This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
Andy Warhol’s hanger-ons were an eclectic bunch. The “superstar” title was given to many in his orbit, although usually the designation tied the person back to Warhol himself—rather than referring to their own personality. Of course, there are a few exceptions, including the artists in their own right, whose works hold an important place in art history beyond the Warhol association. Among these talents was Brigid Berlin, a photographer and painter who found herself after rejecting the upper class lifestyle she was born into.
Berlin was born in 1939. Her father, Richard E. Berlin, ran the Hearst Corporation, while her mother was a socialite. As such, she knew only a life of wealth and privilege, power and connections. Her parents were friendly with everyone from top politicians and celebrities to international royalty. But it was a lifestyle Berlin simply wasn’t suited to. Or, perhaps, one she could never find satisfying. She clashed with her parents about her weight struggles and the confines of high society. “My mother wanted me to be a slim respectable socialite,” she has been quoted saying. “Instead I became an overweight troublemaker.”
After a quick marriage at 21, and a stint at a rehab facility in Mexico for weight loss, Berlin returned to New York and moved into the famed Chelsea Hotel. In 1964 she was introduced to Warhol, and the pair quickly became close. Berlin became one of his “superstars,” taking on the name “Brigid Polk,” in reference to her habit of injecting amphetamines.
Though Berlin appeared in several of Warhol’s films, including Chelsea Girls, the duo’s friendship extended much deeper than other superstars. For one, there was an intense level of trust between them, likely because Berlin was honest with Warhol.
“I didn’t have Andy on any pedestal,” she once said. “You know how people talk about his mystique? There was no mystique!… It wasn’t difficult for me to yell at him that his Eddie Bauer jacket was filthy and ask him how he could go out looking like that, with 400 magic markers sticking out of his pocket and ink all seeping through.”
More importantly, the pair shared the joy of taking Polaroids and recording conversations— pastimes that would be instrumental not only to Warhol’s artistic output, but to Berlin’s as well. She was an avid photographer, often using double exposure in her images, bringing new depths to a camera that had previously been associated with simply pointing and shooting. Her need to document turned into collages with her “trip books,” which mixed her photos with drawings and clippings.
While her photography gets the most attention, Berlin’s biggest accomplishment as an artist is arguably her “Tit” paintings, through which she expressed a positive experience with her body. Made by her dipping her breasts in paint and putting them to canvas, Berlin made herself an instrument of art. She even performed these painting sessions live, making them as much about performance as they were about visual art. For someone who was criticized for, and struggled with, her weight since childhood, art and creative expression allowed for control, and freedom.
Berlin, who is 79 years old, now seems to reject who she once was—expressing embarrassment over her appearance in Chelsea Girls as well as regret for how rebellious she was towards her parents—her artistry continues to find success. By the mid ’90s she was still creating her “Tit” paintings, and in 2015 her Polaroids were comprised into a book. No matter how one looks at it, the world of her parents would have crushed Berlin’s spirit. It’s no wonder she rebelled so hard as a child. Somehow, in some way, she would have broke free to find a social circle that was more her speed.END
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