Shots in the Dark

By Patty Smith
from Details, November 1992

 

Self-Portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

 

“When Robert and I were young, scarcely twenty, we’d sometimes go to Coney Island, have a Nathan’s hot dog, sit on the long pier, and dream about the future. Robert wanted to be a rich and famous artist. (He did it.) I wanted to do something great. (I’m still working on it.) We’d cast our wishes like the shoeless kids and old men who cast out their fishing lines. We’d sit there until dawn, then head back into Brooklyn. We were never afraid. New York was tough but kind. We were always all right. Maybe just a little hungry.

It was the summer of 1967. I had left the security of family, cornfields, and billowing New Jersey skies to seek my fortune in New York. I met Robert, a smiling, barefoot kid as misfit as myself. That fall, we got a place on Hall Street in Brooklyn, across from Pratt Institute, where he was a student. The streets were run by painters and poets. Everybody had a vision. Everybody was broke. Nobody had a TV.

Ours was a bleak little apartment that he brightened with Indian cloths, religious objects, and his own work. I tacked pictures of Rimbaud over my writing desk, played my Juliet Gréco records, and read Illuminations. Robert had a Timothy Leary book–one of the few books he actually read. (He often fell asleep in foreign movies. It was the subtitles, he said.) He was always working on a drawing, an installation, or a new piece of sculpture. He’d work twelve hours straight, listening to the same Vanilla Fudge album over and over. His work was asymmetric, psychedelic, and he was always scavenging for materials. I had to hide my best stuff, for many a wolf skin, brocade, or crucifix was sacrificed on the altar of art.

At twenty, we were still learning about ourselves, trying to make sense of what was going down. Assassinations, Vietnam, universal love, where our next meal was coming from. New York was going though its own changes–the Beat residue of the early ’60s was giving way to the divine disorder of 1968. All this was new to me–beaded curtains and LSD were not big sellers in South Jersey.

Robert and I rarely fought. We did bicker, though, like siblings, over everything. Trivial things. Who would do the laundry. Who would get the last sheet of drawing paper. Who was the better dancer. (He refused to acknowledge the superiority of my South Jersey over his own Long Island style.) What to eat. All he ever wanted was spaghetti and chocolate egg creams.

Our main preoccupations were art and magic. Magic was an intuitive thing you either had or you didn’t, and Robert was sure he had it. It was a gift from God, and he pinned his faith upon it. I always admired his confidence. It wasn’t arrogance, it was just there, unshakable. And he was generous with it–if he believed in what you were doing, he somehow infected you with it. His major source of anxiety was money, because executing his ideas required it and he loathed employment.

We were not the hippest people. That was not the thing. The thing was to develop a vision that would be worthy of remembrance, or even a bit of glory.

Sometimes we’d pass the night by sitting on the floor, looking at books. Some my mother gave me: The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, Brancusi, The Sacred Art of Tibet. And his own big coffee-table books on erotic art, Tantric art, and Surrealism. I’d plait my hair like Frida Kahlo, he’d stretch out in an old black turtleneck and dungarees, and we’d find refuge in the pages and emerge inspired, full of resolve.

Robert loved the large-format book. He wasn’t much of a reader, but he’d study the plates–the work of Michelangelo, Blake, Duchamp–and extend what he saw in works of his own. He dreamed of having such a book someday, devoted to his own particular vision that was, in the late ’60s, still forming.

This was on my mind recently when I opened the package containing the unbound sheets of his forthcoming book, Mapplethorpe. A large, exquisite book, admittedly not for every coffee table, but coffee-table size, just as he wanted. It forms a visual diary of his life, opening not with his name, nor a text, but with an image of a proud, frayed American flag. The stars block, and are therefore illuminated by, the sun. Toward the end of the book is one of his last self-portraits, in which he is aged considerably from physical suffering, stubborn, stoic, and a bit frayed, like the proud and weathered flag.

