(One of Billy's favorite photographs he took of Andy Warhol with a self-portrait. The "Silver" Era, 1967)
The Silver Era at Warhol's Factory
Humble and soft-spoken, yet completely direct: the bearded man sitting before me has clearly led a unique existence. I can hardly conjure the questions in my mind about his talent, experiences, tales of what it was like to work with those denizens at the center of the 60’s avant-garde movement, “The Factory”. While sitting there, I catch a glimpse of this magic in his eyes in that one brief moment when he takes off his shades to scratch his forehead. This is the man behind the evocative photographs I've seen. This is Andy Warhol's friend, his partner. This is Billy Name.
Billy Name began his career as a lighting designer. He had just moved to New York City, working as a waiter on the Upper East Side when at only 19 years old he met Andy Warhol. Twelve years his senior, Andy wasn't well known at the time. It was before the success of his most popular works, his “Factory”, and his contributions to the visual art movement. This was very early in his career, before he even had the proper equipment to create his iconic images.
"Andy had no light in his apartment," Billy explained. "When he needed to paint he'd have to sit by the window for the sunlight, just to see. What he needed and wanted, I could easily provide."
Billy was well trained in techniques that enabled Andy to create his art. The two became a perfect team of one mind. When they worked, they were in perfect sync. Andy didn't have to hire anybody else to help him with lighting, sound and set design when he had Billy right there.
"He relied on me; he could depend on me. We were intuitively always in touch with each other." Billy went on to say about his relationship with Andy. “Astrologically, he had his sun in Leo and I had my moon in Leo. Therefore we were in total perfect synchronicity throughout our relationship, especially during the first year at the Factory in 1964. That’s why his paintings went so well and we came up with marvelous concepts, especially the Jackie Kennedy paintings and the Brillo Box sculptures. It was a grand relationship.”
Billy would eventually move into the Factory, Andy’s own Magic Kingdom where he painted, constructed and filmed his greatest work. Prior to that, Billy lived in a small Greenwich Village apartment in New York City, which he painted silver, having been inspired by the glow of the silver bridges across the Hudson River in his hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York where he grew up. Andy loved Billy's audacious touch, and got him to do the same at the Factory. Using spray paint and aluminum foil, everything from the walls to the toilets he covered in silver, and the space was known forevermore as the “Silver Factory.”
A typical day at the factory for Billy entailed lighting, sound, and general maintenance to ensure Andy had the tools to create his work. It was a continual working episode, and as time went on, more and more people became a part of it. Socialite, Edie Sedgewick, Singer-Songwriter, Nico, and Actress Susan Bottomly (a.k.a. International Velvet); all of whom would make their mark at the Factory, and all of whom would be photographed by Billy Name.
“Susan Bottomly was my favorite Warhol Girl because she was so easy to work with.” Billy remembers, “She immediately began posing in a photo shoot and never stopped posing throughout the shoot. She looked beautiful at every turn. Edie Sedgwick, on the other hand, never formally posed for you. She kept on being natural throughout the shoot and even talked to you on a first person, friendly basis. She would talk about Cosmology and black holes and the current state of the cosmos, which I knew also, so we had a wonderful conversation while we were photographing. She was really charming.”
(Billy Name being photographed by The Waverly Press Publisher, Dagon James, in the summer of 2013)
Billy had the eye of an abstract artist. Having never studied photography, he was very fresh and new to the craft. Around 1963, when Andy became too busy with filmmaking and other endeavors to take still images of the Factory at work, he handed his 35-millimeter Honeywell Pentax camera to Billy who, using the camera's handbook as well as the occasional tip from Andy, taught himself how to shoot. He even converted one of the bathrooms into a darkroom. Billy became the Silver Factory's resident photographer.
"I'd look into the lens and see the entire framed picture." Billy said, "I wouldn't focus on the person, but the entire frame. It's about centering and framing the picture totally, as a whole- the entire frame in full focus." That’s what Billy did. He kept everyone and everything in focus.
As for Warhol, his focus was a bit more of a mystery. "Paul Morrissey called him an idiot savant in that he didn't really seem to know what he was doing. He just went with it, like an idiot, but it all came together. But that was the way Andy presented himself.” Billy paused, looking off into the distance as if lost in thought. “He was enigmatic, unknown, a mystery. Andy's reality was separate from what we saw, and he kept it that way. Only he knew what he was doing. All he needed was himself… He was really a creative character."
Andy's technique was certainly unique, and he had a strong work ethic. "Drella", a combination of Cinderella and Dracula, became his nickname, as he was charming one minute and a taskmaster the next. He was always at work. Stress was the general mode. The rows of giant Brillo boxes, Campbell’s tomato juice, stacks of giant boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and paintings of flowers and Jackie Kennedy all over the walls: Billy captured the chaos of the madman at work.
Over the years, many people walked through the doors of the Factory, but it was Billy Name who was there from the very beginning, right by Andy’s side. He observed, aided and inspired Warhol throughout the decade. He was there before Andy became famous and was by his side until he left the Factory for good in 1970 to explore what was possible beyond the silver doors.
"I was so saturated with the Factory. I wanted to see what the rest of the Earth was doing. It was a more difficult time but it was really becoming more of a free world --- with Women’s liberation, Gay liberation, Black liberation proving themselves to the world. It was a very free world in that sense. I travelled down to New Orleans, that fabulous city, and I hooked up with Kumi Maitreya, a marvelous witch who was a Moon Goddess with quite a large following in magic and spell-casting. After experiencing her I moved on to San Francisco, the gay cult center, where I experienced the Gay Revolution first hand with its large encampments throughout the city. All of these movements were part of the amazing American culture which was happening at the time.”
As I sat there as a young writer, listening to this mellow, low-keyed bearded man with a dozen rings on his fingers; this man who took these sensational photographs that captured some of the greatest images of 60’s pop art, I realized what a privilege it was to spend an afternoon with this gifted artist who introduced me to a world I had only heard about.
At 72, Billy is staying quite active. Currently, he is collaborating with The Waverly Press, which is showcasing his photographs of The Velvet Underground & Nico, International Velvet, and Andy Warhol’s “Boxes”, among other creations that came out of the Factory, introducing a younger, wider audience to the world of one of the leading figures in Pop Art.
The Warhol Era was a time of redefining the possibilities of what art could be. Billy Name provides an open window for all of us to be part of that glowing Silver Age.