ULTRA VIOLET: ULTRA CREATIVE

By Paul Freeman [October 2011 Interview]

The Ď60s - ultra cool, ultra creative, ultra exciting, ultra revolutionary, Ultra Violet.

As a high-profile participant in Andy Warholís Factory, artist/writer/actress Ultra Violet stood at the hub of that eraís creative energy.

Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne, in France, she was a convent-educated heiress. In the Ď50s, as a teen, she moved to New York City. She became Salvador Daliís companion for five years, before connecting with Warhol.

She appeared in Warhol films, such as ďI, A Man,Ē as well as John Schlesingerís ďMidnight Cowboy,Ē Norman Mailerís ďMaid StoneĒ and Milos Formanís ďTaking Off.Ē

Ultra Violet is herself a wondrously imaginative visual artist whose mixed-media works have been exhibited around the globe.

Ultra Violetís autobiography, ďFamous for 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol,Ē has been published in 17 languages.

She was chosen to be among the illustrious participants in the new Legacy Recordings package, ď15 Minutes: Homage to Andy Warhol.Ē Eighteen of Warholís friends, colleagues and disciples were invited by conceptualist Jeff Gordon and painter Path Soong to contribute both visual and audio components. The lineup includes Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Connie Beckley, Billy Name and Lawrence Weiner.

The standard package, limited to 1,964 copies, retailing for $600, contains four vinyl records, three CDs, and 16 12Ēx12Ē color offset lithographs. A deluxe version, limited to only 85 copies worldwide, retailing for $20,000, includes 16 12Ēx12Ē prints which have been numbered, signed or stamped by the artists and silkscreened by Warholís master silkscreener, Alexander Heinrici. For ordering details, visit www.fifteenminutesonline.com.

Ultra Violet, who is represented by a recording of her mesmerizing chant ďLightĒ and one of her riveting 9/11-themed visual pieces, generously took time to speak with Pop Culture Classics.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
This is such an impressive package, Ď15 Minutes: Homage to Warhol.í What was your reaction when you saw the result?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Iím happy. Iím happy to be among such dignitaries. I mean, Bob Dylan is a big name. And Patti Smith. And many others. I used to be underground. So I feel that maybe, Iím above ground now. [laugh]

PCC:
Tell us about ĎLight,í the song.

ULTRA VIOLET:
They had sent me the demo and, at the very end, in the demo, with my voice, I do a fadeout. And the copy they have sent me, they did a fadeout technically, with their machine. And I was sad, because I think that my vocal fadeout was just extraordinary [a little laugh]. But anyway, Iím very happy. They said there was some noise and some scratches.

PCC:
And your visual contribution?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I have done a lot of work based on 9/11. Currently I am in three shows about 9/11. And my sculpture is going to be at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, when it opens, which is going to be one year from now. And weíre doing a catalogue about my 9/11 work. I have a show with 23 works. So itís one of my preoccupations, 9/11. So I was very happy that [Jeff] Gordon liked it. I think that, on 9/11, he was in Manhattan and living in a loft downtown. So I think he was very much affected. So Iím very happy about the visuals.

PCC:
Being able to do projects related to 9/11, has that enabled you to come to terms with the tragedy?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I have written a statement about my feelings about 9/11, actually do a performance about 9/11, when I read my feeling, which is like a poem, and I usually cry under an umbrella that someone gave me, which has the World Trade Center on it. And then Iíve written another page about terrorism. And another page about Roman numerals. I was recently at an art fair and I realized that only about 30 percent of the Americans can read Roman numerals. The majority cannot read it. Had no idea what it was.

So, anyway, Iíve written a lot about 9/11. And when I give a talk, I say, ĎIím American. Iím a New Yorker. And Iím an artist. And those three elements, on 9//11, I had to do something. I had to respond my way.í And the question was how, because itís a very delicate subject. And you donít want to offend the victims. You donít want to offend the families. You donít want to offend the community. And I think that I have achieved, at least with this work here, the project, to do a non-political piece that nobody can object to.

This being said, I have, in my studio, many other works, for instance, the tower in flame, with people falling from the tower. And people get very upset, when they see that. So I canít show it.

PCC:
But for you, that creative process, can that be cathartic, when dealing with such a traumatic time?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, yes. But itís not the only way I have dealt with it. At first, I volunteered with the Salvation Army. It was very painful. I couldnít do it for too long.

