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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989)

American artist Robert Mapplethorpe pushed the boundaries of photography in both his subject choice and technique. This has led to him often being remembered exclusively for his controversial and often explicit images.

However, ARTIST ROOMS outstanding collection of his photographs allows these ‘controversial’ works to be considered in the context of his entire oeuvre. Mapplethorpe became famous, not to say, notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of the male nude and sexually explicit gay imagery. With these images he tested the right to individual freedom - they were not meant to be titillating, shocking or obscene, but beautiful in a traditionally classical way. His work therefore holds a significant place in the history of artistic struggle to depict the world as it is with honesty and truth.

In 1988 Mapplethorpe stated: “I don’t like that particular word ‘shocking.’ I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before…I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.” Although he is perhaps most associated with these ‘shocking’ works, Mapplethorpe also photographed more traditional subjects such as flowers (in particular Orchids and Calla Lilies), formal portraits and classical nudes. His understanding of form and light, and his meticulous compositions create truly beautiful images that revel in the sensual quality of nature and the human body.

ARTIST ROOMS presents sixty-four black and white photographs by Mapplethorpe, including seventeen vintage prints signed by the artist. It includes flower studies and portraits of many of the most influential artists, writers and musicians of the period, including Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Patti Smith, alongside several iconic self portraits – in particular a poignant portrait of Mapplethorpe shortly before his death from an AIDS related illness in 1989.

See our Robert Mapplethorpe learning resource for more on the artist's work.