The kinds of stories and secrets that come with working side by side with Andy Warhol are worth their weight in gold.
Before his lecture and screen printing demonstration this Friday (October 16 at 2pm) at Non-Fiction Galley, I had the chance to talk with Michael Enns, former Master Printer at The Factory. Through the hustle of glam gallery shows and endless studio work in the 70’s and 80’s in NYC, Enns talked about his collaborations with Warhol, revealed the challenges of working at The Factory, and expressed his opinion on Pop Art’s position in today’s world. Reminiscing on his time with Warhol, Enns also explains his view on the Warhol name and the legacy it has today.
What is your favorite memory of working as a printer for Andy Warhol?
Andy was having a show at Leo Castelli and at the thrift store I found this really nice white tuxedo jacket and I printed – because I was doing all the paintings of dollar signs – the dollar sign on the white jacket and went to the opening. I had Andy sign it on the lapel with his nice big beautiful signature. I saw a bunch of my friends there and we were having such a good time. We were drinking and drinking, and I went right out on West Broadway and I fell right into the gutter with this white jacket. It got really, really dirty. I never cleaned it after that because I was afraid if I got it dry-cleaned either the signature would get removed or something would happen to the dollar sign print! That was one of the times, but every day working there was always a new adventure.
With screen printing being such a demanding process, were there any challenges working with Andy?
Yes, the thing was, we worked with solvent based inks and they would take longer to dry. So there was a lot of dry time, including shooting the screen. But Andy really felt that it should be like a one-hour photo — drop the film off and in one hour it’s going to be done. So that was very frustrating because he always wanted to get paid.
How many assistants did Warhol have at any given time and how big a team were you a part of?
There was myself, Horst Weber [von Beeren] and Robert Bart, so [it was] the three of us, and we worked together for a long time. But before that Donald Sheridan also worked with us for quite a long time, and Debbie Carfagno. She was the first one to really work with Rupert [Jasen Smith Jr] because they lived in the same building. I worked with her somewhat. It was kinda off and on, nothing was written in stone – it was a little bit freelance, a little bit loosey goosey about who was working at certain times. At certain times too, I’d take off and do a project of Robert Rauschenberg’s. I always sorta dabbled and wanted to meet and work with different artists and work in different places. It just depended on what was going on and how much work there was.
Are you still in touch with other artists from the Factory? What was the atmosphere like there?
Yes I am, especially with Debbie Carfagno, Horst Weber [von Beeren], and Jean-Paul Russell, who has his own publishing company Durham Press in Pennsylvania. He’s really done well for himself, I’m so proud of him. We’re all still friends; it’s a family, [a] small community. They were like brothers and sisters to me.
What do you think still attracts people to the Warhol screen printing aesthetic?
Well, I’ll say it: I think they probably see the money in it. The prices are just outrageous, and he would have really loved that. Andy was very much into money.
How do you feel about the legacy of pop art? Specifically the integration of Warhol’s aesthetic and philosophy into the commercial sector?
I think it’s very telling about consumerism, that it’s this nonstop thing in life. I don’t think people really look at art in terms of its spiritual nature anymore – they look at it in terms of its commercial viability. As a consumer [you’re thinking] that it matches, like those colors go well, or that it’s shiny, or that it’s very graphic. It’s a fast read. Society keeps going faster and faster and you can absorb something in say, two seconds going 70 miles an hour. And you can see exactly what it is at 70 miles an hour, and in today’s society it’s considered successful.
I know there’s a lot of controversy about what is (and is not) an Andy Warhol. What’s your definition of an Andy Warhol piece?
That’s really interesting, I would say that if it was sanctioned by Andy, it’s an Andy. That’s the straight thing because a lot of people worked on it. There were a lot of publishers who picked up the imagery that we were going to do in terms of when we were going to publish it, say an edition or something, and it wasn’t strictly Andy’s call. It was all these different publishers’ calls that worked with Andy. They sometimes specifically said, ‘This is what we want. We want a Cathedral of Cologne Germany,’ They would call up, and we’d get some stock photo of the cathedral and just do it. And Andy would do his funny little drawing on top. That was basically it. It was very, very commercial. It was all about basically putting a stamp on it in order to attract other people to it, making it more commercially viable.
So do you see his name and art more like a company rather than work by just one man?
I do in so many ways, it’s really an enigma. Andy was, for the most part, a very shy person until you really got to know him. He was one of those private people who would really just be the observer. He was one of those people who would just watch people act and makes fools of themselves. He was such a quiet observer of everything and that was his particular strength. He never forced his opinion or anything else onto people. Usually he had no opinion about anything. If he did have an opinion, it was just that of “Oh that’s great, oh yeah that’s great.” And that’s all you’d really get out of him. He wouldn’t really explain why it was great. He wouldn’t go, oh it’s great because there’s a large penis or something. You know usually if it had a really big penis in it, it was great! Haha.
What was it about Warhol the man (not the artist) that attracted people to The Factory and to be in his company?
I have no idea. Haha. Like I said, the man was an enigma. He seemed to be very gentle. But after you got to know him, he was quite the task master and a bitch. So I don’t know. I guess his success. You know, he didn’t always say the funniest things, or was really the greatest person at the party. He was always kinda the palest person at the party. But he knew everyone so I guess people were really attracted to that sense of it. And you know what, he had the magazine. People always wanted to get into the magazine.
Yeah, to this day it’s still so successful.
Yeah, that’s pretty much what it was about. They wanted some publicity and they really thought that maybe Andy could give to them. If Andy liked them or whatever, or if they were pretty enough.
Art Rise Savannah will host a Warhol Factory Party on October 16th from 7-11 PM at Non-Fiction Gallery. Tickets can be purchased here. The event will feature Twisty Cats as The Velvet Underground & performances by The House of Gunt.
The “How to Make a Warhol” screen printing demonstration by Michael Enns will take place at Non-Fiction Gallery on October 16 from 2-4 PM. Additionally, Enns will create a Warhol-style screen print of the lucky winner of a raffle contest. Click here to purchase tickets to enter.