In 1982, Karen Bystedt, then a tenacious young film student, cold-called Andy Warhol at Interview Magazine and asked he pose for her book-in-progress featuring the era’s top male models. She had come across an image of the legendary artist modeling for Barney’s and hoped to capture the icon in this unique context, positioned amongst faces renowned for their aesthetic ideal; she endeavored to preserve an image of the man made infamous for making models as a model himself. Warhol asked Bystedt whom else she intended to include in this book, upon hearing her answers, he swiftly agreed to join the fold. The resulting images materialize a rare and remarkable sense of vulnerability; in this portrait session, Bystedt captures a soft and submissive Warhol, a man who spoke much of beauty, and its essential mystery, and as is suggested in his rigid pose, his bewildering gaze, and simply, his participation in her project, seemingly so wanted to be seen as beautiful himself.
Bystedt included two of the thirty-six photos shot that afternoon in her book Not Just Another Pretty Face published by Nal, and placed the negatives in storage, where they lived untouched for twenty-five years. The movements of an artist are so often mysterious to the artist themselves, as if a mystical wind directed the creative spirit, engulfing cerebral elements and ineffable impulses in its power. In 2011, Bystedt felt firmly compelled to revisit her representations of Andy and unearth the images captured that afternoon. She was able to locate ten of her original negatives, yet time and its offspring, reality, had taken its toll on her spellbinding photographs. She dedicated the preceding four months to restoring her Andy, pixel-by-pixel, infusing new life, breath by breath, into her images.
Having turned from photographer to visionary pioneer in the mixed media form, Bystedt conceptualized a new future for her Warhol portraits, one that echoed her subject’s inventive spirit, and mirrored his approach to both inspiration and practical creation. Giving form to a modern, immaterial Factory of her own, Bystedt invited contemporary street and fine artists to interpret her images in their own artistic language, co-creating mixed media artwork, thus conceptualizing a series of collaborations that would represent community and pay homage to the mixed media form so inextricably associated with the legacy of Warhol. Over the last five years, this canon has developed and expanded; the work is definitively diverse, representing an eclectic array of artistic identities, thus promoting inclusion whilst positioning fine art in the realm of the accessible with which Warhol himself toyed.
The Lost Warhols live as a testament to intrinsic value of eclecticism in visual perspective, honoring individuality in interpretation, allowing the self to shine in position as part of a greater whole, as Warhol once did, and forever will, in Bystedt’s book. Bystedt has created a series that follows in Warhol’s footsteps, playing with popular culture; the collection champions the unique signatures of her collaborators and encourages its audience to consider their own understanding of its central subject – a man captured by a woman; two unique artists, both fascinated by beauty, and determined to stir an evaluation of its ever-changing parameters and visual associations. The work thereby provides the world with a new lens with which to examine the legacy of Andy Warhol and re-evaluate the aesthetic ideal, thus challenging the modes in which it may be measured and questioning its intrinsic value itself.
Words by Samantha Michelle