Self-Portrait with Patti Smith Self-Portrait with Patti Smith

Over 25 years ago Senator Jesse Helms denounced his photography for its sexuality, fetishism and explicit content trying to censor and shame the artist's work, famously igniting a culture war which did more than anything to bring his work into the mainstream of public consciousness. Even today Mapplethorpe's photography can shock, capturing a period in American cultural and social history, hidden from the vast majority of the American populace at the time.

Blog_WV_robert_mapplethorpe_3 Nude

The archive of Mapplethorpe's work is vast with over 120 000 negatives and 3 500 polaroids amongst a quantity of other ephemera and there are still swathes of his work that is little known and ready to be discovered and explored - from the famous portraits of 1980s glamour stars, to his still-life flower studies and his classicised but overtly sexualised depictions of the male and female nude.

larger Two Men Dancing, 1984

He is a touchstone to many photographers for his vision of American life and also for his technical ability. Mapplethorpe stated ''…My whole point is to transcend the subject. …Go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection. That’s what I’m doing. Whether it’s a cock or a flower, I’m looking at it in the same way…in my own way, with my own eyes.''

Calla Lily Calla Lilly, 1988

His work is not simply startling, but truly beautiful in his handling of light and form, and the sensual but meticulous way in which he portrays his subject whether an object or human form. It is no wonder therefore that his work is now highly collectable. One of his iconic but most provocative works Man in Polyester Suit - made at the peak of his abilities in 1980 depicting a black man in a three piece suit, with his penis exposed achieved £313 340 (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium) at Sothebys, New York in October 2015, a record for the artist. It was one of the images Senator Helm cited as an example of 'filthy art' and shows how much his work has moved into the mainstream of visual culture as the last time one of these prints was sold in 1992 it only fetched £6 500.

10-color-mapplethorpe-flora-900x450.png Calla Lily (1988)

Other works can be bought at slightly more achievable prices ranging from low thousands of pounds for works like Cowboy, San Francisco (1976) (Sold for £3 000 at Ader, Paris on 2 June 2016) to tens of thousands for some of his more substantial prints such as Calla Lily (1988) (sold for £32 000 at Sothebys, London on 19 May 2016). As Mapplethorpe said 'People don't have time to wait for somebody to paint their portraits anymore. The money is in photography'.