In 1971, Andy Warhol bought a house near the hamlet of Montauk, on the far tip of the Long Island peninsula. Called Eothen (Greek for ‘from the East’), it was located in splendid isolation — on a clifftop at the end of a winding road, 120 miles east of New York City. It took Warhol three hours to reach by car — and that was on days without traffic.
He’d stay at Eothen regularly over the remaining decade and a half of his life, enjoying countless walks on the windswept beaches. Warhol hailed the ocean as ‘the biggest abstract thing around’ and captured it repeatedly in photographs — as he did the local sands, shells and rock forms, too.
A selection of his Montauk pictures will appear in Andy Warhol: Better Days, an online sale held in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Featuring 60 unique photos (existing in one print only), the sale presents a little-known side to a well-known artist.
Warhol is remembered as a mover and shaker on New York’s social scene, partying with fellow celebrities at spots like Studio 54 nightclub. What Andy Warhol: Better Days reveals, however, is that he also revelled in the great outdoors too, far from Manhattan.
A few years after purchasing Eothen, he bought himself 40 acres of undeveloped land near Aspen, in the Rocky mountains, in Colorado. Warhol’s initial plan had been to build a property on it, though he soon changed his mind, insisting it was ‘just too pretty’ for that.
He visited the area often. Not, as so many others did, to hit Aspen’s slopes (Warhol took skiing lessons once and could barely stay on his feet) but to enjoy the mountainous, snowy landscape. Andy Warhol: Better Days includes a number of his photos of Colorado.
Warhol was an insatiable photographer. Wherever he went, he carried either a Polaroid instant camera or a compact Minox 35 EL camera with him.
He ended up taking a total of 130,000 photos with the Minox, anticipating the Instagram feeds of our image-saturated era today. ‘Having a few rolls of film to develop gives me a good reason to get up in the morning,’ he said.
Andy Warhol: Better Days features photos taken with both types of camera: wistfully coloured prints in the case of the Polaroid; gelatin-silver prints, in evocative black and white, in the case of the Minox.
The sale will be open for bidding from April 28 to May 6, with proceeds helping to provide emergency relief to artists throughout the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alongside the shots of Montauk and Colorado, the sale includes a handful from closer to home: capturing tulips in bloom on Park Avenue and trees in blossom in Central Park.
Is it going too far to say Warhol was obsessed by nature? Perhaps. He did once claim that ‘land is the best art’. However, it should also be pointed out that the goal of trips to Eothen was frequently social rather than natural, Warhol being accompanied by celebrity friends such as the Rolling Stones. (The band chose to rehearse there ahead of a major US tour in 1975, for example — so loudly, according to the press, that local dogs, wolves and coyotes were left howling for weeks afterwards.)
What one can say with confidence is that Warhol was fascinated by most things he encountered, however humble. And nature was something he encountered increasingly as his career progressed — as he gained the means to venture beyond New York to different parts of the US.
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‘You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you, suddenly thrill you,’ he once said. This was a worldview that was fitting for the photographer of clams, cattle and pine trees in the 1970s and 1980s, as much as it had been for the Pop artist who’d introduced Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans into the realm of fine art in the 1960s.