Andy in the Hot Seat
Published November 4, 2012
Every so often, the worlds of art, fashion, and culture pause to have an Andy moment. This time, Francois NARS has sounded the bell with the NARS Andy Warhol Collection that captures the stardust of an era in a compact. With a palette as motley and as cheeky as Warhol’s tastes and iconic lithographs, NARS celebrates the factory girl, the artistic deviant, and other ghosts of a New York past that deserve tribute thanks to Mr. Warhol’s vision. In true Andy moment fashion, we look back to where the pop art magic began and revisit a conversation in which Glenn O’Brien interviews the legend himself.
This interview was conducted at the third Factory, at 860 Broadway. It took 90 minutes-the time of one tape. I had thoughts about some of the questions, but mostly the interview was improvised. Andy was really on that day. We talked in the paneled “board room” while staff, including Fred Hughes, Catherine Guinness, Bob Colacello, and Ronnie Cutrone, came and went in the normal course of Factory business. I think Andy liked the questions, but most important, that he sounded smart and funny.
GLENN O’BRIEN: What was your first work of art?
ANDY WARHOL: I used to cut out paper dolls.
GO: How old were you?
GO: Did you get good grades in art in school?
AW: Yeah, I did. The teachers liked me. In grade school, they make you copy pictures from books. I think the first one was Robert Louis Stevenson.
GO: Did they say you had natural talent?
AW: Something like that. Unnatural talent.
GO: Were you arty in high school?
AW: I was always sick, so I was going to summer school and trying to catch up. I had one art class.
GO: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
AW: I didn’t do anything for fun. I think maybe once I went down to see a Frank Sinatra personal appearance with Tommy Dorsey. GO: So, how did you decide to become an artist and move to New York?
AW: I went to Carnegie Tech. Philip Pearlstein was going to New York during a semester break, so I took a shopping bag and we took a bus. We took our portfolios and showed them around New York to see if we could get jobs. The lady from Glamour, Tina Fredericks, said that when I got out of school she’d give me a job. So I got out and came back. That was my first job. She gave me a shoe to do.
GO: What was your ambition? To be an illustrator or a fine artist?
AW: I didn’t have any ambition.
GO: Who was the first artist to influence you?
AW: It must have been Walt Disney. I cut out Walt Disney dolls. It was actually Snow White that influenced me.
GO: Did you go to the movies a lot?
AW: Yeah, on Saturday mornings. If I took the neighbor’s baby I got to go to the movies free.
GO: When you went to art school at Carnegie Tech, what artists influenced you?
AW: Carol Blanchard, she used to do ladies falling out of bed. She did Lord & Taylor ads, and she was in the Carnegie International show.
GO: Did you ever do cartoons?
AW: No. I could never think of a good person to draw.
GO: Do you think there are any great undiscovered artists?
AW: Uh, yeah, there are. But it’s more important to make money now.
GO: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to become an artist?
AW: I’d just tell them not to be one. They should get into photography or television or something like that.
GO: Do you think the art world is dead?
AW: Oh, yeah. Being a wall painter or a housepainter is better. You make more money as a housepainter. Ten dollars an hour.
GO: Who do you think is the world’s greatest living artist?
AW: I still think Walt Disney is.
GO: He’s dead.
AW: I know, but they still have him in plastic, don’t they?
GO: He’s frozen.
AW: But I really like them all. Rauschenberg and Twombly and Paul Klee. Dead ones, too. And I like American primitive painters. I just like everyone, every group. Grant Wood, Ray Johnson.
GO: Who is the richest artist in the world?
AW: I’ll bet there are a lot of artists that nobody hears about who just make more money than anybody. The people that do all the sculptures and paintings for big building construction. We never hear about them, but they make more money than anybody.
GO: Have you made millions on art?
AW: It depends on the expenses.
GO: Has your work gone up in price compared to what you made on it originally?
AW: No, I try to keep it down. I turn out so much. But I stopped for a while.
GO: To raise the prices?
AW: No, I just can’t think of anything to do. I get so tired of painting. I’ve been trying to give it up all the time, if we could just make a living out of movies or the newspaper business or something. It’s so boring, painting the same picture over and over.
GO: Where do you get your ideas for painting these days?
AW: I do mostly portraits. So it’s just people’s faces, not really any ideas. GO: But lately you’ve done flowers and skulls.
