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Nicole Carroll Art Consulting

The Name Behind the Warhol Legend: A Chat with Factory Artist Billy Name by Jay Blotcher

If Andy Warhol was the chief jester of the psychedelic ‘60s—artist, filmmaker, huckster, sacred clown and satirist of a disposable culture—then the ringmaster of this whacked-out circus was Billy Name.

Drawing on his own background in stage work, the Poughkeepsie-born Name created the ideal stage for Warhol’s superstars: he constructed and maintained the Silver Factory, Warhol’s midtown Manhattan Pop art workspace and the stable’s de facto clubhouse. There they thrived: Ondine, Viva, Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro, Edie Sedgwick, Nico and more. Making music, making scenes, flouncing and preening and drugging while fabricating their own legends in an early example of performance art.

Thanks to Name, Warhol’s freaky posse has been canonized. He fueled the hype, bronzed the jury-rigged legends, refusing to shoot unflattering portraits of its denizens, no matter how out-of-control and outré they were. He framed them in the style of Horst and Hoyningen-Huene, two 1930s imagists who immortalized Hollywood’s demi-gods in lush black and white.

“I never print bad shots of people,” he said. “I always try to make them as glamorous and beautiful as they can be.”

The Warhol Factory photographs of Billy Name will be included in a new art show titled “Supernovas!” at New York City’s Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, opening this month. His portraits include Edie Sedgwick and Bebe Hansen from the Warhol film Prison, Warhol holding Nico’s son, shots of the Factory “house band” —The Velvet Underground—and poet Gerard Malanga.

“I’m not really a photographer,” Name explained. “I’m really an artist. But I managed to teach myself photography at one point and how to use a camera, so it became one of my tools.”

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The former ringmaster—and now keeper of the flame—is sitting and reminiscing at his neighborhood haunt, Poughkeepsie’s Café Bocca, on a warm Friday afternoon in mid-August. If he no longer bears a resemblance to the sly artist of 40 years ago, who was wiry and wired on speed, consider this: Unlike most of his original circle—Warhol included—Name (born William Linich at Vassar Hospital in 1940) still walks among us. Speaking in a voice both wise and playful, Name exudes a love for his past and his role as stage manager to ‘60s mythology.

In an era of calculated chaos and impromptu happenings, Billy Name had a unique work ethic. Rather than become a fixture at a hundred downtown parties, he served as manager of The Factory and still photographer for the art films that Warhol began shooting in the early ‘60s, bearing self-explanatory titles such as Haircut, 2 Screen Tests, The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys and My Hustler II.

Warhol and Name had first met in the late ‘50s, when the Hudson Valley transplant was a waiter at Serendipity, an 1890s-style ice cream parlor that Warhol frequented. At the time, Warhol was making a name for himself as an illustrator for books, including a guide to etiquette by Amy Vanderbilt.

Their interaction was short-lived; Name fell under the spell of an art teacher from the avant-garde Black Mountain College and became his apprentice in lighting and stage design for avant-garde theatrical and dance productions. He headed off to the Spoleto festival in Italy in 1960 to work on a new production by the gifted American composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Along the way, Name had been groomed by art world avatars: musician John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and performance-installation-graphic artist Joseph Beuys.

In 1964, Name was handling scenery and lights for Judson Dance Company and living hand-to-mouth. He was also an adroit haircutter; most of the dancers, also impecunious, would come for trims. So did conceptual artist Ray Johnson, a friend and Name’s companion when cruising Bowery leather bars. One afternoon, Johnson brought along a friend to the apartment. It was Warhol.

The reunion was a happy one. The bespectacled, white-haired artist marveled at the apartment interior, its surfaces completely painted in silver. That which he could not paint, Name wrapped in silver foil—including the toilet and toaster. Warhol asked if Name would perform the same artistry on his new loft on East 47 Street. Name inspected the space and accepted the commission.

“And we synchronized so well, working together, that I actually moved into the studio and gave up my apartment,” Name said. The pair became artistic collaborators and lovers. “We worked very well together and we really loved each other and we were close, heart to heart.”

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The Silver Factory—as it was now dubbed—began drawing a brash coterie of outsized personalities who flocked around Warhol. Name became the self-appointed supervisor of the group, having become skilled at wrangling theatrical divas. Besides, he added, “it was my nature to be a controlling-type person.”

He also reconfigured the space in order to accommodate Warhol’s frantic multi-tasking; the artist was concurrently creating silk-screen images, photography and films. The layout of The Silver Factory was designed to compartmentalize Warhol’s numerous projects.

