Patti Smith

b. 1946

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Patti Smith is widely celebrated as the original punk goddess, and has been described by Jessica Hopper as the ‘first dangerous famous rock ‘n’ roll star.’ Born in Illnois in 1946 to an atheist father and devout Jehovah’s Witness mother, Smith left home at twenty, headed to New York and met acclaimed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Music and poetry have been the properties of Smith’s public persona; her 1975 album Horses, established her as one of most original and important musical artists of her generation and was followed by ten releases. But she remained active in drawing and photographic practice since she enrolled in, and later dropped out of, art school in the late 1960s. She states she has been ‘taking photographs for myself since the 1970s. They’re based more on meditation than observation. I see them as intimate and silent.’

She records sites and objects of personal significance with great sensitivity: Herman Hesse’s typewriter, her father’s coffee cup, Virginia Wolfe’s bed. Smith says of these extraordinarily expressive but delicate images, ‘they have given me a sense of unity and personal satisfaction. They contain all that I understand about light and composition…’ Traditionally printed by Laurant Girard with silver gelatin, her images have rapidly attained iconic status.

Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith, a three hundred-work retrospective, was organized by The Andy Warhol Museum in 2002 and traveled to numerous venues including the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, and the Museum Boijsman Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Eki, Kyoto; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Triennale di Milano, Milan; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels and the Pompidou Center in Paris. Smith’s first solo photographic exhibition in New York was initiated in 2007. A large solo exhibition was mounted at Foundation Cartier, Paris, in 2008, and then Written Portrait – Patti Smith at Artium Centro-Museo Vasco de Arte Contemporáneo, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. Camera Solo, a survey of her photographs organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (2011), then travelled to Detroit Institute of Arts (2012) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (2013).

Just Kids, a memoir of Smith’s remarkable relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late sixties and seventies, won her the 2010 National Book Award in the nonfiction category.

Smith lives and works in New York.

  • Tambourine Made 1968 by Robert Mapplethorpe
    Tambourine Made 1968 by Robert Mapplethorpe, 2006

    Gelatin silver print

    Edition 5/10

    4 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches (image), 10 x 8 inches (sheet)

    © Patti Smith. Courtesy the artist and Robert Miller Gallery