Sunday, April 24, 2011

Observations on Art 4.24

Anybody that knows me also knows by now that I have a love affair with black & white photography. It's something that I have had for a long time, long before I even started thinking about taking photos myself. I can even tell the exact time it started, the summer of 1996.

My dad has always subscribed to Rolling Stone and it was one of the first magazines I read regularly. The July issue in 1996 was the yearly summer double issue and had Jenny McCarthy showing her boobs on the cover. That may have been the reason I picked it up but something I found inside in ways changed me forever. In an interview of Patti Smith I found this quote, "When I perform, I can't say I feel like a male or a female. What I feel is not in the human vocabulary." I was so fascinated by the interview and quote that I combed my dad's massive vinyl collection and found her debut album.

More important than the music I found on "Horses" was the cover. A stark black & white portrait I just found stunning. The cover notes said it was by Robert Mapplethorpe so i did some more digging and my love affair with b&w was born. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were many things too each other - collaborators, lovers, each others muse, and lifelong friends. Through it all their one goal was to create art and they did just that through poetry, drawing, music, and photography. Mapplethorpe's photos are breathtaking, beautiful, and at times brutally graphic yet they seem somehow emotional to me, at one instant tense and at the next simply beautiful.

I'm not sure why this has all come back to me now. I think a major part of it was the realization that I live within walking distance of his 23rd street loft where Mapplethorpe did much of his work and Smith lived but a block away from here during that time.  I recently picked up a copy of the book "Just Kids" by Patti Smith which is her story the years together with Mapplethorpe. The book ends with their last days and conversations, as Mapplethorpe died of AIDs in 1989. In the back of the book are the lyrics to her memorial song for Mapplethorpe ....

"Little emerald bird
Wants to fly away
If I cup my hand
Could I make him stay?

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald soul
Must you say goodbye?

All the things that we pursue
All that we dream
Are composed as nature knew
In a feather green

Little emerald bird
As you light afar
It is true I heard
God is where you are

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald bird
We must say goodbye"

footnote - In February the J. Paul Getty Trust and Los Angeles County Museum of Art jointly acquired the works of Robert Mapplethorpe. The 200 artworks, 2000 photographs, 3,500 Polaroids and 120,000 negatives are worth in the neighborhood of $30 million.

Patti Smith interviewed by Tom Snyder in 1978. This interview is just classic.