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 Projection of the Four Dimensional Universe

 

Conceptualized by renowned artist, Steven Sebring this revolutionary motion capture system is the first of its kind, inspired by Eadweard Muybridge‘s pioneering work in photographic studies of motion, Sebring brings his groundbreaking concepts to a 4-D rig.

With a single revolution, the 4-D rig allows the viewer to experience an extraordinary second. By capturing every angle of a moment, the rig has the capacity to stretch time and capture extended movement. Picture the ability to photograph the full motion of a golf swing – a ballerina´s pirouette – a product falling in endless space from every angle.

 

The Large Glass

 

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même), most often called The Large Glass (Le Grand Verre), is an artwork by Marcel Duchamp over nine feet (2.75 metres) tall, and freestanding. Duchamp worked on the piece from 1915 to 1923, creating two panes of glass with materials such as lead foil, fuse wire, and dust. It combines chance procedures, plotted perspective studies, and laborious craftsmanship. Duchamp’s ideas for the Glass began in 1913, and he made numerous notes and studies, as well as preliminary works for the piece. The notes reflect the creation of unique rules of physics, and myth which describes the work.

It is at first sight baffling in iconograhy and unclassifiable style. Yet this glass construction is not a discrete whole. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even is also the title given to The Green Box notes (1934) as Duchamp intended the Large Glass to be accompanied by a book, in order to prevent purely visual responses to it. The notes describe that his “hilarious picture” is intended to depict the erotic encounter between the “Bride,” in the upper panel, and her nine “Bachelors” gathered timidly below in an abundance of mysterious mechanical apparatus in the lower panel. The Large Glass was exhibited in 1926 at the Brooklyn Museum before it was broken during transport and carefully repaired by Duchamp. It is now part of the permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp sanctioned replicas of The Large Glass, the first in 1961 for an exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and another in 1966 for the Tate Gallery in London. The third replica is in Komaba Museum, University of Tokyo.

Duchamp’s art does not lend itself to simple interpretations, and The Large Glass is no exception. Most critics, however, read the piece as an exploration of male and female desire as they complicate each other. One critic, for example, describes the basic layout as follows: “The Large Glass has been called a love machine, but it is actually a machine of suffering. Its upper and lower realms are separated from each other forever by a horizon designated as the ‘bride’s clothes.’ The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left only with the possibility of churning, agonized masturbation.”

However, modern critics see the painting as an expression of the artist to ridicule criticism. Marjorie Perloff interprets the painting as “enigmatic” in her book The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (Princeton UP: 1999). She concludes that Duchamp’s “Large Glass is also a critique of the very criticism it inspires, mocking the solemnity of the explicator who is determined to find the key”. Hence, she follows the school of deconstruction established by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and helps to break down the hegemony of interpretation held by the Enlightenment bourgeoisie. To quote the artist: “I believe that the artist doesn’t know what he does. I attach even more importance to the spectator than to the artist.”

 

Photo-printing from R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) CD booklet, taken by Ian McFarlane.

Rimbaud in New York

“Je est un autre.”
(“I is another.”)
Arthur Rimbaud

 
 

Rimbaud in New York, David Wojnarowicz, 1977-79

 
 

Using a stolen 35mm camera, David Wojnarowicz photographed anonymous figures posing in a mask of the 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud. According to Wojnarowicz, he was “playing with ideas of compression of ‘historical time and activity’ and fusing the French poet’s identity with modern New York urban activities, mostly illegal in nature.” From Times Square to the abandoned Hudson River piers, the Rimbaud figure’s wanderings mirrored Wojnarowicz’s own transient life in the city. Published in the Soho Weekly News in June 1980, this series marks Wojnarowicz’s first serious effort in photography and his first publicly exhibited artwork.

The series Rimbaud in New York, his first serious body of work, comprises twenty-four black-and-white photographs of friends holding up a mask of the poet Arthur Rimbaud in a variety of underground settings in New York City.

The similarities between Rimbaud’s life and Wojnarowicz’s are striking: They lived exactly a century apart and both died in their late 30s; each came from a broken home with abusive parents; both fled to the big city–Rimbaud to Paris, Wojnarowicz to New York; both were gay, and each found a surrogate father in the form of an older lover–Paul Verlaine for Rimbaud, Peter Hujar for Wojnarowicz.

Mirroring the Spanish Civil War

Femme nue montant l’escalier (Naked Woman Climbing a Staircase), Joan Miró, 1937

 
 

Miró created Naked Woman Climbing a Staircase during the Spanish Civil War. He was living in Paris when he started to attend life drawing classes at the school of the Grande Chaumiere. Miró returned to constructing the human figure to represent the drama that was then taking place in Catalonia. This feeling can be made out in the shapes used to draw this tortured nude woman climbing a staircase.

