“The photos are nostalgic and brilliant you’ve brought back a horrendous period in my life,” Warhol muse Taylor Mead, now 87, tells the photographer William John Kennedy in a new documentary, adding, “It revives a whole fucking springtime of Andy.”
A present day flirtatious scene ensues between Ultra Violet, 76 – né Isabelle Collin Dufresne – and Kennedy, 82, in the forty-minute documentary Full Circle: Before They Were Famous that will be screened at Site/109 through the end of the month (schedule below). The show and film were produced by Kiwi Arts Group.
“I thought you were a beautiful woman,” Kennedy says flirtatiously to Ultra Violet. She responds, “Uh oh I can see I am not dressed here, what happened? Who undressed me, did you?”
“I admit it,” he replies, beaming. This behavior gets him a few looks from his wife and trusting partner Marie (pictured with Kennedy).
It’s just one of those New York stories. Ultra Violet began her musery with Salvador Dali who later introduced her to Warhol at one of his notorious 5pm teas. Ultra Violet is of the opinion that Warhol copied Dali, learning from the elder statesman of fringe art society that he needed a look. She says she started “seeing” Warhol instead of Dali later on. Can you believe it?
The exhibit and documentary – both running through May 29 - showcase images that depict the roots of present day creative commercial and non-commercial art in America. Warhol and Robert Indiana were the first big sensational artists of modern consumerist life, and they straddled that line and reflected it well. Any artist in any medium in New York City – or really anywhere – these days draws on some aspect of the process or perspective of these giants; even if it’s merely the use of chaotic free expression and experimentation. As Indiana himself points out later in the doc, 33 million stamps featuring his iconic LOVE image have circulated the world.
“I met [Andy Warhol] in 1963 when he was unknown and immediately liked his work and immediately collected him for like $200 – huge paintings, 12 feet tall, which I still have. I realized that he really had talent,” Ultra Violet told me at the press reception for the show. “I have an eye, some people don’t have an eye and have to wear glasses because they can’t see [ED Note: Is she making fun of me?]. I look at things. I have an eye and I collected everyone that one should collect. I was born with an eye. I make art and I have a studio in Chelsea.”
Her eye was the precise thing that drew her to Dali and Warhol in the first place she says, though with Warhol she complains in the documentary, she often wanted to shove a coin in his ear to try to get him to speak.
“Andy was never extroverted,” she tells me, “He was always introverted, but he was clever so he surrounded himself with The Factory and people. When he died, on payroll he had 525 people, so that doesn’t mean he was an extrovert. He could afford to pay so that created a lot of activity and noise but he was always very shy somehow, introverted. Have you read my book? You should.
“I came from France and was very rebellious, so much so that my parents had me exorcised and put in a correctional facility and when I came to New York in 1955, that was the beginning of the ‘60s revolution – I thought that was phenomenal, that’s what I was looking for and I thought America was always like this. I had no knowledge of history, so it was exciting and New York was the center. Art was in Paris but then it shifted to New York.”
Today’s art economy owes much to Ultra Violet’s generation, and she left me with this: “My advice is to work, work, work, work. I remember Barbara Streisand never studied and never had any formal training and she said sing, sing, sing, sing – so just keep working.”
Work, she says in the doc, was eventually the charm for Kennedy and his long lost photographs, “I think Bill is a genius about to be revealed to the world.”