The Warhol Collaborator Billy Name on Andy, Photography and the Afterlife
Starting next week, Milk Gallery will host a photography exhibition celebrating the iconic works of Billy Name, the multitalented in-house archivist at Warhol’s Factory during the better part of the ’60s. The show, titled “Billy Name: The Silver Age,” will coincide with next month’s release of a book bearing the same title and promises to feature numerous “superstars” who frequented the East 47th Street studio, which Name famously draped in tin foil and silver spray paint — much to Warhol’s delight.
Name, who arrived in New York City as William Linich, met Warhol while working at Serendipity 3, the kitschy Upper East Side eatery. The two struck up a friendship as well as a brief romance, which blossomed in tandem with Name’s penchant for photography. Many of the images included in both the show and the book were taken with Name’s now-lost 35-mm. single-lens reflex Honeywell Pentax, originally a gift from Warhol.
Name, who lives upstate, cordially distanced himself from Warhol not long after the Factory’s relocation to Union Square. In 1970, Name left a letter on his door reading, “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore, but I am fine. Really. With love, Billy.”
What does identity mean for you at this stage of your life? Is Billy “Name” still a cartoonish, anarchist façade that simply looks great on a poster, or is it something more?
It’s exactly what it is, just as you have described.
You considered yourself an avant-garde artist. Now, in 2014, can anything be avant-garde?
Well, postmodern avant-gardism does exist. The avant-garde is a forward wave that is a concurrent function of the culture. The avant-garde is always there, whether it’s in clothing, or a manner of posture, or a manner of speech. It’s a forward momentum that is always happening.
After Valerie Solanas shot Warhol, you held him while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
I came out of my darkroom when I heard the shots, though I didn’t recognize the sound as gunshots at first — it was more like loud pops. I found Andy lying in a pool of blood and kneeling down. I took him in my arms and started crying. Andy said, “Don’t make me laugh, Billy, it hurts too much.”
Soren Angenoux once commented that you are loved in the same way a poodle is loved. How did you take that?
Initially, I took it very well, because I’ve always admired poodles and I think they’re very spiffy and smart dogs, and they’re very attentive. I took it as a compliment from Soren. His remarks could be very snide, but I don’t think they were applied to me as such.
What is the status of the “lost negatives” and the involvement of Kevin Kushel?
Kevin Kushel “borrowed” my negatives to make scans for me, and basically my negatives disappeared when Kevin did. My agent Dagon James and my publisher Tony Nourmand have been tracking them down so they can be returned to me. It appears that my property has changed hands and is in the possession of some people who are represented by a prominent photography dealer in New York City. We are in negotiations with the dealer to try to come to some reasonable settlement to get them back. It’s my life’s work. I hold the copyright to all of the images and the negatives are worthless to anyone other than me.
What is your fondest memory from your time working alongside the collage artist Ray Johnson on the Lower East Side?
I loved Ray, and just walking down the street with him was like being part of an avant-garde play. For instance, the fire hydrant might come alive or the graffiti on the walls of buildings become animated. He saw the world and lived in a way that I have never experienced with anyone else since. Being with Ray was like living theater, at every moment, as reality.
When living in the closet, literally, at The Factory, what were your dreams like?
At that time I didn’t dream.
Do you believe in reincarnation, or an afterlife — a big Factory in the sky?
I don’t really think I will reincarnate; therefore I don’t believe in it, because I’m not going to do it. The afterlife is a pretty constant thing — it doesn’t have as much variation as regular human life as we experience it — but there is an afterlife for all of us. It’s infinite. It’s brahman atman, that’s what the Hindu religion calls it.
You used to cut hair in your apartment. Who was your favorite “client?”
I didn’t have “clients,” but rather fellows who wanted a trim; and so I would trim their hair at haircutting parties at my apartment where I made everything silver — this was before I made the Factory silver. I’d have to say Johnny Dodd was my favorite because he was adorable and also a lighting designer, which I was myself for the Judson Dance Theater. We had parallels in that sense.
What is the one photograph you’ve taken that you feel defines you?
The image that best defines me is a self-portrait I took at my 7th Street apartment, looking in the mirror; Andy appears in the side mirrors. That shot appears in the Stockholm book with flowers on the cover.
Who do you feel is the most exciting living artist today?
Generally speaking, I find young artists are very exciting and dynamic. I’m interested in what the younger creative people come up with. I don’t really follow any younger artists in particular except for my collaborator Dagon James. He makes interesting books and beautiful photographs and paintings. Sometimes young artists send me their paintings, which I enjoy and hang on my walls.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
“Billy Name: The Silver Age” is on view at Milk Gallery from Nov. 12 through Dec. 7, themilkgallery.com. A book by the same title will be published by Reel Art Press on Dec. 10, £60, reelartpress.com.