Is It a Warhol? Not Quite
The Secret City on

Features column: A former Andy Warhol "Factory" member finds extends his 15 minutes of fame by copying the master's works.

Thursday, May 2, 2002

By JEREMY ROSENBERG, Special to Calendar Live

Louis Waldon spoke to Andy Warhol yesterday.

Not that Warhol, dead since 1987, replied.

"He hasn't answered me yet," the 67-year-old Waldon says, laughing.

Waldon is a former Warhol intimate--at least, relatively speaking, given the famous artist's lack of such. Waldon was born in Modesto, joined a theater company in San Francisco, moved to New York City and appeared on Broadway occasionally. Warhol associates recruited him to perform in the improvisational, unedited avant garde films the mop-haired aesthete made in the mid- to late 1960s.

Waldon wound up appearing in a number of Warhol-produced titles, including "Nude Restaurant" (1967); "The Bizarre Ones" (1968); "Flesh" (1968); "Keeping Busy" (1969); "Lonesome Cowboy" (1969); and "Blue Movie" (1969). Originally, "Blue Movie" was titled a four-letter slang word for copulation; it features a 30 minute-plus lovemaking session between Waldon and fellow Warhol Factory regular Viva Superstar.

The last time Waldon actually did speak to Warhol, the artist was out west for a joint exhibition with mustachioed sports scene painter Leroy Neiman.

"You know what he [Warhol] said to me?" Waldon relates, impersonating his old friend: 'Oh Louie, I thought you were going to be so famous in Hollywood, you were so good. How come you're not famous?' So I said, 'In time, Andy.' But that's all he was concerned about. Fame."
* * *
These days, Waldon lives on a 38½-foot ketch moored in Marina del Rey. Although he's made it his home for three years, Waldon's boat isn't quite ready to navigate rough waters. The cabin is so cluttered with stuff--sneakers, electric fan, newspapers, precariously perched old computer--that a spring cleaning might stretch into summer before everything is nailed down for a sail to Catalina.

Whatever the shipshape of the boat, Waldon sure looks the part of a seafarer. He has a long white goatee with copper-colored mustache. Tousled brown hair. Bulbous nose and the potbelly of a nobleman. Waldon, who suffers from a mild form of diabetes, walks with a slight limp and has to watch his blood pressure. It's a long way from the Factory weirdness and party days that followed. In fact, he's mostly out of touch with his former Warhol comrades.

"My lifestyle is too, too boring," he says from the boat's cabin. "I am too. This whole boat scene is totally different, you know? When I lived in West Hollywood it was pretty much living the lifestyle everybody was used to--drugs and getting [messed] up and things like that."

Waldon prepares Russian tea for himself and a guest. He's wearing a maroon shirt, gray T-shirt, black sandals, black sport socks and some paint-splattered black pants.

The artistic remnants come from the fact that Waldon makes silk screens.

Silk screens of Marilyn Monroe. Of Jackie O. Of Elvis Presley.

Of electric chairs, cows, soda cans, and flowers.

You know, Andy Warhol silk screens.

Err, Louis Waldon silk screens.
* * *
After performing in Warhol's films, Waldon moved to Europe. He acted in movies in Munich. Lived in a village with sandy beaches near mountain ranges not far from Milan. Fulfilled a dream to live on the Mediterranean and eat fish like Picasso.

Waldon returned to the States in the mid-'70s and made the scene in New York City. Stayed up all night, slept all day. After a year, he decided it wasn't for him and moved out to West Hollywood.

Waldon's movie career faltered. He wound up opening a nightspot in Silver Lake in the '80s. He also worked a stint as a bouncer for the musicians' back door at a Sunset Strip rock venue.

Waldon also wound up passing time with a guy he knew from the Factory days. Gradually, some paraphernalia in the guy's possession led to a career change.

"He [the guy] actually stole a bunch of Warhol prints, screens and negatives and brought them back here," Waldon says. "I met him and he came over and hung out with me in West Hollywood; we started making 'Warhols.' [It was] more of a joke than anything. But it was a lot of fun."

And then orders started coming in.

An alternative newspaper did an early story about Waldon's art project. Waldon said he had Warhol's permission to make the silk screens. He didn't really, he admits today, but he doesn't think Warhol would mind.

