A Spotlite on Artist KAREN BYSTEDT

By Sarah Heikkinen

Fall 2014

The art of Andy Warhol has inspired artists around the world for decades. As one of the leading figures in the creation of pop art, Warhol remains one of the world”s most iconic artists. But who was the man? In her new photojournal, artist and photographer Karen Bystedt gives the world a new perspective on who the great Andy Warhol truly was. She shot him not as an artist but as a model. The photos were lost for 28 years, but have now been found–and Bystedt is now using her iconic images as inspiration for collaborations with a number of different artists. With her truly remarkable talent for capturing a person”s essence with her camera, Bystedt brings her audience along on the spiritual journey she went on to create these works of art.

Sarah Heikkinen: Your latest photo-journal is a compilation of intimate portraits you took of the great Andy Warhol, and it’s clear through the pictures that there was a special kind of trust between the two of you. How did that relationship lend to your ability to capture Warhol in such an intimate way? 

Karen Bystedt: I was very fortunate to have that time capsule with Andy Warhol. I was shooting the top male models for my book, Not Just Another Pretty Face, and Warhol immediately was impressed that I wanted to include him in that category with the top male models of that time who had all agreed to shoot with me. I wanted to shoot Warhol as a model and not as Warhol the artist, and that was clearly appealing to him so he stepped in the role with sheer glee carefully styling himself in Perry Ellis.

Perusing through GQ Magazine I happened to see a Barney’s Ad featuring Warhol and was inspired to approach him to be in my book. Warhol was represent by Zoli Modeling Agency at that time, which was one of the most prestigious model agencies for men in the 80s. It was not common knowledge but Warhol was very proud to be thought of in good company, literally.

Warhol was generally the voyeur and not generally comfortable in front of the camera, but for whatever reasons which I am grateful for he let down his guard and trusted me to capture a more authentic side to him. There was a trust and connection and he was comfortable being the subject with me. Somehow I do not think he saw himself as being famous but was obsessed with the celebrity and celebrated the famous in his work as the primary subject of inspiration. So as I reversed the roles, Warhol surrendered and connected to me. It is clear when you see my portraits, he is so present and I know he is shining down in silver still pleased that after having lost the negatives for 28 years, I am now sharing his beautiful model portraits with the world as well as doing murals and collaborations and making his image current.

SH: What about the elements of portraiture in photography interests you the most?

KB: There is a immediate intimacy where I am viewing the window into the soul of my subjects. The essence of their being speaks to me and I find myself lost in the moment and evoking the emotion within each moment/frame while I am shooting. I capture a small piece of not only who they are at that moment, but who they truly wish to become, which really encapsulates my other book, They Dared to Dream, with Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Sandra Bullock, and Robert Downey, Jr., just to name a few of the actors I photographed before they were famous.

SH: On your website, it says that you have “moved firmly into photographing celebrity movie stars, when they were young and unknown.” Why choose this specific group of people as your subject?

KB: Movies were my passion growing up. My idea was to find upcoming actors who I thought would have longevity and who were passionate about what they were doing. I chose actors who were different from each other and interviewed them as well about their goals, dreams, and spiritual beliefs. I loved the process in which I could potentially discover talent or be a part of launching a career which turned out to be the case as casting directors were referencing my books. One of my gifts is to see the beauty and potential in every soul. I was able to see the greatness in Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp which translated in my portraits of them and the other actors I photographed even before they became today’s biggest stars.

SH: Who were some of your favorite young celebrities to photograph?

KB: Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Sandra Bullock.

SH: Do you have a specific experience in your career as a photographer that has impacted you the most?

KB: It has been a spiritual journey since 2011 when I found 10 of my lost negatives of Andy Warhol 28 years after they were shot. I spent months restoring the photographs before presenting them to the world. I believe Andy’s spirit has been guiding me as I have set upon this journey of printing the limited edition photographs as well as collaborating with relevant artists of our time and creating the first Andy Warhol Mural in the heart of Hollywood. I celebrate that my Warhol portraits are now hanging in the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh as well as the Hearst Tower in NYC. I have raised money for charities, including amFAR, with Sharon Stone was the auctioneer, where my portrait of Andy brought in 65K. Andy is I’m sure also pleased that he is part of Prince Albert of Monaco”s private collection. My first live mixed media collaboration with Peter Tunney was an exciting discovery during Art Basel 2011 as Tunney and I then created a collection. Some of my other favorite collaborations are with artists such as Gregory Siff and Speedy Graphito as I continue to reinvent Andy through other artists interpretations and expressions.

One of my favorite projects is my goal to continue to bring Andy to the Streets, and I am so proud of my mural collaboration in LA with Nick Flatt and Cryptik on Fairfax and Beverly. It is like a ANDY REVOLUTION!

I have two more murals in productions with the artists Moncho and Never1959 as well as a show coming up at the Bruce Lurie Gallery in November titled Andy in the Street featuring LA street artists. I was also asked to design an Andy Modernica chair  which I collaborated with This Means MAR for the Soze Gallery to benefit The Art of Elisium.

SH: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring young artists today?

KB: Be passionate about what you do. Be yourself, express your own uniqueness, and listen to your inner voice. Not everyone will love you, and you will experience rejection, as I still do, but believe in yourself and follow your heart and passion and let that guide you and give you strength. Also, travel often and keep an open mind as different cultures and people will keep you in a mindset of understanding and discovery. Creativity is divine intervention and when we listen we can see the beauty and inspiration. Be yourself. Don’t imitate. Just create.

Karen Bystedt is a photographer and artist who rocked the contemporary art world with the USA introduction of “The Lost Warhols” at Photo LA, 2013.


Karen Bystedt’s Official Site

Written by Sarah Heikkinen

Photography Courtesy of Leight Photos & Karen Bystedt

Design by Mina Darius



Karen Bystedt next to Peter Tunney Skull collaboration at Gallerie Sparta at Sunset Plaza. Photography Courtesy of Leight Photos & Karen Bystedt.

Page 1

Andy Warhol Mural collab with artist: Moncho, from original photo by Karen Bystedt, on the Louis B. Mayer Historical Building, owned by Samir Srivastiva. Photography Courtesy of Karen Bystedt.

Page 2

Karen Bystedt modeling Oliver Peoples glasses in front of her Andy Warhol mural collab with Cryptik and Nick Flatt on Fairfax Ave in Los Angeles,CA. Photography Courtesy of Karen Bystedt.

Page 3

Warhols by Bystedt. Photography Courtesy of Karen Bystedt.

Page 4

Karen Bystedy in front of her Andy Warhol Mural at Fairfax Ave across from the Grove in LA collab Cryptik/Bystedt/Nick Flatt sponsored by Branded Arts. Photography Courtesy of Leight Photos & Karen Bystedt.

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