Friday, January 11, 2013

Robert Mapplethorpe / Portraits

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Patti Smith’ 1979
Patti Smith, 1979

This famous photograph of Patti Smith is a study in contrasts, not only between the black hair and white doves, between the gossamer-lightness of the dress and the sharpness of Smith’s features; but between the peaceful, almost arcadian atmosphere conjured up by the tree, doves and dress and the intensity of Smith’s gaze and expression.

by Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Louise Bourgeois’ 1982, printed 1991
Louise Bourgeois, 1982

Louise Bourgeois is a French-born, American artist, who began making surrealist-inspired paintings and prints, but turned to sculpture in the late 1940s. Her sculptures, often but not always abstract, have strong allusions to the human body and especially to human sexuality. In this photograph she is carrying one of her own works, a phallic-shaped sculpture that her right hand is holding in a suggestive manner. Her smile is very knowing.

Andy Warhol, 1983

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Andy Warhol’ 1986, printed 1990
Andy Warhol, 1986
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was one of the most influential artists of the late twentieth century. Indeed, Mapplethorpe had idolised him while he was studying at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in the late 1960s. However, by 1973 when they showed together at the Gotham Book Mart in New York, they were distrustful of each other. Photographed at the same time as the other 1983 portrait in ARTIST ROOMS, Mapplethorpe has selected just Warhol’s head and shoulders. Leaning against the white wall to the left, his body in profile, Warhol turns his head to face the camera, exhibiting his customary blank expression.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Truman Capote’ 1981
Truman Capote, 1981

The American writer, Truman Capote (1924-1984), is best known for works such as ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1958) and ‘In Cold Blood’ (1966). He was very publicity-conscious, ever since 1948, when he posed for a suggestive and provocative photograph to adorn the dust jacket of his book ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’. In later years he was fairly reclusive. This photograph shows him relaxed, presumably at home, but by placing him alongside a strange, white sculpture of a palm tree Mapplethorpe manages to suggest something of Capote’s notorious eccentricity.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘William Burroughs’ 1980
William Burroughs, 1980

William Burroughs (1914-1997) was a novelist, a guru and one of America’s underground heroes. His greatest novel, ‘The Naked Lunch’ (first published in France in 1959) was banned on the grounds of obscenity until, in a groundbreaking trial in 1966, it was declared not obscene. By 1980, when this photograph was taken, Burroughs was a countercultural giant. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a secular saint in prayer. Almost half the composition is taken up by Burroughs’s dark jacket, which thereby throws into sharp relief his head and clasped hands.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1985

The American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), was one of the chief exponents of Pop Art. In his early years he specialised in using comic-book and advertising imagery as the basis for his paintings. In the 1980s he began to scale up expressionistically painted sketches which he would then proceed to paint with precisionist detail. It is probably one of these paintings that Lichtenstein is standing in front of in this photograph.

Francesco Clemente, 1982

Francesco Clemente is an Italian painter born in Naples in 1952. At the time this photograph was taken, he lived part of the time in New York, Rome and Madras. Clemente came to the fore internationally in the late 1970s and 1980s, when expressive, figurative painting became popular again. The pose and facial expression that he adopts are those of a saint or holy man. Mapplethorpe, who grew up a Catholic, uses the iconography of Catholic imagery to bring out something of the saintly seeker-after-truth in Clemente, who regularly spent time in India where he was inspired by the richness of the culture and religious practices.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Keith Haring’ 1984
Keith Haring, 1984

Along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring (1958-90) was the leading artist of the graffiti art movement which flourished in New York in the 1980s. Haring’s geeky, schoolboy ingénu look belied his savvy knowledge of the media. Mapplethorpe has captured this mixture of faux innocent and knowing art practitioner in this portrait.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Robert Rauschenberg’ 1983
Robert Rauschenberg, 1983

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was a major American painter, sculptor and printmaker, whose radical combination of action painting with found objects in the 1950s helped prepare the way for Pop Art. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a worker in dark overalls. His outspread arms, open hands and compassionate facial expression make him look like a saint. Mapplethorpe did something similar in a photograph of the Italian artist, Francesco Clemente.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Willem de Kooning’ 1986
Willem de Kooning, 1986

The Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), was, along with Jackson Pollock, the chief representative of the gestural form of Abstract Expressionism. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a benign ‘old-timer’ in his working overalls. As with his portraits of Brice Marden, Roy Lichtenstein and Francesco Clemente, it appears Mapplethorpe has photographed him infront of one of his own paintings.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Brice Marden’ 1976
Brice Marden, 1976

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Brice Marden’ 1986
Brice Marden, 1986

The American artist Brice Marden emerged in the 1960s as a painter of flat monochrome works. In the 1980s, however, influenced by Far Eastern calligraphy and poetry, he had turned to a freer, gestural type of painting, of the sort that can be seen behind him in this photograph. The frontality and symmetry of Marden’s pose provide a strong structural centre in the image, set against the expressive, free flow of the painting behind him which continues on to his shirt. This contrasts with the earlier portrait of Marden by Mapplethorpe in 1976, which imitated Marden’s carefully balanced minimal paintings of the time in a more sparse composition.

Lawrence Weiner, 1982

Lawrence Weiner (born in New York in 1942) is one of the founders of conceptual art, a movement that placed the emphasis on the conceptual and linguistic basis and formulation of a work of art, rather than on its execution. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a rugged intellectual with more than a streak of flamboyance - a silk scarf draped around his neck and tattooed star on his wrist - and love of his own rhetoric (note the open mouth, as if he had been caught in mid-flow). The diagonal lines of his arms create a parallelogram in the centre of the composition that acts as a base for the bearded head above.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘John McKendry’ 1975, printed 1992
John McKendy, 1975

Born in Canada, John McKendry was a curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was through McKendry that Mapplethorpe was exposed to photography in a new light and began to consider it as an art form of its own standing. However, McKendry was an alcoholic and this photograph of him was taken in hospital the day before he died, his face slathered in royal jelly moisturiser. Mapplethorpe’s brilliant cropping concentrates our attention on his discriminating eye, for which he was famous, and on the single electrical cord hanging from the socket. Mapplethorpe knew that he didn’t have long to live.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Henry Geldzahler’ 1979
Henry Geldzahler, 1979

Mapplethorpe met Henry Geldzahler (1935-1994) at John McKendry’s apartment in New York. Like McKendry he was a fellow curator (for twentieth-century art) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Geldzahler had close relationships with many artists and was portrayed by, among others, David Hockney, Alice Neel and Larry Rivers, and he figured as the sole character in a 90-minute film by Andy Warhol, in which he did nothing more than smoke a cigar. Mapplethorpe’s close-up photograph shows him with his trademark cigar and bow tie. It highlights Mapplethorpe’s interest in formal contrasts with Geldzahler’s prickly beard and patterned blazer set against his gleaming spectacles and flat background.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Phillip Johnson’ 1978
Philip Johnson, 1978

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was the doyen of American architects and architectural critics. In the 1930s he championed the cause of modernism, although towards the end of his career he was one of the first architects to embrace postmodernism. He is photographed here seated in a dark leather chair, wearing his round, trademark spectacles that contributed so much to his puckish demeanour. Like a figure in an Egyptian low relief – hieratic and unemotional – Johnson has taken up a triangular pose, from the tip of his pointing finger to the back of his head and down to his elbow.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Smutty’ 1980
Smutty, 1980

The nickname, tattoos, studded wristband and knowing look suggest that there is a darker side to this androgynous-looking young man. The placement of the arms and the contrapposto of the body and head are features common in Mannerist art, an area of art history that Mapplethorpe had a particular interest in.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Smutty’ 1982
Smutty, 1982

Mapplethorpe had previously photographed this androgynous-looking young man, nicknamed ‘Smutty’, in 1980. This later image shows him in a more confident pose - standing with his body in profile, casually leaning his left arm against the wall and his right resting on his hip. The curvature of his arms focuses attention on a key ring of rabbit’s feet (a traditional good luck charm), hanging from his belt. However, his leather trousers and waistcoat, tattoos, and studded wristbands allude to a darker side, and raise the question as to what the good luck is for. His head is turned to look directly at the camera (and consequently the viewer) in a commanding and almost inviting way.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Nick’ 1977
Nick, 1977

