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Artist Blog - Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

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Blog on Artists, Patti Smith Robert Mapplethorpe

Art and sexuality, expression of individualism, the intensity of pleasure and pain, the perverse paradox! 

The topic of sexuality in art history has been approached in a myriad of ways, but perhaps desire must be the essence but not the ending

In western Art, in can be argued that the erotic was long ignored, hidden or condemned and we have to view mythological images, or religious works to encounter it and it’s only more recently that erotic art has become truly transgressive in its nature

I had a collection of artists I favoured from whilst at art school in this genre

The spunky ones I idealised, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas, Bob Flanagan, Ann Hirst, Sophie Calle, Annie Spinkle and Tracey Emin

A long way we have travelled…

Artists that exposed the repression of homosexuality in a time when only an edited down version was palatable. Visionaries who have used their sexuality to cope with life debilitating sentences, or bawdy challenging humour. Others who just enjoy the unsolicited holy fuck of a prolonged orgasm. Artists who make comedy from their traumas or as an opposite, trace the wry lines of a clown’s sad smile, creators who have gumption to sit eyeball to eyeball to a ruffled metallic raven, that pecks glutinously at their loss and still they show you that loss, freely

They don’t hide it, it’s not jugular but it’s not a hootenanny either

The artist I have chosen to write about in this blog is Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe but I will discuss some other artists in future blogs

I read the memoir ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith years ago, it was a hopeless surrender to a Waterstones assistant, I needed a good holiday read with a sandstorm into a creative wilderness. She told me about this book, it was a lucky find and it turned out to by my favourite book of all time

I think I adore it because it’s essentially a true love story of love and also tragedy, you see honesty, a louche poverty, two strangers coming together and pushing of their own self-envelopment, reflecting back their times and the poetic nature in which Patti captures it all

Patti and Robert were reported as being ‘friends, lovers, artistic collaborators and soul mates’

Such a clear recollection of the times they both lived. They were both destitute arriving in New York in 1967, both hungry to become Artists. Patti was a dropout from teacher training college who had just given up a child for adoption, boarded a bus for Philadelphia and the rest was history

She writes ‘At 20 years old, I boarded the bus from Philadelphia to New York. I wore my dungarees, black turtleneck, and the old grey raincoat I bought In Camden. My small suitcase, yellow and red plaid, held some drawing pencils, a notebook and illuminations, a few pieces of clothing, and pictures of my siblings. I was superstitious, Today was Monday; I was born on Monday. It was a good day to arrive in New York City. No one expected me. Everything awaited me’

Patti had no real friends or career plans when she first moved to New York. She wasn’t even 21, other hippies helped her find food and the essentials. Patti had a passion for French poets, American rock n roll and strong black coffee

When Patti and Robert first met,  in the beginning they were so poor they sometimes they slept on the street, two of a kind, outsiders to an insiders world, and neither seemed too distraught about it, she describes ‘we woke up knowing we were no longer alone’

They came together, drew together, like a form of molten meditation

Robert describers himself coming from Suburban America ‘it was a good place to come from and that it was a good place to leave’ He studied drawing, painting and sculpture, influenced by Cornell and Duchamp

He chose, above all else, to explore his sexuality and it took him to the underground subculture scene of New York sex clubs. He began working as a hustler, to feed him and Patti and his own curiosity, this enriched his practise and blurred many lines and consequently raised many eyebrows. His need for symmetry, beauty and a search for self-expression was strong. He made photography in a time when it wasn’t considered an art form

Patti said 'Robert was never a voyeur, he always wanted to be authentically involved with the work that came out of his s&m persuits, he wasn't taking pictures for the sake of sensationalism or making it his mission to make the s&m scene more acceptable, he didn't think it should be accepted'

Mapplethorpe examined many undercurrents, he secreted national debate like nobody else, around artistic freedom and eroticism but none of it was to enforce any feeling of Emergency or dissonance as critiques considered his work too edgy, on the verge of being pornographic or racist. That was never his intention and he simply photographed what he thought was beautiful, albeit, patty, the devil, a penis or a flower but flowers were more acceptable in affluent homes

He is most known for his gay, BDSM portraits proving that queerness and erotica were compelling and important subjects and he was described as saying ‘I want to see the devil in us all’

Patti recals robert saying his world was 'intoxicating, and it was his mission not to reveal but to document an aspect of sexuality as Art as it had never been seen before' but it didn't come without a cost. Patti became more concerned about Robert and walking further into a darker place and 'at best their friendship was a refuage for Robert, and he could hide or coil like an exhausted baby snake' 

Beauty and satan held him and he believed they were the same thing, maybe for me, that was the most illuminating thing about him             

He found satisfaction in the photographs he took, he also worked in sculpture, combine and films

He was diagnosed with Aids in 1986

The most extraordinary part, it took Patti 20 years to write their love story and she promised Robert she would do it before he died

The moments I really remember of the book

How they met, him picking out her favourite piece of jewellery in the bookstore she was working in - a purple necklace from Persia, the goings on of the Chelsea hotel with fellow artists and musicians, how insanely sick they became at times, how they made toss up’s between spending their money on grilled cheese sandwiches or art supplies, Mapplethorpe’s regret but mostly, his insurgence of incalculable freedoms that he created.

He was so perfectly himself, the eye of a lens of desire. He was his own beautiful catch 22

Anyway I think the final words should belong to them

‘when I have sex with someone I forget who I am. For a minute I even forget I’m human. It’s the same thing when I’m behind a camera, I forget I exist’

Robert Mapplethorpe

When Robert was dying, Patti composed a letter for him, a letter he never got to read

She ends the letter ‘The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that out of all of your work, you are still the most beautiful’

‘The most beautiful work of all’.

Patti Smith

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Posted on 31st January 2021

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