By Wes Wilson
Andy Warhol came to San Francisco in 1966 to perform at the Fillmore with a troupe of entertainment associates known as the “Plastic Inevitable.” I made a poster for this event but didn’t personally meet him until he returned sometime during the following year and we were both interviewed one afternoon at a downtown San Francisco radio station.
I can’t recall why it was that he had returned in 1967 but after the interview we chatted briefly before heading off in our separate directions. Andy had asked if I knew of anything ‘fun’ that was happening that evening around town. Not knowing of anything special I suggested that perhaps he might enjoy coming up to my place and we could talk about art. Andy looked so utterly bored at that prospect that my impression was that he would not be taking me up on my offer - but I passed him my address and phone number just in case.
I was tired as I drove home afterward - having had another full day of it following several ‘long nights’ - so I decided to go to bed early that evening. Well shortly after falling asleep at around 8pm or so the doorbell rang. Soon I was downstairs answering the door – still of course in my pajamas. Two strangers were standing there. One asked “Is this Wes Wilson’s place?” “Yes” I said. One of them jauntily motioned toward the street saying “This is it!” Then more people came up from what looked like a limousine parked on the street - and yes – the one wearing dark glasses was Andy Warhol. “Welcome!” I think I stammered as I ushered them all inside.
Sometimes, in situations like this people can muddle through such unexpected circumstances to happily benefit everyone in the end - and I had firmly decided that this was going to be one of those times for me. There I was, still wearing my pajamas, sleep tousled and sleepy-eyed, with a fresh house full of guests to host – but undaunted. Well as luck would have it two of my guests had quickly sized up my hosting dilemma and understood my need completely. Immediately these two volunteered to help prepare and serve party goodies. So the three of us foraged through the kitchen and soon sufficient party food and drink was found and then being served. Nico, an attractive blonde from Munich (“Miss Pop Art ‘66”) had placed her newly released record on the phonograph and had turned up the volume. Someone else had thoughtfully rolled up a few joints and passed them around. Our ‘party’ was already happening when, again, the doorbell rang.
With some trepidation (police concerns perhaps?) I opened the door a crack. This time a smiling man and a woman were standing there. Who or what I asked? They explained that they were reporters from ‘The New York Post’ who had come to conduct their interview with me. “What interview?” I asked. They explained that they had scheduled an appointment for this interview over the phone with me a week or so earlier. “Don’t you remember?” they gently chided. “Well - no” I think I said. But there I was – peering out the door all tousled, bleary eyed and wearing only pajamas – while there was a party obviously going on inside. I certainly didn’t look like the type who ‘never forgets’ appointments I reflected. I was sorry but I didn’t want to be interviewed nor to argue about anything. However the two of them were so polite and genuine that I found myself asking them in to join our party - which they then did.
When I informally introduced these two to the party-goers who were already ensconced inside, they were flabbergasted when they realized that Andy Warhol himself was there too. Suddenly to my astonishment they literally fell on their knees in front of Andy in reverential adulation – quickly plying him with giddy questions – obviously wanting to interview him instead. I think it was Andy’s frozen ‘look’ that made this so extremely funny! I think Andy could even have been another Jack Benny.
So, by this time a nicely entertaining party had nicely evolved and was thumping along merrily into the Mill Valley night. Finally I was able to sufficiently relax to begin enjoying my unusual array of fascinating guests. There was our party’s centerpiece – Andy - parked in the middle of the living room couch - friends wedged in closely on either side – the two new guests kneeling at his feet – with Andy not looking especially pleasant as he deftly fended off questions with his steady gaze and silence. When I was finally able to speak with Andy a bit I too found him not the least inclined to be at all ‘conversational.’ He preferred watching and listening - occasionally fielding brief irrelevant comic responses when queried. I was reduced to being silly just ‘to keep up’ with his nonsense.
No one seemed to care that I was wearing only pajamas - except ‘Ultra-Violet,’ sitting beside Andy. She made note of my odd attire at one point by playfully undoing my pajama waistband with a wicked little grin. Mostly Andy sat quietly as if he were a ‘shy child’ – hopelessly lost behind those cool dark glasses. Often though he seemed to use his studied expressionless ‘look’ as a way of affecting his underlying arrogance. After a while Andy seemed to tire of all this and managed to ask me to show him my studio. I was most happy to oblige him and change the subject so up the stairs we promptly went to check it out. This signaled most of the other guests to follow – all were curious to see what Wes Wilson’s art studio looked like as well.
