von Stephanie Arnel
Queen of the Foxes
Sean Bowley on Vali Myers
somewhere beyond the sun
Still a timeless face
Framed by ink, poetry and life.
Sparks roll back the night
summons winds of change
Ignite the fire of creation
The fox queen is waiting
call the savages home
Bright blue eyes drawn with kajal
Seaman's marks on the face
What are the stars and the donkeys saying?
Oh queen of inked joy?
Embrace waves of untamed visions
Good memories cast in a ring
A gilded cage without a lock
Stabilizes the seagull's flight home
Raise the moon once more
Play devil for a fool
Drink the sound of the ocean tonight
I'll see you at the Twilight Pool.
As 72-year-old Vali Myers lay in the hospital, one of the hospital staff asked her how she felt about dying. He had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"I don't give a fuck!" he said. "I've cared for dying animals and I know what to expect, but I've lived the life I wanted to live and I've done everything I wanted to do."
(Cullen in McIntosh and Jones 2012)
Since discovering Vali Myers, I've found that she goes by many names. Gypsy, muse, warrior, artist, bohemian, dancer, outlaw, visionary, fairy, a wild bird of paradise. Vali saw himself as an animal. One of his diary entries reads:
May everything be animal, my life and my death, so hard and clean, anything but human... It means a lot to me, me with my red heart on the dark earth and my tattooed feet following the animal paths.
I find this animal self-awareness fascinating. She did not see herself as a human being, bound by society's limitations, expectations or conventions. She was a woman who followed her animal instincts, herfox nose. She followed that animal intuition wherever it led, across the world, unafraid; until the day she died.
Reading reflections written by people who knew or knew Vali Myers makes me jealous. I wish I had been there when he was alive. I wish I could have seen her drawing or dancing on the streets of Paris, Positano, New York or Melbourne. I wish I had interviewed her and heard her crazy travel stories and experiences firsthand. I would like to know how her gypsy jewelry sounds when she moves. I would have even liked to smell it in passing, a scent New York-based filmmaker Diane Rochlin described as "a mixture of essential oil, perhaps amber, and an overall animal scent, strong but not unpleasant".
(After McIntosh et al. 2012)
I am overwhelmed with wonder as I analyze the memoirs, journal entries, poems and artworks created by and for her, both online and in print. Where did this intrepid animal spirit come from?
Vali Myers was born in Sydney, Australia in 1930.
His father was a merchant and his mother a violinist. They moved to Belmont, a coastal town, when Vali was five years old. Through the many diaries he kept throughout his life, Vali recalls his childhood:
I used to spend my time playing in the bush. I wasn't afraid of anything. Our house was built on small stilts over a lagoon.
From a young age, Vali was rebellious and artistic, known for dreaming or drawing in class and avoiding other children.
The Myers family moved to Melbourne in 1941 due to his father's work. Vali retreated further into his love of dancing, painting and drawing.
I was crazy, I always painted my lips, I didn't go to school, I drew.
At 14, tired from school, Vali left home. She moved into shared apartments in St Kilda and worked in a factory to earn a living and pay for ballet lessons. At the age of 17, Vali was a principal dancer with the Melbourne Modern Ballet Company. She became famous for her luscious dancing style, wild red hair and heavily kohl-lined eyes.
I enjoyed doing my makeup. My father used to say to my mother: 'Vera, how can you let her out like that?' But mama told him it was my war paint. Trust me, in Melbourne in the 1940s you needed it.
Melbourne wasn't where she wanted to be.
At 19, Vali boarded a ship bound for Paris, France.
According to a fellow passenger on the ship, she wore a revealing outfit on board, a daring ensemble that was even featured in a London newspaper. They all looked amazed as he entered the dining room. On a cruise today, it might not be controversial to wear a crop top, high-waisted swim shorts, and go barefoot in the sea. But in 1949 it certainly made waves.
The ship docked in Marseille, France, four weeks later. Vali quickly moved to Paris to continue her career as a dancer. But the effects of the past war still affected the lives of Parisians. Within a week she was broke and living on the left bank of Paris, an area notorious for bohemian residents. He survived on bread and milk and carried a knife to protect himself.
During this period, Vali also made countless friends in the bohemian art and film industries. He began to make a name for himself primarily through his eccentric personality, his sense of style, his drawings and self-portraits.
When she wasn't drawing, she was busy dancing in late-night cafes and jazz clubs. Viewers described her dancing as infinitely energetic and mesmerizing.
We didn't hang out in cafes because it was trendy, we had nowhere else to go... dancing kept me alive.
Writer Gabriel Pommerand, who spent time on the Left Bank and published a series of self-portraits of Vali, described her dance as "a sweeping movement of feet, bent knees, shoulders and hands moving with trembling speed to the rhythm of the drums". .
However, despite what her convoluted dancing style exuded on her feisty personality, things weren't always light-hearted. During this time in Paris, Vali also became addicted to opium. According to Pommerand, life on the left bank of Paris was a "confused, depraved demimonde". Opium was a common vice. In a letter to his friend, photographer Ed van der Elsken, Vali wrote about the dark times he took advantage of:
I was very frail and frail, rarely left my room late at night... For three years I did not see sunlight.
