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Hedges Project: Through Andy's Lens
“Jean-Michel Basquiat boarding a private jet”,1983Courtesy of Pat Hackett and Hedges Project

Unseen Andy Warhol photos of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Grace Jones, and more

Diarist of the Andy Warhol Diaries and close friend, Pat Hackett, releases a set of never before seen images taken by the artist in 1980s New York

Towards the end of Andy Warhol’s life, longtime confidant and friend Pat Hackett asked the artist, “Have you ever thought about talking to a psychiatrist?” He said, “I don’t need one. I have you.” As the diarist of the Andy Warhol Diaries revealed to Christies in an interview in 2015, as his scribe for over 20 years, Hackett was as important to Warhol’s sanity as his artistry itself. Their collaboration began in 1969 when Hackett was present at the creation of (the just-folded) Interview Magazine. From there, the writer became Warhol’s diary as he divulged to her his take on the ephemerality of fame, the politics of New York's night life, and the glamourised but gritty reality of being one of the most famous artists on the planet.

Prior to his death and around the time of his first photography show, Warhol gifted Hackett a unique trove of 8x10 Silver Gelatin Prints taken with his 35mm camera: one he used so much, he referred to it as his ‘date’ at parties. It was one of many gifts Hackett had received from Warhol across their friendship, but what remains so special about these images were that Hackett no longer had to rely on Warhol’s thoughts to understand his world: she could now also see through his eyes. The collection of black and white images include candid shots of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Grace Jones, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, and Warhol himself, as they party throughout the eclectic state of 1980s New York. A permanent part of Hackett’s Warhol collection, these images have never been shown before until now. For the first time ever, they are on display at the Through Andy’s Lens exhibition on show at LA’s Hedges Project until June 10.

The set features a set of unseen, candid images of the late Basquiat as he boards a plane in one image, and stands for a poised portrait with his mother. “Andy had a respect for Jean-Michel's talent that I'd never seen him show toward any other of the younger artists,” Hackett explains of the rare images. “And of course Andy, whose own mother, Julia, had come to NYC and lived with him for many years, was very interested in Jean-Michel's relationship with his mother, Matilda.” Honouring the intimate nature of Warhol's art cliques is a close-up portrait of artist Keith Haring, famed for his street murals, and his then-lover, artist Juan Dubose. Hugging with cheek-to-cheek, the palpable honesty of the image shows how Warhol's images were a zeitgeist for a sensitive era where innocence was impacted greatly by Aids. 

While Warhol is more popularly known as a painter who pioneered pop art, it is photography that is the basis for the majority of his works. The artist’s first contact with photography was at the age of ten, when he used a Brownie camera to snap photos of his backyard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, he started creating his pop art screen paintings (his most infamous being Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) of which nearly every work was based on a photo. In the early 70s, he turned to Polaroid photography, such as his recently re-released set of erotic polaroids in Torsos and Sex Parts (1977). Warhol went on to become so synonymous with Polaroid that they continued the make he used (the Polaroid Camera SX-70 Land) for him only.

While Polaroids and pop art are Warhol’s most well-known works, Hackett prizes his black and white photography as the closest medium to the true essence of the artistl. “I tend to think of his black and white photographs (and films) as when he is regarding the subjects as real-life people”, he explains, “and the colour photography as when he is regarding them as objects. Not always, but just generally. Oddly, as much as Andy is known as ‘the master colourist’, there is a whole powerful, primitive area of his work that was exclusively black and white. To me, the thinking Andy, as opposed to the painting Andy, was always black & white.”

Just as he dictated to Hackett the happenings of his life, Warhol’s black and white photography was a way for the artist to record his world. “A picture means I know where I was every minute,” Warhol once said. “That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary.” Almost like a foretelling for the way the world would become obsessed with recording and documenting the banality of everyday life through social media, Warhol shot everything. From the famed faces in this portrait series, to everyday objects such as sidewalk trash, documentation was a Warholian way of life. “Andy was doing so much photographing in the years right before he died. You could see how much it excited him. His whole view of the world and of art had always been that reality could not be improved upon. Yes, it could be tinkered with and touched up – represented in all sorts of ways – but he profoundly felt that real life could never be improved upon. That view made photography a natural next big step in his evolution as an artist.”

Through Andy's Lens: Never Before Seen Works from the Pat Hackett Collection is on at Hedges Project in Los Angeles until 10 June. Hedges Project has acquired and placed more Andy Warhol photography than any other collector, private dealer or gallery in the world. You can find out more here