"Andy's whole thing was that he wanted people to make his art," Waldon says. "I mean, if you read his books, they'd tell you exactly how to do it, you know. And that's what he liked--the idea that people would make that art."

Warhol was notoriously tight-fisted. For example, Waldon says he was paid $100 per Warhol film--not counting, of course, all the free publicity and party invites. So why wouldn't he object to having his work copied, particularly for someone else's profit?

Waldon answers by way of an anecdote. He recalls one day when Warhol was reading the paper. Waldon slows his voice, lowers the volume, loses all inflection as he readies for his Warhol impersonation: "'Oh my god. Oh, whoa, what is this? I can't understand.' I said, 'What it is?' He says, 'They just found a hundred fake copies of Dali. Why are they, you know, copying Dali?' And then he turns and says, 'It's got to be the highest compliment you can get when somebody copies your art.'"

Waldon figures he's crafted 300-400 of Warhol's images. The priciest list at $1,500-$1,800. In the beginning, Warhol's Manhattan art dealer wasn't pleased; but according to Waldon, there were no complaints from the master.

"He never said a word to me [about it]," Waldon says. "He didn't care. He was glad I was doing it and I was making money at it."

As further proof, Waldon tells how Warhol gave him some copies of his movies and said he could keep them as long as he screened them. "I used to show them at colleges and places like that," Waldon says. "As long as I did that, he was happy. And I could charge any amount of money. He'd never ask me for the money."
* * *
Most weekday mornings, around 9 a.m., Waldon eases into the old white Peugeot that he traded two silk screens for--an Elvis and a Marilyn.

He motors past the Ballona Wetlands and the Loyola Marymount campus over to a small one-story home he says is owned by his attorney. There's a small courtyard in back, with a hammock affixed to a tree, a half dozen potted cactuses, a blue tarp overhead.

Most of the courtyard is filled up with a large makeshift table, on which rest two Jackie O. works-in-progress with broad outlines and funny tangerine slice-shaped lips. At this early stage, they look more like a grammar school kid's work than a faux Warhol.

Waldon reaches under the table and lifts rolled-up canvasses, one after the next. It's like being at a Persian rug bazaar, all these fineries being unfurled. It's a bizarre bazaar. Here's a Factory-size, 40x40 Marilyn, with pumpkin orange-colored background and green highlights over the starlet's eyes. Here's another Marilyn, this one blue. Black-and-white flowers. And an electric chair, thick with Dodger blue.

The original screens--the stolen ones--have long since worn out, Waldon says. He's re-created them for his current works by taking photographs of Warhol images from books, creating new negatives, then making screens from the negatives.

The re-created screens are held together with wood frames. They lean, en masse, against a wall. Waldon says they look just like original Warhols.

"You can't tell the difference," he says matter-of-factly. Earlier, he'd gone further, noting, "They look better. Andy didn't really know what he was doing."

Never mind that Waldon has no formal fine art background and only once assisted on a Warhol design during the Factory days.

Flip the canvasses over and a black stamp reads: "Louis Waldon. Andy Warhol's Factory. Super star years 1966-69." Then space for Waldon's signature.

"That way, nobody can go and pass them off as Warhols," he says.

A nervous backer made Waldon add the stamp. That's the same sort of fear, Waldon figures, that keeps art gallery dealers from representing him.

"They think I'm committing a crime," Waldon says. "And I'm not, because I stamp and sign them. I can, you can, you know, copy somebody's art. You just have to make sure you don't sign their name to it."
* * *
The "Andy Warhol Retrospective" opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art on May 25. It's the first comprehensive exhibition of Warhol's work to be presented in L.A. in more than 30 years.

Waldon is excited. Excited the public will get an opportunity to see so many Warhol works in one place, at one time. Hopeful, too, that Waldon's own art patrons will see a rise in the value of his 'Warhols.'

Waldon's buyers are Warhol fans, no question. And when they buy a Louis Waldon work, they're not necessarily buying it for his silk screen skills. There's a vicarious thrill about Waldon's creations.

"They're buying the image," Waldon contends. "Because unless you know Warhol art, it's [all about] image."

Jeremy Rosenberg can be reached at