‘Warhol in Colorado’–Memories and Memorabilia

Andy Warhol: Mark Sink, Fort Collins, September, 1981. Gelatin silver print. 8 3/4 x 6 in. image size. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. University of Denver Art Collections.

Mark Sink had been among several cyclists at the head of the pack in a 1981 Colorado state championship in Fort Collins. The trio somehow got tangled and crashed, and Sink got “road rash,” scrapes and bruises, up and down his legs and arms.

Recovering, Sink, a photographer, heard from a friend that Andy Warhol was in town for an exhibit of his work assembled by local pop-art collectors John and Kimiko Powers. Sink roamed around the Colorado State University campus asking people, “Have you seen Andy?” and opening the doors of classrooms. Finally, in one, there was Warhol, sitting by himself signing posters.

Warhol’s handlers had run off to get him something to eat, says Sink, and “he was thrilled to see me.” Sink told Warhol how much he loved Interview magazine, sat with Warhol and a few members of his entourage on the campus lawn, then headed to Warhol’s motel so that the famed artist could grab a nap before the opening.

Sink told Warhol about the bike crash, and Warhol wanted, per his custom, to take pictures of the wounds. “Click click click click click,” is how Sink describes Warhol’s modus operandi. And thus was Sink trousers down outside a motel having his picture taken by Andy Warhol (just as John Powers and a college president happened to be walking near).

Like a number of moments snapped by Warhol or Sink, that one will be included in an exhibit at the University of Denver’s Myhren Gallery from January 20 through March 13, 2011. “Warhol in Colorado” is structured around 158 Warhol Polaroids and silver prints given to the University of Denver in 2008 by the Warhol Foundation. About two-thirds of the exhibit consists of Warhol’s work, the other third comprising photos of Warhol and ephemera from Warhol’s trips West.

Warhol’s 1981 visit was one of about a half-dozen to Colorado in the 70s and 80s, says Dan Jacobs, director of the Myhren Gallery and co-curator of the exhibit. The Warhol Foundation gave gifts of the artist’s work to some 180 museums and galleries, so Jacobs asked himself how he could put together a Warhol show in a way that “would be relevant and interesting but not trying to compete with the truly major exhibits.”

Warhol’s time in Colorado seemed like a good theme. And just as Warhol’s visits pulled the Colorado Rockies art community together three decades ago, the new exhibit, Jacobs says, pools items drawn from the University of Denver, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Tied in, Jacobs says, will be a gala sponsored by the Cable Center, four nights of Warhol-related films shown by the Denver Film Society, and a lecture at the Denver Art Museum.

Jacobs says that before the phrase developed its Web resonance, social networking was “part of [Warhol's] artistic practice,” and Jacobs sees the exhibit and related events as a chance to “reactivate a lot of those connections.”

Mark Sink: Andy Warhol in cabin doorway, Colorado, 1982. 10 x 8 in., gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist.

Warhol’s longest Colorado stays were a little more than a week, Jacobs says. In addition to schmoozing with collectors, curators, and artists, he went to Aspen to learn how to ski, “wearing a huge fur hat that took the place of his wig.”

And he snowmobiled, too—once to his great peril, says Sink. Warhol’s friend John was piloting their snowmobile behind Sink, who had a hand in the snow, jetting the snow up in a little blinding spray over John’s goggles. Sink looked back to see Warhol’s snowmobile flying off a small cliff. “I’ve killed the Prince of Pop!” was Sink’s first thought. “We all gasped and got up,” went to look, and Warhol “was laughing and rolling in the snow. I have pictures of it all. Some of my favorite pictures of him are of him breaking up laughing. I have hundreds and hundreds of contact sheets that have never been published.

“Eventually that might be my retirement pay, Andy reaching up out of his grave, saying ‘Here you go, Mark!’”

The snowmobile day ended fine. “We went down and had Mexican TV dinners with ice cream on glazed donuts,” Sink recalls. Then a private jet became available and they drove Warhol to the airport.

The artist invited Sink to come to New York, and Sink lived there for about a decade, with one foot in the art scene—Warhol’s Factory, Sink’s own studio in Chelsea, taking portrait shots of Jean-Michel Basquiat and other contemporary-art luminaries—and the other foot making ends meet by photo-editing for a heavy-metal rock magazine, Circus, and for MGF. (“Sadly, I don’t like heavy metal,” says Sink, who also tried introducing artsier fair to turn MGF into kind of a Self for guys, but “the stupider we made it, the better it sold . . . ’10 Ways to Build Your Pecs’ … ‘Best Pickup Lines’ …”

The Factory gang was cliquish and didn’t like Sink, he says. But Warhol did, and he grooved on Sink’ Polaroids and portraits, though less so on the “super-romantic” old-fashioned shots Sink took with his little Diana toy camera. More recently, Sink, who comes from an illustrious New York photo lineage, has extensively explored 19th-century wet-plate work.

Sink says he has never really taken to the Annie Liebovitz-style celebrity portrait and says, “I never considered these pictures of Andy art.” Asked if it was, to a degree, both blessing and curse that his career became intertwined with Warhol’s, the celebrity sun maybe blinding viewers to Sink’s own long, wide-ranging career, Sink replies good-naturedly, “I’ll take it.” He notes how lucky he’s been to make a living as a freelance photographer, photo editor, photo curator, and sometime photo teacher. “I’m a survivor from the 80s.”

“Photograph anything and everything around you,” is the Warhol lesson that’s stuck with Sink the most, he says. “That had a great influence on me.”

Click click click click click.

—Alexander C. Kafka



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