Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989
The Pines was a haven for many artists. Here inspired by the beauty of the surroundings their art flourished. Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the many. Here he photographed celebrity friends like Patti Smith, David Hockney, Peter Berlin among many. He used his art to capture an era…
Model, actor, filmmaker Peter Berlin in the Pines (above).
1970’s. In the early to mid-1970s, Peter Berlin created some of the most recognizable gay male erotic imagery of that time. Serving as his own photographer, model, and fashion designer, Peter redefined self-portraiture and became an international sensation. His two films, Nights in Black Leather (1972) and That Boy (1974), played to packed houses for years and, along with other pioneering erotic filmmakers such as Wakefield Poole and Jack Deveau, helped bring gay male erotic films artistic legitimacy.
Great-nephew to the famous fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, Peter grew up in a poor, aristocratic family in Berlin during the 1940s and 50s. In his early 20s, he worked as a photographer for the German TV fashion journal VIP Schaukel taking photographs of European celebrities such as Catherine Deneuve, Alfred Hitchcock, Klaus Kinski, and Brigitte Bardot. Berlin’s real passion, however, was photographing himself in erotic poses and making skin-tight clothes to wear as he cruised the parks and train stations of Berlin.
In the early 1970s, Peter moved to San Francisco and became a fixture on the streets, famous for his highly suggestive clothing and constant cruising. He collaborated with friend Richard Abel on a 16mm hard-core porn film entitled Nights in Black Leather (1972) in which he played the lead role. Peter’s poster for the film was a sensation and helped make Nights in Black Leather an enormous underground hit. As a follow-up, Peter directed, produced, wrote, and starred in That Boy (1974), another wildly successful film. His self-portraits were widely published and sold, making Peter a gay household name and an international celebrity. He was also the subject of several Robert Mapplethorpe photographs and six drawings by Tom of Finland. In addition to the two feature films, Berlin made 4 short erotic films in the mid-1970s: “Blueboys” (co-starring his long-time friend Marc Majors), “Waldeslust,” “Ciro and Peter,” and “Search.”
Peter’s photographs have been exhibited around the world, most notably in the exhibition Split/Vision (New York, 1986) curated by Robert Mapplethorpe and in the solo exhibitions Berlin on Berlin at the Leslie/Lohman Gallery (New York, 2006), Peter Berlin at Magnet (San Francisco, 2014), and the WANTED: PETER BERLIN exhibition at ClampArt (New York, 2015). Though Peter retreated from the limelight in the 1980s, he continues to make videos of himself and lives quietly in San Francisco, where he is still recognized on the streets by his fans.
He discusses that and Robert Mapplethorpe here:
Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. Of his childhood he said, “I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”
In 1963, Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute in nearby Brooklyn, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. Influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, he also experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages, including images cut from books and magazines. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs to incorporate into the collages, saying he felt “it was more honest.” That same year he and Patti Smith, whom he had met three years earlier, moved into the Chelsea Hotel.
Mapplethorpe quickly found satisfaction taking Polaroid photographs in their own right and indeed few Polaroids actually appear in his mixed-media works. In 1973, the Light Gallery in New York City mounted his first solo gallery exhibition, “Polaroids.” Two years later he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances—artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground. He also worked on commercial projects, creating album cover art for Patti Smith and Television and a series of portraits and party pictures for Interview Magazine.
In the late 70’s, Mapplethorpe grew increasingly interested in documenting the New York S & M scene. The resulting photographs are shocking for their content and remarkable for their technical and formal mastery. Mapplethorpe told ARTnews in late 1988, “I don’t like that particular word ‘shocking.’ I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before … I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.” Meanwhile his career continued to flourish. In 1977, he participated in Documenta 6 in Kassel, West Germany and in 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City became his exclusive dealer.
Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon, the first World Women’s Bodybuilding Champion, in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, Lady, Lisa Lyon. Throughout the 80s, Mapplethorpe produced a bevy of images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still life’s, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres. He introduced and refined different techniques and formats, including color 20″ x 24″ Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color prints. In 1986, he designed sets for Lucinda Child’s dance performance, Portraits in Reflection, created a photogravure series for Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, and was commissioned by curator Richard Marshall to take portraits of New York artists for the series and book, 50 New York Artists.
That same year, in 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. Here with partner Sam Wagstaff.
His vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Today Mapplethorpe is represented by galleries in North and South America and Europe and his work can be found in the collections of major museums around the world. Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. He established the Foundation in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.