AW: We’ve been to Italy so much, and everybody’s always asking me if I’m a communist because I’ve done Mao. So now I’m doing hammers and sickles for communism, and skulls for fascism.
GO: Did Mao ever see your portrait of him?
AW: I don’t know. One of the big ones was shown in Washington at the Corcoran Gallery, and the director there told us that a delegation of Chinese was taking a tour of the place. They found out there was a big Mao hanging there, so they went in through the back door of the museum so they wouldn’t see Mao. I guess they were worried about liking it. It’s all so different for them. We invited the Chinese ambassador to the Factory, but he never came back.
GO: Who do you think is the best business artist in the world?
AW: Christo. He just finished this $2 million project for a foundation. But I’m sure the government’s going to find something wrong with the foundation. It seems so easy. That’s more like a business. It’s like producing something, a big $2 million project. Someone will come along and do a movie like that, a $4 million art movie nobody has to really like.
GO: But Christo makes money.
AW: No, he works on a foundation thing. You don’t get paid, you just take out expenses and things.
GO: Do you think that’s what’s going to happen to art? It’s going to be all foundations and subsidies?
AW: Yeah, that sounds like a nice, new way. It’s the easiest thing. There are a lot of people working on it and it’s up for only two weeks.
GO: Do you think Picasso was a business artist?
AW: Yeah, I guess so. He knew what he was doing.
GO: But who do you think invented the idea?
I’d rather do new stuff. New things are always better than old things. andy WARHOL
AW: I think Americans after the war. It was the galleries. Somewhere along the line, someone did it with Picasso, where it started to be more of a product.
GO: Do you think artists of the future will form companies or go public and sell stock?
AW: No, but I’m opening a restaurant called the Andymat.
GO: Do you think there are any art movements now?
AW: No. GO: Do you ever think about politics?
GO: Did you ever vote?
AW: I went to vote once, but I got too scared. I couldn’t decide whom to vote for.
GO: Are you a Republican or a Democrat?
GO: What’s your favorite painting of all your work?
AW: I guess the soup can.
GO: What’s your favorite color?
GO: What do you think of danger-oriented conceptual artists like Vito Acconci and Chris Burden?
AW: I think Chris Burden is terrific. I really do. I went to the gallery, and he was up in the ceiling, so I didn’t meet him, but I saw him.
GO: Where did you get the idea of using photo silk screens?
AW: I started when I was printing money. I had to draw it, and it came out looking too much like a drawing, so I thought, Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have it printed? Somebody said you could just put it on silk screens. So when I went down to the silk screener, I just found out that you could reproduce photographs. The man that made the screens was a really nice guy named Mr. Golden. I think the first photograph I did was a ballplayer. It was a way of showing action or something.
GO: So once you found that process, where did you get your ideas for images?
AW: Oh, just reading the magazines and picking up the ideas from there.
GO: Did you really do the Campbell’s Soup cans because you had it for lunch every day?
AW: Oh yeah, I had Campbell’s Soup every day for lunch for about 20 years. And a sandwich.
GO: How did you get the idea to make Brillo boxes?
AW: I did all the soup cans in a row on the canvas, and then I got a box made to do them on a box, and then it looked funny because it didn’t look real. I have one of the boxes here. I did the cans on the box, but it came out looking funny. I had the boxes already made up. They were brown and looked just like boxes, so I thought it would be so great to just do an ordinary box.
GO: Did you ever hear from Campbell’s or Brillo or any of the manufacturers whose products you painted?
AW: Brillo liked it, but Campbell’s Soup, they were really upset and they were going to do something about it, and then it went by so quickly I guess there really wasn’t anything they could do. But actually, when I lived in Pittsburgh, the Heinz factory was there, and I used to go visit the Heinz factory a lot. They used to give pickle pins. I should have done Heinz soup. I did the Heinz ketchup box instead.
GO: What was your first big break?
AW: My first big break was when John Giorno pushed me down the stairs. No, actually my first big break was meeting Emile de Antonio, who now lives across the street. He laughed a lot and that encouraged me.
GO: How did the Factory get the name Factory?
AW: Billy Name named it. It was an office building. I guess it was really a factory. There was a lot of machinery there and a heavy floor. They must have made shoes there or something.
GO: Who were the first people that worked for you?
