Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had a unique relationship: they were friends, lovers, artistic collaborators and soul mates. Mapplethorpe and Smith met in 1967 and quickly become lovers; they would live with one another for the next few years. The years they spent together proved to be formative to their artistic development; while Mapplethorpe emerged in the mid-1970s as a successful artist, Smith would achieve simultaneous success as a poet and musician, associated with the punk music genre.
Smith was photographed multiple times by Mapplethorpe and would become one of his most frequent sitters. Mapplethorpe photographed Smith for the cover of both Witt, her 1973 volume of poetry, and her album Horses in 1975. Horses would go on to achieve iconic status in popular music and define Smith’s androgynous and uncompromising style – a photograph from the same session is in the ARTIST ROOMS collection, Patti Smith 1975. Photographed here with her arms and lips open, one hand suggestively holds a tie which is also around her neck while she leans against a wall. Mapplethorpe photographs her as Smith describes it, ‘at her most confident’. Her pose is at once vulnerable and confrontational.
By the late 1970s Smith had achieved commercial and critical success. Mapplethorpe would photograph Smith again for her fourth album, Waves in 1979, in the same apartment used for the Horses shoot. This would be Smith’s last album prior to a nine-year-long hiatus from her recording career. Smith, having met and fallen in love with the American musician Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, was ready to focus on family life and Waves reflected a new sense of calm, charm and sincerity. Mapplethorpe captures this in the image Patti Smith 1979 for the album’s cover. Smith, with a piercing stare, is somewhat subdued; the light fabric of her dress, the tree that obscures part of the body and the doves that rest on either hand give the image a serene, almost arcadian feel.
Patti Smith returned to recording with the album Dream of Life in 1988, again Mapplethorpe would photograph her for the cover. Smith would also contribute to one of Mapplethorpe’s final projects, Flowers, a book of his flower studies, with a foreword which was released several months after his death.
What role does the muse play in the artist’s work? How do you think the level of intimacy shared between an artist and their sitter or subject affects the work?
Mapplethorpe creates an arcadian feel for the Patti Smith Waves shoot, perhaps reflecting this stage in her life. Depict someone close to you, or someone you admire, which reflects how you feel about them. Choose a medium you think would be most appropriate e.g. a piece of writing, a collage, a sculpture, etc.
Andy Warhol had more than one muse throughout his life, the most famous of whom was Edie Sedgwick (1943-71). Grace Jones (b. 1948) was also a muse for Warhol. Find out more about Andy Warhol.