In this black and white portrait photograph the artist Andy Warhol is seen standing up leaning his right shoulder against a white wall. The artist stares directly at the camera with a somewhat blank expression, his mouth slightly ajar, as he rubs his hands in front of himself in a nervous fashion. Warhol wears a turtleneck jumper underneath a black suit jacket, a pair of jeans into which his jumper is tucked, and his customary white wig. He stands in front of a plain grey backdrop which extends to the right edge of the print, while the white wall that he leans against is shot in line with the picture plane so that it appears as a flat vertical band occupying almost a quarter of the composition.
By the time this image was taken in 1983 Mapplethorpe and Warhol had already met on several occasions. The photographer took four portrait photographs of Warhol during the artist’s lifetime, all of which are in the ARTIST ROOMS collection, including another photograph taken during this same session in 1983 (Tate AR00219). In another portrait Warhol assumes a pose similar to that adopted in this image, in which he faces the camera with a blank expression, with his hands forming a V shape in front of him (Tate AR00220). Making his sitters feel comfortable while being photographed was important to Mapplethorpe. He allowed his subjects to create a role in front of the camera, which Warhol does here with his blunt stare and awkward pose.
While Warhol is captured in this image with a characteristic stark gaze, Mapplethorpe sensed a softening of the artist’s rigid exterior in a conversation with Warhol near the time of his death:
I think he was finally becoming much more human somehow and he was voicing what he really thought as opposed to what people would react to. I think that was sort of one thing that I was really shocked about, that he died at a moment when I think he was finally sort of feeling comfortable somehow.
(Mapplethorpe in Arena: Robert Mapplethorpe, dir. by Nigel Finch, BBC television documentary, 18 March 1988.)
Mapplethorpe was influenced by Warhol early in his career, and his move to Manhattan in 1969 was partially motivated by his desire to befriend Warhol. The singer Patti Smith noted that he ‘loved Andy Warhol and considered him our most important living artist. It was as close to hero worship as he ever got’ (Smith 2010, p.69). However, this admiration was also met with caution; Mapplethorpe’s biographer Patricia Morrisroe notes that the photographer soon realised that Warhol ‘wasn’t exactly the mentor type – people helped Warhol, not the other way around’ (Morrisroe 1995 p.140).
In the same year that this photograph was taken Warhol created a black and white silkscreen portrait of Mapplethorpe (Tate AR00232). While the photographer may have been wary of Warhol he still held him in high regard, with Morrisroe describing the silkscreen portrait which hung in his living room on West 23rd Street as the ‘ultimate symbol’ of Mapplethorpe’s success (Morrisroe 1995, p.297).
Gary Indiana and Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’, BOMB, no.22, winter 1988, pp.18–23.
Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe. A Biography, London 1995.
Patti Smith, Just Kids, London 2010.
Susan Mc Ateer
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.