The following selection serves as an introduction to Edward Mapplethorpe's diverse oeuvre spanning the past 30 years. It is arranged thematically and aims to place the work within a conceptual framework that focuses on the elements of light, movement, technical process and geometric abstraction. The illustrated pairings and clusters demonstrate how these core ideas have transcended each series to unite seemingly disparate projects. It is a testament to the artist's unique vision that these overarching core concepts can be so broadly defined through his many bodies of work.
The series represented include: early landscapes, nudes, portraiture and still life works (c. 1982-1992); Undercurrents (1992- 1994); Stars and Stripes (1994); Transmographs (1995-1996); Babies (1995-present); Portfolio II (1997); Compositions (1999- 2002); Peaches (2000- 2002); photograms (2002-present); drawings (2002-2004); EOS (2003); HAIR Transfer (2004); TimeLines (2007-2009); TimeZones (2008); and The Variations (2010-2011).
Edward Mapplethorpe began his artistic career striving for the perfect balance of formal and aesthetic qualities within his traditional compositions of nudes, still life, landscapes and portraiture. These early images are linked by an ordered compositional structure, deft use of light and are often psychologically charged. Northern Flicker (1991) illustrates Mapplethorpe's early inclination towards geometric motifs to balance his compositions through his positioning of the bird in a cross position within a circular architectural design. The cross and circle motifs make their debut together here, and continue to recur as compositional devices up to the present. The bird's variegated plumage foreshadows the artist's later preoccupation with tonal variation. One assumes it is deceased, bringing to mind the notion that photography "kills" its subjects allowing this image to broach the issue of time—both physical and mortal. Similarly, in David LaChapelle (1984), the subject is positioned so that his limbs create a symmetrical grid structure within the picture plane. The door frame physically and psychologically holds the subject within the composition. Subtle tonal shifts within the photograph add dimension and atmosphere.
From these examples it is apparent that the early works consequently hold the key to understanding the artist's conceptual and aesthetic preoccupations, as many of the qualities found within this seminal period can be found as elements throughout Mapplethorpe's later series.