Patti Smith’s Self Portraits: Another Side of the Prolific Artist

Young artists can under­stand­ably feel hes­i­tant about try­ing new things. It’s hard enough to com­pete as a musi­cian, for exam­ple. Why try to pub­lish poet­ry or make visu­al art, too? Old­er, more estab­lished artists who branch out often have trou­ble being tak­en seri­ous­ly in oth­er fields. Pat­ti Smith—poet, singer, mem­oirist, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, visu­al artist—has nev­er seemed to suf­fer in either regard. “Her art­work has been exhib­it­ed every­where from New York to Munich,” notes Dan­ger­ous Minds, “and in 2008 a large ret­ro­spec­tive of Smith’s art­work (pro­duced between 1967 and 2007) was shown at the Foun­da­tion Carti­er pour l’Art Con­tem­po­rain in Paris.”

Smith “isn’t an artist who is eas­i­ly cat­e­go­rized,” writes cura­tor John Smith. “She moves flu­id­ly…. Her work and her career defy the tra­di­tion­al bound­aries of both the art and music worlds. To under­stand Smith’s work is to under­stand the organ­ic qual­i­ty of what she does.”

Her pro­duc­tions are all of a piece, devel­op­ing togeth­er, in com­mu­ni­ty with oth­er artists. “Many of my draw­ings,” she says, “are the results of merg­ing cal­lig­ra­phy with geo­met­ric planes, poet­ry and math­e­mat­ics.”

There’s also the influ­ence of Robert Map­plethor­pe, who encour­aged Smith in her ear­ly twen­ties when the two famous­ly lived togeth­er as starv­ing artists in New York.

Often I’d sit and try to write or draw, but all of the man­ic activ­i­ty in the streets, cou­pled with the Viet­nam War, made my efforts seem mean­ing­less. […] Robert had lit­tle patience with these intro­spec­tive bouts of mine. He nev­er seemed to ques­tion his artis­tic dri­ves, and by his exam­ple, I under­stood that what mat­ters is the work: the string of words pro­pelled by God becom­ing a poem, the weave of col­or and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that mag­ni­fies His motion. To achieve with­in the work a per­fect bal­ance of faith and exe­cu­tion. From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged.

If you have trou­ble attain­ing that state of mind, con­sid­er heed­ing the advice Smith got from William S. Bur­roughs. In a nut­shell: do what you want, and don’t wor­ry about what oth­ers want.

But self-doubt is real. On one self-por­trait from 1971, at the top, she writes, “I got pissed. I gave up art yet here I am again.” Smith’s method for over­com­ing these com­mon feel­ings —one that emerges as a theme in her mem­oir Just Kids—might be sum­ma­rized as: imag­ine your­self in the com­pa­ny of the artists you and admire and make art in con­ver­sa­tion with them. Or as she puts it:

You look at a Pol­lock, and it can’t give you the tools to do a paint­ing like that your­self, but in doing the work, Pol­lock shares with you the moment of cre­ative impulse that drove him to do that work. And that con­tin­u­ous exchange—whether it’s with a rock and roll song where you’re com­muning with Bo Did­dley or Lit­tle Richard, or it’s with a paint­ing, where you’re com­muning with Rem­brandt or Pollock—is a great thing.

Her many self-por­traits show her in con­ver­sa­tion with artists like Aubrey Beard­s­ley, in the brood­ing 1974 draw­ing fur­ther up; Willem de Koon­ing in the 1969 work above; and maybe Robert Rauschen­berg in “Pat­ti Rides Her Coney Island Pony,” from 1969, below. She tried on many dif­fer­ent styles, but Smith could also cre­ate fine­ly ren­dered real­ist por­traits, like those of her and Map­plethor­pe at the bot­tom. Her tal­ent is unde­ni­able, but we’d nev­er know it if she hadn’t first tak­en her­self seri­ous­ly as an artist.

See more of Smith’s work at Dan­ger­ous Minds.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

How Pat­ti Smith “Saved” Rock and Roll: A New Video Makes the Case

Beau­ti­ful New Pho­to Book Doc­u­ments Pat­ti Smith’s Break­through Years in Music: Fea­tures Hun­dreds of Unseen Pho­tographs

Pat­ti Smith’s Award-Win­ning Mem­oir, Just Kids, Now Avail­able in a New Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.