La Jolla exceeds its ‘15 minutes’ of Andy Warhol fame
By Pat Sherman
In 1968, the same year the late pop artist Andy Warhol so presciently proclaimed, “in the future, everyone will be world- famous for 15 minutes,” the artist-provocateur traveled to La Jolla with his colorful cast of characters to film a movie about surfing culture, titled “San Diego Surf.”
Though upon his return to New York City Warhol was shot in a foiled murder attempt and never completed the film, La Jollans will get a chance to see it in the near future, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD) on Prospect Street. Representatives with MCASD and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh have confirmed that they are in discussions to screen the film in MCASD’s Sherwood Auditorium, possibly during the San Diego Film Festival (Sept. 26-30).
The 90-minute film was completed in 1995 from a rough cut by longtime Warhol collaborator, Paul Morrissey (who signed and discovered the Velvet Underground). It has been languishing in the vaults for more than a decade, for reasons the Warhol Museum’s Assistant Curator of Film and Video, Greg Pierce, was hesitant to divulge. The movie, shot using color, 16-millimeter film, was gifted to the Warhol Museum in 1997 and to date has only been shown in piecemeal.
“It obviously needs to be shown in La Jolla at some point,” Pierce said.
The Warhol Museum characterizes the film as “an outrageous surfing soap opera that revolves around a beautiful woman and her gay husband who share their beach house with a group of surfers.”
Michael Hermann, director of licensing for the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, told the La Jolla Light, “while shooting a surf film in La Jolla may sound like an odd fit to some, ‘San Diego Surf’ is quite consistent with the arc of many of Warhol’s other films, which feature the drama of beautiful misfits getting into trouble, having sex and doing drugs.”
In his memoir, “Popism: The Andy Warhol Sixties,” the artist called La Jolla “one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.”
“We rented a mansion by the sea and a couple of other houses for people who were going to be in the movie,” Warhol wrote of the film, shot on the beach at WindanSea, La Jolla Shores and Marine Street. “Everybody was so happy being in La Jolla that the New York problems we usually made our movies about went away — the edge came right off everybody. We’d lounge around listening to our transistors on the beach. … From time to time I’d try to provoke a few fights so I could film them, but everybody was too relaxed even to fight.”
Art as Commerce
As “San Diego Surf” heads toward its La Jolla debut, longtime La Jolla surfboard shaper, architect and artist, Tim Bessell, is keeping Warhol’s spirit alive through a series of five boards he was commissioned to design for the Andy Warhol Foundation, each bearing one of artist’s iconic images and signature.
Bessell said he chose surfboard shapes that best complemented each image he was given to work with, such as the pairing of Warhol’s “Guns” lithograph print with a big-wave gun surfboard and one of Warhol’s paintings from “The Last Supper” series with a fish-style board.
Bessell’s designs were created using digital photo and graphics programs. After receiving final approval from the Warhol Foundation, each will be digitally printed on fabric before being applied to the boards.
Former San Diego Union-Tribune publisher David Copley, a collector of Bessell’s functional art and other works, recently picked up a Warhol board at an MCASD auction for $18,000.
A portion of proceeds from the sale of the surfboards, of which Bessell was commissioned to make an initial 50, will benefit the Warhol Foundation, which has distributed more than $200 million in cash grants to arts organizations since its inception in 1987, the year Warhol died. The foundation currently has 23 such merchandise licensing agreements, which include brands such as Alien Workshop skateboards, NARS Cosmetics and Medicom Toy. Bessell said designing the Warhol series, which he refers to as “Andy’s Quiver,” was a natural progression for him. “There’s a lot of artwork that goes on a surfboard, not just the sculpture,” he said. “It’s sculpture and painting, or sculpture and graphics — and they go hand-in-hand.”
Bessell said that when he approached the foundation with his concept for the series, they liked the idea of collaborating with someone who had actually met Warhol.
Bessell, who studied architecture at San Diego State University, recalled meeting Warhol at the Playboy Club in New York City a few year’s before the artist’s death.
Bessell’s lead into the conversation was to ask Warhol if he still had two surfboards he purchased from board shaper and WindanSea native, Carl Ekstrom, which the wig-topped artist purchased while filming “San Diego Surf.”
Warhol still had them.
During their conversation, the artist invited the young Bessell to tour his studio and the offices of “Interview” magazine a few days later.
“I was really enamored with Andy Warhol; he was like my idol at that time,” Bessell said. “When I first saw him I didn’t want to do it; I was just too nervous. My buddies dared me into it.”
After mustering the fortitude to approach his idol, Bessell said, “It all worked out pretty well.
“I call him the passive participant, because he was just standing there all by himself, with five beautiful models … (but) he was very accessible. … It was one of those serendipitous moments, like I was supposed to meet him, maybe for this.”
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