‘After Andy’: Getting Warhol’s Religion
We don’t know if Andy Warhol got his wish “to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger,” but his 1987 memorial service was a spectacle. Yoko Ono, Richard Gere, Roy Lichtenstein, Calvin Klein, Raquel Welch, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Halston and more packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni “hovered and watched” the pageantry; she worked at the Warhol Studio. She was the last employee that Andy had ever hired.
After Andy, Fraser-Cavassoni’s memoir, is an endlessly quotable romp that captures the melancholy and magnificence of Warhol’s final days and legacy. “I started the book with Andy’s memorial because it captured his world – a far-reaching one that included fashion and society, as well as art,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Memorials celebrate a life.”
Fraser-Cavassoni’s entire book is an elegiac celebration of a world that died with Warhol, but is slowly being resurrected. “Toward the end of his life, Warhol felt profoundly undervalued and ignored,” she explains. But now, 30 years later, he’s been born anew: collectors pine for his work; major museums exhibit his creations; his art has skyrocketed in value. Alice Cooper recently discovered his “Little Electric Chair” print, that was part of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, which he bought for $2,500. In 2015, a similar print sold at auction for $11.6 million.
The ultimate Warhol insider, Fraser-Cavassoni was drawn to and inspired by Warhol, but was no stranger to fame. Her mother is the historian and novelist Lady Antonia Fraser, and her stepfather was the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. Fraser-Cavassoni followed in their literary footsteps, becoming a fashion journalist and biographer; her first book was an eye-opening examination of legendary producer Sam Spiegel. After Andy demonstrates her storytelling chops as the book masterfully winds through anecdotes, scenes and interviews with scores of Warhol’s associates, acquaintances and admirers. It is breezy without ever feeling light, channeling Warhol’s enigmatic presence.
And it is the puzzle at the center of that enigma which Fraser-Cavassoni captures: Warhol’s Catholicism. At the memorial service, art historian John Richardson eulogized that Warhol “fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, and glamor and that he was cool to the point of callousness.” As a fellow Catholic (like her mother, she attended St. Mary’s Ascot convent school in Berkshire), Fraser-Cavassoni gets Warhol’s religion.
“Almost everyone who remained relevant in Andy’s life was Catholic,” she explains, “whether it was Paul Morrissey, Fred Hughes, Bob Colacello, the photographer Christopher Makos and Vincent Fremont.” She continues: “Being brought up Catholic gives a sense of hierarchical order, discipline and faith. Faith, when embraced, anchors the creative … I think it would also be fair to say that the romantically rich and multi-layered religion that forgives all – lest we forget! – allows unconventional traditionalists.”
Warhol’s religious paradox sharpened after 1968, when writer Valerie Solanas shot and wounded him in the Factory. Fraser-Cavassoni says it was a pivotal moment: “Andy changed. He almost died. Then rose again – somewhat symbolic – and allowed Fred Hughes to turn his talent into an international business.” There’s a refrain in After Andy of Warhol saying, “I’ve got to keep the lights on,” a blue-collar sentiment that, in classic Warhol fashion, carries a more spiritual double-meaning. Warhol attended daily Mass, and served food to the homeless during holidays – actions that Fraser-Cavassoni says were signs “of his eternal gratitude.” She even notes “when he met Pope John Paul II in 1980, Andy was wearing a tie and a low-key version of his signature wig; both suggesting a sign of his respect.”
Fraser-Cavassoni had been saved by the no-nonsense nuns of St. Mary’s. After some teenage mischief, she found a sense of respect and peace with the nuns, and, in a budding fashion sense, admires the design of the habit: “Since it was flawless and since it was individually fitted on each woman, it was my first taste of haute couture.” It’s the type of line that captures another link between her and Warhol: their insatiable curiosity about the world.
And, as the daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser, the social column writers had a curiosity about young Natasha. At 15 she was already making the pages of Nicky Haslam’s Ritz column; at 16 she had a full-page portrait in British Vogue. She caught what Warhol called the “social disease,” and that included getting noticed by Mick Jagger when she was 17. She met him on Sam Spiegel’s boat. A few weeks later, their first date was a Stevie Wonder concert, and then off to the nightclubs, and finally, his flat. They had fun, but were never in love: “He was a burning light who belonged to Jerry.”
Fraser-Cavassoni tells Rolling Stone a Jagger story that didn’t make the final copy of the book: “During the making of The Last Tycoon, my stepfather became friendly with Robert de Niro. So when the actor and Martin Scorsese came to London to promote Raging Bull, a dinner was arranged ‘with the boys.’ Imagine Harold’s surprise when de Niro’s first question was about Mick Jagger: ‘Say, is it true that your step-daughter…'”
Although Fraser-Cavassoni’s name drops could fill an encyclopedia, After Andy remains grounded in that “keep the lights on” work ethic, one she says Jagger shared with her mother, Pinter and Karl Lagerfeld – who she assisted at the Chanel studio. “They have all proved that to remain relevant, you have to carry on, adapt and be innovative even if it’s not always appreciated,” she says. “In my case, always having to earn my keep made me grounded and lucid about my circumstances. When leaving England in 1985, I was chasing a lightness of being existence. Working, or rather being paid to do what I enjoyed, allowed this.”
It’s that sense of ebullience that speeds the reader through After Andy, but Fraser-Cavassoni slows the narrative down at exactly the right moments. She’s a careful caretaker of Warhol’s legend. One of her later chapters in the book is titled “Warhol Land Continues to Haunt,” and After Andy captures the artist’s almost otherworldly staying power. “Warhol’s primordial influence was a religious one,” she asserts. “His genius was changing the face of art by mixing it with contemporary flare and timeless technique. Look at the Marilyns, Jackies and other Sixties portraits – the ones termed by Andy as his ‘rainy day paintings’ – the suggestion of sainthood and or martyrdom gives an eternal quality to each subject. Meanwhile, the best of his self-portraits are Christ-like and imply that Catholicism plagued him.” After Andy is an entertaining ride about work, play and the weirdness in-between that creates great art.
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