What Robert Mapplethorpe wanted was to be cool. In reality he was shy, and sometimes he could be painfully inarticulate. He could be selfish and giving, cruel and kind and emotionally needy. Robert Mapplethorpe wanted to be seen as tough. To project a raw toughness through his photographic images, the romanticism of the hardcore leather boys and butch black hustlers. The underground S&M dungeons that populated the West Village riverfront in the 1970s was what he gravitated towards. Robert slithered stealthily through this decadent netherworld all night. He was to become an integral part of this lowdown Westside Highway scene. This murky leather culture. He would style himself as a shadowy Mephistophelian figure, with a camera. Observing the dark landscape of the fringe homosexuals activity, the lifestyles of those men who inhabited this world. Documenting it all, with the eye of a poet. Dark sexual acts brought into the light, this was his universe.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s universe also contained flowers. These flowers, the flowers that appear in Robert’s pictures are seductively lit and appear to glow. There is nothing pretty about these flowers, stunning though they are. There seems to be a calculated evilness about them. Something poetically Baudelarirean about them ‘Flowers of Evil’, etcetera. Whether appearing in stark black and white silver print or presented in beautifully lush breathtaking color these pictures too contain a hint of the same dark sexuality as in his S&M oeuvre, this is not by accident. There was a darkness about Robert that he cultivated, he held a fascination for Lucifer but he said to me that he didn’t believe in God. I would say to him if you have a fascination with Satan then you must have a fascination for Christ. I told him you can’t believe in one without acknowledging the existence of the other. He lit a Kool mentholated cigarette and pondered this. Then he told me ‘I only believe in Art’.
A mythical figure that also held a fascination for him was the Satyr. As like the mythical hoofed Satyr was said to be, Robert could be voraciously insatiable sexually. He could have an unhealthy appetite for sex at times. Sex for Robert Mapplethorpe was meant to be transcendental, like a religious quest, a ritual. Robert liked sex and sex agreed with him. He had many sexual partners, which he would call ‘doing the beast’ or two people in the act of copulation as ‘the beast with two backs’ he had no use for monogamy. Though he strongly believed in love. He liked having me as his boyfriend, and I was in love with him. He loved me and I loved him back. I felt we were a good couple as far as couples go. We enjoyed one another’s company, I felt. Not all couples do, I don’t think. I loved to be around Robert Mapplethorpe all the time. I liked to sleep in the same bed with him at night.
After art and sex Robert liked money, he liked money more than art and sex because he never had money until he had met Sam Wagstaff when he was around 25 and Sam was around 50 years old. They both became interested in photography as art around this time. Patti Smith met Sam Wagstaff too. Sam liked her and she liked Sam. Patti Smith also shared in their enthusiasm for photography. Together they all embarked on an adventure with photography and the camera. Robert bought a Hasselblad and began to take pictures of Patti Smith with his new camera. Patti was drawing and making poetry and being Robert’s muse. Sam Wagstaff began to collect photographs and this seemed like a good idea to everyone, then. Around this time, Robert began to collect photography too.
Before all that, Robert had been making jewelry consisting of rabbits feet, skulls, dice, beads, and other accoutrements. He was also drawing, making collages, appropriating images from various sources. Growing tired of using found source materials for his own collage pieces, he acquired a polaroid camera and began using this. He liked this medium as a way of expressing his growing artistic sensibilities. He began to incorporate his own images into his work. This put him on the road to becoming a photographer.
As a young teen he had been drawn to 42nd Street, Times Square, to it’s seedy triple x bookstores stocked with the homoerotic magazines of the day. What lie between those pages tightly wrapped in seemingly impenetrable plastic? He wanted to see what was between those pages so badly, that in an attempt to steal one of those magazines, he was caught! The sensation of being caught in the act of stealing one of these pornographic publications only added to the dangerous allure those magazines had on Robert Mapplethorpe. This experience only heightened his desires, peaked his curiosity, made his longing for what lie between those pages unbearable. When Robert began to
grow as an artist he strove to duplicate, or reproduce those emotions in his work. Those same sensations that he had experienced that day on 42nd Street as a young teenaged boy cruising Times Square. He wanted this in his own photographic images. That triple x feeling. That dirty, lurid, erotic feeling he felt in his loins when his own sexuality was still a mystery to him. The stirring he felt in his crotch, he wanted to convey in his art.