Photo: Courtesy of the Kiwi Arts Group
Photographer William John Kennedy and his wife, Marie, were driving their Volkswagen Beetle through Flushing, Queens in the early 1960s when they spotted a field of eight-foot-high Black-Eyed Susans.This made Kennedy think of his good friend, who was slaving away on a painting of similar flowers. So, Kennedy called him.
“Well, pick me up!” Andy Warhol exclaimed.
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And they did. The couple grabbed the artist, stuffed his “Flowers” paintings in the back of their Beetle and drove back to the field. They all spent the afternoon frolicking among the flowers while Kennedy snapped photographs of Warhol and his art.
“If only I would have kept one of those paintings in the trunk,” Marie Kennedy said last night, more than five decades later, at an exhibition of Kennedy’s photographs that just opened at site/109 on Manhattan’s Lower East side.
The exhibit, “Before They Were Famous: Behind the Lens of William John Kennedy” includes the photos from the field and around 100 more of Warhol and Robert Indiana, many of which are on display for the first time. It will be open to the public from April 19 to May 29.
During the early 1960s, Kennedy developed a strong friendship with Warhol and Indiana (who introduced the two). All three were struggling young artists in New York City. trying to make a name for themselves.
As most photographers do, Kennedy shot his friends while they were going about their daily lives. What Kennedy didn’t know is that his friends would be among the most famous artists of our time.
The photographs sat in a dusty box for 50 years, never digitally retouched, or even cropped. They depict Warhol with “Flowers,” with his famous Marilyn Monroe piece, and lounging around The Factory.
“The two things in Andy Warhol’s life were art and his mother. And his mother came first,” Kennedy said. Kennedy and his wife recounted stories of Warhol caring for his mother “like a mother” at the press opening of the exhibit last night.
“If he didn’t know you, and you didn’t know him, Andy Warhol was very beige,” Kennedy said, chuckling. “I always had to ask him questions, poke around and provoke conversation, but then a rainbow of ideas came flowing from him.”
Warhol in the field of Black-Eyed Susans. Marie Kennedy is holding Warhol's paintings up behind him.
This is one of the most glorified photos in the collection. Inside The Factory, the lighting was terrible for a photographer, Kennedy remembered. He asked Warhol to open the fire escape door and an abundance of natural light flooded in. Kennedy asked Warhol to pick up one of the acetates of his paintings. Of the 50 acetates, Warhol at random picked up the one of Marilyn Monroe. Kennedy laughed at his luck.
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