New York: Robert Miller, 1983 (03), 68,3×51 cm. Exhibition poster / invite for a key solo show by Robert Mapplethorpe at Robert Miller gallery. Design by John Cheim. Based on his iconic Self-portrait of the same year it is probably the most coveted of Mapplethorpe’s posters. Raw dark energy.
In this black and white self-portrait Robert Mapplethorpe stands in front of one of his constructions, Black Star 1983, which consists of a black-painted frame in the shape of a five-pointed star or pentagram. Mapplethorpe poses in a dark leather coat and gloves, clutching a submachine gun which he points slightly upwards to his left. Underneath his leather coat Mapplethorpe is wearing a wing-collared shirt and a white bowtie. Mapplethorpe stands straight on and looks directly at the camera. The photograph is cropped just below the artist’s waist. The self-portrait is based on a famous 1974 publicity image of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst holding a submachine gun with the symbol of the Symbionese Liberation Army on the wall behind her. Hearst gained notoriety that year after being kidnapped by – and subsequently joining – the American left-wing revolutionary group.
The pentagram in this portrait is inverted (with one point facing down), making it a symbol of the devil. Perhaps due to his Catholic upbringing, Mapplethorpe maintained a fascination with the devil, using it as a motif throughout his work and as part of his private iconography. In another self-portrait taken in 1985 (Guggenheim Museum, New York), used as an illustration for Arthur Rimbaud’s poem A Season in Hell (1873), Mapplethorpe portrays himself with devil-like horns. He also owned cufflinks, ceramics and other objects adorned with images of devils. The artist once commented that ‘beauty and the Devil are the same thing’. (Quoted in Morrisroe 1995, p.89.) Harry McHue, Mapplethorpe’s roommate at the Pratt Institute in New York, recounts how he and the artist ‘wanted the power of Satan’ and ‘tried to seek out people and situations through which [they] could get in touch with him’. (Quoted in Morrisroe 1995, p.44.)
Matthew Macaulay, 2014, TATE
condition: Folded as issued for mailing. A couple of small spots on the upper left quadrant [see photo]. Minor, inoffensive blemishes mostly due to folding. In excellent overall condition.