Steven Watson’s book “ Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties” proves to be another brilliant attempt of the scholar to create a cultural map of America’s 20th century pop culture. In this book, Watson presents the art culture of the 1960s – not just through a biography of an artist or a description of some prominent films or TV shows during that time.
Rather, Watson describes the 1960s art by examining a collection of intermingled lives comprising the “ Silver Factory” and its lead character – Andy Warhol. Although there have been many attempts to extensively illustrate the life of the late great Warhol, Watson’s remains to be distinct. Although written more than a decade after the controversial artist’s death, Watson gave a new light on Warhol’s character. He ‘ humanized’ the creative figure that was often just described in terms of old film strips and photographs.
To some readers, he also probably made them realize that Warhol is more than a painter (since Warhol’s paintings is what makes him popular these days). Unlike usual biographies, Watson explored Warhol not through his work but through his relationships with the people that he worked with. He does this by exploring the lives of the people which Warhol provided with ‘ fifteen minutes of fame’. His historical presentation of Warhol’s life was masked with drama and that made the piece engaging and exciting to read.
With this in mind, it seemed that Watson’s main purpose of delivering Warhol’s story was to describe a life in an entertaining manner – to ensure that Andy was seen as flesh and blood – someone who had emotions, goals, and dreams. In the first chapter of the book, readers get a glimpse of what kind of artist Warhol is through the kind of people that he brings together in his block. In Room 231, fourth floor of an industrial loft, Andy attracts an overly diverse host of would-be superstars – art dealers, fashion models, prostitutes, speed freaks, transvestites, poets, singers, actors, and actresses. In the first few parts of the novel, Watson weaves together stories of these people that will soon have intermingled lives in New York – Candy Darling, Billy Name, Alan Reed, Brigid Berlin, Gerard Malanga, and more.
These characters may or may not have the makings of a celebrity but one thing is for sure – they have eccentric and perverse characteristics. Much to everyone’s surprise however, they will enjoy instant but brief star-like popularity, thanks to Andy. The book’s organization is strategic and psychologically engaging. After snapshots of the childhood adventures of the stars of the Silver Factory, Watson explores each of their brief moments of fame in relation to Warhol’s perspectives of creativity. The author’s attempt to draw a backdrop of the lives of the Factory stars allows readers to be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of what could be their favorite characters in a TV soap opera. As one reads further, it is not surprising to develop an inclination to see Warhol’s life in the eyes of his ‘ children’.
The background details in the book include a star’s delicate transformations – emotional, sexual, and social, among other factors. As the stars transformed and fame spins and transfers from one star to another, one thing remains – that Warhol created and maintained a world where the road to stardom had no boundaries. Following the Factory-star lens, readers may hate or admire Warhol. On the whole, disgust may stem from Andy’s distant passivity while his open-mindedness to a multitude of art forms may harbor respect and appreciation. As demonstrated through the diverse Factory populace, Warhol knows that anybody can be famous regardless of their sexual orientation, race, and physical limitations. He welcomed almost anyone who has committed himself to the American dream of eminence.
As such, it seemed like Warhol played the tolerant father of those who are deluded by his same need – to rise to fame. In his loft, nothing is forbidden, stars can be anything they wanted to be and there were no rules. Why? Because he knew that there was a market for the peculiar and the wicked, and he thrives on it. Watson showed that Warhol’s creativity and imagination was to a great extent – a product of his ability to accommodate diversity and peculiarity. He was insanely passive to every odd artistic inclination that he always seemed emotionally isolated from the people he managed. Just like any good drama-oriented piece of work, Watson presented a climax to the story.
He narrated a dreadful day in Warhol’s life that inevitably compelled him to later change his views on art and fame – June 3, 1968, the day he clinically died for six minutes after he was shot by the deranged feminist, Valerie Salonas. To end the story, the book also included a section that discussed the aftermath of the heady days of the Factory, still with particular focus on the individuals which comprised Warhol’s rise to celebrity-hood. Works Cited: Steven Watson, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (Pantheon, 2003), 512 pages.