F rom the early 1970s on, Robert Mapplethorpe was the exemplar photographer of New York City’s subculture. Subverting the traditions of classical photography, Mapplethorpe documented the S&M scene with a highly trained artistic eye. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he frequently turned to studio portraiture as a preferred genre – focusing his camera on fellow artists, including Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, and Keith Haring, as well as musicians like Iggy Pop, writers, art dealers, members of the S&M underground and New York socialites. In effect, his portraits present to be honest, compelling and deeply human photographs in all forms.
Keith Haring, one of the leading artists of the graffiti art movement in New York, is captured by Mapplethorpe in this playful photograph. Mapplethorpe was well-acquainted with Haring – and they would even collaborate together (i.e. this remarkable photo shoot for Interview magazine). Haring’s portrait was commissioned by Richard Marshall, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, to illustrate his 1986 book 50 New York Artists: A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in New York. This image is published on page 54 across from Haring’s Untitled (1985), which is now in the collection of Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen.
“I made a drawing of Robert and he gave me a Polaroid photograph of a male nude.”
Mapplethorpe first met British artist David Hockney in 1970 at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. He photographed Hockney on several occasions, including with Henry Geldzahler in 1976 on Fire Island. This portrait was taken at the Fire Island home of Bruce Mailman, founder of the East Village club The Saint. Hockney was a dear friend of Mapplethorpe, and in 2005, he was tasked with curating a Mapplethorpe exhibition of 60 portraits at the Alison Jacques Gallery.
Mapplethorpe photographed Ed Ruscha in 1984 while on assignment for 24 Hours in Los Angeles, a photo-book even in which 100 photographers were tasked with documenting the city over the course of 24 hours. Ruscha and Mapplethorpe were both raised in strict Catholic households, and their art often incorporates religious iconography. In his West 23rd Street New York loft, Mapplethorpe hung Ruscha’s EVIL (1973) screenprint among his collection of crucifixes, satyrs and Jesus statues.
Mapplethorpe photographed Iggy Pop when the so-called ‘Godfather of Punk’ was thirty-four, which happened to be an intense and turbulent period in the singer’s career. The photographer perfectly captures this energy, as well as Pop’s captivating and alert gaze. Mapplethorpe’s long-time New York art dealer remarked of this portrait: “Every time I look at it I’m moved, and I guess alerted to the human condition. Well, I’m not going to say what that condition is but ... it sends out a signal of alertness to me; pay attention, time’s going by.” (Cited in Arena: Robert Mapplethorpe, 18 March 1988).