“There were no electrical outlets installed when he moved in there; it was concrete crumbling walls,” said Name. “I was able to install lights and electricity, install a sound system, working areas where the lighting was, so he could do his painting here which wouldn't interfere with his filmmaking, which was done over there. Each area that he was going to work in had its own designated place with spotlights. And then the whole place was covered in silver so it was brilliant.”

Warhol gave his lover his first camera—a Honeywell Pentax 35mm SLR—to shoot stills on the film set. The pair discussed ideas before Warhol shot but, Name said, “I just generally let Andy’s mind run the way it did naturally and usually the best ideas came out then because they were spontaneous.” He tended to lighting the films and babysitting the actors—some who were strung out—between scenes. Billy Name soon gained a reputation as the “gatekeeper” for Warhol, who was fast becoming the surrogate father of a new lost generation.

“I was very well trained in operating the mechanics of the situation and also handling people as well,” Name said. “So another thing I was able to do for Andy was to establish a buffer for him, so when he was working, or when there were people trying to get to him—get their fingers in him—I could bounce them off and say, ‘No, we’re working now’ or ‘Andy has to do this now’ or ‘We can’t do that’.”

Name spent his days shooting photos and his speed-stoked nights hand-developing them in his own darkroom in the loft. By morning, the hanging film was sufficiently dry for prints. (He was deep in his darkroom the day that Valerie Solanas shot Warhol but emerged to cradle the bleeding man.) Since he was rarely seen by visitors, Name grew notorious as the Factory’s famous recluse, reputed not have ventured outside his darkroom for two years. The story, however, was better mythology than history.

“I was protecting the silk-screens; someone had to be around to watch over the place, so I was usually the one who stayed.” Occasionally, Name would head over to Max’s Kansas City, a popular rock club on lower Park Avenue.

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When Paul Morrissey joined Warhol’s circle and took over his film work, Billy Name grew disenchanted. To him, Morrissey was an arriviste who wanted to package avant-garde pop imagery for mainstream appeal and profit. By this time, Andy was also focused on making money as much as generating publicity.

One day in the spring of 1970, Name departed the Factory—now located on Union Square in Manhattan. His farewell note: “Andy – I am not here anymore but I am fine.” He left everything behind: his camera equipment and all of the work since 1964. Name hitchhiked around the country, spending time in San Francisco before he returned to his hometown of Poughkeepsie in 1977.

“California was not very inspiring to me,” he said. “I was withering out there. I kept feeling a magnet pulling me to the Hudson Valley.” Name eventually went to college and graduated with a degree in business administration.

After Warhol’s death in 1986 following routine gall bladder surgery, Name was reunited with his negatives. They had been found in a trunk among the mountains of objects that Warhol compulsively collected. Asked about reconnecting with his old work—the silver gelatin reprints are his main source of income—Name initially shrugs.

“I don't know; I’m not really a person who expresses emotions. I’m very Zen, I’m very Buddha. I’m a lay Buddhist. So I take things in stride as they happen.” But he added, “I was really glad to find them because, you know, they’re like my children.”

Was Name more disciplined an artist than his lover?

“Oh, in a sense I was, because Andy didn't try to be disciplined. He almost went in the other direction. Or if he did try, he would take a lot of practice to make perfect. But when you're doing a silkscreen, [you must] get exact registration on what you have traced or painted under it, [and] he would always be off a little. But that became a trademark for him, that off-registration. He was willing to accept that as an accomplished technique.”

“You can't say that bad art is the best art,” Name said, “but that’s one way of looking at it.”

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Today, Name leaves the printing of his vintage images to the gallery that represents him. His only artistic outlet is assemblage, fashioned from found objects he encounters along the Poughkeepsie railroad tracks. He first began exhibiting at the Gershwin in the late ‘90s at the request of the hotel owner, a Pop art connoisseur. A re-established relationship with the notorious and immortalized Chelsea Hotel has resulted in a monthly series of upcoming exhibitions—featuring surviving Factory artists and fellow travelers—starting with the “Supernovas” show this month. As he was in the Factory days, Name—along with manager/artist Kymara Lonergan—is again directly involved, happy to celebrate the mythos he was instrumental in crafting.

Recalling his former lover and collaborator’s art and legacy, Name speaks of Warhol in the present tense. “Andy is a natural. He does that and it comes out that way because he has so much spiritual thing going on, that whole magician and wizard thing going on—I guess it’s a magnetic [quality].”

He paused, then added, “I’m really the guy who’s always behind the scenes.”

“Supernovas!” at The Chelsea Hotel, W 23rd St. between 7th and 8th Ave., New York City. Exhibition opening with Billy Name and special guests September 18-20. Visit www.kymara.com for more information. www.wassaicproject.com



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