Denver photographer, street artist and gallery owner Mark Sink talks about the Andy Warhol he knew, the one without masks or disguises. He offers some surprising revelations about the artist, and his distant link to Jack Kerouac, in conversation with Zack Kopp.
Perhaps no other artist embraced the decadent nature of blooming 1960s commercialism quite as graphicly or prolifically as Andy Warhol, who, in 1968, predicted the world we live in, where everyone is famous for fifteen minutes. If Andy hadn’t put together the Velvet Underground in an attempt to influence musical taste, the New York City punk scene would never have existed, at least as we’ve come to know it. Even Warhol’s technique of film portraiture, where subjects are shot in a relaxed attitude for three or four minutes, was considered wild when he did it, but it is lately a trend. He was the curve, in a real, quantifiable sense.
“My link to the past is that Andy keeps resurfacing every year to pay me a little more money,” observes Denver-based guerrilla photographer Mark Sink. “He was so far ahead of our Instagram minds.”
Sink has been exhibiting his work professionally since 1978, as street art, and in commercial galleries, museums and other institutions. He is best known for romantic portraiture. Some of his most recognizable images include documentation of life and work of artists of his association during the New York art scene of the 1980s. After some time in New York, Sink returned to Denver and opened Gallery Sink in 1988.
A few of the shots illustrating this piece are from The Big Picture, an adjunct to the annual Month of Photography Sink founded in 2005, in which one block of an alley wall on 13th Avenue, between a series of hip used clothing joints and a series of hip local eateries, has been papered with submissions from artists all over the world every summer since 2006. The balance are pictures of Warhol by Sink, who’s come a long way since their meeting in Fort Collins, Colo., in September of 1981 on the Colorado State University campus.
“[Warhol] was there to give a lecture and my roommate spotted him eating in a nearby restaurant,” remembers Sink. “It was my dream to be in Interview magazine at the time. I remember going around to groups of people and asking them, ‘Have you seen Andy Warhol?’ Just going from classroom to classroom, opening every door, until I found him. Andy now would be over 90 . . . hard to believe. People just stand still in time when they’re gone. He was my age now when we met.”
Sink relates how Andy and his mother used to paint together, how it was Andy’s mother who sent him the soup can, how much of his method amounted to outsourcing mythography.
“It drives me nuts to read amazing in-depth comparative analytical essays on some of Andy’s statements from his writings. From The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. I was close to Brigid Berlin and Pat Hackett (editor of The Andy WarholDiaries). Those were his ghost writers. I learned how they wrote and rewrote and literally thought up many of Andy’s passages in the books. In fact, once I witnessed Andy reviewing some things they edited for him. He said, ‘Gee, that’s great, you make me sound so smart.’ Brigid would roll her eyes saying how she wrote ‘a lot’. She talks about it more these days.”
Sink tells the story of showing up where Andy was staying after a day spent skiing. Warhol convinced himself that the goggles and gloves and boots and jacket Sink was wearing was a costume. Warhol saw anything eye-catching in his immediate orbit as a production, saying, over and over again, “No one would ever do that.”
“But it was just our winter mountaineering gear,” says Sink. “We camped in East Marron Creek between Christmas and New Year’s. We’d ski down into Aspen smelling like burnt logs to party for New Year’s . . .At the door of Jane Holzer‘s condo, Andy came out to greet us and did not believe we had been camping for days. He just wouldn’t believe it. Kept going on about it all night: ‘No, you guys didn’t do that.’”
On the same visit, Warhol reportedly worried that his boyfriend Jon had tried to kill him by driving off a cliff, after (unnoticed by Andy) Sink threw some snow in his face while the two were racing around on a snowmobile. All evening, Warhol repeated, “It was the strangest thing. Jon tried to kill me. Something must have come over him.”
“We ate TV dinners and ice cream that night,” Sink remembers. “They gave me all the food to keep, tons of food I drove home in my old Triumph TR2.”
There had been fires in the area, and Warhol complained the house might burn down in his sleep. “The place was surrounded by Aspen, though, which doesn’t catch as easily,” said Sink. “It’s pioneer species that grows at the site of a previous burn after learning something from the soil.”
I thought of how this was not unlike Warhol’s vision taking root in the soil of society’s decomposition (devolution?), springing up from the soil of commercialism after turning it into a nutrient. A pioneer species that’s harder to burn off. But I’m no critic.
Sink’s wife, artist Kristin Hatgi Sink, and their daughter, Poppy, stopped by the alley in Denver to touch base with him on their way home. The sun was shining. It was one of the first warm days in a week or so, the temperature felt just right. Everybody was in a good mood, as Mark and New Jersey-based artist Bill Westheimer wheat-pasted shots from artists and photographers all over the world on the graffiti-swirled alley wall in Denver. “I like that they’re all in black and white,” said Westheimer. “Really makes it stand out from the color underneath.”
“Brigid Berlin would greet me at the front desk as she was knitting with her two pugs,” recalls Sink. “She would let me right up, as the waiting room always had some famous stars in wait. I’d wander the Factory, making Polaroids and taking snapshots. Paige Powell from Portland Oregon just released a portfolio of JMB in the nude from those days. Female gazing.”
The alley offered an excellent view of late afternoon sunlight falling across the tan back steps of the Jack Kerouac Apartments, a distinctly Warholian commercialization of Denver iconography. More time travel from beyond the grave by Andy.
“Is that what those are?” asked Sink, looking up at the NO TRESPASSING sign hung on the fence in front of where his car was parked. Sink’s stepfather, Edward Divine White, remained one of Jack’s closest friends, from their acquaintance at Columbia University in the ‘40s until Kerouac’s death in 1969, a climactic year for the counterculture, considering Altamont and the Manson murders, a year during which Warhol would have been recovering from radical feminist Valerie Solanas’ failed assassination attempt.
“I never mentioned that to Andy, that Ed was friends with Jack Kerouac,” says Sink. “I wonder what he would have said about it. I think this is a continuation of the same thing the Beats did, putting posters up in an alley, making run-down, dirty things look beautiful with art.”