Robert Mapplethorpe may be the first openly gay artist whose work I appreciated. That’s not right. He’s the first artist who I knew to be gay whose work grabbed me by the heart and the head and the eyes. He wasn’t just gay. Mapplethorpe was Gay. And that made an impression on not-sure-who-I-was-yet me.
We came from the same town. He grew up in Floral Park, NY, as did I. Yes, he was decades (two, to be exact) ahead of me, but I was still convinced we were connected somehow. He couldn’t get out fast enough, and neither could I.
“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.”
As a style-maker, he was flawless in his instincts. As a photographer, he blew me away. But as a human being, his unapologetic self made an even bigger impression on me. Sure, I knew many gay men (and a few gay women), but they were private citizens. To be such a public figure and still entirely himself impressed me to no end. On many occasions, we were in the same place at the same time. I never got up the nerve to talk to him, but I was hyper-aware of where he was and what he was doing. In the early eighties, he (and I) frequented the same clubs, the same gallery openings, the same happenings that Andy Warhol and Boy George and the whole rest of NYC did, but HE WAS ALWAYS HIMSELF. The rest of us darted from closet to closet, from shadow to shadow. Not Mapplethorpe. No shadows. No closets. Not ever.
So here are a few of my favorites among his portraits. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more. He had an eye like a scalpel, but he wasn’t unkind to his subjects. He let them look pretty. Desperate, sure. Depressed, lonely, maybe a little addled.* But pretty. That’s how I remember the eighties. He did that for me. Or to me. Either way, love him.
*Except Grace Jones, who is so much herself she blazes out of every picture ever taken of her. I’ve got to write a post about her one of these days. What a woman!