Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Marianne Faithfull’ 1976, printed 2003
Robert Mapplethorpe
Marianne Faithfull 1976, printed 2003
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the greatest photographers. He brought photography up to the level of art. There are other great photographers, of course, but Mapplethorpe really is extraordinary. It’s as if he could make a photograph of somebody’s soul, or the soul of the body, depending on what he wanted to do. He could also capture the soul of a flower. My favourite book of his is the flowers book. I love those works – the sexuality of the flowers.

This was taken at a party at Catherine Guinness’s house in London, shot on the staircase. Mapplethorpe was at the party. He was a really interesting guy, and a very fashionable guy in London at the time. I was there with my wonderful boyfriend Oliver Musker. Oliver’s the reason why I was dressing so sexily. And, of course, it was a party! It was a very happy time of my life. The photograph shows very clearly that I wasn’t on drugs and hadn’t been for a long time. I look so healthy in this picture.

It was Oliver that asked Mapplethorpe to take the picture, and so he did. Maybe I was looking bonny that night. I am in an Yves St. Laurent summer dress. It’s become a much loved picture since, because it turned out really well. It’s almost a society picture, which Robert didn’t really do.

Robert put me into the pose. You can see I’m doing a good job because I’m not entirely comfortable. Behind that staircase is a long drop. What I find interesting about the photograph is the modesty of the crossed legs and the abandon of the open arms. It’s almost like there are two different bodies in this picture.

He didn’t take too many shots, but enough. This wasn’t a fashion shoot or a formal portrait. There wasn’t a reason for it. I would call this a snap. But because he was such a genius he could take a snap that becomes a work of art. Very few photographers can do that. At most he took four shots. So brilliant.

Francis Bacon, ‘Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)’ 1955
Francis Bacon
Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake) 1955
© Estate of Francis Bacon

I really liked Francis a lot, as a person. And since I was a teenager, when I first saw his retrospective in London at the Tate, I have loved his work. My mother took me when I was 14 or 15; maybe I was too young, but I fell in love with his work.

In the sixties, I knew him very vaguely. I didn’t drink (just took drugs) and Francis liked alcohol. He was in Soho and I was in Chelsea. So our paths weren’t really crossing. We made friends in the early seventies when I was living on the street. I was hanging around Soho on my wall, and he found me there one day and although I had anorexia (as well as drug addiction) he recognised me, and said, ‘Ah, Marianne, come to lunch!’ Just like that, without any fuss. Of course it wasn’t known as anorexia in those days; I just looked ill.

He took me to the famous fish restaurant, Wheeler’s, and we had a wonderful lunch. Francis didn’t make moral judgments on people’s life choices. He didn’t comment. I think the anorexia bothered him, though, not the drug addiction. Then over the course of me living on the wall, this happened quite a lot – maybe five or six times within two years. I wasn’t a jolly lunch date; I was very sad. We talked about a lot of spiritual things, and we talked of William Blake. Francis knew a lot about spirituality. He was brought up Catholic, as was I, both lapsed long ago.

By ’77 or ’78, after I got off the street and did Broken English, I started seeing more of Francis at Chelsea Art Club, and I started drinking and we had lovely long boozy lunches and dinners at the club, with lots of other people. This lasted quite a while, until I left England for good in 1982. He was incredibly generous and always paid for everything. We never talked about our private lunches at Wheeler’s. We just both knew. I will never forget his kindness and his discretion. He found me; I didn’t want to be found. But with great delicacy, he helped me.

And I didn’t know this painting until this project. Francis Bacon is one of my great heroes, as a human being, as a man and as an artist. This is a great idea of what William Blake must have looked like, really – the noble brow and the disappointment in the material world.

William Blake, ‘Newton’ 1795–c.1805
William Blake
Newton 1795–c.1805

I was introduced to William Blake at the age of nine by my father, who gave me a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which I think is a lovely book for a child. My father was a wild eccentric and lived in a commune, Braziers Park in Oxfordshire. He adored Blake, and I’ve also loved Blake’s pictures and read his poems throughout my life. He was so visionary, and yet unrecognised in his time.

When I think of Blake I think of eternity, something beyond the material world. He’s very esoteric and cerebral. Plus he was a libertarian, and was known to walk around naked – he seemed to embody and anticipate the whole free love ethos of the 1960s.

In this work it’s almost as if Newton is sitting on a rock on the moon, with infinite space to the right. But his eyes are fixed on what’s directly in front of him, locked onto the angle of the compasses. The rational scientist, he seems oblivious to the creative universe all around him.