Know your past live your future

Robert Mapplethorpe by David Croland

Robert Mapplethorpe by David Croland

Illustration by David Croland.

Artist David Croland began his illustration career at British Bazaar. Returning to New York he worked for designer Halston and was comissioned by Andy Warhol to do the back covers of Interview magazine. Photography assignments for Diane Von Furstenberg, British Vogue and Glamour. David continues to work as an artist based in NYC.

I met Robert in 1970.

The year before in 1969, I was a model in London.

Robert and I met on a hot, steamy New York City afternoon at the Hotel Chelsea.

Our mutual friend Tinkerbelle introduced us. Yes, her name was Tinkerbelle.

Robert was living with his girlfriend Patti Smith. Patti was in the room when we met that day.

The room was smaller than your foot.

The four of us stood there observing each other observe each other.

I was used to being objectified. Always, in all ways.

Within a week, Robert and I were lovers.

We kept this secret for months. I am not secretive. I am private.

Eventually it got out. No one really gave it much thought. Patti was loving and supportive with Robert and always sweet to me. I introduced Robert to my friends Marisa Berenson, Loulou de la Falaise, Elsa Peretti, Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, and others. Robert had never met anyone quite like these people and was dazzled by their sophistication and glamour. It was a time when the fashion crowd was less crowded than today. The reigning kings were Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Halston.  All of them thought Robert was as talented as he was beautiful. Robert was also very polite, almost formal, which went over very well. They bought some of his art and jewelry and encouraged him to do more. He was on his way. We were both 22 years old.

In 1971 I did a short film with Robert. "Robert Having His Nipple Pierced."

It was shot by the film maker Sandy Daley in her wondrous, all white space at the Chelsea Hotel.

There was a voice-over by Patti Smith speaking of her childhood, Robert, and a bit of how she felt about Robert and me. The film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I sat with Robert and a list too long to name here. You can see it on You Tube and give your own review.

Robert got his first polaroid camera and started to make images of me.

I was the first model he photographed that actually was a model. I knew how to pose and how not to pose. He liked that.

Even then in those early days I knew this collaboration was different from the other photographers that had and were continuing to photograph me.

Name drop alert! Francesco Scavullo, Lillian Bassman, Melvin Sokolsky, David Bailey, Bill King, Chris von Wangenheim, Gerard Malanga, Billy Name, and Brian Duffy come to mind and body.

Robert photographed me for a couple of years, and they were mostly polaroid series done as themes involving all the film in each polaroid pack. Nudes, semi-nudes, black leather, handcuffs, silk gags, silk robes, etc...

Robert took great care not to waste his film, and each image was carefully considered and wonderfully composed.

I knew he was making art. Great stuff. Original and different from others.

As our relationship went on, Robert wanted me to pose in more revealing and provocative ways.

I did nudes for other photographers and for Robert, but these were more classic male nudes that would be fine with me and my family who were interested but never censors of my career as a model. Back views. Fine. Full frontal? No.

Robert was quite persuasive. So was I. The images he started to take at the end of our three year love affair began to change. Role playing became more serious. I liked to have fun.

           Robert Mapplethorpe and David Croland by Norman Seelf                                 Patti Smith and David Croland by Judy Linn

In 1973, I introduced Robert to Sam Wagstaff. I met Sam on Fire Island at Sam Green's place. Sam was keen on me and wanted to get together in the city later that week.

We met at my place and he expressed his interest in me and my art.

I said that the art was for sale. Period. He bought 10 drawings. Sam asked me to come to his place on Bond Street to get a check, and on our way out he spotted a tiny photobooth snap of Robert in a little frame. "Who is this?" said Sam.

"This, is my soon to be ex-boyfriend" I said.

"I would like to meet him. What does he do?" Time will tell. Always does.

I went with Sam to his loft on Bond street, and it became obvious on entry that Sam was a great collector of art. The huge loft was filled from front to back with major pieces. Oldenburg, Rauchenberg, Jim Dine, and Andy Warhol to name a few.

Also obvious: he was rich. Just reporting the facts.

Sam again asked for Robert's phone number, and the rest is history. Art History.

I called Robert and informed him to expect a call. A life-changing call. I was right.

On Robert and Sam's first date that week, my doorbell rang, and standing outside was Robert and Sam. Robert was nervous and wanted to make it a threesome.

Probably literally. Two's company, so I declined.The date went more than well.

Love bloomed. So did Robert.

It was a great love story on every level. Robert gave as good as he got. He got a wonderful loft right down the street from Sam. Both of them gave each other

genuine love and appreciation.

As I have said before when people say Robert was a hustler, "When you look like Robert did, you don't have to hustle. People hustle you. Mostly out of your pants if they can. Can't blame a guy or girl for trying. I know the score on that one too.

At this point both Robert and my work took off. Robert flying around the world with Sam and enjoying a life and style one continues to read about. Robert never stopped working. When people ask me "What would Robert be doing today?" I say "What time is it?" 

Meaning, if it were early morning, he would be sleeping. Late morning? Having a cigarette and coffee in a robe. Afternoon?  Preparing to shoot pictures.

Nudes, flowers, portraits. Early evening? Getting dressed and ready to dine out with a friend or a group of friends usually in the art world. Late evening? The bars or places he went to with an eye to connect to a body. Late, late evening? Sex.

And so it was and went. I will end here, because Robert and I did not see each other much after his life sped into the fast lane. Mine was also quite fast. Robert gave a lavish cocktail party about a month or so before he died. He knew he was going and wanted to say goodbye. So many wonderful people from all the arts were there. Robert sat on a comfortable throne-like chair in the very center of the room where he received his guests. One after the other they knelt down to speak to and kiss him, what was to be a last goodbye.

A week later he invited me over to this spectacular loft on 23rd street where he worked and lived. Just the two of us. I asked him what I could do for him. Anything?

"Yes," he said. "Tell them everything, keep me alive."

Love you, Robert.

NYC 5/10/17

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