Robert took his first pictures in 1970. We had parted as a couple, but we stayed together as friends. We tackled Manhattan: The Chelsea Hotel. Max’s Kansas City. The Factory. The ’70s. Robert loved Manhattan, its perpetual twilight. He felt alive there, free. He loved socializing-even though he was shy–and he loved Andy Warhol, who was also shy and loved to socialize.

Like many exploring their sexual identity at that time, he cased the emerging frontier. Christopher Street. Forty-second Street. The leather, bars. The baths. He shifted identities, not out of crisis, but out of delight. One month, the sailor; the next, the hustler. “How do you like this new image!” he’d ask, pleased with himself in a black net T-shirt, tight pants, and a piece of red silk tied around his throat. In that same black net tee he hung out on Fifty- third Street, where he observed the hustlers, photographed the hustlers, and perhaps hustled himself. He wore the T-shirt executing art. And when he finally took it off, he stretched and mounted it on a frame and exposed it as art itself.

He was using at this time an old Polaroid. A pack of film was costly and might take the place of a meal, so each shot was important. Robert never took snapshots. He always knew beforehand the image he was after. He followed me around with that Polaroid constantly, issuing simple commands. “Can you stand in that shaft of light?” “Slowly face the wall.” Each shot taken with a studied economy, an economy he employed throughout his working life. Even later, as his work developed, he never used a motor drive, never shot roll after roll. His process was not a passionate one. His work was the result of a contemplative, deliberate act. He never drew lines; he crossed them, without apology, to create something present, new. A contact sheet would reveal just twelve images. They were all alike, except for the one he had marked, the perfect one. “The one with the magic,” he’d say.

I admit I hoped his photography was a passing phase. Somehow, being shot with a cheap Polaroid didn’t correspond to my notion of the role of the French artist’s model. But he took it seriously. He liked the speed, the immediacy. He was convinced that the common Polaroid print, in his hands, was a viable work of art.

He drew his subjects from life’s walk, and his work reflected change–both personal and social. Many of his models were biker boys, call boys, men of the street. His form was classic, stylized–“I’m not after beauty,” he would say, “I’m after perfection, and they’re not always the same.”

In the early ’70s he began to use the large-format camera, and he committed himself to photography, championing its elevation and exploration. Portraits, still lifes, early flowers, the S&M suite. At first I found the S&M photographs, which were difficult by most standards, frightening. I once asked him what it was like being there, observing, immortalizing the private rituals of these people. He said it was “somewhat scary. But they know what they’re doing. And so do I. It’s all about trust.” He used these photographs, which caused such a stir years later, to tease me relentlessly. He knew I was squeamish about them, and he’d slip prints into my books. So on a rainy Sunday, I’d open a beautiful copy of Peter Pan or Arabia Deserta and be assaulted by an image of a bloodied member in a vice grip. “Robert!” I’d yell. And I could hear him, through the wall that separated our studios, giggling.

I think the furor his work caused after his death would have amused him. But the attention paid to just the sexual aspect would have surely dismayed him. He was not intentionally political. He was not an activist. He shot what he saw–just as Genet wrote what he experienced–with grace. All his work–from the translucent skin of a lily to the arched torso of a black male–represented him, his vision of the world. Just as Pollock hated being called an Abstract Expressionist and Manet deplored the title Impressionist, Robert never wanted to be pegged. Not even as a photographer. The true artist desires, and deserves, to be remembered only as an Artist.

Shortly before he died, I sat with Robert in his studio. He still worked, despite terrible bouts of coughing, vomiting, and excruciating pain. With the aid of his youngest brother, the photographer Edward Maxey, he was able to produce some final, perfect images. We sat amongst large, exquisite prints. A cluster of deeply ripe grapes. A single rose. And a marble portrait of Hermes. The skin of the white statue burned and seemed to emit its own light against a field of black. It was as if, through Robert’s eye, it had glimpsed life.

“I think I’ve done everything I can with the photograph,” he said. “I think I’ll go back to sculpture.”

