I'm delighted to announce my latest book of poetry and photography—Heart on a Fence! The book is named after an original painting by my daughter, Kendall, which graces the cover. I am thrilled to offer this new book to my friends and acquaintances. If you would like to order a copy, please email me. They are $20 a piece. Here are some of the images and poems from the book.
Patti Smith's 2010 memoir, Just Kids, about her long relationship with the photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe, is a tender and exquisite tribute to Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1986, and also a lovely meditation on what it means to be an artist.
Smith, a writer, poet and pioneering rock and roll singer in the 1970s, deftly invites us into late 1960s New York, where Mapplethorpe was one of the first people she met when she arrived. She was 20, broke and seeking the life of an artist, though she didn't know what that would look like. He was equally driven to become the artist he knew he was. In those early years, they clung together, as lovers, as friends, and as muses to each other.
When he began to explore his homosexual leanings, she was initially repelled and confused. In time, they came to a place of understanding and acceptance and deep love for each other, though each discovered romance with others. They also each found success as artists - he for his homoerotic, often disturbing, photography, she for her poetry, drawings and rock and roll band.
Their connection as artists remained throughout their lives. He took the photos that graced her albums. Once, they displayed their work together in a New York gallery. As their careers took them in different directions, the time they spent together lessened. She married and started a family in Detroit. He remained in New York. But in the months before he died, she visited him frequently, and promised him she would one day write their story.
The book won the National Book Award, for good reason. It is a luminous examination of a friendship, but it is so much more. It asks, how does one become an artist? And, what does it mean to be an artist? And, finally, how does one find and fan the spark of artistic greatness in a world of crushing expectations and rejection?
As memoirist, Smith stays razor-focused on their relationship while also bringing to life the people who surrounded them during the time they lived in the storied Hotel Chelsea, at the famous Max's Café, where they hung out, and, later, their shared artists' flat on Twenty-third Street, above the Oasis Bar. Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg - they are just a few of the famous and infamous who touched upon their universe. There were many others from the worlds of art and music.
Ultimately, they both found the individual fame and success each craved, encouraging and helping each other along the way, yet living separate lives.
As a writer, I was struck by Smith's masterful layering of the small details of their existence with the meaning and understanding that could only come from deep contemplation over a long period of time. It's been 25 years since Mapplethorpe died, but Smith has brought him, and their exceptional relationship, vividly to life.