According to the Joan Miró Foundation, “Miró’s despondency brought about by the moral tragedy of the war can be seen in the violent metamorphosis of the figure, in her heavy limbs and in the effort involved in climbing.” At the top right is a kind of window or box where light rays can be seen entering the room. The woman is using her right arm to try to grab a ladder – this was a symbol that Miró used in several of his works to represent evasion or escape. The external genitals of the woman are similar to those of the woman in Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement as they are exaggerated in size. This work is said to be related to Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, made by Marcel Duchamp, although here the woman is ascending. The distortion and effort of the figure are interpreted as mirroring the Spanish Civil War.

Motions Into Shape

Nude Descending, Paul Roberts, 2004

 
 

NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE

Toe after toe, a snowing flesh,

a gold of lemon, root and rind,

she sifts in sunlight down the stairs

with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister

a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;

her lips imprint the swinging air

that parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears

her slow descent like a long cape

and pausing on the final stair,

collects her motions into shape.

X. J. Kennedy

1985

The Depiction of Two Movements

Nu [esquisse], jeune homme triste dans un train (Nude (Study), Sad Young Man on a Train), Marcel Duchamp, 1911–12. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

 
 

This painting was identified as a self-portrait by the artist. Duchamp’s primary concern in this painting is the depiction of two movements; that of the train in which there is a young man smoking, and that of the lurching figure itself.

 
 

The Rude Descending the Staircase (Rush Hour at the Subway), by J. F. Griswold. Evening Sun, March 20, 1913

The Movement of a Nude Coming Downstairs

“In 1912 … the idea of describing the movement of a nude coming downstairs while still retaining static visual means to do this, particularly interested me. The fact that I had seen chronophotographs of fencers in action and horse galloping (what we today call stroboscopic photography) gave me the idea for the Nude. It doesn’t mean that I copied these photographs. The Futurists were also interested in somewhat the same idea, though I was never a Futurist. And of course the motion picture with its cinematic techniques was developing then too. The whole idea of movement, of speed, was in the air”

Marcel Duchamp

 
 

Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2), Marcel Duchamp, 1912

 
 

Nude Descending a Staircase seemingly depicts a figure demonstrating an abstract movement in its ochres and browns. The discernible “body parts” of the figure are composed of nested, conical and cylindrical abstract elements, assembled together in such a way as to suggest rhythm and convey the movement of the figure merging into itself. Dark outlines limit the contours of the body while serving as motion lines that emphasize the dynamics of the moving figure, while the accented arcs of the dotted lines seem to suggest a thrusting pelvic motion. The movement seems to be rotated counterclockwise from the upper left to the lower right corner, where the gradient of the apparently frozen sequence corresponding to the bottom right to top left dark, respectively, becomes more transparent, the fading of which is apparently intended to simulate the “older” section. The question of whether the figure represents a human body remains unanswered; the figure provides no clues to its age, individuality, character, or sex.

 
 

Man Walking,Étienne-Jules Marey, 1890-91

 
 

Woman Walking Downstairs,by Eadweard Muybridge

 
 

The painting combines elements of both the Cubist and Futurist movements. In the composition, Duchamp depicts motion by successive superimposed images, similar to stroboscopic motion photography. Duchamp also recognized the influence of the stop-motion photography of Étienne-Jules Marey, particularly Eadweard Muybridge‘s Woman Walking Downstairs from his 1887 picture series, published as The Human Figure in Motion.

 
 

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (Nu Descendant Un Escalier, No. 1), Marcel Duchamp, 1911.

 
 

Duchamp submitted the work to appear with the Cubists at the 28th exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, Paris, 25 March through 16 May 1912. It appeared under the number 1001 of the catalogue, entitled simply Nu descendant l’escalier, not Nu descendant un escalier n° 2. This catalogue revealed the title of the painting to the general public for the first time, even though the painting itself would be absent from the exhibition. It has been noted disquisitively that the number 1001 of Duchamp’s entry at the 1912 Indépendants catalogue also happens to represent an integer based number of the Golden ratio base, related to the golden section, something of much interest to the Duchamps and others of the Puteaux Group. Representing integers as golden ratio base numbers, one obtains the final result 1000.1001φ. This, of course, was by chance—and it is not known whether Duchamp was familiar enough with the mathematics of the golden ratio to have made such a connection—as it was by chance too the relation to Arabic Manuscript One Thousand and One Nights dating back to the 1300s.

Despite the controversy—whether it was seen as such at the time or not—the work was shown with its original title at the Salon de la Section d’Or, Galerie de la Boétie, October 1912, and with the same group of artists that exhibited at the Indépendants.