But as an artist, I like to take subject that matter, subjects that have meaning, subjects that Iím dealing with, life and death and emotion. Being an artist, Iím sensitive. And I cry when people cry. And I rejoice when people rejoice. So I had to do something about 9/11.

PCC:
The song, the chant, was recorded a long time ago. What was the situation?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I used to be signed to Capitol Records. I used to write music. I have had many careers. And itís a chant I recorded, probably in 1973. And when time came to work with Jeff and he wanted some sound. We tried some different things, other things I had written, different music. But nothing worked. But I luckily remembered that I have that recording that I really liked. And I think that Jeff liked it, too. And, actually, it is quite classical. And I think he is going to promote it on the classical radio, which would please me a lot.

PCC:
Did you do much in the way of recording years ago?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I did an album for Capitol Records. And it was actually quite a tragedy. It was done, produced, printed. And it was at a time when vinyl became short. I think there was a war in the Gulf or whatever. And a lot of albums never saw release, though they had printed some. Artists like The Beatles or whatever were released, of course, naturally. But mine never saw the light of the commercial market. And actually, I have a lot of tapes, in different formats. I have a big archive of six-track, 12-track, 24-track, and I would love to find someone, an institution, a university, whatever, that have the means to transfer all of those to digital. And see what could be remastered.

And again, in those days with Warhol, we had the mania of recording everything. So I recorded many conversations with Andy Warhol, many conversations with Salvador Dali and so forth. So there might be some things of interest there, I hope.

PCC:
Pieces of history.

ULTRA VIOLET:
I hope someone realizes that. It would be costly to transfer those things.

PCC:
How did you meet Andy Warhol and what were your first impressions?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, well, thatís quite a story. I came from France in 1955, on a ship. And the first person I met, when I came off the boat was Salvador Dali. Quite extraordinary. I didnít know much about surrealism. And I realized I was born surrealist, though my parents never understood and they had me exorcised and they put me in a correction home, blah, blah, blah.

One day, Dali introduced me to Warhol and it was about 1963. Of course, I was instantly hypnotized by Warhol.

PCC:
What was it about Dali that fascinated you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, well, Dali was a genius, genius, genius. So was Warhol. Dali was just so extraordinary. So funny. So much culture. So much talent. All his paintings are masterpieces. He knew the whole world and the whole world knew him. He was the most celebrated artist in those years.

And Warhol actually wanted that seat, wanted that position... and eventually got it. And copied a lot from Dali. There are formulas to fame. And so eventually I spent more time with Warhol than I did with Dali. And I was in the U.S., not for surrealism Spaniard, but more for the American wave.

My book is about, I suppose, the cultural revolution of the Ď60s, the life of Warhol and my life. And someone, by the way, just wrote an opera, based on my book, my life, titled, ĎFamous.í Itís completed, but now it has to be put on. And thatís an expensive proposition. But I hope that the day will come when that is produced.

PCC:
Dali, it seemed like he was as imaginative in the presentation of his life as he was in his art. That extravagant behavior, was that calculated? Or was it just his nature?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, well, I think every genius is not an ordinary person. Doesnít dress like other people. Doesnít think like other people. So what you might consider as extravagance, to them is just simply natural. When you become famous, maybe it becomes a game and you want to be more famous. But their behavior is natural for them.

I also met Picasso and I was very impressed. Picasso was naturally a ball of fire. You canít create that. You are. Youíre either born a genius or not. You canít create a genius. Of course, you can have bulk of work and work at your talent. But genius has to come naturally.

PCC:
Getting to know these great artists, how much did they influence your own art or your approach to art?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I just gave a lecture at New York University, Paris, about my influences in art. So I have a parallel with my work and Daliís work. Then I have a parallel with my work and Warholís work. And then my last influence is God. I have quotes from the scripture and how they relate to my work. I can see in my work all of these influences.

PCC:
With Dali, did you view yourself as his muse? Or was that just an outside perception?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I never did. But thatís what people in the press said. I spent a lot of time with him and I used to travel with him in the fall in Paris, in the winter in New York, in the spring back to Paris and then in the summer, in Spain. We traveled together for quite a few years. We had a fascination for each other. Whether I was his muse or not, I donít know. Maybe. But those geniuses have more than one muse, I think.

