(1946 – 1989), USA

Robert Mapplethorpe Biography

Robert Mapplethorpe's photography is instantly recognisable. Harking back to classical ideals of the gendered body, his powerful and provocative portraits of friends and acquaintances have made him one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

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Captured in formats ranging from 20" x 24" colour Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome, and dye transfer colour prints, Robert Mapplethorpe's subjects also comprise still lives, especially of orchids and calla lilies, along with children and statues. It is the photographs of his contemporaries, however—such as Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Louise Bourgeois, and Grace Jones—for which he is most well-known. Often containing erotic content, Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs have been cited as emancipatory by LGBT activists, though they endured much controversy throughout his lifetime.

Born in Queens in New York in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe received a BFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1963, where he had studied painting, drawing, and sculpture. It was the purchase of a Polaroid camera in 1970 that launched Mapplethorpe's photography practice, also allowing him to continue his multimedia experimentations with collage. In 1973, Light Gallery in New York hosted his first solo exhibition with a collection of Polaroid photographs. In 1975, Mapplethorpe transitioned to medium-format photography, using a Hasselblad camera to capture figures active in New York's underground scene, from musicians and artists to pornographic film stars.

Throughout the 1980s, Robert Mapplethorpe furthered his technique and experience in commercial projects that included album cover art for musicians and photographs for Interview magazine, run by Andy Warhol. One of these musicians was Patti Smith—a long-term collaborator and lover, for whom Mapplethorpe created the imagery on her albums Horses in 1975, Waves in 1979—by which time the two artists were no longer romantically involved—and Dream of Life in 1988. In another collaborative instance, Andy Warhol introduced actress, singer, songwriter, and model Grace Jones to Mapplethorpe, who captured her prior to her performance at Paradise Garage in 1984, covered in bold white markings that were painted on her body by Keith Haring.

Inspired by the work of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Mapplethorpe also captured many photographs of children in a manner that provided contrast to the staged images of adults. The inability to direct the children resulted in more playful images, but of no less formal beauty to his other photographs—all of which were guided by a search for 'perfection in form'. This pursuit is most pertinently conveyed in his photographs of the human figure, working with the muscular bodies of individuals such as Lisa Lyon—the first World Women's Body Building Champion—and dancer Derrick Cross to create sculptural renderings of the human body.

In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. Up until his death in 1989, the artist produced many self-portraits reflecting on life, mortality, and identity. In Self Portrait of 1988, for instance, the artist defiantly grasps a skull-adorned cane—his face receding into the black image plane, staring directly forward. Prior to his death, Mapplethorpe received his first large-scale institutional exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and set up the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to support photography and AIDS- and HIV-related research.

Biography by Sherry Paik Ocula | 2020

Robert Mapplethorpe Featured Artworks

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Flower Arrangement by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork print
Robert Mapplethorpe Flower Arrangement, 1988 Dye transfer
76.2 x 60.96 cm
Kukje Gallery Contact Gallery
Barry by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork photography
Robert Mapplethorpe Barry, 1983 Silver gelatin print
40.6 x 50.8 cm
Xavier Hufkens Contact Gallery
Self-Portrait (Triptych) by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork photography
Robert Mapplethorpe Self-Portrait (Triptych), 1972 Photo silkscreen
85.1 x 58.4 cm
Galerie Thomas Schulte Contact Gallery
Bacchus by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork photography
Robert Mapplethorpe Bacchus, 1988 Gelatin silver print
61 x 50.8 cm
Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel Enquire
Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork photography
Robert Mapplethorpe Lisa Lyon, 1981 Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
20 x 16 inches
Bruce Silverstein
Leaf by Robert Mapplethorpe contemporary artwork print
Robert Mapplethorpe Leaf, 1989 Gelatin silver print
61 x 50.8 cm
Cheim & Read Contact Gallery

Robert Mapplethorpe Recent Exhibitions

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Robert Mapplethorpe Represented By

Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel contemporary art gallery in São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo
Gladstone Gallery contemporary art gallery in 515 West 24th Street, New York, USA
Gladstone Gallery Brussels, New York, Seoul
Xavier Hufkens contemporary art gallery in St-Georges, Brussels, Belgium
Xavier Hufkens Brussels

Robert Mapplethorpe In Ocula Magazine

Robert Mapplethorpe In Related Press

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