Rediscovered photos of Warhol become new mixed-media pop art in Playa Vista
By Christina Campodonico
When Andy Warhol established the first of a few art studios dubbed “The Factory” back in the 1960s, he was essentially printing money for years to come. Works that have come out of those storied studios have sold for millions of dollars and fittingly honor the artist’s credo that “good business is the best art” — or his more crass one, “I like money on the wall.”
The Factory may be long gone, but a treasure trove of new art with a direct connection to the late great innovator of 20th-century pop art is on display at Street Art House in Playa Vista, which celebrates the close of its “The Lost Warhols” exhibit with a party and live painting bash on Saturday, Dec. 22.
It all began when artist-photographer Karen Bystedt was 19 and a student at NYU. She reached out to Warhol and asked him to sit for a photography session with her, and to Bystedt’s amazement Warhol agreed. Soon she was at the offices of Interview magazine (Warhol’s brainchild) photographing the artist, who wore a Perry Ellis suit for the occasion and played with a small American flag during the shoot. That was 1982, just five years before Warhol’s death.
“I was able to get a different side of Andy that I don’t see in any other photographs, and I think that’s what makes these photographs special,” says Bystedt of images that — lost for decades and rediscovered in 2011 — have now been turned into mixed media collaborations with other artists.
Among the works on view: A black-and-white portrait of Warhol embellished by Bystedt and Peter Tunney with a shimmering gold skull, a pimped-out Warhol covered in graffiti by artist King Saladeen, and a seated Warhol transmogrified into a wall of ceramic blue tiles, dotted with tiny versions of the Campbell’s Soup cans he made famous.
“I think he would love it,” says Bystedt of these riffs on Warhol’s image. “That was his dream. He loved stars and now he’s the star.”
In many ways, Street Art House is a perfect place for Warhol’s image to hang out. Founded by two tech entrepreneurs, the hybrid gallery and production house blends art and commerce to promote street artists by helping them to merchandise their artwork, secure mural commissions, organize live painting gigs, and produce creative events.
“We’re like a talent agency with a production arm,” says co-founder Justin Fredericks. “The whole mission is we help artists with the business side of their career so they can focus on what they do best, which is art.”
Fredericks believes contemporary artists owe a lot to Warhol’s business savvy.
“Artists are no longer limited by the paint-on-canvas sale to the art collector,” he says. “They now have art opportunities that extend to mural commissions, public artwork. They also have opportunities to do collaborations, like product and packaging design. They can do live painting and installations. They can do their own merchandising program. … Artists, because they have all these multiple revenue streams coming to them, are brands themselves.
“Look around you,” he says, gesturing to the T-shirts, purses and mugs in the gallery with Warhol’s image on them. “A lot of products are sold with Andy Warhol as the art. His image is part of the art, part of the merchandise. He recognized that important connection between commerce and art.”
It’s doubtful that Warhol would argue with that.
“The Lost Warhols” closes with a party from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 22) at Street Art House, 12775 Millennium Drive, No. 115, in Runway at Playa Vista. Tickets are $17. Karen Bystedt gives a free artist’s talk about her work at 7 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 20) at the gallery space. Attendees of either event must RSVP at lostwarholsinla.eventbrite.com.