ART + Positive, an ACT UP affinity group, as such spinoffs were known, of artists galvanized to protest homophobia with fliers, and artwork and other actions by the Helms AIDS Amendments, sponsored by the conservative Republican senator Jesse Helms , which prohibited federal funding for AIDS education.
In addition to Patina’s escapades, Mr. Reynolds’s performance pieces included a series he called “Mummification.” For that work, a more arduous exercise, he was cocooned in plastic wrap and packing tape and pulled through locations on a loading cart, or placed in a gallery or a public park, after which assistants would slice off his carapace and release him.
He made two-dimensional pieces, too: His “Survival AIDS” series of photo-weavings in which he stitched together articles about AIDS that had been published in The New York Times with photo scans of his own work, spatters of his blood and other imagery.
Among the many honors he earned, Mr. Reynolds was a Guggenheim fellow in 2017.
Mr. Reynolds is survived by his mother, who now goes by the name Danielle Englander; his brothers, Mark Reynolds and Brian Reynolds; and a sister, Tasha Reynolds.
Patina twirled every way all over the world, from Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach to the Berlin Metro, from Roman ruins to Gothic cathedrals. She often danced with passers-by, dressed in clouds of tulle and looking like a cross between a whirling dervish and a bride. These images were captured by the photographer Maxine Henryson in an ongoing eight-year collaboration they called “I-Dea The Goddess Within.”
In 1997, their work was shown at the Linda Kirkland Gallery in Manhattan. The show mostly made of photographs, but Patina’s white dress was there, too, placed in the middle of the gallery, “as if frozen in mid-curtsy and surrounded by an aureole of dried flowers,” Holland Cotter of The New York Times wrote in a review. It was, he added, “the emblem of a genial but politically pointed performance about liberation still very much in progress.”