Nick Cernovich

Nick Cernovich

SCENE
Theater
CONNECTIONS
Judson
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Nick Cernovich was part of the Black Mountain College group that also included John Cage (dozens of experimental artists passed through that influential North Carolina school); he did the lighting design for many Judson shows, and was a mentor to Factory custodian Billy Name.

 

Billy Name on the Scene

Location

Through these social scenes, Playwright Robert Heide got to know some Andy Warhol associates, like Billy Name (born William Linich). “I immediately was attracted to Billy,” Heide said. “He had a terrific aura, and was very good-looking, wearing tight black dungarees and a white shirt. So we carried on.” Billy ended up living at Warhol’s Factory studio, working as its unofficial custodian when it opened in 1964 until the end of the decade. Before meeting Warhol, he was already embedded in a variety of downtown scenes: experimental dance, Off-Off-Broadway, and the subterranean world of the Mole People, a group of gay speed fiends also known as A-heads (A as in amphetamine). Name learned lighting design in underground theater and apprenticed under Nick Cernovich, who was part of the Black Mountain College group that also included John Cage (dozens of experimental artists passed through that influential North Carolina school). Billy lit shows at Judson Church and the Living Theatre, as well as the New York Poets Theatre, and his Lower East Side apartment was filled with shiny aluminum foil and other metallic surfaces that he carefully lit to create a degenerate space-age look. The interior of his apartment can be seen in Warhol’s 1963 silent film series, Haircut, which features Billy giving poet John Daley a haircut as James Waring and Freddie Herko watched. “Andy didn’t just see a guy’s place and think, ‘That’s really cool—he’s got foil all over the place,’ ” Name recalled. “He saw that I had done an installation.” Warhol asked his new employee to decorate the studio, and during the first three months of 1964 Name transformed a rather dour workspace into the embodiment of a “living art form” by covering its walls and ceiling in foil, bits of broken glass, and silver Krylon spray paint.

From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Downtown Zen

Location

Billy Name’s mentor Nick Cernovich worked at the time in a Zen bookstore, another big influence. Buddhism was all the rage among downtown artists such as Ray Johnson, and Warhol surely absorbed Zen’s penchant for repetition in his own silkscreen prints. “You can’t really understand Andy Warhol or any of these people—John Cage or any of them—without understanding Zen,” said Bibbe Hansen. “All these people who were interconnected were going to Zen classes, and even people who weren’t regularly practicing, like my dad, Al Hansen, would drop in once in a while.” Zen practices informed John Cage’s Untitled Event, a proto-Happening produced in the summer of 1952 at Black Mountain College. Standing on a stepladder and wearing a suit and tie, Cage read passages on “the relation of music to Zen Buddhism” as David Tudor played a “treated” piano and Merce Cunningham danced through the aisles. The space was also decorated with Robert Rauschenberg’s provocative White Paintings (in a Zen-like gesture, the canvases were completely painted white). “Rather than being predetermined,” art historian Judith F. Rodenbeck wrote, “the interactions of any given set of actions with any other was the result of aleatory juxtaposition of performances as perceived by an audience at a particular moment, creating a temporal collision. Thus anything that happened, according to Cage, ‘happened in the observer himself.’” By the late 1950s, Cage and his partner Cunningham would incorporate these strategies while working in their studio in the Living Theatre building.

From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore