In Aspen with Andy Warhol
Denver photographer Mark Sink discusses his local adventures with Andy Warhol
Pop artist Andy Warhol’s many visits to Aspen will get a lot of attention this winter, as the Aspen Art Museum hosts the massive, museum-wide survey “Andy Warhol: Lifetimes” (opening Friday, Dec. 3).
What: “Andy Warhol: Lifetimes”
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Opening Friday, Dec. 3 (through March 27, 2022)
How much: Free
More info: aspenartmuseum.org
Warhol was here as early as 1956, at the outset of his exhibiting career, when he hung what is believed to be his first show outside of New York City at the Four Seasons in Aspen. He kept coming back through the 1980s, including a run of New Year’s Eve visits from 1981 to 1984 — snowbound and celebrity-studded adventures, which he documented meticulously in his diaries.
Denver-based photographer Mark Sink was a frequent companion to Warhol on his Aspen visits and worked with Warhol in New York and at Interview magazine for about seven years after a charmed meeting during Warhol’s summer 1981 Colorado visit.
In anticipation of Aspen’s winter of Warhol, I recently drove to Denver to meet Sink and talk about his Warhol days in Aspen and beyond. Seated in a nook of the home he bought shortly after Warhol’s 1987 death when Sink return to Colorado, with an afternoon breeze blowing in, he browsed a photo album of images from the Warhol years.
Sink, now 62, may be one of the great conversationalists in the Rockies, sharing stories and asides, occasional barbs and frequent creative insights. He’s enjoying looking back these days, sorting through his own journals and photos for an ongoing book project about his years at the red hot center of contemporary art and Warhol’s scene.
“I’m in legacy mode,” he said. “I’d just like the proof that I was there.”
Sink had unique insight into the mix of glam and genius that was Warhol’s ‘80s milieu, photographing Warhol at work, assisting him on projects and accompanying him on some legendary nights (he had his camera along for a dinner with Warhol, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the Odeon in Manhattan during its 80s heyday).
It all started four decades ago on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
Sink, 22, was putting himself through school at Metro State University in Denver, developing a photography practice and racing bikes while soaking up what he could of the art scene from Denver (including going to see Warhol movies at the indie cinemas on Broadway, he recalled). When a friend told him Andy Warhol was coming to talk at Colorado State in late summer 1981, Sink knew he had to be there.
Warhol had come to Carbondale and Aspen to visit collectors and friends John and Kimiko Powers before heading to the school for a talk and the opening of a solo exhibition there. (Warhol also visited The Aspen Times newsroom on that visit, a story for another day.)
Emboldened by his youth, Sink poked around campus hoping to find Warhol and, by chance, he did: the iconic visage, in sunglasses and wig, seated all alone in a classroom signing posters of his famed society portrait of Kimiko Powers, his handlers having run out to get coffee or food.
Sink simply sat down and started helping Warhol sign them and they got to talking about Sink’s photography and life in Colorado. A sleekly built and muscular mountain kid, Sink tantalizingly pulled down his shorts to show off a gnarly road rash from a bike crash that ran down the length of his right side-body and hip. Warhol was intrigued.
“He said, ‘Oh, you do photography? Interview is my greatest magazine,’” Sink recalled. “I said, ‘I wish it was more in color’ and he said, ‘Oh! You should work for Interview!’ I was on the masthead the next month.”
Warhol would soon invite Sink to New York to work in The Factory and shoot for Interview.
Sink also served as a sort of mountain ambassador for Warhol, joining on multiple trips to Aspen. The trips included skiing Panda Peak — where Warhol spotted baseball star Reggie Jackson — and shopping and party-hopping.
Sink was among the Warhol Aspen entourage who rang in 1983 at Jimmy Buffett’s “all country-western” New Year’s Eve party that included Jack Nicholson with Anjelica Huston, Barry Diller and Diana Ross.
But Sink’s memories include more modest evenings, like TV dinners and heated glazed donuts at Baby Jane Holzer’s place on Castle Creek Road or going out for Mexican at La Cocina.
On New Year’s Day 1983, the group went snowmobiling in the Maroon Creek Valley, with Warhol and boyfriend Jon Gould at one point crashing off a cliff (there were no major injuries).
“I thought Jon was trying to kill me,” Warhol wrote in his diary.
The incident is memorably documented in Sink’s photos of a giddily smiling Warhol digging out from the crash. (Sink is proud that so many of his photos show Warhol smiling and “unguarded.”)
“I had zoomed past Andy and Jon dragging my hand in the snow,” Sink wrote of the snowmobile incident. “This caused snow to cover Jon’s goggles; he lost control crashing off a cliff with Andy falling off the back.”
Warhol was often baffled by the mountain lifestyle Sink embodied. During one Aspen trip, Sink and a friend did an overnight ski mountaineering trip to East Maroon Pass. When they returned from the winter camping trip, Warhol insisted they were playing a joke on him.
“Andy just wouldn’t believe it,” Sink recalled. “He insisted, ‘You weren’t sleeping out there. It’s like zero degrees out there.’”
Some of the decadence of the Aspen trips rung empty, though: “Andy was kind of bored. I saw him as, like, a bored wealthy housewife looking for glamorous things to do.”
Young and brash and interested in his own path as an artist, Sink resisted the pull to give over his whole life to Warhol even after he went to New York.
“I didn’t want to be one of the hanger-on Factory kids,” Sink said.
He kept his independent photography practice and found success in photographing artwork and artists of the day (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Rene Ricard were among his subjects). He shot for Interview and Circus magazine and took on projects under Warhol. He wonders now how much more he might have learned had he gone full-bore at the Factory.
“If I could do it all again, I think I’d just go be a Factory kid,” he said. “I’d park there like, ‘Whatever you need, I’m here.’”
The more time he spent in Warhol’s orbit, the more depth he found in the man and artist.
“After a while I started to see the genius in Andy,” he said. “His brilliance in his art knowledge, in art history, the genius in the Factory and mass production and our new culture — so far ahead of our era of reality TV shows with Andy Warhol TV. Eventually it came over me, like, ‘Holy shit, this guy is really so far ahead of the curve on everything.’”
Settling back in Denver in the grim aftermath of Warhol’s death, Sink would become one of Denver’s most prominent portrait photographers and arts leaders. He co-founded the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in 1996, helped spearhead the RedLine Contemporary Art Center in 2008 and is now growing into an elder statesman of a booming Denver art scene.
If Warhol hadn’t gotten behind him, he’s unsure how his life might have gone.
“I learned from Andy to believe in myself,” Sink said. “He championed me. I was just this Denver, Metro State kid. To have those doors opened up was so important, it showed me it was a big world out there.”
TACAW celebrates its nascent success via its very first anniversary this weekend. This means hosting an all-day Saturday bash made up of live performances, cocktails and locally sourced fare.
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