Wachtel On The Arts - Patti Smith

Patti Smith (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Patti Smith (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)


Eleanor Wachtel talks to American singer-songerwriter, poet, and visual artist Patti Smith. Patti Smith's influence on the music world never depended on cranking out hits. She's inspired people by knowing and doing what she wants.  Two years ago, she won a National Book Award for Just Kids, her memoir about her early life in New York with the radical photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. Camera Solo - an exhibition of Patti Smith's photographs is now at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Eleanor spoke to Patti Smith live on-stage to a packed house, earlier this month.

wachtel-patti-eleanor.jpgIn 2011, Patti Smith won the prestigious Polar Music Prize, sometimes dubbed the Nobel Prize of the music world. Previous winners include Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Back in the mid-70s, Patti Smith married poetry to the punk movement with her first album, Horses. Its raw style, with simple chords and powerful lyrics turned Patti Smith into an iconic figure for American punk rock. Time Magazine and Rolling Stone both rate it among the top 100 albums ever made.

At the time, Patti Smith was part of a broad artistic world revolving around the legendary Chelsea Hotel. She lived among poets, playwrights, painters, and photographers. Rock'n Roll made her famous, but her artistic life grew out of a love for other genres - and that still shows today. Her latest CD, Banga alludes to the Renaissance painter, Piero della Francesa and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.

Patti Smith's own photographs show her intimate connection to art and artists. For twenty years, she's taken pictures of subjects with special personal meaning: Robert Mapplethorpe's slippers. Virginia Woolf's bed.  Modgliani's grave. A knife and fork belonging to her hero, the French poet, Arthur Rimbeau. Her photos are usually Polaroids, small and black-and-white. They bear a sense of homage. As one critic wrote about Patti Smith, "It is hard to think of another artist in any medium who is at once so completely original and so persistently devoted to acknowledging influence and paying tribute."

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