AW: Gerard Malanga was the first one. He was writing poetry in between helping me do things. Actually, it was Billy Name who brought people to the studio. He began putting silver all over, and he needed some people to help him. GO: How did you start making films?
AW: We had gotten a video machine, and I’d gotten a sound film camera, and we were just making movies through the Cinematheque. Actually, I bought the first camera because Wynn Chamberlain was taking Taylor Mead and me to California, and since Taylor Mead was such a great screen star, we thought it would be a good idea to do Taylor going across the country. So I bought this 16mm camera, and we just shot Taylor in California. That was the first movie. It was called Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort Of.
GO: How did you introduce actors and plots?
AW: Through Gerard we met Ronny Tavel, and he wrote scripts. They were really good scripts, but nobody would follow them. But we’d get the gist of the thing. Then we did 30-minute reels.
GO: Did you direct them?
AW: At that time, anybody who turned on the camera was the director.
GO: Who invented the word superstar?
AW: I think it was Jack Smith.
GO: And who were the first superstars?
AW: They were all Jack Smith’s stars; every one of them was really a great person. The first ones we used were Taylor Mead, Edie Sedgwick, Brigid Berlin, Allen Midgette.
GO: Did you meet them through Gerard?
AW: No, Lester Persky, who’s a big producer now. Lester had a good eye. He was doing the eight-hour commercial. I guess that’s where I got the idea for doing things long.
GO: How did you meet Lou Reed?
AW: He was playing at the Café Bizarre, and Barbara Rubin, a friend of Jonas Mekas, said she knew this group. Claes Oldenburg and Patti Oldenburg and Lucas Samaras and Jasper Johns and I were starting a rock ‘n’ roll group with people like La Monte Young and the artist who digs holes in the desert now, Walter De Maria.
GO: You started a rock band?
AW: Oh, yeah. We met 10 times, and there were fights between Lucas and Patti over the music or something.
GO: What did you do?
AW: I was singing badly. Then Barbara said something about this group, and mixed media was getting to be the big thing at the Cinematheque, so we had films, and Gerard did some dancing and the Velvets played. And then Nico came around, and Paul started the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. We just rented a club, the Dom, by the week, and then when it was doing well, other people just took it away from us.
GO: When did you get the idea that you might be able to make really commercial movies?
AW: We never did. We were making a movie a week, and Paul found this theater in the Forties. We made a movie, and it played for three or four weeks. When they got tired of it, we just made another one. We did about six, and they did really well. They paid for themselves. Then they played outside New York in art theaters.
GO: Did you go on college tours yourself before you sent Allen Midgette to impersonate you?
AW: Oh, yeah, I went on a couple. I wasn’t getting any work done, and every time I did go, I didn’t do any of the things the kids had read I would do. So we thought we’d send somebody who was more what they really wanted. He was more entertaining and better-looking and he could keep up and go to 18 different parties afterward. The people were happy with him.
GO: Would you like to make expensive movies, or do you want to keep it simple?
AW: No, I think it would be great to make a $2 million or $3 million art movie where nobody would really have to go to it. I thought that would be a good project to work on . . . do something really artistic. I think video is the best market. When the cassette market comes out, if you just do movies that nobody else can do, that’ll be the new way.
GO: Would you put your old films on cassettes?
AW: No. I’d rather do new stuff. The old stuff is better to talk about than to see. It always sounds better than it really is. New things are always better than old things. GO: How did you get the idea to start Interview?
AW: It was just to give Gerard something to do. He was supposed to work on it. Also, Brigid Berlin’s father ran the Hearst Corporation, and we thought Brigid could really run the magazine. But she didn’t get interested in it.
GO: You’ve done art, movies, records, books, TV, a play, a magazine. Is there anything that you’d still like to do?
AW: Uh, have a baby? Oh, I had my first Coke in 10 years.
AW: I mean Coca-Cola.
GO: Why did you abstain for 10 years?
AW: Well, it was always so sweet. But we went to this apartment, and they had every brand of food there. It was a junk-food party. It was just so great to try all the Twinkies. I used to drink Coke all the time. It was so good. It gives you a lot of energy. You drink Coke a lot?
GO: I think I like Pepsi better now.
AW: You really do? Can you really taste the difference? I’m going to do the taste test. What does Coke taste like?
GO: It’s more carbonated and has a sharper taste. How did it happen that Valerie Solanas attacked you?
