Robert Mapplethorpe

Smutty (1982)

About this artwork

Mapplethorpe had previously photographed this androgynous-looking young man, nicknamed ‘Smutty’, in 1980. This later image shows him in a more confident pose - standing with his body in profile, casually leaning his left arm against the wall and his right resting on his hip. The curvature of his arms focuses attention on a key ring of rabbit’s feet (a traditional good luck charm), hanging from his belt. However, his leather trousers and waistcoat, tattoos, and studded wristbands allude to a darker side, and raise the question as to what the good luck is for. His head is turned to look directly at the camera (and consequently the viewer) in a commanding and almost inviting way.

  • title: Smutty
  • accession number: AR00189
  • artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Photograph
  • medium: Gelatine silver print
  • date created: 1982
  • measurements: 47.00 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.