In this black and white portrait photograph the artist Andy Warhol stands at the centre of the picture against a plain black background, framed from his head to his hands, which are loosely joined in a ‘V’ shape and somewhat reminiscent of a handcuffed position. He wears a silver wig, which is ruffled and in slight disarray, and a black leather jacket and scarf which visually blend in with the black background. The lighting emphasises the shiny quality of the leather jacket and highlights Warhol’s wig and pale complexion. The subject stands straight with his head angled slightly to the right while his eyes look directly at the camera with a blank expression.
This photograph was taken by Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City in 1986 (although it was not printed until 1990). By this time Mapplethorpe and Warhol had met a number of times. Some of these meetings resulted in further portraits, such as those taken in 1983 (Tate AR00219 and AR00150). In one of these portraits (Tate AR00150) Warhol assumes a pose similar to that adopted in this image, facing the camera with a blank expression, with his hands forming a ‘V’ shape in front of him. Mapplethorpe always encouraged his sitters to feel as comfortable as possible while being photographed (see Indiana and Mapplethorpe 1988, p.21). He allowed his subjects to play a role in front of the camera, which Warhol does here with his direct stare and self-conscious pose.
During the period in which this photograph was taken, Mapplethorpe’s portraits formed a significant element of his work. In 1986 the photographer was commissioned by curator Richard Marshall to take portraits for the book 50 New York Artists, which included shots of Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, James Rosenquist and another portrait of Warhol.
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 Quoted in Arena: Robert Mapplethorpe, dir. by Nigel Finch, BBC television documentary, 18 March 1988.)
Mapplethorpe had other important connections with Andy Warhol which may inform consideration of this portrait. After seeing Warhol’s film Chelsea Girls in the 1960s, Mapplethorpe was motivated to explore the darker side of life (see Morrisroe 1995, pp.43–4). This influence is explicit in the photographer’s erotic explorations of sexuality through his work and also through his self–portraiture. The singer Patti Smith noted that Mapplethorpe ‘loved Andy Warhol and considered him our most important living artist. It was as close to hero worship as he ever got’ (Patti Smith, Just Kids, London 2010, p.69).
Gary Indiana and Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’, BOMB, no.22, Winter 1988, pp.18–23.
Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe. A Biography, London 1995.
Arthur C. Danto, Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe, Berkeley and London 1995.
Karita Kuusisto and Susan Mc Ateer
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.