Saturday, January 07, 2012

More To The Story

Truth can be defined by a simple equation, there are always three sides to every story, Yours, Mine and in-between lays the truth.   Sometimes when one hears the other side of the story a little more of their truth becomes yours. At the end of October 2009 I had posted a blog post entitled "Thoughts On Robert".   At that time I wanted to conclude my thoughts on him in a more meaningful and public way.  I had consumed many writings about him including the biography by Patricia Morrisroe, the writings of Kobena Mercer.  I had also used the words of Mapplethorpe himself as well as some of the key models whom he photographed.  

Most recently I discovered a documentary titled "Eye to Eye by Isabel Hegner, Artist and former Mapplethorpe model and lover Jack Walls said:

"Like he once told me that he never actually told someone to take off their cloths. Because I would believe that he couldn't care less if you took your cloths off or not. I don't think that was a major factor with him if one took their cloths off because if you do look at the pictures even the pictures with their cloths on there is a certain amount of…um... Nakedness is a better word, their souls were bare just in the glare, and he gets that and I don't know if its him or the sitters but he generally photographs people that are relatively deep, they may have been clothed people but at that point I think they do open up, probably for the first time."

This revelation is a stunning one for me as it continues to challenge some of the conclusions I had previously read.  At the time of that posting my thoughts of him were ambiguous at best… I stated that I didn't feel as a person that I would like him very much. We were different. I still believe we are in many ways but the story for me has changed yet again with a new perspective.

I haven't had much time to read this past year so as the holidays approached I was pressing myself to clear my accumulating shelves of unread books…  Mostly biographies.  In anticipation of the Steve Jobs Bio I consumed Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein all of which were written by Walter Isaacson.   I then completed the early released Jobs bio….   All excellent reads, all tied together by a common thread it seemed… All of these amazing men were somewhat flawed yet perfect in ways that I had not fully expected.

This set me up for the next book on my list, "Just Kids" by Patti Smith Artist, Singer/songwriter (She wrote Because the night with Bruce Springsteen) and Activist.  More relevant she was a friend and confidant and lover to Robert Mapplethorpe for nearly 3 decades. Her writing provides what has been until this point the long overdue second story to the aforementioned equation.

Publishers weekly summed up:

"In 1967, 21-year-old singer–song writer Smith, determined to make art her life and dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities in Philadelphia to live this Life, left her family behind for a new life in Brooklyn. When she discovered that the friends with whom she was to have lived had moved, she soon found herself homeless, jobless, and hungry. Through a series of events, she met a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe who changed her life—and in her typically lyrical and poignant manner Smith describes the start of a romance and lifelong friendship with this man: It was the summer Coltrane died. Flower children raised their arms… and Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, and the summer of love…. This beautifully crafted love letter to her friend (who died in 1989) functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing. Smith transports readers to what seemed like halcyon days for art and artists in New York as she shares tales of the denizens of Max’s Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner’s, Brentano’s, and Strand bookstores. In the lobby of the Chelsea, where she and Mapplethorpe lived for many years, she got to know William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Johnny Winter. Most affecting in this tender and tough memoir, however, is her deep love for Mapplethorpe and her abiding belief in his genius. Smith’s elegant eulogy helps to explain the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work."

This book sets a more humanistic approach to the man and their relationship which at times seemed about two middle-class kids making their way in New York yet magical, mysterious and bohemian.  She seems through out to be riding on the wave that is Roberts self discovery with his sexuality and as an artist and what is amazing to me most of all, her act of faith through out propels her into a world class artist herself.  This book is a precious time capsule for the late 60's, the 70's and 80's and Patti writes in such poetic detail that you will find yourself transported into those moments.  For myself it realigned the clock on many of the pop culture moments they lived through.  Many of the events I assumed were in the 80's actualy took place in the 70's.

From another Review:
"Smith and Mapplethorpe made fast friends, eventually finding themselves regulars at Max’s Kansas City, with its rowdy transgenders and Factory crowd, enjoying the Velvet Underground, the occasional house band. This was more Robert’s thing as he idolized Andy Warhol. Smith and Mapplethorpe were more conspirators than lovers at this point and she drifted into friendships with scenester Bob Neuwirth and Todd Rundgren. She learns intimately from poet Jim Carroll and the playwright, Sam Shepherd. Patti is privy to Janis Joplin’s boy troubles and Jimi Hendrix tells her his dream of a new musical language. Smith’s own language sometimes feels that she read On the Road at an impressionable age and never quite got over it. Her prose has some affectations: she calls fellow Chelsea Hotel residents, “inmates… guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses.” Making art is “an unholy ritual.”  She has hippie-dippy superstitions; birthdays of famous poets are often propitious. Hipspeak colors her interactions (maybe this reviewer, with his allegiance to many formalities of language would be too “square” for the scene he idealizes) and she and Robert often speak of magic. So she may have had a beat fetish, I will grant her this: she was a friend to Burroughs, Ginsberg tried to pick her up (he mistook her for a ‘pretty boy’) and she loaned money to Corso to support his junk habit.

