The artist Andy Warhol is pictured from his shoulders up in this black and white portrait photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe. Warhol stands with his back against a white wall perpendicular to the picture plane, turning his head to the right in three-quarter profile to face the camera. He wears a polo neck jumper underneath a black suit jacket, and his customary poker-straight white wig, which has flyaway hairs sticking out in all directions. Warhol’s expression is apathetic, although his eyes are fixed on the camera and his lips are slightly parted.
This photograph was printed in 1990, the year after Mapplethorpe died, but the shot was actually taken in 1983. Mapplethorpe took four portraits of Warhol during the artist’s lifetime, all of which are in the ARTIST ROOMS collection, including another portrait taken during this same session (Tate AR00150). In the other portrait Warhol is seen leaning his right shoulder against the same white wall, his whole body facing the camera, with his hands held rather stiffly in front of him. Although this head shot focuses more intently on Warhol’s face, the artist also wears the same blank, uninterested expression in the other photograph from the shoot.
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 has noted 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.