Look at the pictures in the first definitive, feature-length film portrait of the controversial American artist and photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe since his death from AIDS in 1989.
I remember seeing the fetish images in the late 80’s and early 90’s and wasn’t shocked by them, as I was already involved in the fetish scene at that time. However, knowing that the world knew nothing of these perversions, I was amazed at his bravery, for making what I believed to be a very private scene, public!
It struck me that his life and his art were one and the same. It in fact, documented his life, lovers and passions/perversions. The intimate and candid revelations from family, friends and lovers, show us the real Mapplethorpe. This no-holes-barred film is a series of rediscovered, never before heard interviews, making it a unique portrait of an artist who made us, sit up and pay attention about his photography. From fine art with a bold vision to those BDSM images that ignited a nation in disgust.
Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. Of his childhood he said, "I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”
In 1963, Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute in nearby Brooklyn, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. Influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, he also experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages, including images cut from books and magazines.
I really all started when he acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs to incorporate into the collages, saying he felt "it was more honest.” I remember is the 80’s when, I myself had a Polariod, they were liberation, creative and instant!
That same year he and Patti Smith, whom he had met three years earlier, moved into the Chelsea Hotel. I hadn’t know this previously and it struck me how alike they were, like a mirror image of each other.
In 1973, the Light Gallery in New York City mounted his first solo gallery exhibition, "Polaroids." Two years later he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances—artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground. He also worked on commercial projects, creating album cover art for Patti Smith and Television and a series of portraits and party pictures for Interview Magazine.
Probably the period I know him best from is the late 70s, when he was documenting the New York S&M scene. In fact, there was no exploitation going on...he was getting involved nightly, ‘a regular' at the infamous Mineshaft, a hardcore S&M club. The resulting photographs were shocking at the time, as seen at the beginning of the from as a senator calls the images to be banned. The content was controvertial and at the same time, remarkable for technical and formal mastery. Mapplethorpe told ARTnews in late 1988, "I don't like that particular word 'shocking.' I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before … I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them." Meanwhile his career continued to flourish.
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Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon, the first World Women's Bodybuilding Champion, in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, Lady, Lisa Lyon. Funny how, at the time I felt thses photos were very fetishistic too.
Throughout the 80s, Mapplethorpe produced many images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and loads of celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres.
That same year, in 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. I had been on the scene one year at the time of his death. I can't remember when I first heard about him or indeed if I was aware of his death, but back then we had no internet, it was down to books, magazines and word-of-mouth to teach you what you needed to know about fetish history.
It’s debatable if his vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Well, it has for me, as it has touched my life and brings meaning to what I do, as an active member of the BDSM fetish community in the UK.
Today his work, his legacy, lives on through the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. He established the Foundation in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.
I’ve just bought Mapplethorpe Robert: Pictures by Robert Mapplethorpe cant wait for it to arrive.
I’ve just bought Mapplethorpe DVD is £9.99
Released on 25 July 2016. Pre-order now. http://dogwoof.com/mapplethorpe/
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato