wild love: patti smith & robert mapplethorpe

Photo by Jackie Young

Today’s Wild Love celebrates a friendship that left a permanent impact on music, art, photography and style in America: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Immortalized in Smith’s book, Just Kids, their friendship was a merging of aesthetics that influenced Smith to forever change the face of poetry and rock and roll. In turn, Smith was Mapplethorpe’s muse until his untimely and far-too-early death in 1989.

Mapplethorpe and Smith, Photograph by Norman Seeff, used with gracious permission by the photographer.

Smith met Mapplethorpe when she first arrived in New York City, and they immediately became lovers. Their relationship was star-crossed and consuming from the start — Smith often speaks in Just Kids about how intensely they relied on each other, both making their way in New York in the late ’60s at a time when the city was shifting drastically. They mirrored each other in their passion for their work and their tenderness toward others, feeding a mutual curiosity that spawned boundary-pushing outputs from both artists. — Mary Kathryn Paynter

Read the full post (and more on Smith and Mappelthorpe’s relationship) after the jump . . .

Patti Smith’s 1974 record, Hey Joe. Image licensed under Creative Commons

Image above: Patti Smith performing at Winterland in San Francisco, 1978. Image by Stephen L Harlow, licensed under Creative Commons

Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait, 1980. Image via Wikimedia

Smith and Mapplethorpe lived together from 1967 to 1974, spending much of that time at the Chelsea Hotel, a mecca for artists, musicians, writers and other creative icons of their time. Their works explored themes of Catholicism, sexuality and gender, self-mythology and the relationship between light and dark. But while their lifestyle was rooted in New York’s punk rock scene in the 1970s, their letters to and affection for each other were anything but brutal. They signed letters to each other with a blue star, a symbol of their undying love for each other. Even after Mapplethorpe realized he was gay, they remained in love, able to support each other as muses, soul mates and best friends.

They worshipped the poetry of Jean Genet and Arthur Rimbaud, as well as the writing of Bob Dylan. They filled their apartment with images from their respective Catholic upbringings, with Mapplethorpe often manipulating images of saints and crucifixes and Smith exploring the cosmic and ethereal. They ran around with Jimi Hendrix, Sam Shepard, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin and Warhol, among many others. Smith would go on to become a legend in music, releasing iconic album after iconic album, and incorporating poetry and theater into the world of punk rock. Mapplethorpe would later become famous for his shocking photos depicting homoerotic and BDSM imagery, shot in poignant and beautiful light, the same light used in his portraits of calla lilies and orchids.

Smith and Mapplethorpe’s relationship was also explored in the 2007 documentary Black White + Gray, which primarily focused on Mapplethorpe’s lifelong relationship with his patron and partner, Sam Wagstaff, but includes the following clip of Smith reminiscing about Mapplethorpe:

Black White + Gray from Canadian Art on Vimeo.

Black White + Gray from Canadian Art on Vimeo

Photo by Jackie Young

Photo by Jackie Young

I used Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s style as inspiration for this arrangement, primarily comprised of peonies, roses, calla lilies, scabiosa, chocolate lace and one nigella acting as the “blue star.” The arrangement has a darkness and intensity, while also showing a sweeter, lighter side. Calla lilies and hosta are used as symbols of Mapplethorpe’s work, referencing his portraits of flowers popular during the 1980s. Red peonies are symbolic of the lifelong passion and intensity between Smith and Mapplethorpe, and pale pink garden roses represent their tender and almost childlike love for each other. Crystals and sage, as well as the icon of the Madonna, reference both artists’ fascination with Catholic imagery and bohemian spirituality.

Photo by Jackie Young

  1. K. Bell says:

    I loved this book – it’s one of my top 10 (though I fear there are about 76 books in my “top 10”) — and this arrangement is a beautiful tribute!

  2. Debby says:

    Read the book, Just Kids. As an artist, it affected me so.

  3. Kimberley says:

    Love that you’ve featured Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorp! I always get such pleasure from coming here.

    Just one correction – “Just Kids” is not a novel, it’s a memoir of their time together.

  4. nancy mims says:

    I adore everything about this! Beautiful!

  5. Clay says:

    Wonderful post and they are hugely inspirational to me!

  6. The Wife says:

    Absolutely gorgeous. You nailed the bohemian, passionate, wild vibe.

  7. Deeyn says:

    great tribute. All of the elements used in the arrangement and styling really reflect the mood between the two artist.

  8. Ashley says:

    Really loved this post. Got to hear Patti do a private concert this past December and she is still as badass as ever. The best part was when she forgot the lyrics to “Because the Night” halfway through.

  9. Lori says:

    This is an awesome post, completely unexpected and very cool.

  10. Jenni says:

    My little brother gave me the book as christmas present last christmas. It took me several days to read because I felt so inspired all the time it made hard to just read and not to create something. It was more like an experience than a book.

  11. j says:

    fabulous post!

  12. That book is going on my LIST!

    And I love the gorgeous styling of the flowers, shells, crystals, all mingled together. So rich.


  13. Lisa says:

    Loved NYC early 70s- CBGBs, Patti & Robert, all that great stuff. Wish I lived back then. I love the vibe of your flower vignettes. Very Chelsea Hotel before they fixed it up.

  14. eklima27 says:

    i loved this book so much-it resonated with me as an artist living in nyc…beautiful and raw, loved it!!!

  15. such a beautiful and amazing book. one of my favorite books in the past few years for sure. i was literally sobbing for weeks afterward!

  16. madz andersen says:

    I can remember when i was only 12 or 13 when i was feeling very poorly and my wonderful Mum went out a bought me my first patti smith album by my request to make me feel better i put it on the record player and instantly become much better instantly. Can,t wait to read it.

  17. Linda says:

    Mary Katherine you are just too neat for words..also of course love, love your beautiful flowers

  18. f. r. says:

    i love both and they inspire me to have an a-sexual (or sexual?) relationship to a gay man. they estimatedf each other, although the outcome was hard to bear for patti. i adore her for her intensity. and him for his trueness.



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