Christopher Makos understands better than most why Andy Warhol never seems to go out of fashion.
The New York-based photographer became part of the city’s art scene in the late ’70s and Warhol was a friend and colleague. Makos also photographed a series of portraits during Warhol’s modeling career in the early ’80s.
Warhol’s career and life continue to intrigue people around the globe more than 35 years after he died from cardiac arrest following gallbladder surgery. Makos’ latest book, “Andy Modeling Portfolio Makos,” coincides with the release of the Netflix series “The Andy Warhol Diaries.” The current interest in the artist has been further sparked by the Brooklyn Museum’s “Andy Warhol: Revelation,” which is on view until June 22. And Christie’s has set an asking price of about $200 million for Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.” If the sale hits or exceeds that mark during next month’s Marquee Week sales, it would become the most-expensive 20th-century artwork to sell at auction.
The way Makos sees it, Warhol’s lasting power is “because unlike any other artist, Andy tagged his career to the American brand. When you’re an American brand — Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and all this kind of stuff — you have a built-in, inherent brand that everybody knows about. Most everyone knows the Warhol brand because he has piggybacked ‘onto’ American ‘things,'” Makos said.
Having done a good deal on Warhol in some of his other 15 or so books, Makos had thought he was done with that subject. After the team behind the Ryan Murphy-produced, Andrew Rossi-directed Netflix docuseries came knocking, Makos realized it was an opportunity to publish a book about Warhol around the same time. Just as the Netflix series widens the aperture on Warhol’s love life and more, Makos decided to unearth Warhol’s modeling in his new book. Many don’t know that the artist did that and that he was represented by Zoli and Ford Models. Makos consulted on the docuseries, licensed some of his photographs to be used in it and he appears in every episode.
Warhol’s painting and art career was so strong that “it took all of the oxygen out of everything else. People have to remember he was an author, a painter and a filmmaker. He had a magazine [Interview]. ‘The Factory’ really does apply to what he did because there were all these different things that were going on in his life,” Makos said.
When Makos first met Warhol at the Whitney Museum in New York City in 1969, he was surprised he was still alive. Valerie Solanas had shot Warhol in his office the year before. A Southern California transplant, Makos took a pass on an invitation to hang out at Max’s Kansas City with Warhol and friends. “That night-owl world didn’t work for me and I had my first exhibition coming up at 492 Broadway that was called ‘Step On It.’ All my photographs were on the floor covered in Plexiglas to manipulate the viewer to look down at the floor and not walls. I thought it was perfect for Andy but he wasn’t able to come,” he said.
Warhol sent Bob Colacello, who loved the conceptual idea of it, according to Makos. That led to a visit to The Factory, where Makos met Warhol on “his terms, not like I’m going to hang out and be a fan…I don’t mean that I didn’t like his work. We became friends. As I point out to people, Andy was my friend. They always say, ‘Oh, you were Andy’s friend.’ Certainly, anybody that was friends with Warhol, we’re all tied to that — Vincent Fremont, Bob Colacello…But we all have our own dedicated lives and careers. Clearly, Andy cast a long shadow, but we know our own personalities and strengths so we’re able to step out of that shadow when we need to,” said Makos, who planned to discuss his new book at a ticketed event for 150 people at The Strand Thursday.
Late in 1978, Warhol asked Makos to be the art director for his book “Exposures” and in 1981 they produced “Altered Images” with Makos making 349 poses of Warhol in drag. The images were inspired by Man Ray’s 1921 photos of Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego “Rrose Sélavy.” As Warhol’s art and brand became increasingly popular to promote clothing, airlines, vodka and more, he was asked to appear in advertisements so a portfolio for modeling was needed. Warhol asked Makos to take his “modeling portraits,” which were done over six sessions.
A practical joker, who liked to laugh a lot, Warhol liked to put one person against another as a joke. “He liked to stir up the pot and make things fun,” Makos said.
Warhol also enjoyed being in front of the camera even though he didn’t know what to do with his hands, Makos said. “In all of the pictures, he’s so awkward. I though that awkwardness was just charming.”
During the early ’80s, Warhol felt under-appreciated in many ways, according to Makos. Given that, he surmised how Warhol would love the current interest in his work and life. “He would especially love the digital age and the instantaneousness of it. He used to talk about how he wished he was a photographer because photography seemed so much more instant than painting. Painting took more time.”
Inspiration for Warhol came from everything that he saw around him. “An interesting artist is always inspired by the world around them. That’s why artists keep their eyes wide open. He was that kind of a person and that’s why we got along so well. We were both open to seeing whatever was around us.”
When Warhol was in search of something new for a 57th Street exhibition, Makos suggested he sew together some of his photos. The Massachusetts-born Makos had first tried out the technique as a child with pieces of paper and his Italian mother’s Necchi sewing machine. The actress Michelle Loud of “An American Family” served as the seamstress for Warhol’s “sewn photographs,” said Makos, who will be showing a lot of sewn photographs in his upcoming shows in New York and Los Angeles. (Makos has been credited with developing the technique in such exhibitions as Fotografiska’s “Andy Warhol Photo Factory,” which closed in New York in late February.)
“Much in the way I was his mentor in taking photography, this was my idea. I thought, ‘Give it to him.’ He was famous for multiple things. It was just the perfect thing for him to take four things and sew them together. It was right in his wheelhouse.”