Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne on September 6th 1935, but later but rechristened by Andy Warhol, Ultra Violet passed away Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was brought up in a strictly religious upper-middle-class family, but she rebelled at an early age, and was supposedly exorcised at the insistence of her parents. Isabelle studied art in France and then ran to New York to live with her older sister.
After meeting Salvador Dali in the early 1950s she became his assistant, pupil and muse. Ten years later Dali introduced Isabelle to Andy Warhol and things would never the same.
When she was asked once for a short autobiography, she wrote this:
1935 - I was born a mystical child.
1940 - I was raised in France at the Sacred Heart Catholic convent where I became rebellious.
1950 - I was exorcised at age 15.
1951 - I was sent to a correction home at the age of 16.
1968 - I burned my bra as a sign of rebellion.
1972 - I questioned the masculinity imbued in religion and scriptures.
1998 - I had absorbed and accepted the gender differences.
Present - I believe Jesus Christ to be the Messiah and the Savior of the world.
At Warhol’s suggestion she changed her name to Ultra Violet as her hair was violet colored much of the time. Ultra Violet was one of Andy’s early Superstars and appeared in several of his underground films including I, a Man, The Life of Juanita Castro and Fuck aka ****. She was also in quite a few really good, weird, but more “above ground” exploitation or B films including The Telephone Book, Midnight Cowboy, Simon, King of the Witches, The Phynx, Cleopatra, Savages and Curse of the Headless Horseman.
Amazingly, you can watch The Life of Juanita Castro in its entirety via YouTube:
Ultra Violet narrated a very controversial “lost” film called Hot Parts, a compilation of hardcore porn scenes from vintage smokers and loops dating as far back as the turn of the century. It even had a soundtrack album released available here. The film was allowed to play as the police rushed in and busted it at its initial showing at the First Annual New York Erotic Film Festival. Still being talked about three years after the incident, this is from an article in Man to Man magazine from 1974:
Not too long after this, Ultra Violet made an LP for Capital Records. It was not promoted and had little to no publicity. Every known copy has a cut out hole, meaning it went directly to sale record bins, and usually sold for 99 cents. Today it sells on eBay for up to $5,200! Some tracks are actually pretty good. Ultra Violet really sounds like her friend Yoko Ono on this track, “Cool Mac Daddy.” The entire album is available on iTunes.
In 1973, a near-death experience launched Ultra Violet on a spiritual quest, culminating in her baptism in 1981, bringing her full circle back to her upbringing. From 1981 until her death, she was a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Oddly enough one year before this Ultra Violet did her own version of The Last Supper.
“The Last Supper,” a performance and film—a re-enactment of the Last Supper—was conceived for the Kitchen by Ultra Violet in 1972 and performed by New York-based female artists. Recently it was shown at a Miami Beach Cinematheque screening for Art Basel in 2007 and is included in the collection of Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Ultra Violet never showed her work until much later in life when she devoted herself to her art and mounted celebrated shows the world over. She was also the author of the books, Famous for 15 minutes, Ultra Violet: Andy Warhol, Superstar and Ultra Violet: L’Ultratique. Her first book, Famous for 15 Minutes was made into an opera called Famous! with music by David Conte and a libretto by John Stirling Walker. That is something I’d really like to see. There’s a website with some video here.
Here’s a pretty in depth interview with Ultra Violet: