Behind the Scenes with New York's Greatest Artists

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Andy Warhol on the bed of his home in New York
Andy Warhol on the bed of his home in New York, 1971Photography by Gianfranco Gorgoni, courtesy of ContiniArtUK

As an exhibition of his extraordinary artist portraits arrives in London, Gianfranco Gorgoni reveals the stories behind his best shots

Andy Warhol reclines like a 1970s Titian on a satin adorned bed; a furtive and bespectacled Keith Haring clambers up a wire fence like an escaping prisoner; a wisely wrinkled Georgia O'Keeffe gazes straight into the camera with a direct stare. These are just a number of the extraordinary portraits to have been captured by Roman photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni over the course of his five decade career.

After discovering his love of photography, during a trip to London in 1965, Gorgoni began to dream of America and the exciting photo opportunities it promised. He finally made his way to New York on a freighter ship in 1968, in exchange for a photo essay of life on board, and soon struck up a fruitful partnership with Italian magazine L'Espresso. The publication commissioned him to create a story on the thriving New York City art scene, and by forging a close working relationship with renowned art dealer Leo Castelli, he soon found himself in the midst of the era's most influental artists.

The resulting portraits remain as captivating today as they were at the time – offering a thrilling insight into the lives and minds of the twentieth century's most intriguing figures, who somehow seem so perfectly natural under Gorgoni's gaze. Here, as an exhibition of some of his finest works arrives in London, we discover the stories behind our five favourite images. 

Andy Warhol
“This image was taken at Warhol’s house. I remember that during my visit he caught on tape all I was saying – he wouldn’t miss any chance to create.”

Georgia O’Keeffe
“Georgia was a really pioneering woman – she left a rich husband and went to live on her own in the desert. This picture, taken in 1974 in Abiquiú, New Mexico, was  chosen by Weston Naef, Director of Photography at the MET museum in the 70s and shown alongside a portrait of young Georgia taken by Stieglitz, her latest husband.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat
“This picture was taken in Jean-Michel’s studio in Soho just before he slashed some of his works because he was not satisfied with the result.”

Ellsworth Kelly 
“I went to visit Ellsworth in his studio in upstate New York and, knowing that he was making drawings of flowers and leaves at that time, I saw this nice leaf on the floor and asked him to hold it. He used it as a mask and the wind did the rest...”

Jeff Koons and Ilona Staller
“In 1990, I was visiting the Biennale in Venice, and suddenly Jeff and Cicciolina came around the corner. This is a spontaneous portrait of them taken in front of the sculpture.”