PCC:
And the colorful personality, do you think that impacted the way people viewed these artistsí work? Or were they able to separate the two?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Itís hard to say. Even with Warhol, why is he so famous? Why is he worth so much? Why is he part of mythology now? I think itís his work, no doubt. But also itís his persona. I think the two are very much connected.

PCC:
What made Warhol such a compelling personality?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, he had magic. In my book, I say, he was an ultra-terrestrial. He was not a human being. I also compare him, in my book, to those black holes in space, where everything goes right through. He was like a gigantic magnet. He was a gigantic mirror for our culture. He had such an awareness of the time. And he depicted the time so accurately, like a historian. He represented pages of American history. And so, all of this is power.

Some people have power, some donít. Someone enters a room and you know that that person has power, even though you might not know their name, you might not know what they do. That was the case with Warhol and with Dali. You could not escape being hypnotized by their presence. Of course, eventually, they work at it. They polish it. Itís an art. But itís a very authentic art. Itís the art of being.

PCC:
Yes, do you view life as a work of art in itself?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, I would like my whole life to be a work of art. I donít know that it really is [laughs]. Iím a survivor. I clinically died in Ď73. And then I have cancer. I refused chemo and radiation. And they told me I would be dead in six months. And this was in 2007. So Iím a survivor. So is that art? Maybe. The art of living. The art of persistence.

PCC:
What happened in Ď73?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I clinically died. I brushed in it in my book, not much. It was from all the excess from the Ď60s. And we used to go to that dentist, Dr. Warren, the criminal, who eventually went to jail. He used to give us, and I did not know, he said it was vitamin injections. And apparently they were amphetamine injections. So in 1968, we had never slept, we had such energy. But one day comes the day of reckoning. And thatís the day that I clinically died and came back. Itís very dramatic [laughs].

PCC:
After that, did it seem like every opportunity to create new work was kind of a bonus?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Every minute. Appreciating every minute, every person you meet. Because weíre all precious. And weíre all one. And you never know if this is the last hour or not. We donít know. Again, in my studio, I have some work dealing with 9/11. But also dealing with nuclear terrorism. And I believe that thatís whatís coming next, unfortunately. Every day, everybody will have access to nuclear. And of course, itís going to be used, whether itís an accident or intentionally. And so you just have to cherish what remains. Cherish the goodwill of people around the world, for who they are, and so forth.

PCC:
So you do remain positive?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, and how. Otherwise, youíre dead.

PCC:
With Warhol, I had read a number of different stories about the name change whether it came from you or him?

ULTRA VIOLET:
You mean my name?

PCC:
Yes.

ULTRA VIOLET:
Because, you know, his name was Warhola, and he removed the Ďa.í Well, he told me I had to change my name. My birthname was Isabelle Collin Dufresne. So forget it.

PCC:
Thatís a beautiful name.

ULTRA VIOLET:
Yeah, well, in America, can you spell it? Can you remember it? So he said, ĎWe have to change your name. We have to call you Polly Esther.í I said, ĎAbsolutely not.í And then he said, ĎWe have to call you Notre Dame.í I did not like that.

I was reading an article in ĎScientific America,í my favorite magazine then, an article on light, and I saw that name Ultra Violet. And I thought that was quite extraordinary. First name, last name, the color. Ultra in Latin means Ďbeyond.í And Ultra Violet has the five vowels of the alphabet. Probably the only name which has that.

The interesting thing is, today, my work is actually very much about light. My medium is light. In my studio, I have many, many light pieces. I even have some neon 9/11 work and so forth. So I took that name and it fits me pretty well.

PCC:
What is the great fascination with light?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, without light, you would not be here. You would not talk to me. You would not be alive. You have light inside your body. Without light, there would not be a universe. There would not be any plants. There would not be any food. We would not even have an eye. The eye is a function of the light. I have a lot of recordings about light. I recorded a lot of phrases dealing with light, which I took from the scripture.

So light is it. Let there be light - that was the big bang. Light! Light!

PCC:
Working with Warhol the films, was that a natural progression for you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, we were young, first of all. This was the beginning of the nuclear era. And we thought there was only 15 minutes more to live. And we were very hedonistic. But we were having a good time. Just having a good time.