My studio contained odd stacks of rock posters scattered about on the floor, a sprayed on manikin or two, my work tables and a business desk all covered at the time with numerous business cards, notes, receipts, newspapers and magazines. Andy took it all in slowly and said very little. Andy’s only comment of note that I remember came when he noticed a magazine (CA Magazine) laying on my desk which had pictured on its cover a number of political buttons depicting various symbols or funny sayings with contemporary 1967 meanings – such as “Make Love, Not War,” etc. One button in particular caught Andy’s eye and he suddenly laughed for perhaps the first time that evening. He pointed out to me a pink button that read “Pop Art Stinks!” Then, grinning, Andy distinctly said “It does.” In that instant I think I understood Andy. He had just framed the essence of his artistic agenda – i.e. ‘making a stink!’ You can certainly see this principle at work in all his ‘art’ I thought. We had both laughed. Such fun!
We returned downstairs and after about an hour and the party had wound down. There were no more drinks, no more cigarettes for the hard line tobacco smokers, the talk had been talked out and the phonograph gone silent, most of my best pot had gone up in smoke. It was time to go. When Andy rose to leave he thanked me and kindly invited me to be sure and visit his place in New York City sometime. He called his place ‘the factory’ and gave me his address and phone number. I thanked him and said that I certainly would visit his place whenever I got back to New York City. Ultra Violet added a ‘see ya’– and off they went.
I did travel to New York City the following year, July of 1968, but Andy had just been shot and lay isolated in an ‘intensive care’ of some hospital. Unfortunately I was never to see Andy again.
"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." -- Andy Warhol, 1968
It’s been many years since I published this, my first poster, in 1965. That’s when my friend Richard Fahrner and I would listen to the depressing news about the escalating ‘Viet Nam War’ while on our way to work at Contact Printing in San Francisco. We didn’t like to hear how our America was getting ever deeper into the deadly quagmire of far off Viet Nam’s civil war. One morning while driving to work I suddenly visualized a jarring poster idea – our flag superimposed with a nazi-style swastika. So shocking it was instantly instructive! Richard was enthused too so after some more discussion among other friends as well I then went on to create this intentionally disturbing self published poster.
When I first laid it out and took it to West Coast Lithograph to have it printed; I showed it first to Ivor Powell, the jocular, quick witted English pressman – a man who enjoyed sharing his opinions. When he looked at my design his usual smile faded fast and he said something like this: ‘Wow - Wes you’d better add something else - like maybe “Are We Next?” – or most people just won’t get it!’ My original design contained only the words “Be Aware. However it didn’t take long for me to realize that Ivor had made a very important point. So after those words were added to the artwork I had several hundred posters printed. I then distributed and sold many of them to appreciative Bay Area folks. Back in 1965 when the official U. S. commitment was to further expand the American military role in the ‘police action’ of South Viet Nam I felt it was an important question – and had to be asked.
I’m glad I did something to significantly express my shock and anguish as an American about such an obviously erroneous and costly ethical ‘mistake’ as was the Viet Nam War. Today however we have been attacked by ultra-cunning and ruthless terrorists and in response to that horribly destructive day our government was forced to suddenly power up our national security agencies like never before. However, the ‘facts’ about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that were so widely believed, have now been wholly discredited for all to see. Because of that ‘mistake’ we too rapidly invaded Iraq without thoroughly working out both a military plan and the fuller use of the many normal diplomatic protocols which are so useful in less stressful times such as was done prior to the Gulf War. Such haste has also raised ‘constitutional issues’ about “rights” here at home. Because more practical protocols as well as United Nations involvement were employed and respected by the first President Bush – we gathered a whole spectrum of willing allies who come to our aid in freeing Kuwait using multinational forces.
Consequently, due in large part to ‘haste makes waste’ we are now deeply involved in the wasteful horrors of another costly ‘mistake’ - the current Iraq War. However, despite not yet knowing fully just how this all could have happened – we are at war inside Iraq. The Iraq situation is different from Viet Nam and we should strive to leave in grace and avoid the ‘dropping everything and running.’
It seems to me that since we don’t know just how all ‘this difficulty’ came about - the question “Are We Next?” still applies. And, as it relates to continuing the grand open and fair ideals plus continuing on in the hopes and practices of our Democratic Republic – this notable admonition continues for all Americans as well - “Be Aware!”
