Robert Mapplethorpe


Robert Mapplethorpe's place in the canon was earned from his incredible output of images that ranged from beautiful to brutal, from masculine to fragile. 

He fearlessly depicted the body (his own, friends' and lovers') in a way that positioned his work in line with masters such as Courbet, Bas Jan Ader and Marina Abramovic. 

Mapplethorpe's images, regardless of subject matter, are both sensual and cerebral, delicate and menacing. Despite the sometimes shocking content of his work, Mapplethorpe's photographs possess a formalist quality and undeniable beauty and composition. 

This image, is a prime example of Mapplethorpe's work. Mapplethorpe's practice was centred around studio photography and his aesthetic output demonstrated a more refined vision. 

Shot in his signature black & white, this work is from his A Season in Hell portfolio featuring a hand firing a revolver. The wrist, hand, gun, and firing trajectory extend in a striking diagonal line from corner to corner, displaying Mapplethorpe's unrivaled eye for composition and texture. 

In 1986, Mapplethorpe was commissioned to create 8 photographs for a new translation of the prose poem A Season in Hell¬†(Un saison en enfer),¬†ÔĽŅoriginally written in 1873 by French poet¬†Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891).¬†

A Season in Hell was Rimbaud's best known work centred around the idea of passion as suffering. It is widely considered a precursor to modernist literature. Rimbaud often imbued his works with symbolism and surrealism, influencing succeeding literary and visual arts.

Both artists were considered enfant terribles and this collaboration highlighted the many parallels between Mapplethorpe and Rimbaud. Their artistic visions were refined, revolutionary, and influential beyond their years. Despite Catholic upbringings, they eschewed societal norms and bourgeois culture through their queer identities and libertine excesses. Both rebellious spirits were tragically extinguished too soon by disease, Rimbaud of cancer at 37, and Mapplethorpe of AIDS at 42.

Coincidentally in 1986 when Mapplethorpe accepted the commission for this book, he was diagnosed with AIDS, beginning the tragic countdown for his untimely death. 

Arthur Rimbaud was a literary savant, producing most of his poetry between the ages of 16-19. During this time he began a love affair with married Symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine. Their torrid affair included running away to Paris and living a vagabond life replete with opium, alcohol, and absinthe. The tumultuous bohemian relationship ended after Verlaine, in a drunken rage, shot a loaded revolver at Rimbaud, hitting him in the wrist. This scene from Timbaud's real life seems to have inspired Mapplethorpe's creation of this image, featuring an old-fashioned revolved being fired with only a wrist & hand showing. 

In 2009, to mark the 20th anniversary of Mapplethorpe's death and Rimbaud's October birthday, Patti Smith performed music and poetry dedicated to both artists, whom she was a devotee of, at the Alison Jacques Gallery in London. 

Questions about this artwork? Contact us or call +1.416.704.1720

"Gun Blast (from A Season in Hell)"

Photogravure printed with relief roll

USA, 1986

Signed, dated, and editioned by the artist.

Printer's proof 5/5, from an edition of 40

4.5‚ÄĚH 4.5‚ÄĚW (image)

14"H  10.25"W (sheet).

Very good condition. Detailed condition report by request

Note: There is a version of A Season in Hell that is an edition of 1000 examples. This work comes from the edition (of 40) that was hand signed and numbered by Robert Mapplethorpe.

Published by Limited Editions Club, photogravures by Jon Goodman and printed by Wingate Studio, text printed by Wild Carrot Press 

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