Nick looks every inch the hard, leather-clad macho guy of the New York gay S&M scene – studs on his jacket, belt and wristband, tattoos on his arm and forehead (a flaming skull) and a well-trimmed beard. Yet his hands are clasped together as if in prayer.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Bob Love’ 1979
Bob Love, 1979

Around 1979 Mapplethorpe began to photograph black men. As his biographer, Patricia Morrisroe, wrote, he found that “he could extract a greater richness from the colour of their skin”, in particular the tonal range between the highlights and the shadows was more dramatic. In this close-up of Bob Love, Mapplethorpe exploits the contrast between the highlights on his shoulder and face and the inky darkness of his neck and the back and top of his head.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1976

The bodybuilder and budding actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger poses in a space rendered theatrical by a curtain that cuts the image at the top into two halves. The curve of the curtain to the left is echoed in Schwarzenegger’s pose – his extended right leg and curved right arm. It shows Mapplethorpe’s interest in the classical tradition with Schwarzenegger’s exceptionally muscular physique reminiscent of Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Tattoo Artist's Son’ 1984
Tattoo Artist’s Son, 1984

This portrait shows an unknown punk, introduced to us as just the ‘Tattoo Artist’s Son’. He looks straight out of the frame with one intense eye, the other covered by his long fringe, a contrast to his shaven head. He appears full of attitude, his mouth slightly open as if caught mid-sentence. Despite the sitter’s casual body language the composition is structured. The sitter is centralised against the background which is split in half vertically - one side light, the other dark, his fringe creating a panel of dark swept into the light.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Meredith Monk’ 1985
Meredith Monk, 1985

Meredith Monk is a composer, performer, film-maker and interdisciplinary artist. As she said of herself: ‘I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema’. Mapplethorpe has chosen to show her head in profile, silhouetted against a circular form, as if it were a halo. As in so many of his works, Mapplethorpe has turned to the Catholic iconography of the saints to elevate his sitter.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Diane Benson’ 1980
Diane Benson, 1980

Mapplethorpe has posed his sitter carefully so that her head and projecting hairstyle are in profile, but the back of her coat with its spectacular three-dimensional birds is fully visible. Her exaggerated 1950s-style quiff only just bisects the white diagonal, which emerges from the centre point and slices across the top-left corner of the frame. This emphasises the hairstyle and balances the overall composition.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Marianne Faithfull’ 1976, printed 2003
Marianne Faithful, 1976
In the 1970s Marianne Faithful was well-known in both Britain and America as a singer and as a member of the celebrity jet set. Mapplethorpe photographs her frontally in relation to a strong framework of horizontals and verticals (the balustrade and wall). Faithful’s arms form the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle, bisected diagonally by her legs, torso and head. Despite the highly structured composition, Faithful seems spontaneous and fun-loving.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Molissa Fenley’ 1983
Molissa Fenley, 1983

In the 1970s Marianne Faithful was well-known in both Britain and America as a singer and as a member of the celebrity jet set. Mapplethorpe photographs her frontally in relation to a strong framework of horizontals and verticals (the balustrade and wall). Faithful’s arms form the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle, bisected diagonally by her legs, torso and head. Despite the highly structured composition, Faithful seems spontaneous and fun-loving.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Iggy Pop’ 1981
Iggy Pop, 1981

Iggy Pop, “The Godfather of Punk”, was a highly influential American rock singer and occasional actor. He was known for his raw physical energy on stage and also for his drugs problem. In this photograph Mapplethorpe captures this crazed energy (drug induced?), as Iggy Pop stares at the camera with eyes wide open and mouth seemingly about to speak or sing.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’ 1976
Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, 1976

Mapplethorpe took this iconic photograph of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson in the same year as the production of Glass’s landmark opera, ‘Einstein on the Beach,’ which Wilson directed. The similar poses that the two men have adopted, as well as the geometry of the composition, emphasise their close collaboration – as well as their differences. The walls behind them are not the same. The white wall behind Wilson stands a few inches in front of the coloured wall behind Glass. Whereas Glass is unkempt, quite scruffily dressed and holding his hands in a contorted fashion, Wilson is well-groomed and generally more self-composed.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Francesca Thyssen’ 1981
Francesca Thyssen, 1981