He had on that day the anxious, fervent gaze he often wore when he worked. I remember that same look as he photographed me in Burbank, California, in full sun before a drying palm. It was 1987, I was six months pregnant and feeling the strain. Robert was not well. His hand trembled and, as he worked, he dropped and broke his light meter. But we took the picture anyway, barely saying a word. He checked the image and drew the camera closer. “Can you raise your head just a little!” It was much like the first pictures. High concentration. Simple and direct. Within that modest photograph is all our experience, compassion,, and even a mutual sense of irony. He was carrying death. I was carrying life. My hair is braided and the sun is in my eyes. And so is an image of Robert, alive.”

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The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Cover of 1915 edition of J. M. Barrie’s novel, first published in 1911, illustrated by F. D. Bedford

 

Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes, by F. D. Bedford from Peter and Wendy (1911)

 

Peter Pan is a character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. A mischievous boy who can fly and never grows up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang, the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Native Americans, fairies, pirates, and occasionally ordinary children from the world outside Neverland. In addition to two distinct works by Barrie, the character has been featured in a variety of media and merchandise, both adapting and expanding on Barrie’s works. These include an animated film, a dramatic film, a TV series and other works.

J.M. Barrie created his character based on his older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before he would have turned 14. His mother and brother thought of him always as a boy. The “boy who wouldn’t grow up” character has been described as a variety of ages. It is also based on Pan, the Greek deity.

J. M. Barrie first used Peter Pan as a character in a section of The Little White Bird (1902), an adult novel.

He returned to that character as the center of his stage play entitled Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which premiered on 27 December 1904 in London. The play was highly popular, running to 1913.

 

Following the success of the 1904 play, Barrie’s publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, extracted chapters 13–18 of The Little White Bird and republished them in 1906 under the title Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with the addition of illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Barrie adapted and expanded the play’s story line as a novel, published in 1911 as Peter and Wendy

 

Peter Pan ( Herbert Brenon, 1924). Silent film released by Paramount Pictures, the first film adaptation of the play by J. M. Barrie, starring Betty Bronson as Peter

 

Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, 1953), the American animated fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney. A sequel titled Return to Never Land was released in 2002

 

Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991), live-action sequel starring Robin Williams as the adult Peter Banning, Dustin Hoffman as Hook and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell

16 Poems

© Hereus de Roberto Bolaño. Barcelona (Spain), 1981

 

“…31. Soñé que la tierra se acababa. Y que el único ser humano que contemplaba el final era Franz Kafka. En el cielo los Titanes luchaban a muerte. Desde un asiento de hierro forjado del parque de Nueva York veía arder el mundo.

32. Soñé que estaba soñando y que volvía a mi casa demasiado tarde. En mi cama encontraba a Mario de Sá-Carneiro durmiendo con mi primer amor. Al destaparlos descubría que estaban muertos y mordiéndome los labios hasta hacerme sangre volvía a los caminos vecinales.

33. Soñé que Anacreonte construía su castillo en la cima de una colina pelada y luego lo destruía.

34. Soñé que era un detective latinoamericano muy viejo. Vivía en NuevaYork y Mark Twain me contrataba para salvarle la vida a alguien que no tenía rostro. Va a ser un caso condenadamente difícil, señor Twain, le decía.

35. Soñé que me enamoraba de Alice Sheldon. Ella no me quería. Así que intentaba hacerme matar en tres continentes. Pasaban los años. Por fin, cuando ya era muy viejo, ella aparecía por el otro extremo del Paseo Marítimo de Nueva York y mediante señas (como las que hacían en los portaaviones para que los pilotos aterrizaran) me decía que siempre me había querido.

36. Soñé que hacía un 69 con Anaïs Nin sobre una enorme losa de basalto.

37. Soñé que follaba con Carson McCullers en una habitación en penumbras en la primavera de 1981. Y los dos nos sentíamos irracionalmente felices.

38. Soñé que volvía a mi viejo Liceo y que Alphonse Daudet era mi profesor de francés. Algo imperceptible nos indicaba que estábamos soñando. Daudet miraba a cada rato por la ventana y fumaba la pipa de Tartarín.

