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Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery     Prints.     Full biography.
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Mapplethorpe was born New York. He studied painting and sculpture and received his B.F.A. at the Pratt Institute. In order to create images for collages of men, Mapplethorpe turned to photography, working as a staff photographer for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. He photographed socialites and celebrities such as John Paul Getty III and Carolina Herrera.

Mapplethorpe’s diverse work—homoerotic images, floral still lifes, pictures of children, commissioned portraits, mixed-media sculpture—is united by the constancy of his approach and technique. The surfaces of his prints offer a seemingly endless gradation of blacks and whites, shadow and light, and regardless of subject, his images are both elegant and provocative.
Lucy Ferry


Self-Portrait, 1988.
Gelatin-silver print, 26 5/8 x 22 1/2 inches. Artist’s Proof 1/1.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,

Robert Mapplethorpe arrived in New York in the 1970s amid two simultaneous but disparate events: the rise of the market for photography as a fine art, and the explosion of punk and gay cultures. Originally trained in painting and sculpture, Mapplethorpe gravitated toward photography, first making erotic collages in 1969–70 with images cut from magazines, then creating his own images using a Polaroid camera. Within a few years he was exhibiting erotic male and female nudes, still lifes of flowers, and celebrity portraits, all made with a large-format camera. By the late 1970s his work had developed into a style that was at once classical and stylish yet retained the explicit homoerotic themes for which the artist is perhaps best known. Mapplethorpe’s subject matter made his work a lightning rod for the contentious debates on public funding for the visual arts during the 1980s that would ultimately decimate the federal government’s support for artists. However, this legacy of controversy tends to overshadow Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic impact.

Mapplethorpe’s sustained investigation of black-and-white photography may seem nostalgic next to the preference for color demonstrated by most artists working with photography in the 1980s. But his restricted palette, which recalls that of the modern masters whose work he emulated (especially George Platt Lynes), proved most effective at conveying the poetic and often melancholic quality of his subjects. At the height of his career, Mapplethorpe was stricken with AIDS. In contrast to earlier self-portraits in which Mapplethorpe assumed various personae such as rocker, leather fetishist, cross-dresser, fashion plate, and so on, Self-Portrait, taken about a year before his death, has a more somber mood. The photograph serves as a haunting document of the artist’s transitory existence.
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