Francesca Thyssen is the daughter of the art collector, the late Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Scottish model, Fiona Campbell-Walter. In 1993 she married Archduke Karl von Habsburg, but they later separated. Francesca von Habsburg (as she is now called) lives in Vienna and, like her father, collects art on a grand scale. Mapplethorpe portrays her in a costume that makes her look like a woman in an early Netherlandish painting or a figure out of the Arabian Nights.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Grace Jones’ 1984
Grace Jones, 1984

Grace Jones is a Jamaican-born singer, model and actress, known for her androgynous looks and her outrageous behaviour. She was very much part of the New York art and social scene in the 1980s. For this photograph her body has been painted by the New York graffiti artist, Keith Haring (1958-1990) with his characteristic pictograms and decorations. She is also wearing an exotic headdress and a conical wire bra, so that she looks like a voodoo doll or an aboriginal dancer.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Doris Saatchi’ 1983
Doris Saatchi, 1983

The American, Doris Saatchi (née Lockhart), was Charles Saatchi’s first wife. This photograph was taken when the couple had attained almost legendary status as collectors of international contemporary art. The four-volume set of catalogues of their collection, ‘Art of Our Time’, was published in 1984 and showed that they had acquired many works now considered masterpieces. Mapplethorpe has captured her as a disembodied head looking directly into the camera with no hesitation. She has the gaze of someone who knows what she wants and knows how to appraise it.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Honey’ 1976
Honey, 1976

Mapplethorpe took a number of photographs of the children of friends and acquaintances. In them he emphasised their innocence and lack of self-consciousness. Here that is reinforced by placing Honey on a flower-studded lawn, her smooth skin contrasted against the texture of the grass.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Paloma Picasso, 1980
Katherine Cebrian, 1980

Katherine Cebrian was one of the ‘grandes dames’ of San Francisco society, who famously said: “I don’t even butter my bread. I consider that cooking.” When Mapplethorpe was in town for the opening of a show at a private gallery, its owner arranged for Mapplethorpe to photograph her. He turned up at her house wearing a black leather outfit and a studded belt, spelling out the word ‘SHIT’. De Celle recollected: “I held my breath, but then Mapplethorpe worked his quiet charms on the elderly woman…talking softly to her while he set up his tripod in the sitting room. Mapplethorpe placed her in a window seat, with her face in profile.”

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Eva Amurri’ 1988
Eva Amurri, 1988

This photograph is of Eva, the daughter of American actress Susan Sarandon. Although somberly dressed in black, clutching her toy rabbit, a delicate lace collar frames her face and she has a soft smile on her face, her eyes glistening. Although it was taken at a time when Robert Mapplethorpe was desperately ill from AIDS and had only a few months to live, it is an image of innocence and of bright hope for the future.

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Lindsay Key’ 1985
Lindsay Key, 1985

Mapplethorpe took a number of photographs of the children of friends and acquaintances. In them he emphasised their innocence and lack of self-consciousness. Unlike his portraits of grown-ups with their studied postures, he preferred casual and natural poses. Here he captures the totally natural contrapposto of the young girl, as she leans with the top part of her body against the wind that is blowing her hair across her face. Her legs lean in the opposite direction.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Aira, 1979

Robert Mapplethorpe's Lisa Lyon, 1982Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1982
Robert Mapplethorpe, William Burroughs, 1979
Robert Mapplethorpe,Robert Mapplethorpe, Annabelle’s mother, 1978

robert-mapplethorpe-selfportrait-1988Robert Mapplethorpe, Selfportrait, 1988
In this late photograph, Mapplethorpe is no longer playing a role, as he did in so many of his earlier self-portraits. It was taken a few months before he died from an AIDS-related illness in 1989. In it he faces straight ahead, as if he were looking death in the face. The skull-headed cane that he holds in his right hand reinforces this reading. Mapplethorpe is wearing black, so that his head floats free, disembodied, as if he were already half-way to death. Mapplethorpe even photographs his head very slightly out of focus (compared with his hand) to suggest his gradual fading away.

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