Robert Mapplethorpe

Self Portrait (1983)

About this artwork

This self portrait is based on the famous 1974 photograph of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst holding a rifle with the symbol of the Symbionese Liberation Army on the wall behind her. Mapplethorpe shows himself in battle dress (leather jacket), posing, rifle in hand, 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. This particular pentagram is inverted (with one point facing down) and is therefore a symbol of the Devil. Mapplethorpe, brought up a devout Catholic, later liked to identify with the Devil because of his own ‘sinful’ behaviour. Thus, he becomes a rebel soldier fighting for a cause.

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  • title: Self Portrait
  • accession number: AR00226
  • artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
  • depicted: Robert Mapplethorpe
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Photograph
  • subject: Self-portrait
  • medium: Gelatine silver print
  • date created: 1983
  • measurements: 37.40 x 37.50 cm (framed: 50.80 x 40.60 cm)
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
  • copyright: © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became famous, not to say, notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of the male nude and sexually explicit, gay imagery. Although often considered controversial, Mapplethorpe tested the right to individual freedom of expression. These images were not meant to be titillating or obscene but beautiful in a traditionally classical way. His work, therefore, holds a significant place in the history of artistic struggle to depict the world as it is, with honesty and truth. His nudes, when considered alongside his portraits of children and flower photographs, show him to be overwhelmingly interested in the beauty and transience of life. Mapplethorpe, even when facing death from AIDS, affirmed the beauty of the here and now.