“Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks” — Revisiting Warhol’s Photographs in the Turchin Center’s Permanent Collection

Fire Island Party I (from Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks) – Enlarged 30” x 20” print made from scan of mixed media on laserprint photograph, 2019
Fire Island Party II (from Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks) – Enlarged 30” x 20” print made from scan of mixed media on laserprint photograph, 2019

After my first rejection from the Turchin Center for Visual Arts at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, I became curious in works by queer artists in their permanent collection. What I found through ARTSTOR were a series of Andy Warhol photographs donated to the Turchin and other underserved art institutions in 2007 by the Warhol Foundation. Setting aside kneejerkin eyerolls from invoking Andy Warhol’s work for those privileged enough to be jaded about it, this became a significant anchor in developing new work: bootlegging Warhol’s photographs from the Turchin’s collection on ARTSTOR – many of them explicitly queer – haptically responding to, decorating, and layering onto them. Once finished with these works I hope to donate prints to the Turchin and propose a two-person show with Andy Warhol. 

This work also prompted me to investigate “Pop Out: Queer Warhol” edited by José Esteban Muñoz with contributions by many authors. I have been inspired by some of the essays, one of which claims camp as a queer survival choice of identification, rather than a conscious or critical aesthetic choice, while the collection overall carries a stated mission to recover Warhol’s work from a “didactic moralism” and embrace a deeper sense of his queer poetics. Warhol’s photography provides viewers with a better sense of his everyday life. Using his photography as an entry point, the everyday or mundane space of Warhol and other queer creatives is where Muñoz would later argue in “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” provides us with the affective potentials of queer liberation, insisting that our world is still not-yet-queer. From “Pop Out”, however, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s essay provides a specific relation to Warhol’s queerness and whiteness through his contradictory spaces of celebrity, shyness, and shame. Kosofsky Sedgiwck explores “What it may mean to be a (white) queer in a queer-hating world, what it may mean to be a white (queer) in a white-supremacist one, are two explorations that, for Warhol, this shyness embodied.” 

While I am perhaps more in the Brené Brown camp when approaching shame, Kosofsky Sedgwick importantly concludes that it requires a holistic approach as it is entangled with all parts of a self, despite political or therapeutic attempts to redress or undo it on the basis of group oppression, privilege, ambivalence, or other forms of embodied knowledge and experience:

“The forms taken by shame are not distinct ‘toxic’ parts of an identity that can be excised; they are instead integral to and residual in the processes by which identity itself is formed. They are available for the work of metamorphosis, reframing, refiguration, transfiguration, affective and symbolic loading, and deformation; but are unavailable for effecting the work of purgation and deontological closure.” 

As was made clear from psychoanalysis, the process of identification always exceeds categories of identity. The conundrums of this “identification vs. identity” process became part of Muñoz’s later formulations in queer of color theory through “disidentification.”  In seeing parts of Warhol’s everyday “gaze” made available through the Turchin, I question what parts of this shyness and shame may also create sites for “…metamorphosis, reframing, refiguration, transfiguration, affective and symbolic, and deformation…” In particular, how are the lies of whiteness deformed, destroyed, or at least “made strange” in the process of seeking queer liberation? I must admit that my approach to these images is so far geared toward an “additive” and decorative approach – grumpy critics of radical thought may demand more be “undone” to the original photograph, or question what exactly “simply adding” does in achieving my stated aims. I respond with the fact that rupture and continuity are two sides of the same coin. Actively bringing forward an image – now permanently altered through decorative intervention – provides the queer timewarp energy Muñoz asks us to consider, not solve. In these Fire Island images, in particular, the figuration has been layered into a larger abstracted energy that is not contained to its original (“I’m bringing it forward, but I’m bringing it forward in this way”). What is significant for me in this process as well is the added question of place, and what these images [of Fire Island (a “problematic” place) and otherwise] “do” in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and to specify, reactivate, or at least gesture towards Muñoz’s “not-yet-queer” liberatory potentials to Southern Appalachia through Warhol’s photographs (however imperfect a vehicle they may be). Whether consequential in this reading or not, Warhol himself is technically from so-called Appalachia by way of Pittsburgh, PA. 

In addition to now being the subject of multiple books, Warhol’s photography was also featured in a recent exhibition at Jack Shainman in early 2020 called “Andy Warhol Photography: 1967-1987.” Many of the contact sheets to which the Turchin Center’s Warhol prints correspond can be found in online digital archives of Stanford University.

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