Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

Late last year, I wrote about the wonderful Art Gallery of Ontario exhibit on the works of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (see There seems to be a trend in Toronto lately to superimpose the works of interesting couples and there was no more interesting couple than Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Unfortunately, it took a bit more effort to see the work of both artists and, unlike the Frida and Diego exhibit, the works were not presented together.

Early in the year, Olga Korper Gallery presented a number of fantastic works by the master himself, Robert Mapplethorpe. If you want to see print making at its finest, you must see Mapplethorpe’s work. You have not seen black until you’ve seen the shadows in a Mapplethorpe work. Here’s a link to the archive so that you can get an idea of the range of his work, although your monitor will not do the works justice. Every work is incredibly erotic, ranging from photos of women, through photos of men and on to photos of orchids. If only I could afford the picture of Lisa Lion on the motor bike!

Lisa Lion 1982 by Robert Mapplethorpe

After seeing Mapplethorpe’s work up close, I wanted to know more about him, so I bought Patti Smith’s autobiography, Just Kids. This is a very good book that describes in intricate detail what it was like to live in New York in the early 70’s. Patti and Robert lived from day to day, eking out a living from art and various odd jobs. They lived in the famous Chelsea Hotel and hung out with a who’s who of New York arts culture, including Dylan and Warhol.

One thing I’ve learned from reading autobiographies of Smith, Clapton and Keith Richards in the past year is that these people are just not like the rest of us. They just don’t care about getting a job, earning money, having a family and playing golf. They all exist for their art and are absolutely, totally focused on attaining perfection. Sure, they succumb to temptations like sex and drugs, but when push comes to shove, the art comes first.

And so it was with Patti and Robert. The book describes their journey as Robert discovers his sexuality and photography and Patti becomes a poet and then a musician.

Patti also was a photographer in her own right and produced a number of images using a Polaroid Land Camera. Her work is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in an exhibit called Patti Smith: Camera Solo.

Patti’s work focuses on monuments and mementos. She takes photos of graves and articles of clothing (e.g. a Pope’s slippers, Mapplethorpe’s slippers). The images are taken with the Polaroid camera, then scanned and reproduced as small black and white RC prints. The images have a dreamy, Pictorialist vibe about them. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. The images tend to be static and the compositions are not particularly interesting. I think you need to be a Patti Smith fan to enjoy them.

Mapplethorpe’s Slippers

Nevertheless, you may feel a connection with Patti’s images, so by all means, take advantage of the opportunity to go to the AGO if you’re in Toronto.


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