AW: I had just ridden up in the elevator with her, and I turned around to make a telephone call and just heard a noise, that’s all.
GO: Did you think about dying?
AW: No, my life didn’t flash in front of me or anything. It was too painful. I put it together after a couple of weeks . . . what happened. I was so drugged up. I just never think about it.
GO: How did you start taking a tape recorder around?
AW: I had a big Uher that could go on for four hours at a time, and that all started around ’64. Then I got the idea to do Ondine talking for 24 hours. That’s why I got a tape recorder. Ondine used to sit up 24 hours a day, and that gave me the idea to have somebody talking for 24 hours.
GO: Have you taped every day since you got your tape recorder?
AW: Yeah, I try to. It gets so boring now. The only person I really tape is Brigid Berlin.
GO: What was your favorite publicity stunt?
AW: This? I didn’t do any publicity stunts.
GO: What about your Rent-A-Superstar service for parties?
AW: Yeah, I guess that was the best one, but nobody ever rented us. Wait a minute . . . maybe someone did rent somebody. I think someone rented Eric Emerson once.
GO: You collect a lot of things that weren’t too valuable when they were new. Do you think there’s a lot of junk being made today that will be valuable some day?
AW: Yeah. I think you should go to F.A.O. |Schwartz and buy a new toy every day and just put it away. GO: Do you paint every day?
AW: Yeah, I paint every day. Now I’m painting with a mop.
GO: Do you change your clothes?
AW: I have paint clothes. They’re the same kind of clothes I wear every day, with paint on them. I have paint shoes and paint shirts and paint jackets and paint ties and paint smocks, and Ronnie gave me a great smock from Bendel’s. And carpenter aprons. And paint hankies.
GO: Do you think the underground will ever come back?
AW: No. I don’t think there was an underground before. It’s a silly word.
GO: What about psychedelic? Do you think that will ever come back?
AW: I think so, yeah. Really soon.
GO: Did you ever take acid?
AW: No. Someone thought they slipped it to me once, but I wasn’t eating.
GO: Did you ever smoke pot?
AW: No, but I like the smell of it.
GO: Did you ever take any drugs?
AW: No, nothing that ever made me funny or anything. When I was in the hospital after I was shot they gave me drugs, but it was so great to get off those.
GO: Did you ever get drunk?
GO: What happens when you get drunk?
AW: Nothing. I tell everyone they can be on the cover of Interview.
GO: Do you think your work will go up in value when you’re gone?
AW: No. It’ll stay at the same level.
GO: Do you think that because of women’s liberation there will be more women artists?
AW: I always thought that most artists were women-you know, the ones that did the Navajo Indian rugs, American quilts, all that great hand-painting on ’40s clothes.
GO: Do you think that people should live in outer space?
AW: Oh yeah, I think that would be really great.
GO: Would you like to live in outer space?
AW: No, I really hate heights. I always like to live on the first floor.
GO: Do you think the future will be futuristic?
AW: No. I always wished it would be, but I don’t think so.
GO: Do you like to work?
AW: Nowadays I really like to work a lot. It makes time go by fast. Traveling makes time go fast, too. So maybe traveling in space will give people time. You know if you’re traveling for five years or something like that, you’re going somewhere. But five years are being used up, and you don’t have to do anything. You just sit on the plane. That might make time go really fast.
GO: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
AW: I like to work when I’m not working-do something that may not be considered work, but to me it’s work. Getting exercise by going to the grocery store. GO: Do you know how to drive?
AW: I ran into a cab, so I stopped. On Park Avenue and 47th Street.
GO: Do you sleep alone?
AW: No, I sleep with my two dogs, Archie and Amos.
GO: Do you sleep in the nude?
AW: I sleep with my underwear. And my corset.
GO: Do you wear boxer shorts or jockey shorts?
AW: Jockey shorts. Small. 30.
GO: What time do you get up in the morning?
AW: I get up early-7:30.
GO: Do you have an alarm clock?
AW: No, I wake up naturally.
GO: Do you look in the mirror when you get up?
AW: Well, there’s always one there, I guess. I brush my teeth.
GO: What do you do in the morning?
