Seattle Gay History: Andy Warhol, part one
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Seattle Gay History: Andy Warhol, part one
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer I have two regrets in life: not attending Malcolm X's last speech at Columbia University and not getting to know Andy Warhol. I had the chance but was not willing to spill my guts or relinquish any blood for Andy. Followers nicknamed him "Drella,' a combination of Dracula and Cinderella. He was both in his heavy demands on his superstars to improvise in front of a relentless camera.

I was first aware of A.W. peeking from behind cartons of Brillo Pads. I identified immediately, dropped 10 years of painting nature scenes, sold my lucrative framing business, rented a space in Pioneer Square and produced a body of large Pop Art canvases based on the proverbial American gas station. All my friends were horrified, but I decided it was time to ship them to New York. I found a large, cold water loft in Williamsburg Brooklyn for $80 a month, lived on the floor for the next year, slept in a sleeping bag, cooked on a hot plate, with a wooden box for a table, a space heater for heat and a radio to break the silence. I was next door to a public bathhouse and swimming pool and a bakery that permeated the air with the smell of freshly baked bread. I loved my monastic life style. Having no material possessions except two Warhol prints tacked to the wall was strangely satisfying.

The first person in the art world I met was Ivan Karp, who was the director of the Castelli Gallery and who discovered Warhol. Ivan thought I had promise, took me under his wing and would help me get a gallery. Esquire Magazine said if you find yourself walking down the street between Ivan Karp and Henry Geldzahler, you have made it in New York. I found myself in that very position and I was ready for what laid ahead in the greatest art city in the world. Kiss abstract expressionism goodbye, enter Pop Art.

I retreated to my loft in Brooklyn and painted up a storm even though I had a sneaking hunch that Pop Art was over, eclipsed by Op, Conceptual, Minimal, Photo Realism and "Yes" art, where anything goes. The question in the art world then was "What's next?"

Ivan introduced me to Warhol at a Thanksgiving soiree at his large loft on the lower east side. About a dozen "who's who" from the art world and Ivan and his wife Marilyn were there. I felt a little bit like a country boy in the big city for the first time. I was somewhat lost in conversation. I had a lot to catch up on. At one point Ivan suggested a game: if you had to spend the rest of your life with only three people, who would they be? Everyone responded. I said: Malcolm X, Mozart, and, for laughs, Judy Canova. That brought a soft laugh from Warhol, who sat next to me. He refused to play the game and, of course, no one challenged him.

My first impression of him was his white complexion, expressive eyes and a whispery but strong voice. In public he hardly spoke, but in small company he could be assertive. One critic said, "Warhol had the eyes of a fragile night creature who has discovered himself living in the blaze of an alien but fascinating world." Warhol said he thought he was from another planet and he didn't know how he got here. Another critic said, "Warhol looked like something that had just crawled out from under a rock. He was the most colossal creep I have ever seen." Even Truman Capote said he was one of those hopeless people that you know nothing is ever going to happen to. But Andy stood out, he was different - if not only because he was the only one in a crowd who wore a silver wig. Andy courted fame and famous people; it freed him from himself and his low body image.

One day at the Castelli Gallery they were putting up an inner wall. The dry wall seams were puttied and sanded and ready to be painted when Warhol came in, saw the drywall, and got all excited by it. He said, "Oh, it's so beautiful, it's pure art. Some artist should create a whole show around drywall art." Warhol was known as a Pop painter, but he was actually a conceptualist as the drywall incident and his soup can paintings suggest. Painting soup cans was not his idea, but he could conceive of its place in the art world. Another time at the gallery, Ivan asked Andy if he could help carry heavy pieces of hand-carved stone architecture ornament salvaged from demolished buildings and mansions for a gallery showing. Warhol seemed perplexed for a moment, put his fingers to his mouth and said in his whisper, "Oh, I couldn't do that."

At this time (1965), Warhol was already a famous artist, but his prices were still shockingly low. The Castelli gallery printed a limited edition of lithographs, "Flowers" and "Liz Taylor," and sold them for $5 each. I didn't have the five dollars for the Liz print, so I sold a pint of blood and bought it. In 2008, Liz sold at auction for $35,000! Warhol was big in the New York art circles but much of the hinterland hated Pop Art. I had two huge paintings slashed and a note saying "this is symbolic of the death of Pop Art." I never found out who slashed my paintings, but it was the end of Pop Art for me. I was three years too late on the art scene. My gas station imagery for art discussion was limited, while Andy's social and artistic ramifications continue to this day.