From Factory to Studio: Ultra Violet and IX XI

by Rigina Gallagher

IXXI (Nine Eleven), 2001 by Ultra Violet; metal, 38"H x 38"W x 19"D

When stepping into Ultra Violet’s studio, one is confronted by the flashes of neon signs, and the glint of tinted mirrors seen against white, minimalist walls. Pieces are arranged in a magazine-like fantasy. Neon clouds flash sky blue and the Roman numerals IX XI glare in the color of fire engine red. Other IX XI’s, written in chalk on miniscule chalkboards, fabricated in wood, and sketched on paper, occupy almost every other inch of the studio’s walls.  A Campbell’s Soup can hangs, almost like a cross peering over the multifaceted array, from the upper molding.

Once a member of Warhol’s Factory, Violet is no stranger to the art world. Her experience as a factory “superstar” serves as the basis for her autobiography titled, “Famous for Fifteen Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol” from 1988. She was featured in several films and even collaborated with Warhol on some of his projects. But as time went on, the superstar gained refuge from her Factory past. In addition to writing an autobiography, Violet authored two plays: You Are What You Eat (1980) and Tabernacle of Clay. (1980)  She has returned to what always made her life meaningful, art. Indeed, a direct lineage to Pop Art can be found throughout Violet’s collection, but as one makes sense of this multi-media visual overload, a more poignant side of the work surfaces.

The center of her collection is a 3’-by-4’ magenta statue of the Roman numerals IX XI: nine eleven. “An artist is a sensitive person; more sensitive than most,” the artists told On-Verge. “That day, even though I did not lose anyone personally, I was affected. I could not accept that such evil was in the world, I needed to find a bright light amidst the darkness.” What resulted from her search were the IX XI numerals she uses in her statue as well as over seventy other works in the “IXXI” collection.

Violet writes that she decided on the numerals for primarily two reasons: “Picasso, who I tried to emulate, signed his name in numerals,” and “Roman numerals are used to mark date and time. IX XI is a most dignified, regal marking of time commemoration the event of September 11, 2001.”  It seems proper to say she has succeeded. For here, in the studio, her magenta statue stands solemn and stately among the cacophony of lights, marking the time more than taking a stance.

With its depth of feeling and gravity of message, Ultra Violet’s work finds a distinct division from that of the Warhol Factory. Unlike Warhol, whose works of Brillo pads, Campbell’s Soup cans, and other famous profiles who lacked emotional dimension, Ultra Violet believes her art is a medium to communicate with others: “People should be touched. People are meant to touch other people.”

As always, the assertion of one’s identity comes with opposition. Violet remarks, “Some people take offense to what I do, but it must be said.” One of the most controversial pieces is titled, “Ground Zero.” It is an interactive piece. On the plywood panels that emerge from the center point in the radius of an explosion, viewers will be able to write their questions about the events surrounding 9/11. It appears the jagged wood seems to not only mirror the explosion of the World Trade Center, but also the explosive nature of asking such questions.

Here in the studio, one cannot help but ruminate on the light. Perhaps the ferocious luminosity of her work is appropriate. Despite the looming shadow of Warhol, Ultra Violet has branched out with her own form of Pop Art that takes the genre to a new emotional level. Her subject is a topic that many artists might deem too risky to adopt. But in devoting her collection to commemorating 9/11, Ultra Violet recaptures the solidarity and the unity of the human spirit that permeated the air during such dark times. Now that the 10th Anniversary has just passed, maybe this is the light we choose to let shine amidst the darkness.

More information about Ultra Violet can be found on her website.

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