AW: Now Brigid Berlin calls me every morning because she’s on a diet. I’ve taped her for 10 years, and she’s always told me what she ate. She used to lie. Now she tells me what she ate and what she lost. Today she did the best story. She called me up to tell me she was being bad and went off her diet, and she felt so bad she took a dehydration pill and within an hour she lost 10 pounds. She’d lost 50 pounds, so this made it 60. Then she took her laundry out, and she fainted in the Laundromat. She got so scared. While she was on the floor, she asked the Laundromat lady to give her some water; she drank two glasses of water, then was able to get up again, crawl out, and go to a cafeteria and drink eight more glasses of water. Then she called back the Laundromat and asked the Laundromat lady to do her laundry. Then she took a lot of salt, and she was back up to where she was before she took the dehydration pill. She’s making a whole career out of losing weight. She’s been dieting for two months. She decided to get down to 149 from 275.
GO: How much time do you spend on the phone every day?
AW: Not as much as I used to. I like to tape on the phone. I like to tape Brigid. But I go to work earlier now, so I only tape her in the morning and at night.
GO: Does she tape you?
AW: No, I think she stopped. Ever since she’s been on her diet, she has no ambition. Her only ambition is to lose weight, so she doesn’t do anything.
GO: Do you think psychiatry helps at all?
AW: Uh, yeah, if you don’t know anything about anything.
GO: Did you ever go see a psychiatrist?
AW: I went to one once, and he never called me back. Everybody I knew was going, and they make you feel as if you’ve got to go. So I went once, and they never called me back, and I felt so funny. But then I guess someone came along and took me out to a movie, or I got a new hat or something.
GO: Do you think there are more gay people now, or do people just talk about it more?
AW: There must be more. But I think they’re talking about it less now. It’s probably the same percentage.
GO: Do you think gay people are more creative than straight people?
AW: No. GO: Do you believe in marriage?
AW: Only to have children. But it’s gone on for so long and people have thought it was right-it must still be right.
GO: Would you ever like to get married and settle down?
GO: Has anybody ever asked you?
GO: Do you miss having any children?
GO: Do you think you’re a father figure to anyone?
AW: Just to my dogs.
GO: Have you ever been in love?
AW: Let’s come back to that one.
GO: Did you ever hate anybody?
AW: Let’s come back to that one.
GO: Did you ever try to grow a mustache?
AW: I beg your pardon? No, I never tried.
GO: Do you wear a wig?
AW: It says so in my book.
GO: How many do you have?
AW: Uh, three. The last maid stole one.
GO: What’s your natural color?
GO: Do you believe in flying saucers?
AW: My mother used to believe in them.
GO: Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?
GO: Do you think Nixon got a raw deal?
AW: That’s for sure.
GO: Do you think the pope is infallible?
AW: How dare you ask me that?
GO: Do you know how to dance?
AW: I don’t know how to move.
GO: What’s your favorite scent?
AW: Halston, of course.
GO: Do you believe in the American Dream?
AW: I don’t, but I think we can make some money out of it.
GO: Are rich people different from poor people?
AW: Yes and no.
GO: Are they happier?
AW: If they have a dog.
GO: Can you take it with you?
GO: Do you think the world can be saved?
AW: No. GO: Do you think there should be any censorship?
AW: Of course.
GO: Where should they draw the line?
AW: Things should be more sexual.
GO: Do you believe in capital punishment?
AW: For art’s sake, of course.
GO: Are you to the left of Dalí?
AW: On the bias.
GO: What do you look at first on a woman?
AW: Her bag.
GO: What about a man?
AW: His bag. The way he wears his hat.
GO: What’s your favorite sport?
AW: The one with the baskets.
GO: Did you ever see a movie that got you hot?
AW: Behind the Green Door, Going on Sixteen, State Fair.GO: What do you think about masturbation?
AW: It helps.
GO: Do you still go to church?
AW: Yeah. I just sneak in at funny hours.
GO: Do you go to Catholic churches?
AW: Yeah, they’re the prettiest.
GO: Do you believe in God?
AW: I guess I do. I like church. It’s empty when I go. I walk around. There are so many beautiful Catholic churches in New York. I used to go to some Episcopal churches, too.
GO: Do you ever think abut God?
GO: Do you believe in the devil?
GO: Do you believe in the end of the world?
AW: No. I believe in As the World Turns.
GO: Do you have any secrets you’ll tell after everyone’s dead?
AW: If I die, I’m not letting on.