Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Patron Saint #5: Vali Myers, Shamanistic Artist

"The center of life is female - we all come from our mothers. I've always drawn women or female spirits. I feel deeply about this - who gives a damn about some guy on a cross? My mother's creativity was smothered after she married and raised a family, but she was supportive of me - even my father expected me to carry on in her footsteps. I prefer to have no kids but lots of animals."

- Vali Myers, via an 1994 article by Alex Burns found here

After the relatively mechanical compositions of Louis Nevelson, we now arrive on the other side of the artistic spectrum, where we find Vali Myers, an Australian artist, who was born in 1930 and died several years ago, at the age of 73. A pale skinned, red-haired beauty, she was similar to Nevelson, however, in the way that she was known as much for her notorious style as she was for her art; tattooing her face and hands long before "tribal" was so radically chic, and dressing like the mad gypsy she was, dripping with beads and bangles. Legend has it that she also tattooed a thunderbolt on rocker/poet Patti Smith's knee in memory of Crazy Horse, the celebrated Lakota warrior.

She fostered numerous animals; some domestic, some wild. Her familiar or totem animal was the fox. Legend also has it that she owned a large indoor cage, but it was not for her four-legged companions; it was the place she went to do her art - works that were completed in pen and ink using an actual feather quill.

Born in Melbourne, and growing up in Sydney, Australia, she left home at 14 and gravitated to Paris where she struggled as a dancer, and struggled with Parisian authorities over the lack of a visa. After spending time in a French prison she was deported, and went wandering across Europe.

During a second trip to Paris, and now married to the son of a Hungarian gypsy, she befriended such notables as Jean Cocteau, Jean Genet and Sartre. She also befriended opium, and when this "friendship" turned sour, she relocated once again, this time to Italy, to the Positano valley. This became the turning point in her life for it was there that she bonded with an orphaned fox - a relationship that was to last longer than her marriage - and begin the body of work that she is known for today.

She took a teenaged lover at this time - possibly over 20 years her junior - artist Gianni Menichetti, who remained her close companion for the next 30 years, (Menichetti still maintains their original property). They lived for the most part in Positano, once again battling government officials in their efforts to have the valley declared a preserve by the World Wildlife Fund. (They succeeded.)

Meanwhile, in an effort to sell her artwork,  Myers began traveling to Manhattan, occasionally living in the infamous Chelsea Hotel.  She was to become the darling of many of the 70's elite... attracting the likes of Andy Warhol, George Plimpton, Dali, Mick Jagger, and Marianne Faithful, to name a few.

But, eventually she would come full circle and return to Australia where she lived and worked - and commuted to Positano - till she contracted a terminal stomach cancer in 2003. Hers, however, was not really a tragic ending... she died in a Melbourne hospital the same way she lived: fearlessly, and, at the same time, with a sense of humor. Her dying wish was to bequeath the remainder of her life's work to the "great... no bullshit... people of Victoria".

These and other examples of Vali Myers' work can be found here.
(For larger views of two images below, click on the images)

Unlike Louise Nevelson's spare, monochromatic, rectilinear structures, Myer's creations (samples above) were bold, colorful, neo-primative expressions which very often employed the spiral motif and intricate lattice patterns echoing her own tattoos. As it was, many of her images were self-portraits, or visions of herself amid her beloved animals; illuminations that were more informed by the ancient traditions of ritualistic magic than they were by the black-lit psychedelia of her time. Unlike the fashionista of today, Meyers reveled in her spiritualism, a spiritualism that welled up from her like fathomless spring. Had Aliester Crowely been alive, I think he would've turned to Myers to illustrate his famous Tarot.

As a budding artist, I remember first discovering her in the pages of a magazine - I don't remember which - and deciding at once that she was the sort of artist I wanted to be. Of course, when all is said and done, I could never be a Vali Myers... so effortlessly bold, so self-assured, so demonstratively passionate. Vali Myers was that one class act that can't be followed.

Other resources not previously linked to: 
A review of Gianni Menichetti's "Vali Myers: A Memoir" by Louis Landes Levi
The Outre Gallery page with more examples of Myers' work
Articles found here, and here, and here.

Note: I was amazed at how many blog entries I found regarding Vali Myers, while researching this post... many of them dated from earlier this year... a veritable Myers constellation!


  1. Intriguing Shamanistic art....limited not only to her works.....but lived large within and upon herself.

    Is it me...or do I detect some echos of a Daliesque persona...in the sense of the artist and the art being indistinguishable?

    She is, undeniably, as intriguing as her art.

    Superb post!

  2. Thanks, Bob!

    Dali was an admirer of Myers and her work... like attracted to like? I would loved to have been there when the two actually met!

    I could find no photos of them together, but here's a snippet of a conversation with an elevator attendant whom she related an anecdote to:


  3. Interesting video....thanks for the link!