Sensational Images of Divine by Antonio Lopez

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Divine, 1977,Photography by Antonio Lopez

The illustrious artist and photographer captured the true spirit of 70s subcultures with his sublime images – including this extraordinary series of fashion icon, Divine

When, in 2011, Roger and Mauricio Padilha first uncovered the Antonio Lopez archives housed by artist Paul Caranicas, it was like excavating a treasure trove of 70s legends. "It was amazing – literally hundreds and thousands of polaroids," they told AnOther. "We'd open one box and there would be stacks and stacks of Grace Jones polaroids, then we'd open another and there would be stacks of Jerry, then another with stacks of Karl Lagerfeld – it was overwhelming and amazing." Living on Boulevard Saint-Germain in the early 70s, in an apartment loaned by M Lagerfeld, illustrator Lopez found his inspirations in the nightclubs (he found his fiancee, Jery Hall, in Club Sept; Jessica Lange while she was at school studying mime) and would stay up all night with them listening to T-Rex and sketching away. Published everywhere from Vogue to Interview, he was an iconic part of the fashion scene: commonly known as the "Pied Piper of fashion", he inspired designers, discovered icons, even helped break down racial segregation through his devotion to women like Grace Jones and Tina Chow. But, in spite of his illustrious CV of sketching and accolades, some of his most intimate work is that done on film.

It wasn't until the mid-70s, on a trip to New York, that Lopez acquired an Instamatic camera, which he initially used as a sort of diary to document his friendships. Soon however, he began to approach the snapshots as artworks in their own right. "Antonio was not content to merely record these faces and bodies; he elaborated each into a sequence... turning them into a series and forcing the person being photographed, often naked, to try on many faces and gestures, until a kind of truth is revealed," Paul Caranicas told RUSSH magazine. And among the plentiful icons that became immortalised within his work was the inimitable Divine, for whom he designed concept sketches for her 1978 play The Neon Woman. By this point in his career, Lopez had moved to New York – "they felt the mood had changed and Paris began to feel a little institutionalised," recalled Caranicas in Antonio: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco – and the club scene across the Atlantic was the ideal playground for his investigations into alternative style.

The loft that Lopez moved his studio into was at the epicentre of the new world: located directly across the street from Andy Warhol's Factory. "He sees more than others," said Warhol, and his ability to capture the very essence of his subjects in his cinematic series – whether the sexuality of Jerry Hall, the elegance of Tina Chow or the outlandish performance of Divine – proves him to be right. As friend and collaborator Andre Leon Talley wrote in his foreword to Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, Antonio had an incomparable and "urbane sense of capturing the zeitgest through his art" that truly stands the test of time. His images of Divine, at the pinnacle of her stardom (the likes of Elton John and Liza Minnelli were regularly found in the audience of The Neon Woman) remind us that Antonio's abilities were not restricted to his sketchwork – and that his aptitude for observing and capturing the spirit of subcultures around the world lives on far after his death.