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Artists Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe Photo

Robert Mapplethorpe

American Photographer

Movements and Styles: Modern Photography, Straight Photography, Conceptual Art

Born: November 4, 1946 - Floral Park, New York

Died: March 9, 1989 - Boston, Massachusetts

Robert Mapplethorpe Timeline

Quotes

"I had the idea of taking sexual images and doing it a little differently than it had been done before - having a formalist approach to it all."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"They are New York flowers, somehow. But again, I think they're mine. Nobody else can photograph flowers the way I do."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"I don't like that particular word, 'shocking'. I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before.."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"I see things like they've never been seen before. Art is an accurate statement of the time in which it is made."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"To have something that's beautiful somehow gives me a feeling that approaches immortality. It's very similar to the act of creating."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"The whole point of being an artist is to learn about yourself. The photographs, I think are less important than the life that one is leading."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"I think the way I arrange things is very Catholic .. When I put something together it was symmetrical."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"It was a feeling I could get through looking at pornographic imagery that I thought had never been apparent in art. If could get that across, then .. I would be doing something that was uniquely my own."
Robert Mapplethorpe
"I want the person to look at least as interesting as they can look.. I try to catch something unique in him that no one else has. That quality is what I want to come across, not the superficial prettiness, even though I love photographing beautiful people."
Robert Mapplethorpe

"I'm looking for perfections in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with cocks. I do it with flowers. It's not different from one subject to the next. I am trying to capture what could be sculpture."

Robert Mapplethorpe Signature

Synopsis

There are few photographers who have sparked national debate around artistic freedom and eroticism as profoundly as Robert Mapplethorpe. Although championed for his erotic black and white photography of fetish and leather gay imagery in New York City, his artistic accomplishments range across many media. He is best known as a photographer and his subjects consisted of sculptural nudes, erotic S&M imagery, homoerotic themes, flowers, and portraits of celebrities. His formalist approach to photography allowed the artist to approach subjects primarily through beauty and composition, and secondarily through content. It is easy to find the documentary value of his work, however it is the plight for artistic expression of which he was most concerned, consistently searching for new levels of self-expression. His work continues to be considered taboo by many, yet he remains to be one of the most revered American photographers.

Key Ideas

Mapplethorpe was interested in universal values like symmetry and beauty, and approached all of his subjects with the same discerning eye through sublime composition, use of color contrasts, and cinematic lighting. He is considered a formalist for his sculptural use of photography and often listed Michelangelo as a primary influence.
For him, photography was a means to an end in a search for original self-expression. His utilitarian use of the medium resulted in a revolution for art photography. During Mapplethorpe's lifetime, photography wasn't a respected means of art making as it is today. He was able to bring photography into major museums during the course of his career, most notably one of his final shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1989, and many museums posthumously.
Some of his work was considered too edgy, on the verge of being pornographic or racist. Specifically, his work from the early 1980s, which featured graphic depictions of homoerotic or S&M based imagery, and his fascination with black nude male bodies. This work was not made with the intent of having political or ideological framework, rather he simply photographed what he thought was beautiful and otherwise treated all subjects with the same treatment, whether they were penises or flowers.
Mapplethorpe will be remembered historically as a traditional black and white photographer, but he also worked in sculpture, combines, films, and was hired to photograph celebrities for magazines. It is now considered common for artists to dabble across mediums and find one that best suits their message. For Mapplethorpe, photography was an immediate means to producing a sculptural work. He often said that he would work in marble if it weren't so time consuming.
Mapplethorpe's tragic end enacts the allegory of artist as cultural hero. He is remembered as one of the first celebrity victims of AIDS, and because of this, his legacy is often used to symbolize the struggle for gay liberation.

Biography

Robert Mapplethorpe Photo

Childhood and Education

Born in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe was the third of six children. His father, Harry, worked as an electrical engineer while his mother, Joan, stayed at home raising their six children. Mapplethorpe grew up in a conservative Catholic household nestled in the quiet Queen's suburb of Floral Park. Mapplethorpe described his hometown as too safe to stay, "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." The Mapplethorpe family attended Mass every Sunday and Robert served as an altar boy and occasionally made art for their family priest. His father, an amateur photographer himself, had a dark room in his basement. However, Mapplethorpe did not show an early interest in photography.

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Robert Mapplethorpe Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Robert Mapplethorpe
Interactive chart with Robert Mapplethorpe's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Joseph CornellJoseph Cornell
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
MichelangeloMichelangelo
Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman

Personal Contacts

Patti SmithPatti Smith
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Philip GlassPhilip Glass

Movements

Classical ArtClassical Art
MinimalismMinimalism
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

Influences on Artist
Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe
Years Worked: 1963 - 1989
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Catherine OpieCatherine Opie
Richard AvedonRichard Avedon
Peter HujarPeter Hujar
Jonathan BeckerJonathan Becker
Debbie HarryDebbie Harry

Personal Contacts

Mary BooneMary Boone
Fran LebowitzFran Lebowitz
Bob ColacelloBob Colacello

Movements

Performance ArtPerformance Art
Modern PhotographyModern Photography

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