PCC:
So that was the core of that New York scene of that time, the hedonistic, live-in-the-moment attitude?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Exactly.

PCC:
Did you feel like that was a special, temporary moment?

ULTRA VIOLET:
No, I felt like life was always like this. I had no idea. I didnít know about history. I thought life was always like that. And, of course, it was not always like that [laughs].

PCC:
What about the ambiance of The Factory itself?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, it was fun. We worked together. And we were all comrades. It was such a new thing, making a film every day and, at night, watching it on a sheet, spread between two columns. And going to every single party and then being photographed. You know, it was unheard of.

PCC:
The Pop Art movement, how revolutionary did that seem at the time?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, I guess so. I was used to abstraction and abstract expressionism. So this was exciting. But I knew Marcel Duchamp [French artist associated with Dadaist and Surrealist movements]. And Duchamp is very much responsible for this object, ready-made, manufactured, post-industrial. So always in art, you have action and reaction. And it was natural that it would come. So it didnít take me by surprise.

And actually, when I met Warhol, I bought many Warhol paintings immediately, for a few dollars. So I knew his work was good. Other people could have bought it, but they did not see the merit of it.

PCC:
What were the elements of his work that connected with you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, I think the scale of it. The American scale. And the subject matter, like the first man that walked on the moon. I mean, thatís the crowning of the American dream. The fame. The glamor. The dollar sign. Itís pages of life in the Ď60s. Itís a post-industrial era with prosperity. I donít know that itís terribly profound [laughs]. But it was very, very seductive, you might say.

PCC:
But he does remain iconic. What do you think his greatest legacy is, in terms of the art he created?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Everything is becoming iconic, even the early, early work, which is really not iconic. But his most iconic work is, of course, the Marilyn Monroe, because she was the icon of icons. So this is the most precious of his work. But actually, I like very much his disaster series, because he represented the American dream and the disasters. The yin and the yang, which is good. Pages of American history, which is not all happy and bright and consumerism. There is another side.

PCC:
What do you think people might be surprised to learn about him, that might veer from the image?

ULTRA VIOLET:
They donít know. I meet kids all the time and they say, ĎAh, you knew Warhol!í So I say, ĎYeah, tell me about Warhol.í They canít align two words. I say, ĎWhy is he good?í They canít say why. And then they say ĎOh, he has good color.í Well, Matisse has good color, too. They donít really comprehend the importance of his work.

PCC:
What about some of your other film work? What do you recall about the ĎMidnight Cowboyí experience?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Thatís was nice. We thought we were going to be above ground [laughs]. We worked for two weeks, but then, in the film we are there for only, maybe three minutes.

PCC:
What about ĎMaid Stoneí? Working for Norman Mailer, was that challenging?

ULTRA VIOLET:
That was quite extraordinary, actually. That was with Rip Torn. We were improvising, which we were very good at doing. And I enjoyed all this. This is history.

PCC:
You liked the spontaneity?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Yeah. I never had any formal training of any kind, even in art.

PCC:
Do you think thereís an advantage in that, in terms of not following rules?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, you know, that was me. I refused to study in school. I was thrown into a correction home. I was born a rebellious child. Iím not rebellious today. Extreme right today. But then I was rebellious. And I did it my way. And I donít know how successful my way is. But it was my way.

PCC:
And ĎUnmarried Woman,í working with Paul Mazursky?

ULTRA VIOLET:
That was fun, too. I mean, those are very small little roles. Actually, an interesting movie was ĎTaking Off.í That was the first movie that Milos Forman did in the United States. He barely spoke English. And he was very worried that it would not make it.

It was fun to work with all those people, but I wish I had better roles. My book, I would like someone to do a movie of my book, because it deserves a movie. Maybe that day will come.

PCC:
You mentioned the rebelliousness, do you think that's a key for artists?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, it was for me. I would say so, because, even if you look at Dali, he was expelled from the art academy. I think Picasso, the same. We just donít conform. We do things differently. And so, I think, yes, it might be. We have a unique vision of the world, which is not the ready-made vision that other people have.

PCC:
How profoundly were affected by your strict religious upbringing and the Catholic schooling?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, I went away, no doubt. I donít believe that Catholicism is the true or best Christian religion. In this country, there are about 30,000 different Christian denominations. And the question is, which one is the truest one? Religion should be based on truth. And I think that, among other things, the Protestants are far closer to the truth than all the gold and glitter and gold chalices or whatever of the Catholic Church, and all the ornaments and the costumes. Itís a joke. So I was right to rebel.

