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A portrait of friendship

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The Powers Art Center sits on a hill above Highway 82 at mile marker 13, about a mile upvalley from the Highway 133 intersection. There, at the top of the winding dirt road, sits a jewel: a Colorado-red sandstone building, like a ruby, in a setting of sage, piñon, juniper and tall, slender grasses.

Inside the building is the latest Powers Art Center exhibition, “Warhol in Colorado, The Artist’s Relationship with John and Kimiko PowersPowers Art Center Director Melissa English is seen here shedding light on the history between Kimiko Powers, the subject in the portrait English is gesturing toward, and Andy Warhol. Photo by Paula Mayer. .” It includes works entirely from The John and Kimiko Powers Collection, now under the stewardship of the Ryobi Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded to promote the enduring vision of John and Kimiko Powers.

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The exhibit runs concurrently with the Aspen Art Museum’s “Andy Warhol: Lifetimes” exhibition, which opens on Dec. 3.

Illustration by Larry Day

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John and Kimiko Powers lived in New York City when they became avid art collectors, supporting up-and-coming artists and often forming close personal friendships with the artists. One such artist was relatively unknown at the time, Andy Warhol.

When they met Warhol, Bobbi Hapgood, John and Kimiko’s granddaughter and Ryobi Foundation CEO and President, said Warhol was working without an assistant. “He was not known, and they were quite impressed with his work,” Hapgood said, “and also impressed that he had no assistants.”

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In the 1960s, Warhol started painting commissioned portraits, which would later become his primary source of income in the 1970s. John commissioned Warhol to make a portrait of Kimiko. The original screen-print portrait, completed in 1972, would cement the bond of a lifetime friendship between the three of them.

“I think the reason it blossomed into a deeper friendship is that Andy had a very kind of black-and-white approach to individuals — either he really liked somebody, or he didn’t,” said Hapgood. “With my grandparents, it was a very genuine relationship back and forth because they weren’t trying to ever take advantage of him; they simply loved his art for the art that it was.”

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Their friendship, filled with dinners in New York City and visits to Warhol’s studio, The Factory, continued when John joined the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. He invited Warhol to participate in the Aspen Center for Contemporary Art artists-in-residence program, housed in the Brand Building in Aspen.

John and Kimiko, who moved to Aspen, would eventually purchase the 460-acre Martin family cattle ranch in Carbondale, where the Powers Art Center sits today.

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Hapgood relayed a story she first heard when her grandfather was president of Prentice Hall Publishing. “They were publishing a book about contemporary art, and [publisher Harry] Abrams gave my grandfather four pieces of art. My grandfather looked at it, and he was like, ‘What is this?’ he didn’t understand, so he put it away somewhere. Somehow the art found its way to the walls in Prentice Hall’s cafeteria. When he saw the paintings there, he was so embarrassed, thinking ‘nobody’s going to like this.’”

But what John found, as he walked through the cafeteria, was people talking about the art. Did they like it? Didn’t they like it? What did it mean? What was the reflection on society? He then realized, Hapgood said, that art had the ability to create conversation and experiences between people.

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“The art was something you were experiencing, and you were talking about it and trying to decipher what it meant to you, what it meant to other people, and how it reflected the world around us,” Hapgood shared.

That is when John, she said, “became fascinated with contemporary art and what it could do for society and people’s thought processes and connections. So that’s when he started getting into the world of contemporary art.”

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As John purchased contemporary art, Hapgood said, “it was never an investment. To him, it was a love and a desire to see the growth and development of art.”

Powers Art Center Director Melissa English said Warhol gave many paintings, some in the exhibit, to John and Kimiko as gifts. She said, “He would sign the back, and these were never available to the public to purchase; they were only gifts. That’s what this [exhibit] is all about — showing their relationship.”

In September 1981, when John was a Colorado State University (CSU) affiliate faculty member, he asked Warhol to participate in a forum titled “Warhol at Colorado State University.” Photographs of Warhol with CSU art students are a part of the exhibit.

Hapgood said, “Kimiko so frequently says Warhol was probably the most generous artist they were friends with. They had a close relationship, and he’d come and visit them in Colorado. It got so close that my grandparents gave him some land in Missouri Heights. It was just before his death, so he didn’t have time to build on it, unfortunately.”  Warhol’s estate sold the land after his death in 1987.

Warhol loved seeing and being seen with celebrities in Aspen. “He just kind of loved Kimiko, and she and Warhol had a very special relationship. And my grandfather also had a nice relationship, but it was much more of an intellectual understanding. When he would come out, my grandfather would be doing his work, and Kimiko and Warhol would go to Aspen. They’d have dinners or go out with the stars that were there at the time,” Hapgood said.

In a room emblazoned with a neon sign reading “15 Minutes of Fame,” the walls are graced with the iconic Warhol portrait series including “Marilyn,” a collage of ten screen-prints of Marilyn Monroe. There, guests can participate in an activity organized by Sonya Taylor Moore, Powers Art Center director of programs and outreach, by having a photograph taken with an instant Polaroid camera to create a personal Warhol-style portrait.

English said Warhol did 25 canvases, in different colors, of Kimiko dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono. Nine are in the Powers collection, “and the rest are out in the world,” she said.

Warhol’s relationship with John and Kimiko is at the exhibit’s core. It may be best exemplified by the two Warhol portraits of John and Kimiko that greet you when you enter the building.

English explained that only the portrait of John, who died in 1999, had been there until recently when Kimiko’s was added. Initially, she said, “Kimiko wanted the focus to be on John, dedicated to his memory. She wouldn’t allow her portrait to be installed. It took this long because she didn’t want any focus on herself.”

Kimiko’s portrait, now beside John’s, is another reason that this exhibit is poignant. “And we’re very excited about that,” shared English.

“Warhol in Colorado” runs from Nov. 30 through Apr. 30, 2022, at the Powers Art Center, 13110 Highway 82, Carbondale. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, visit: www.powersartcenter.org

Powers Art Center Director Melissa English is seen here shedding light on the history between Kimiko Powers, the subject in the portrait English is gesturing toward, and Andy Warhol. Photo by Paula Mayer.

Tags: #Andy Warhol #Bobbi Hapgood #Jeanne Souldern #John Powers #Kimiko Powers #Powers Art Center #The Artist’s Relationship with John and Kimiko Powers #Warhol in Colorado
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