Fated to Die Prematurely

“He was as fated as Byron, Shelley, and Keats to die prematurely, the same as James Byron Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and his famous look-alike, the poet-singer of the perverse, Jim Morrison of The Doors”

Jack Fritscher
Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera

 

Self-Portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1980

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As If in The Act of Blessing

«…Dürer portrayed himself as the Christus. Robert often fantasized and photographed himself as the Christus.»

Jack Fritscher
Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera

 

Portrait of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1986

 

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar, Albrecht Dürer, 1500  

 

Painted early in 1500, just before his 29th birthday, it is the last of his three painted self-portraits. It is considered the most personal, iconic and complex of his self-portraits, and the one that has become fixed in the popular imagination. The self-portrait is most remarkable because of its resemblance to many earlier representations of Christ. Art historians note the similarities with the conventions of religious painting, including its symmetry, dark tones and the manner in which the artist directly confronts the viewer and raises his hands to the middle of his chest as if in the act of blessing.

 

Blessing Christ, Hans Memling, circa 1433–1494  

 

Dürer chooses to present himself monumentally, in a style that unmistakably recalls depictions of Christ—the implications of which have been debated among art critics. A conservative interpretation suggests that he is responding to the tradition of the Imitation of Christ. A more controversial view reads the painting is a proclamation of the artist’s supreme role as creator. This latter view is supported by the painting’s Latin inscription, composed by Celtes’ personal secretary, which translates as; “I, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg portrayed myself in appropriate [or everlasting] colours aged twenty-eight years”.

An Ambiguous Shade of Something Else

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe from 1983 to circa 1986

 

“Robert was not a literal person.
Everything he saw was an ambiguous shade of something else.
He was a metaphorical person. The irony was he took photography, which is a literal person’s perfect way to show life in snapshots, and raised the single frame to a metaphor.
A Mapplethorpe lily is not a lily is not a lily*.
This is trick photography shot by a trickster.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Now, if you’re lucky, you do.
Senator Jesse Helms never got it.
Helms probably thought that Robert’s drop-dead flowers, always actually more explicit than his human nudes, were, uh, flowers.
And not the sex organs of plants or, omigod, phallic and vaginal symbols!
Metaphor is a problem for fundamentalists clamming up the hard shell.
Robert captured the essence of flowers, figures, faces, and fetishes so resonantly on the literal level that the very perfection of the moment frozen in the single frame caused the very being of the object to suggest its own becoming… other.
That capturing of the suggestive instant of becoming ambiguous was his existential magic.
Elegant flowers become sexual organs,
The shadow of a flower becomes the horned god.
Sexuality becomes theology.
Face becomes mask.
The mirror becomes window.
Life becomes death.
The cross becomes the crown.
Light becomes dark.
The looking glass makes the way out become the way in: the anal insertions.
This spinning ambiguity causes fear in the literal-minded who look at his single-shot metaphors…

…He intended his stills to be “moving” pictures, photographs that “moved” the viewer, through assault if necessary, for the viewer’s own good, the way one slaps someone who is hysterical.
Every Mapplethorpe photograph is a single frame in a movie, which, if it existed, would be a series of dissolves:
The lily dissolves to the genitalia,
The face to the skull,
The skull to the lily.
Although versed in film and video, Robert consciously kept with the discipline of the single-frame still camera.
Robert was a Platonist: he saw the real and he saw the ideal.”

Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera
Jack Fritscher

 

*Praraphrase of Gertrude Stein’s sentence “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Absorbing Images

“Robert absorbed every image he ever saw. The Baron de Meyer’s famous image of the flower became Robert’s flower. Robert also nicked something from de Meyer’s sequence of photographs showing Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’un faune

Edward Lucie-Smith

(As quoted in Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera, by Jack Fritscher)

 

Photographs by Adolph de Meyer

A Kind of Chelsea Heterosexual Bonding

 

At the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe claimed (in his version), he met Patti Smith, who appeared in his open doorway looking for someone else, not Robert, whom she had never met. “I woke up,” Robert said, “and there was Patti. We recognized each other’s souls instantly. We had matching bodies. I had never met her, but I knew her.”

“Robert at first was too poor to live at the Chelsea Hotel, so he lived down the street, but he hung out in the Chelsea, cruising its corridors, picking up on the art-sex-and-drugs cachet of the address, trying to meet people who knew people.” Robert at the time was twenty years old and had been hustling Manhattan for four years. He was six years away from meeting art historian John McKendry, curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who bought Robert his first serious camera. Robert worked the Chelsea Hotel and the galleries by day the way, in the later, more successful, period in the late seventies, he worked clubs like Max’s Kansas City, The Saint, and the Mine Shaft by night. Those early days, he once told me, were hard and dark. Sometimes, he was able to afford the tab on a small room at the Chelsea Hotel on West Twenty-third Street. Sometimes, he retired to a dingy walk-up just down the street. In New York, one’s address is everything, and crashing the Chelsea, the notorious avant-garde enclave, gave Robert his first tangible sense of arrival.

 

 

The androgynous bodies took, according to Robert’s take, to a kind of Chelsea heterosexual bonding. They became a couple on the art-and-party circuit. They pooled their money to afford their nightly visits to Mickey Ruskin’s bistro at Park Avenue and Sixteenth Street, Max’s Kansas City, where sixties pop celebrated itself nightly. “I hated going there,” Robert said, “but I had to.”

 

 

At dawn, the young couple returned to the Chelsea. Robert supposedly had kicked a hole in the wall between his room and Patti’s. This instant suite was his first attempt at interior design. Robert needed Patti. He was alone. She was there. She nurtured him for several years. She was a writer and he was mad for the company of writers. She was a singer and he loved rock ‘n’ roll. The Chelsea Girls film had lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. Robert and Patti lasted longer. For a while, as a couple, they were chronologically correct, until they weren’t. Patti graduated to her own stardom, travels, and odalisques. One pop culture urban tale has Patti running off with playwright Sam Shepard, leaving Shepard’s writer/film actress wife, O-1an Jones (O-lan later became a theater legend, directing her experimental music and theater company, Overtone Industries). Another urban pop tale, told by porn star J. D. Slater, pairs Patti with the lead guitarist of MC-5, Fred Sonic Smith. Patti Smith herself can be the only one to tell the tales of her heart. Whatever her real private history, the true romance pop culture story is she never really left Robert, not for men, not for women, not for music, not for long, because she was more than his muse; she was his twin, his divine androgyne, and he was her photographer, the artist whose camera, with her, became positively Kirlian, capturing her spirit, her aura, her being.

His camera became their bond. “Patti is a genius.” Robert said that so often I began to understand that what he said about Patti he was projecting about himself as modestly as he could. His style was to reveal his personal self by indirection. (His professional self he revealed by edict.) Consequently, I never knew much about Patti, to whom I sometimes spoke on Robert’s phone calls from my home, because Robert used her as an emblem to talk about himself. When Edward Lucie-Smith met Robert and Patti, they were inmates at the Chelsea: spiritually, but not physically. “When I met him,” Edward said, “Robert was in one of his ‘broke’ phases, and the walk-up a few doors down the street was the place where he slept, if he ever did sleep, while he hung out at the Chelsea.” But Robert and Patti seemed avantly certifiable Chelsea Girls. Signs and omens were everywhere. Andy Warhol’s film was banned in Boston and Chicago. The “Chelsea Robert,” so enthralled by Warhol, was already on the trendy trajectory toward censorship.

 

Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera

Jack Fritscher