The Woman Behind Warhol

by:   |   Jan 22 2014

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Growing up as an art nerd, I definitely spent some time being fascinated with Andy Warhol. I mean, he created my ultimate fantasy—a group of weird art freaks living in NYC in the 60s and 70s who created insane films and art in a huge silver loft. Once they get time-travel sorted out, that’s pretty much my top destination. But my fascination with Warhol started pre-Internet, so as I got older and found more articles, photos, and video from that era, I started to realize something: Warhol was kind of a dick. I *will* give him credit for being a visionary and knowing how to manipulate people—after all, he essentially built his career on seeing “star quality” in people and creating a world where they were the stars. (And I’ll admit that I do love his early illustration work.) Still, I think he was in the habit of using young actors, artists, and musicians for all they were worth, and sometimes just hiding behind their talent.

Enter Brigid Berlin. my sleaze goddess, and the patron saint of neurotic, obsessive women. When I discovered her, my world changed forever; it was as if I had met met my spiritual leader. Her mixture of obsessiveness, creativity, and rebellion was this incredible combination I’d never seen before.

Brigid grew up in Manhattan in a wealthy family on the Upper East Side. Her parents were Richard E. Berlin, the chairman of the Hearst media empire for 52 years, and the socialite “Honey” Berlin. She was surrounded by Manhattan privilege, but Brigid never fit into that world. She always struggled with her weight, and was sent away to a convent in Switzerland to lose 50 pounds, eventually marrying a “gay window dresser” named John Parker. “When Brigid brought her window dresser fiancé home to meet the family,” Warhol recalled in his book Popism, “her mother told the doorman to tell him to wait on a bench across the street in Central Park. Then she handed Brigid her wedding present—a $100 bill—and told her to to to Bergdorf’s, and buy herself some new underwear with it. Then her mom added, “Good luck with that fairy.'” So clearly, Honey Berlin wasn’t winning any parenting awards.

After an unsuccessful attempt at being a socialite and a failed marriage, Brigid abandoned the life her family wanted for her, and started her life as a recluse artist. In 1964, while living in the Chelsea Hotel, Brigid met Andy Warhol and they became fast friends. Hanging around the Factory, she acquired the nickname “Brigid Polk” because of her love of amphetamines and giving out “pokes” (speed injections) to her buddies.

Brigid’s artwork has an obsessive quality, too—it’s rooted in the meticulous cataloguing of information. She would have made an excellent librarian (at the sleaziest library ever). She recorded phone calls and, as Andy did, loved Polaroids. Some of her most famous work includes her “Dick” and “Trip” books, as well as her “Tit” paintings, which were pieces she created by dipping her nips in paint and then onto some paper.

Brigid became a permanent employee of the Factory in 1975 and stayed there through the 1980s. Her relationship with Andy Warhol remained close until he died in ’86. But her obsessions lived on as she grew older, and although she was drug- and alcohol-free (until a relapse in 2006), she transferred her obsessiveness to other behavior, like measuring all her food, cleaning, and collecting all things pug-related.

In 2000, Vincent Fremont, who worked for the Warhol Foundation, made a documentary called Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story. It’s the definitive account of Brigid’s life, and an intimate look into her day-to-day routine. Unlike many other Warhol stars, Brigid is still alive and kicking, and the film cuts back-and-forth from old footage to current interviews. But this isn’t a super-cheery story—things get really real in the film, and there’s a heartbreaking, truly painful moment in which you get a glimpse into her obsessiveness firsthand. At 60, Brigid seems to have retained the same rebellious spirit and sharp wit that made her such a fascinating character so many years ago. Her brutal honestly, confidence, and creative spirit lives on. She is, by far, my favorite Warhol-ian star, and I’ll forever be grateful to her for carving a place in the art world for creative, obsessive women who never quite fit in.

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Brigid’s Tit Paintings

 

 

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Brigid, Candy Darling & Andy Warhol

 

 

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Polaroid of Brigid

 

 

Brigid Polk Berlin 3

Brigid and Her Tit Paintings

 

Some incredible video clips:

 

Also, definitely check out the shots of her New York City home (!), featured in this New York Social Diary Post.

 

Brigid Berlin

Fan Art by yours truly.

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Jenny

Jenny

Creative Director of G.A.L.
Jenny

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