Friday, May 27, 2011

On Mapplethorpe

                                Patti Smith, 1976.  © Robert Mapplethorpe

A further thought upon finishing Just Kids by Patti Smith. A key element to the Mapplethorpe story is this: that without Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe may have been little more than a significant footnote in Patti Smith's story. Wagstaff was Mapplethorpe's benefactor, a wealthy art collector who became the most important collector of photographic art of his time.  He enabled Mapplethorpe as a photographer.

I raise this point with only this in mind: having described Smith's book as one of the great accounts of becoming an artist, and what it is to be an artist, it's worth acknowledging the part that money played in at least one half of this particular story. Without Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe would still have been an artist - but whether he'd have been a successful artist, whether we'd have heard of him in his own right, free of the Smith/Mapplethorpe mythology is questionable. Of course, you can argue that Mapplethorpe's social climbing was a contributing factor in his art - that he made the meeting with Wagstaff happen, and the fact that they fell in love, inspired one another, was due in some part to Mapplethrope's creative instinct. But it doesn't alter this fact: that if he'd never met Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe would likely have been just another side-long story of  talent with unfulfilled dreams.

The image above may be my favourite Mapplethorpe portrait. I have mixed feelings about his portraits. Typically they're cold and don't reveal much about their subjects. This one has heat to it though.

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