 
 

Artist Marcel Duchamp walking down a flight of stairs in a multiple exposure image reminiscent of his famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1952

 
 

Nude Descending a Staircase, Gjon Mili, 1949

 
 

Ema, Gerhard Richter, 1992

 
 

A Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin reenacts the painting, first published Nov. 3, 1993

Excess of Perfume

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. ”

Salvador Dalí
Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (1987) by Pierre Cabanne

 
 

Femme à tête de roses (Woman With a Head of Roses), Salvador Dalí, 1935

 
 

Drawing by Dalí, 1937

 
 

Package and bottle’s design of Daliflor (2000). Salvador Dali has 50 perfumes in his fragrance base. The earliest edition was created in 1985 and the newest is from 2014.

 
 

In Salvador Dali’s dream world astonishing transformations occur: around the waist and arm of a fashionable woman male hands are wrapped, and suddenly, her head blossoms into a bunch of roses, one leg is stiffened into that of a mannequin, the other flows into the drapery of her dress, whilst the furniture has become animate. The lonely petrified figure in the empty receding space and the cypress grove on the lion’s head recall the romanticism of Arnold Böcklin and Giorgio de Chirico. Dalí often replaced the human head with other heads or objects. He disliked the lack of intelligence and excess of perfumes of rich people around the surrealist group.

Creative Optic

Illustration by Jiří Slíva

 
 

First row: А. П. Че́хов (Anton Chekhov); J.R.R. Tolkien; Franz Kafka; Betty MacDonald (misspelled McDonald)

Second row: Jack Kerouac; Marcel Proust; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; R. Kipling

Third row: Marcel Duchamp; Stendhal; Karl May; Karl Marx

Fourth row: Magritte; S. Freud; Louis Pasteur; Günter Grass

Fifth row: Salvador Dalí; E.M. Remarque; Jaroslav Hašek; Isaac B. Singer

A Dog Named Pain

A Dog Named Pain contains moments of intense beauty in which we note risk but also the grandeur of men who had surrendered to art with truly passion”
Ernesto Sabato

 
 

The drawings were made using Staedler pens and white card boards. Aute spent five years illustrating all the panels for the film

 
 

A Dog Called Pain is a film drawn and animated by singer/songwriter and artist turned filmmaker, Luis Eduardo Aute, who made more than four thousand drawings which were later processed with the digital technology for rending into 2D and 3D. It was a colossal enterprise that began with the first drawings in 1995. Aute has dedicated the past two years wholly to the film. The film borrows its name from the dog owned by the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The film, comprising seven stories or portraits, is focused on the artist-model relationship, and continuity is supplied by the dog, co-star of nearly all the episodes. Luis Eduardo Aute reconsiders the relations of such painters as Francisco de Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Joaquín Sorolla, Julio Romero de Torres, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, and Diego Velázquez with their models, their environments, and their times. This reconsideration is, above all, a movie, and it employs the most classic film language, but at the same time it is a reflection about art and artists, their inner lives and their worlds.

In addition, homage is made in the film to such cinematic greats as Serguéi Eisenstein, Luis Buñuel, Groucho Marx and Woody Allen. One of the great triumphs of A Dog Called Pain is the sheer beauty of Aute’s projected images. Intimately paced, viewing the film is like a cinematic walk through a museum. At times, long-held images will have subtle movements such as a blink of an eye that creates the effect of the movie screen as a canvas. Nominated for a 2001 Goya (Spain’s Oscars) for Best Animated Film, A Dog Called Pain is a unique work of art.

The film, an exciting blend of humour, violence and sex – in a word, of art. The story employs the simplest resources of cinema, and is the singular creation of an artist in love with the camera, as well as with music and painting, two fields in which he has gained fame. Luis Eduardo Aute is a living Spanish national treasure, acclaimed and loved for his music, artwork and poetry.

Surrounded by Artists

Jasper Johns

 
 

James Rosenquist

 
 

Roy Lichtenstein

 
 

Ed Ruscha

 
 

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and  David Goodman.

 
 

Robert Rauschenberg with his tongue stamped “Wedding Souvenir, Claes Oldenburg “. Photo portraits by Dennis Hopper

 
 

Dennis Hopper began working as a painter, a photographer, a poet and as well as a collector of art in the 1960s as well, particularly Pop Art. Over his lifetime he amassed a formidable array of 20th- and 21st-century art. Numerous works from his early cohorts, such as Ed Ruscha, Edward Kienholz, Roy Lichtenstein (Sinking Sun, 1964), and Andy Warhol (Double Mona Lisa, 1963); and pieces by contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Robin Rhode. He was involved in L.A.’s Virginia Dwan and Ferus galleries of the 1960s, and he was a longtime friend and supporter to New York dealer Tony Shafrazi. One of the first art works Hopper owned was an early print of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans bought for $75.

 
 

Warhol, Irving Blum, Billy Al Bengston and Dennis Hopper at the opening of the Marcel Duchamp Show at the Pasadena Art Museum

 
 

Julian Schnabel and Hopper on the set of Basquiat (J. Schnabel, 1996)