William Burroughs (1980)
About this artwork
William Burroughs was a novelist, a guru and one of America’s underground heroes. His greatest novel, ‘The Naked Lunch’ (first published in France in 1959) was banned on the grounds of obscenity until, in a groundbreaking trial in 1966, it was declared not obscene. By 1980, when this photograph was taken, Burroughs was a countercultural giant. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a secular saint in prayer. Almost half the composition is taken up by Burroughs’s dark jacket, which thereby throws into sharp relief his head and clasped hands.
- title: William Burroughs
- accession number: AR00211
- artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
- depicted: William Burroughs
- gallery: In Storage
- object type: Photograph
- medium: Gelatine silver print
- date created: 1980
- measurements: 34.10 x 34.10 cm (framed: 61.10 x 58.80 x 3.90 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
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.