39. Soñé que me quedaba dormido mientras mis compañeros de Liceo intentaban liberar a Robert Desnos del campo de concentración de Terezin. Cuando despertaba una voz me ordenaba que me pusiera en movimiento. Rápido, Bolaño, rápido, no hay tiempo que perder. Al llegar sólo encontraba a un vieoj detective escarbando en las ruinas humeantes del asalto.

40. Soñé que una tormenta de números fantasmales era lo único que quedaba de los seres humanos tres mil millones de años después de que la Tierra hubiera dejado de existir.

41. Soñé que estaba soñando y que en los túneles de los sueños encontraba el sueño de Roque Dalton: el sueño de los valientes que murieron por una quimera de mierda.

42. Soñé que tenía dieciocho años y que veía a mi mejor amigo de entonces, que también tenía dieciocho, haciendo el amor con Walt Whitman. Lo hacían en un sillón, contemplando el atardecer borrascoso de Civitavecchia.

43. Soñé que estaba preso y que Boecio era mi compañero de celda. Mira, Bolaño, decía extendiendo la mano y la pluma en la semioscuridad: ¡no tiemblan!, ¡no tiemblan! (Después de un rato, añadía con voz tranquila: pero tamblarán cuando reconozcan al cabrón de Teodorico.)

44. Soñé que traducía al Marqués de Sade a golpes de hacha. Me había vuelto loco y vivía en un bosque.

45. Soñé que Pascal hablaba del miedo con palabras cristalinas en una taberna de Civitavecchia: “Los milagros no sirven para convertir, sino para condenar”, decía.

46. Soñé que era un viejo detective latinoamericano y que una Fundación misteriosa me encargaba encontrar las actas de defunción de los Sudacas Voladores. Viajaba por todo el mundo: hospitales, campos de batalla, pulquerías, escuelas abandonadas…”

Roberto Bolaño

Blanes, 1994

Tres (Fragmento de una colección de poemas)

 

_______________________________________

 

…”31. I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only
human being to contemplate the end was Franz
Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the
death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park,
Kafka was watching the world burn.

32. I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home
too late. In my bed I found Mário de Sá-Carneiro
sleeping with my first love. When I uncovered them
I found they were dead and, biting my lips till they
bled, I went back to the streets.

33. I dreamt that Anacreon was building his castle
on the top of a barren hill and then destroying it.

34. I dreamt I was a really old Latin American
detective. I lived in New York and Mark Twain
was hiring me to save the life of someone without
a face. “It’s going to be a damn tough case, Mr.
Twain,” I told him.

35. I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon.
She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed
on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I
was really old, she appeared on the other end of the
promenade in New York and with signals (like the
ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots
land) she told me she’d always loved me.

36. I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin on an
enormous basaltic flagstone.

37. I dreamt I was fucking Carson McCullers in a
dim-lit room in the spring of 1981. And we both felt
irrationally happy.

38. I dreamt I was back at my old high school
and Alphonse Daudet was my French teacher.
Something imperceptible made us realize we were
dreaming. Daudet kept looking out the window
and smoking Tartarin’s pipe

39. I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates
tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín
concentration camp. When I woke a voice was
telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick,
there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I
found was an old detective picking through the
smoking ruins of the attack.

40. I dreamt that a storm of phantom numbers was
the only thing left of human beings three billion
years after Earth ceased to exist.

41. I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream
tunnels i found Roque Dalton’s dream: the dream
of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera.

42. I dreamt I was 18 and saw my best friend at
the time, who was also 18, making love to Walt
Whitman. They did it in an armchair, contemplating
the stormy Civitavecchia sunset.

43. I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was
my cellmate. “look, Bolaño,” he said, extending
his hand and his pen in the shadows:
“they’re not trembling! they’re not
trembling!” (after a while,
he added in a calm voice: “but they’ll tremble when
they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)

44. I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade
with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the
woods.

45. I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with
crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia:
Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.

