- Orbiting Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory
I met Andy Warhol in the spring of 1964 right after he moved into his Silver Factory—before he became the Pope of Pop—and appeared in a couple of his early movies. Even though he’s ubiquitous, in 1964 he was just beginning to gain notoriety. More than twenty-five years after his death in 1987, Warhol remains America’s all-time best-selling artist.
Art critic Gregory Battcock, author of the anthology The New Art, introduced us. I met Gregory while shooting Gregory Markopoulos’s movie The Iliac Passion, which also featured Andy. Battcock’s tiny, fourth-floor living room on West 15th Street was filled with books and artworks. As we waited for Andy to arrive, expectation hovered in the air—he was known to be different, special, and provocative. I was still in college, had been following the emergence of Pop Art, and had seen Warhol’s infamous exhibition of Brillo, Campbell’s, and Heinz silk-screened cartons stacked in neat rows just like a factory at the Stable Gallery on East 74th Street. Simulacra arrived with a vengeance. The show was a shocker. I saw right away why people didn’t know what to make of Andy. But that was the point, wasn’t it, to challenge every preconception you had about what was or could be art? I sensed Warhol would take off Big Time and told a friend this artist is going to become very famous.
Battcock was tuned into the moment, a character in his own right. Later the editor of Arts Magazine and a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, he comported himself like a bon vivant hipster with a witty throwaway flamboyance, who, in sometimes emphatically shrill tones, delighted in hectoring acquaintances with nervy and outrageous pronouncements. If he was talking to someone who didn’t know about art or who Andy Warhol was, he’d intimidate them with loud, imperious, campy banter: “You’re telling me you don’t know who Andy Warhol IS? Ha! Well, where have you been, don’t you read the newspapers? He’s one of the most important and famous artists alive! I bet you don’t even know that he painted Campbell soup cans! What’s wrong with you, are you culturally deprived?” He’d got off clucking to great effect, playing the clown or fool with ratcheted hyperbole. [End Page 41]
When Andy arrived, he was dressed casually in a jacket and black jeans. He wore glasses with clear frames, but something was noticeably different about him. He had already transformed himself into an unusual persona readily apparent by his pale skin and silver hair. Andy appeared very shy, partly feigned. But he had a certain presence you couldn’t quite put your finger on or figure out, not exactly ethereal or otherworldly, but definitely other. I noticed a certain relaxed, carefree, even disaffected languor about his movements and a softness or cool detachment in how he greeted people, yet everyone was on and excited as if their radar had just been turned up full. Andy was living an unreal fantasy life. It was soon apparent that you couldn’t have a typical conversation with him—he was—what?—an iconoclast, someone you had to watch carefully. Maybe he was a Space Alien!
It was like he was standing beside or outside himself while everyone stood around with bated breath waiting and listening anxiously to whatever he would say. He had an edge, an uncanny way of grinning or smiling to deflect his shyness and unease, to mask what he was thinking, or to neutralize his celebrity. You couldn’t quite figure out what was what, or what he was doing—that’s what struck me as a first impression. So when I was introduced to him, and was at a loss as to what to say, I asked him, “What do you do?” In his dreamy, whispery, spaced-out voice, he replied, “Oh, I make a movie a day.” Wowie zowie, how would you respond to that? My mind was blown, but I managed to muffle a response by mumbling something like...