Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, New York in 1946, the third of six children. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1970 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he produced artwork in a variety of media. Throughout his career he pursued new techniques and formats, including color Polaroids, photogravure, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachromes and dye- transfer color prints, as well as his earlier black and white gelatin silver prints.
During this time, Mapplethorpe met musician, poet and artist Patti Smith, who encouraged his work and posed for numerous portraits when they lived together in Brooklyn and in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. In 1971, Mapplethorpe met John McKendry, Curator of Prints and Photography at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York. McKendry encouraged Mapplethorpe to take up photography full-time.
He had his first substantial shows in New York in 1977 and in the mid to late 1980s, he returned to the sculptural use of photography used in his early assemblages, creating sensual diptychs and triptychs of photographs printed on fabric and luxurious cloth panels.
Four major exhibitions of his work were organized in 1988, by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Mapplethorpe died of complications from AIDS in 1989 in Boston.