46. I dreamt I was an old Latin American detective
and a mysterious Foundation hired me to find the
death certificates of the Flying Spics. I was traveling
all around the world: hospitals, battlefields, pulque
bars, abandoned schools….”

Excerpt from Tres (a collection of poetry)

English translation by Laura Healy

A Hard-Edged Genius Interviewed by His Mum

“I like Alexander McQueen’s work a lot: he’s always pushing boundaries, and he’s rough around the edges. The idea of this hard-edged genius being interviewed by his mum, by the person that spawned him, really appealed to me.”

Sam Taylor-Woods

 
 

 
 

Joyce McQueen: I would have liked to have invited the late Peter Ustinov for dinner, for his wit and conversation. Who would you like as a dinner guest and why?

Alexander McQueen: What, if I could choose anyone?

JM: Anyone in the world.

AM: Elizabeth I …

JM: Why would you want Elizabeth I? The history maybe?

AM: ‘Cause she’s an anarchist.

JM: She’s an anarchist?

AM: She was an anarchist, yeah. Do you want to have a bit of debate on this?

JM: Well, not at the moment, no.

AM: Because, y’know, she kind of founded the Church of England under her father, with all the upheaval from the French and the Scottish …

JM: Who are your other ones?

AM: Jesus of Nazareth, to check if he really exists, and it’s not just we’ve been reading some Peter Pan book for the past 2,000 years. Or Mel Gibson, to be there if Jesus wasn’t true.

JM: If you could live and work as a designer in any era, which one would it be?

AM: Any time? Future as well?

JM: Future as well. But particularly the past.

AM: Let’s stick to the past then. I’m thinking cavemen and loincloths.

JM: What about Tudors and Stuarts?

AM: Er … I’m answering the questions! Most probably …

JM: What about –

AM: I’m thinking ! Fifteenth-century Flemish, Netherlands. My favourite part of art. Because of the colours, because of the sympathetic way they approached life.

JM: Simplicity, you mean.

AM: I’m not going to get into a big art debate with you.

JM: No, I’m trying to get to the bottom of why you like that.

AM: ‘Cause I think they were very modern for their times, in that period and in that part of the world.

JM: You spend as much time as possible in your beautiful cottage in the country. Do you find that the inspiration you get down there features in your work?

AM: I don’t find inspiration there – it gives me a peace of mind, Mum. Solitude, and a blank canvas to work from, instead of the distractions of the concrete jungle.

JM: Right. So it does inspire you in some ways then.

AM: Not technically. Not country life or bobbing rabbits. It’s the peace and quiet.

JM: As you know, I’m a Simply Red and Elton John fan. Who are your favourite artists?

AM: As in singers?

JM: Yeah, well, y’know, groups, whatever. Because at one time, you were very much into classical music.

AM: Beyoncé. No, I’m only joking.

JM: He was about, what, 15. I know because I’ve still got them at home.

AM: I think composers. People like Michael Nyman, who compose an original piece of music – believe it or not, the artists today are inspired by people like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, who come up with unusual sounds.

JM: I know, I know, that’s where pop music comes from …

AM: Nah, it’s like the architect who designed the Gherkin [Norman Foster and his Swiss Re tower in London] inspires people, or Alexander McQueen does a collection that inspires other people to do different things and move things forward. Rap music’s been around for too long now to be inspirational. The words are, but the music isn’t.

JM: You haven’t given me an answer there. You haven’t come out with a group.

AM: I have – Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.

JM: All right, then. I’ll ask another question. You have traveled extensively around the world but still have not been to the Isle of Skye, which is the root of your McQueen history. Will you ever visit that area?

AM: Mmm … yes.

JM: In the near future?

AM: Yes.

JM: Right. And that follows on to my next question: what do your Scottish roots mean to you?

AM: Everything.

JM: Well, where do I come in?

AM: [laughs] Oh you’re from the Forest of Dean, yeah. What do you mean, where do you come in?

JM: Well, your Scottish roots mean a lot to you. So where does your mother’s side come in?

AM: What does my mother’s side, the Welsh side, mean to me?

