Davis, Deborah. “The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure”, Atria Books, 2015.
A Little Known Trip
A little-known road trip that Andy Warhol took from New York to LA in 1963, and how that journey-and the numerous artists and celebrities he encountered-profoundly influenced his life and art is the subject of Deborah Davis’ new book. “What began as a madcap, drug-fueled romp became a journey that took Warhol on a kaleidoscopic adventure from New York City, across the vast American heartland, all the way to Hollywood and back”.
We visit a Texas panhandle truck stop, a Beverly Hills mansion, the beaches of Santa Monica, a Photomat booth in Albuquerque among others. We also meet a fascinating group of characters that includes Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Marcel Duchamp, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra not to mention rednecks, beach bums, underground filmmakers, artists, poets, socialites, and newly minted hippies. Each of these became part of Warhol’s psyche.
Andy Warhol’s speeding Ford Falcon is our vehicle that takes us from the end of the Eisenhower era to the beginning of the ’60s. Through in-depth, original research, writer Davis sheds new light on one of our most enduring figures in the art world and also captures a fascinating moment in 1960s America-with Warhol at its center.
Deborah Davis convincingly maintains that the year 1963 was the year when “everything changed” and not only for Warhol, but for the United States, as well. We cannot forget that it was also the year JFK was assassinated and this played its part in America’s obsession with sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and Pop Art. Those of us who lived through this period know that America was never the same after Kennedy died just as American culture was “his passive impenetrable persona” and it was the result of this trip. While Warhol discovered America, he also discovered himself. “The Trip” tells us how suddenly Warhol became so famous.
In 1961 Warhol was not yet a success and he saw what other American artists were achieving. He was a commercial artist and no one took commercial art seriously back then. In January ’61, Warhol bought a Jasper Johns’ sketch titled “Light Bulb,” and he found the idea of turning a common object into a work of art “inspirational.” Using this inspiration, Warhol transformed “the lowest of lowbrow images” — a Campbell’s soup can — into one of the most iconic images of the 1960s. It was that image that resulted in Warhol eclipsing the artists who’d dismissed him as just a “swishy shoe illustrator”.
Within a year, Warhol had his first one-man show at the influential Castelli gallery in New York. There he got to meet the celebrities that he came to idolize. Among the side benefits of his newfound fame were introductions to the celebrities he idolized. Among them were actor Dennis Hopper and his Hollywood royalty wife, Brooke Hayward. Hopper issued Warhol a challenge by telling him to come to Los Angeles for the opening of his show and he would host “a genuine movie star party” in his honor. And this was an offer he could not resist.
Warhol and his three-man entourage left Manhattan on September 24 and arrived in Los Angeles days later having traveled on Route 66. Taylor Mead was one of Warhol’s traveling companions and he did what gay men do as they traveled. Warhol was mesmerized by the lights and the billboards that were giant pictures ion basic primary colors that were like his own creations.
L.A. was endless parties, openings and encounters with movie stars and it was there that Warhol decided to direct his first Hollywood-type movie, “Tarzan and Jane Regained … Sort of” and it starred Mead. The real reason for the trip was the Hopper party and it didn’t disappoint. Warhol states that, “This party was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me”.
Now what is really fascinating about the trip is author Davis’s thesis that the visit to L.A. provided Warhol with the emotional stance that came to define his personality and his art for the rest of his life. Warhol’s impassivity had been evident before, but in L.A., it reached a new high the set of “Tarzan”. Warhol began to understand that his greatest talent was to stand by impassively and allow his subjects reveal themselves. 1963 was the year that changed everything.
Warhol became a man of mystery: the more he kept back, “the more interesting and desirable he seemed.” At this show, someone bought a “Silver Liz” for small money and returned it days later demanding a refund. Bad idea. Today its price is $25 million.
I had a ball reading this and could not stop once I began. It is absolutely a wonderful and educative read that I heartily recommend. The story by itself is something but when combined with the wonderful prose of Deborah Davis, it becomes a must-read.