Patti Smith reveals inner world at Paris exhibit

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - For many people she is simply the godmother of Punk, but Patti Smith was taking photographs, painting and drawing long before she gained fame as a singer and musician.

A reporter covers the opening of an exhibition called "Patti Smith, Land 250" at the Fondation Cartier in Paris March 27, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The Fondation Cartier in Paris began an exhibit of photos and artwork on Friday named Land 250 after the vintage Polaroid camera used by the 61-year-old singer whose music inspired a generation of bands such as The Clash, REM and The Smiths.

“Since 1967 I have been drawing and writing and doing visual arts, film and photography,” the American singer told reporters at a press preview of the show this week.

“It’s the beginning of a dialogue between me and the people to show the diversity of my open door welcoming people into my world.”

Dressed in her trademark jeans, white shirt and thin black tie, Smith said she began taking Polaroid photographs in 1995 after the deaths of her brother and her husband.

“I felt so weary. I was unable to write or to draw. Taking Polaroids because it’s so simple, immediate, gave an immediate response to my creative needs, it was helpful to me to restore my confidence as an artist at a very difficult time,”

She eventually grew “fond of the method” and the pictures -- which are instantly developed in the camera -- have become what she calls the “relics of my life”.

Many of the more than 200 black and white shots on display have deep personal meanings, such as those of cutlery belonging to French writer Arthur Rimbaud, who helped shape her interest in poetry. There are also shots of the slippers once worn by her friend the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe’s striking black and white photo of an androgynous Smith defiantly looking at the world made the cover of her 1975 debut album “Horses” an instant touchstone of the Punk rock movement.


The show, which seeks to recreate the cozy atmosphere of a loft, with armchairs, rugs, guitars and amplifiers lying around, also features memorabilia such as a stone taken from the river in which British writer Virginia Woolf committed suicide, or an entry ticket to the Rimbaud museum.

Also on display are drawings Smith did when she was 22 and was hanging out in Paris’ Montparnasse area, film extracts and an audio performance of The Coral Sea, a poem she wrote in memory of Mapplethorpe.

Several of the Polaroids on display show the resting places of Mozart, Rimbaud or French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Patti Smith says she loves graveyards. She finds them places of “beauty and contemplation” and that visiting them makes her feel closer to her loved ones and to all the dead people who inspired her.

On her own tomb, she says she would love to see one single word engraved: “worker”.

“Hopefully I can be called an artist but I don’t feel that I am any more special than anyone else,” she said.

Accompanied by her son, the singer said that her children help her to deflect any notions of herself as some kind of Punk music “icon”.

“I am a mother and as a mother I cannot be an icon. Your children constantly remind you that you are a human being.”

Smith will also be performing at the Fondation Cartier solo and alongside guest artists such Tom Verlaine, the former frontman of Television, the band with which she helped create a pre-punk scene at legendary CBGB club in New York.

She will also give informal poetry readings, starting with the commemoration of Virginia Woolf’s death on Friday.

Patti Smith

Land 250

Fondation Cartier

261 boulevard Raspail, Paris 14

March 28-June 22, 2008

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Paul Casciato