JM: I’m not Welsh! I’m Norman!

AM: All right, Norman! Where does this Norman come from?

JM: Well they come from Viking stock.

AM: That answers a lot for an awful lot of people, I think. I feel more Scottish than Norman.

JM: You recently got your deep-sea diving certificate, didn’t you?

AM: Yeah, underwater diving.

JM: Well, two of my family discovered the wreck of the Marie Rose, deep-sea divers. Just explains that you’ve taken up deep-sea diving as well. It’s a follow-on really, isn’t it?

AM: So from the McQueen side I’ve got anarchy, and my mum’s side, underwater diving.

JM: The calm part. You are often described as an architect of clothing, and I know that you have a keen interest in architecture. What is the most breathtaking building you’ve ever seen?

AM: Ronchamps, by Le Corbusier.

JM: What do you think of the modern buildings in London?

AM: I love the Gherkin.

JM: You do?

AM: I think it’s fantastic.

JM: But you don’t like any of the old architecture in London?

AM: Well, yeah, but it’s not as nice as it is in Italy or Paris.

JM: If you hadn’t trained on Savile Row, how would you have entered the fashion industry?

AM: I’d have slept my way there.

JM: Or, I don’t know …

AM: Other ways. I’d have found other ways of getting into it.

JM: Do you look at something else and say, “I could have done that as well”?

AM: Photo-journalism. It’s art for the modern times. I think it captures a moment in time that is spontaneous and that reflects where we are. The one I couldn’t have done is be an architect, because I don’t have the brain capacity or the patience.

JM: No, you haven’t got the patience, have you? You mix with VIPs, celebrities, aristocracy … How does coming home and being the baby of the family make you feel?

AM: I’m never fazed by it, because whenever I get home, Dad will always ask me to make him a cup of tea. So it’s just normal.

JM: If you were prime minister or in government, what policies would you implement to make the UK a better place to live?

AM: More politically correct police officers on the streets. And more focus on the north of England instead of just the south, on not so developed parts of the country.

JM: What do you mean, “politically correct police”?

AM: Well, not homophobic police, not racist police, you know? The police need to come down to street level.

JM: Success has brought you financial security. But if you lost it all tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?

AM: Sleep. I’d be pleased.

JM: I said you’d go on holiday.

AM: What with? I’d lost it all!

JM: When you received your CBE last October, you told me and Dad that you locked eyes with the Queen and it was like falling in love. What was it about her presence that captivated you?

AM: I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to look into her eyes.

JM: But you did.

AM: I did. There was a simultaneous lock, and she started laughing, and I started laughing …

JM: It was a nice moment, wasn’t it?

AM: It was. We caught it on camera where we’re both laughing at each other. She asked a question, “How long have you been a fashion designer?” and I said, “A few years, m’lady.” I wasn’t thinking straight – because I’d hardly had any sleep.

JM: You were nervous.

AM: I was really tired. And I looked into her eyes, it was like when you see someone across the room on a dance floor and you think, “Whoa!” It was like when I looked into her eyes, it was obvious that she had her fair share of shit going on. I felt sorry for her. I’ve said a lot of stuff about the Queen in the past – she sits on her arse and she gets paid an awful lot of money for it – but for that instant I had a bit of compassion for her. So I came away feeling humbled by the situation, when I wouldn’t have even been in the situation if it wasn’t for you.

JM: I thought it was a great honour.

AM: I didn’t want to do it.

JM: It was an honour for you …

AM: Yeah, but I had my views on what it stands for.

JM: What is your most terrifying fear?

AM: Dying before you.

JM: Thank you, son. What makes you proud?

AM: You.

JM: Why?

AM: No, no, ask the next one: “What makes you furious?” You! [laughs]

JM: No, go on, what makes you proud?

AM: When things go right, when the collection goes right, when everyone else in the company’s proud.

JM: What makes you furious?

AM: Bigotry.

JM: What makes your heart miss a beat?

AM: Love.

JM: Love for children? Love for adults? Love for animals?

AM: Falling in love.