There are a lot of famous names in Just Kids, but Smith does not drop them to prove her worth–she seems as much at awe at her good fortune as we are. But for all their fame, the rock stars and celebrity artists are only background characters here. The story through it all belongs to the kids, Patti and Robert. The memoir begins and ends on a cold day in March 1989, when Robert dies of AIDS complications. By then, they’d drifted apart, Smith to a family and recording career in Detroit, Mapplethorpe to a stellar artistic career as a photographer. They reconnect because of his illness and once in touch, the old patterns return and they understand anew a quality of friendship that is uniquely theirs. It’s a love story between friends and to feel Smith tell it, those impoverished years when Mapplethorpe was her greatest companion is worth all the gold records on the wall. A trip to Coney Island in 1969 suggests the purity of this friendship beautifully: “We were just ourselves that day, without a care… Only weeks before we had been at the bottom, but our blue star, as Robert called it, was rising. We boarded the F train for the long ride back, returned to our little room, and cleared off the bed, happy to be together.”
So what is a kid in New York City with paint on his hands a tumblr site that no one visits is supposed to take home from all this? It could happen to you too and that might help a person navigate optimistically the next couple months as he struggles to pay his rent and make the time to create something that might find an audience, or better, a champion."

With the equation more complete and with the understanding of the times in which they lived Patti brings Robert  closer to me as a person and as an artist…  Though It was not important to me and who I have become, I am gratified to Patti for this.

As a photographer who often photographs men I still get asked about or compared too Robert Mapplethorpe…  In someways I understand their questions, some make the comparison as a compliment and some an accusation and after reading this book I am more comfortable with the comparison.

Robert may have defined and brought acceptability to a new genre of art and art photography but ultimately I am my own artist.. have my own take on life… I define my own perfect moments.

I want to conclude with a passage from the book  that sums up the most important thing to remember in the end…  We all just want to be loved…  I believe Patti loved Robert and Robert loved Patti.

“Finally, by the sea, where God is everywhere, I gradually calmed.  I stood looking at the sky.  The clouds were the colors of a Raphael.  A wounded rose.  I had the sensation he had painted it himself.  You will see him.   You will know him.  You will know his hand.  These words came to me and I knew I would one day see a sky drawn by Robert’s hand.

Words came and then a melody.  I carried my moccasins and waded the water’s edge.  I had transfigured the twisted aspects of my grief and spread them out as a shining cloth, a memorial song for Robert.

    “Little emerald bird wants to fly away.
    If I cup my hand,  could I make him stay?
    Little emerald soul,  little emerald eye.
    Little emerald bird,  must we say goodbye?”

In the distance I heard a call,  the voices of my children.  They ran toward me.  In this stretch of timelessness,  I stopped.  I suddenly saw him,  his green eyes,  his dark locks.  I heard his voice above the gulls,  the childish laughter,  and the roar of the waves.

    “Smile for me,  Patti,  as I am smiling for you.”

After Robert died,  I agonized over his belongings,  some of which had once been ours.  I dreamed of his slippers.  He wore them at the end of his life,  black Belgian slippers with his initials stitched in burnished gold.  I agonized over his desk and chair.   They would be auctioned off with his other valuables at Christie’s.  I lay awake thinking of them,  so obsessed I became ill.   I could have bid on them but I couldn’t bear to;  his desk and chair passed to strange hands.  I kept thinking of something Robert would say when he was obsessed with something he couldn’t have.  “I’m a selfish bastard.  If I can’t have it I don’t want anyone else to.”

Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead?  That pursuit is what burns most deeply.   I got over the loss of his desk and chair,  but never the desire to produce a string of words more precious than the emeralds of Cortes.  Yet I have a lock of his hair,  a handful of his ashes,  a box of his letters,  a goatskin tambourine.  And in the folds of faded violet tissue a necklace,  two violet plaques etched in Arabic,  strung with black and silver threads,  given to me by the boy who loved Michelangelo."

Note: All images and text (not specified) is copyrighted by Christopher Cushman. Images from various sources and txt from various sources is used.  My apologies for its use in the commentary about the book.  This site does not specify or denote the sexual orientation of any model and as such please post your comments accordingly.

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