I accepted the commission to do this poster back in 1967 close to the time that my rock posters had been featured in the art section of TIME magazine (April 1967). It was to announce the opening of new offices in Los Angeles for the J. Walter Thompson Co., which was/is one of the largest advertising/public relations firms in the United States. Perhaps largely because of my fame and notoriety at that time I was granted unprecedented freedom in carrying out the design. The manager of this new office at the time was Mr. Bob Haldeman and it was probably either him or his assistant, Mr. Ron Ziegler, who originally spoke with me on the phone about it. I was given the specific wording for the poster and also a picture of Mr. J. Walter Thompson himself--should I see fit to use it in the design.
I was (and am, I guess one could say) a Liberal, one who was opposed to the unjust inhumanity of our ongoing war in Viet Nam that was being carried out in the name of ‘American interests.’ Interests such as the Monsanto Chemical Company who were making and selling to the Defense Department hundreds of thousands of gallons of dioxin laden Agent Orange, the ultra poisonous jungle defoliant, among others. My personal feelings at the time about the inherent dangers of industrial advertising were not good. I saw it as a work of persuasion used in the selling of products for the sake of profit. Often spinning deceptions about political and economic matters which regularly confounded ordinary Americans into buying and/or voting in certain ways which were/are often not for their better interests. These thoughts were uppermost in my mind as I came up with this poster – giving it a one eye open and one shut look along with the emphasis on the words “open up and see.”
Quite by chance a few years later, while in San Francisco, I happened to meet a former employee who had worked at the J. Walter Thompson company at that time. He told me that Bob (H. R.) Haldeman had the printing plates for this poster framed and hung on the walls of his office. My question ''Why?'' didn’t get an explanation.
I later learned that Richard Nixon had been a client of this firm during his successful 1968 campaign for the presidency. Truly it is a small world because then, when elected, President Nixon appointed (H.R.) Bob Haldeman to be his right-hand man in the White House, his Chief of Staff. And then there's more. Mr. Dwight L. Chapin was also employed by the J. Walter Thompson Co. and he was appointed Special Assistant to President Nixon. Interestingly, Dwight L. Chapin, Ron Ziegler, and Donald Segretti all studied law together at the University of Southern California. Same thing happened with Ron Ziegler who became President Nixon’s Press Secretary.
In the Nixon Whitehouse Mr. Chapin was given special responsibilities to attend to "various acts of political sabotage and espionage" against the Democratic Party! Dwight Chapin then recruited Donald Segretti as part of an anti-Democrat "dirty tricks" campaign. I believe that journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein later discovered that Segretti had attempted to
smear leading politicians such as Democrat Senators George McGovern, Edward Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, and Henry Jackson. This included releasing to the press a faked letter on
Muskie's letterhead, falsely alleging that Jackson had had an illegitimate child with a 17-year-old girl. Donald Segretti, the Republican dirty tricks operative working for Nixon, was later
convicted and sent to prison for involvement in Watergate.
OK. now where are they today? Many have died. However, President Bush’s Executive Assistant is of course Karl Christian Rove. Karl Rove was a protégé of Donald Segretti, that is, as I understand it, Karl Rove's mentor was Donald Segretti. Mr. Segretti is now out of prison and could be up to his old tricks again. He is back into politics. In 2000 Segretti surfaced as co-
chair of John McCain's campaign in Orange County, California.
Dirty tricks are still being used in politics so as to confound the many and serve the few. As I understand it, documents released to the IRS 19 months after the election show that the
Bush team spent over a million dollars to fly operatives into Florida (to block the vote counting by clogging up the public counting places, shouting, shoving, etc. - and being as rowdy
as needed to fulfill their mission) and another million to pay for their hotel bills. The effort also relied on a fleet of corporate jets controlled by people like Enron chairman Kenneth Lay … and Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney had just served as CEO.
When Karl Rove was publicly honored by President Bush right after his re-election he smiled toward the blushing Karl and declared that his executive assistant was the architect of it all.
On February 8, 2005 Karl Rove was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of policy. Well, It seems to me, as Mark Twain once asserted, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
I designed this poster (I call it the “Open Up & See!” one) in 1967. Along with the “Are We Next?” poster they became part of the '15 minutes of fame' accorded me by fate, good luck, and plenty of late nights. They gave me a personal brush with history, if you will, during the wonderful good ole days in the mid-60s out in San Francisco. I still believe in keeping minds open just as much as ever. My eyes tell me that Hillary Clinton was right – there really is a “vast right wing conspiracy.” All decent, open minded Americans must stand up for their birthrights - and solidly defeat this selfish-brat Republican agenda at the polls. Fortunately, we
are a Democratic Republic, so the only thing we all need to do about this malady of our body-politic is to vote the whole Republican ailment out of office!
Revised Feb. 4, 2006