POPism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol & Pat Hackett

Andy Warhol

“I was going out and we’d collided, stepping over Bob Dylan, who happened to be lying on the stairs looking smashed and having a great time, reaching up under girls’ skirts when they walked over him up to the party.”
– Andy Warhol, Popism

Turn to almost any page in this classic book of Andy Warhol’s 1960s recollections and you’ll find a descriptive sentence similar to the one above.

A namedrop, a ‘happening’, a drug reference and more than a hint of sexual depravity. All with Warhol in a strange combination of being at the centre of the action yet also detached from it all – voyeuristically soaking it all up without getting directly involved.

Indeed, while talking about Truman Capote’s ‘party of the decade’ at New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1966, Warhol admits he felt a bit intimidated and decided to stick to the sidelines “like a good wallflower”, while “Lauren Bacall was dancing with Jerome Robbins and Mia Farrow Sinatra was dancing with Roddy McDowell while her husband, Frank, talked to Pat Kennedy Lawford.”

There are countless stories of parties and gatherings, including chatting with Jimi Hendrix when he was still the short-haired Jimmy James, or casually shooting the breeze at a heavily-carpeted house party with Mick and Keith while Brian played the sitar in a massive white hat. Tales of the Velvet Underground throwing actual shit out of hotel windows is also a high (low?) point.

Although Andy Warhol is probably best known now as a Pop Artist, this book really shows that in the 1960s he was as famous for being famous as much as he was for the work he produced. Whatever was happening in New York in the mid-sixties, Warhol and his large entourage would be there, seemingly invited to lend some hip credibility to proceedings.

Regarding the paintings, the book interestingly shows that much of Warhol’s most enduring works were actually completed fairly early on. The Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), the Marilyn Diptych (1962), the Elvis Silkscreens (1963), the Brillo Boxes (1964) were all part of Warhol’s original ‘Pop’ period and by 1964, even he felt he’d expressed all he could on the matter.

Warhol moved increasingly into film making in the mid-sixties and he provides some fantastic descriptions of some of the (over 120!) underground movies he created during this period. It’s clear that, at this point at least, he was enjoying filmmaking far more than his painting.

Warhol was definitely of the opinion that his movies such as Chelsea Girls, Blow Job, Empire and Lonesome Cowboys were works of art in their own right and was desperate to be given the opportunity by Hollywood to implement his film-making sensibilities on a big budget, which unfortunately never transpired.

Warhol’s famous Factory (of which there were actually 3) was clearly a hotbed of amphetamine-fuelled creativity, weirdness and sexual experimentation which, again, Warhol was both at the centre of but also slightly detached from.

Upon reading through his recollections, it’s very hard to tell if he was genuinely and naively just caught up in all the craziness that was going on around him, or if he cynically encouraged and exploited it for his own amusement and creative inspiration.

After Warhol was shot and almost killed in the Factory in 1968, the open door policy that had brought such a variety of people together in this weird and wonderful place came to an end. Some of the main characters also left the scene around this time and the Factory became generally more businesslike as the sixties transitioned into the seventies, which is where the book ends.

The works of Andy Warhol the artist and the aura around his enigmatic personality still generates huge amounts of attention today, so to hear what happened in those crazy days of 1960s New York in his own words is thoroughly satisfying and utterly entertaining.