At the age of 21, Vali decided to leave Paris. She had been in and out of prison for years for being homeless. Life on the left bank no longer looked promising. This is how his tour of Europe began, where he met the architecture student and gypsy Rudi Rappold.
At the age of 25, Vali married Rudi.
His marriage enabled him to venture to Paris under a new name.
But they never stopped traveling. During one of their hikes through Italy, they discovered a valley near Positano. Vali and Rudi rented a small house at the foot of a cliff, which they turned into a nature reserve.
They were soon joined by the Italian traveller, poet and artist Gianni Menichetti. When her marriage to Rudi broke up, Gianni became Vali's best friend and lifelong lover. Like Vali, Gianni moved to the Valley and added an animal rights activist to his list of endeavors. He still lives in the sanctuary and takes care of the animals. He believes his spirit is still strong in the valley:
When I first saw her for myself, she was... like something out of a fairyland what she was, she was a pure spirit. It was like a fox spirit to me. And I can't escape because I feel like I have his blood in my veins. His blood flows through my veins to this day. But especially this place, she was the queen of this place.
Eventually, Vali traveled to New York to share his work.
A good fox always knows how to hunt far from the den.
In America, Vali became famous for her fascinating and captivating artworks. Viewers admired the bright colors and connection to nature. His portraits are strongly linked to nature and the animalistic features of the human form. Many of her self-portraits show her naked female body connected in some way to other animals. Often their wild red hair is literally associated with animals that blend into their fur, feathers, or fins, including whales, birds, foxes, pigs, and dogs. The animals appear to be a very large part of his body and blend naturally into his physical form.
People who knew her often described her as a fox. His hair was like that of a fox, he wore fox fur, and he believed he had a fox's intuition. His favorite animal in his sanctuary in Positano was Foxy the fox.
Vali drew a lot of attention for his foxy and bohemian style. He wandered the streets of New York barefoot. He sported intricate tattoos on his face reminiscent of other artists' facial hair. She wore fancy cloaks, animal skins and jewelry that made viewers think of her as a witch.
Vali met a variety of artists, filmmakers and even rock stars like Mick Jagger. Well-known artists such as Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol praised his eccentric works of art. Playwright Tennessee Williams was so impressed when he met her that he created a character based on her in his play.Orpheus descending.The play was seen as refreshingly light-hearted, a change from his usual dark and twisted work. The free-spirited character Carol Cutrere is described in the audition description as "in her thirties and devoid of beauty, she has a strange, elusive beauty that she has accentuated almost to the point of fantasy".
Vali spent the rest of his life traveling back and forth between New York, Paris and Positano, sharing his lifestyle and art with everyone he met.
In 1993 Vali finally returned to Melbourne.
He opened a studio in the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street, which was then billed as Melbourne's bohemian heart. In a letter to his soulmate Gianni, Vali described Melbourne as a place where he could "feel like a bird that has spread its wings, finally, it's a miracle!"
(Menichetti in McIntosh and Jones 2012)
Vali was surprised at how much he felt like he belonged in Australia:
I had only bought a ticket to Australia for three weeks. If I didn't like it, I would just leave. But when I got here I was shocked... Despite all the years I've missed, I realized that deep down I'm very Australian.
His rooms in the Nicholas Building have often been described as more than just a studio. It was filled not only with art, but also with fragments from Vali's life; Journals, jewelry, jewelry, books, stuffed animals, and photographs were scattered everywhere. When spectators came to visit, they were encouraged to attend the space, drink and dance to gypsy music. In his diary, Vali expresses his admiration for the people he met in Melbourne:
The city of Melbourne is beautiful... The people are wonderful and mind their own business but they are shy and kind... Thank the stars I survived to come back.
Vali spent the rest of his life continuing his work in Melbourne, flying to and from Positano to see his mistress and her animals.
Vali described his home in Positano as a den full of animals; Owls, dogs and foxes howl. Writing frequently about his animals, garden, fireplace, and the weather, he demonstrated a strong spiritual connection to the natural world.
Vali was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2002.
He decided to remain in Melbourne until his death. In his hospital bed, he seemed unafraid of his illness, irrevocably bold.
I had an absolutely blazing 72 years. It doesn't bother me at all, because you know, dear, if you lived like me, you did everything. I put all my effort into life; any drug can drop dead. I'm in the hospital right now, and I think I'll kick the bucket over here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everyone. You are born and then you go.
Vali died a year later. Her spirit lives on in her writings, artworks, in the stories of other people, and in the places she calls home.
Eva, L. (2010, February 21)your wild lover
Helmore, E. (2013)Vali Myers: Have a moment.art and design.W-MagazineReceived fromhttp://www.wmagazine.com/culture/art-and-design/2013/07/vali-myers-artist/
McIntosh, M. Jones, G. (2012)Nightbloom: The Life and Art of Vali Myers.Outre Gallery Press. Melbourne, Australia
Williams, T. (1983)Orpheus descending.Playwright Theaterdienst. NEW