PCC:
Now, you mention God is a primary influence...

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, yeah, because God is. Iím studying the scripture,. I go to the base, the source. And I think thereís great knowledge and truth in it. The scriptures are books of history and prophecies and poetry. Theyíre just extraordinary. And if you study them and know them, itís a compass for humanity. You wonít be lost. Thereís a scripture, ĎBe ye prepared and you shall not fear.í And right now, we live in the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse, which has some pretty bad news, but also some great news. So all is well.

PCC:
Are you adhering to a particular denomination now?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

PCC:
And that seems like home to you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I really like it. They teach the word. And you can feel, in that church, love. And learn it. Those people are happy. You know, they say, ĎYou shall judge them by their fruit.í When you see people that are happy, that are beaming, that are healthy, that have healthy habits and so forth, I want to be part of that group.

PCC:
Finding that and being part of that group, does that have an affect on your art?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, it does. Thatís what I was saying to you earlier, that my last influence in art is God.

PCC:
Do you find that having more life experience, as you go on, widens the palette and you have more to draw from artistically?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I suppose. But again, being an artist, every morning I ask myself, ĎWhat shall I do? This is 2011. Soon 2012. What shall I do?í I am doing, no doubt. But maybe I could be doing something else. And I think, in the Ď60s, it was much easier to decide. America became the uncontested leader of the world and so forth. Today, you have the web. You have an explosion of information, true of false. And, by the way, information should not be confused with truth. Itís two different things. Sometimes they donít meet.

We are bombarded with this information and itís showering over you. And the question is, what to do with this? What to choose? What subject? What matters most?

I like very much Joseph Beuys, [20th Century German conceptual artist] this idea of not object, but more emotion, more humanity involved, concern, the globalness of people, from one to another. Yeah, emotions and feelings matter a lot. But itís hard, because how do you translate this in visual art? Itís not easy.

PCC:
In the process of creating the visual art, do you think only about pleasing yourself or of getting the expression out and affecting the observer?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, I donít make art for me. I really make art for others. I make art for interaction. I donít really think of it. But I do want to communicate something. I want a dialogue. I donít want a monologue. I donít know what would please them. But I want an exchange, a dialogue.

PCC:
You like taking elements of pop culture and twisting them, turning them, finding new angles?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I guess, in my work, you might say that. Iím not abstract. So am I Pop? I donít know. Is the 9/11 Pop? Well, yes and no. Itís a palindrome. Itís Roman numerals. I guess. If you had to put me in a school, I guess you would say Iím post-Pop.

PCC:
The world of art, did that hold an allure for you from early childhood? When did you become fascinated?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I claim that I started to draw in my motherís womb. I had a very sensitive eye as a child. As a child, I collected little things. And eventually I collected people who were unknown and became known. So I have an eye.

PCC:
Coming to New York as a teenager, was that to broaden your knowledge?

ULTRA VIOLET:
No doubt. It was an eye-opening. You know, I was born in France, in a provincial place, not in Paris, which would have been better. Yeah, naturally. And I love New York, for its openness. And whatever it offers.

PCC:
But to leave home at such an early age, was that frightening or just exciting?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Oh, no. Very exciting. I wanted to be free. I wanted the new world. I wanted the world of the brave. No, no I wanted it.

PCC:
Is life still an adventure for you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Yeah, I suppose [laughs].

PCC:
Whatís next? Whatís on the horizon for you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Iím having a show, on my 9/11 work, in Moscow, actually. And then another show in Ukraine. And then Iím going to the Palm Beach Art Fair. And Miami Basel. So Iím working for all of this. I already have work. But, you know, thereís more to do.

PCC:
Whatís the key to keeping the creativity alive and fertile for you?

ULTRA VIOLET:
Well, what else shall I do? Iím not going to sell salami in a store.

PCC:
But you seem to always find the inspiration. Is that difficult?

ULTRA VIOLET:
I donít thinks so. It comes. Zoom! Zap! It comes. No, whatís missing is the time, maybe, to do it all.

Explore Ultra Violetís intriguing artistry at www.ultravioletweb.com.