The valley of Vali Myers

Yesterday’s look at Leigh Bowery got me to thinking about another unlikely product of the suburbs of Australia.

Growing up in Sydney I remember the first time I became aware of artist Vali Myers. It was while watching a sensationalist current affairs show which profiled this strange flaming spirit, then living in Italy, with all the tact and openness you might expect of a sensationalist current affairs show. But despite the incredulous, faintly mocking tone I understood that this was a true original… an original what though, I couldn’t say. I found it hard to comprehend that this tattooed apparition and I might have originated from the same galaxy, let alone the same city. True, her Australian accent remained undimmed by years among global art nomads but her down-to-earth twang rendered her cosmic rambling even more exotic.

Born in Sydney in 1930, Vali made her way to Paris in 1949, staying on the Left Bank in dire post-war conditions which offered all of the deprivations of bohemian life and few of the socio-hedonistic advantages. Returning after a few years’ vagabondage she lived in slightly better conditions and in tonier company, supposedly sharing an opium pipe with Jean Cocteau (although this was some years after he was supposed to have kicked his habit). Vali herself became hooked and fled the city.

Before the 60s had even worked out that they were the 60s, Vali was practising the kind of back-to-the-garden existence which would be the ultimate elusive goal for many Aquarian spirits. She found a secluded valley in Positano and lived there with a tame fox and a menagerie of other animals. Her excursions back into the real world often brought her to New York’s Hotel Chelsea, periods of excess to balance the eremitic isolation.

And long after the 60s had become fixed as a montage of stock footage with an inevitable Hendrix accompaniment, Vali continued to live with such singular gypsy abandon that she seemed to be living out not just her own free spirited ideals, but those discarded by former fellow travellers as well. Rather than washing off her war paint and settling down, she turned those queer curls into a permanent feature. After decades away she returned to Australia in the 1990s and died of cancer in 2003, bowing out with wit and courage.

Sadly despite an extensive search I’ve come up short on footage of her; none of the various documentaries about her have made it online in their original form it seems. There’s no sign of Patti and Vali, for instance, in which Vali tattoos Patti Smith’s knee. The best I can offer you for now is an extract from a 1990 documentary by Ruth Cullen here, and a 2002 follow-up here, a trailer for a promised new documentary below (though the trail seems to have gone cold on that one) and, finally, a piece on her lover Gianni Manichetti which probably best preserves her spirit. As none of these really gives you an idea of her startling visual impact, I also suggest a visit to this comprehensive visual archive.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKF7mUC?p=1 width=”596″ height=”334″]

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22 comments

  1. ..what beautiful blue eyes. I am very sad that she is gone. She looks like a real sweetie pie. Your commentary was inspired.

  2. There are three short but incredible clips from “The Tightrope Dancer” here: http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/the-tightrope-dancer/clip1/?nojs (We find out she was once in prison in clip #3.) Also, for the cost of shipping and handling, you can get a copy of “Dope,” a 1968 docu-film Vali was in: http://www.dopethemovie.net/page2.html I don’t know how big her part is, but it’s intriguing none the less! Marianne Faithfull is also in it; her autobiography is where I first heard of Vali. She once rolled through Positano and Vali’s maybe-girlfriend/maybe-familiar tattooed that bird on Marianne’s hand.

    Gianni Menichetti seems like a real charmer. “I know one shouldn’t say the age of a lady in front of everybody…”

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  6. “It was while watching a sensationalist current affairs show which profiled this strange flaming spirit…with all the tact and openness you might expect of a sensationalist current affairs show. But despite the incredulous, faintly mocking tone I understood that this was a true original… an original what though, I couldn’t say.”

    That perfectly describes the first time I saw Klaus Nomi (on the American show ‘Real People’). What was presented as a source of derision I instantly recognized as a kindred spirit instead.

    And speaking of kindred spirits…wow, Vali Myers has instantly become a heroine and role model for me. Both books about her are now on my wish list. Once again, your brilliant blog has introduced me to someone I can both admire & aspire to be like. Thank you so much!

    • Wonderful! It must have been the same for people watching a US daytime show in the ’80s, I think it was Sally Jesse Raphael, with Quentin Crisp as a guest. As ever, Crisp was witty, intelligent and courteous and was largely mocked by the audience, but he doubtless got through to a handful of people watching. As he said, “in an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outsider”. Thanks for the comment!

      • (My horrendously belated response–many apologies.) I’m not sure when I first saw Quentin Crisp, but it was indeed on American television sometime in the 1980’s, possibly Phil Donahue–since my mom didn’t watch
        Sally Jessy–but I experienced that exact same type of instant recognition as I had with Herr Nomi: that sense of, “THIS is one of my people!” I’m not sure if the term “family” was in common parlance back then–I certainly didn’t know it–but it certainly fits that sensation of unexpected instant commonality…not unlike how I felt upon my first visit to Strange Flowers, in fact. 😉

      • I think the term “family” is so powerful in this context – the idea that along with our flesh and blood kin that we establish our relations to kindred spirits, their influence in our personae as evident as the facial features which betray our lineage. Thanks for the comment!

    • !!!
      In lieu of words please imagine a sea lion clapping, and said sea lion then presenting you with a bouquet (which takes some training, let me tell you). THANK YOU!

      • please include me in the clapping! I clicked “here” and was amazed at what popped up! That is a half hour of simply extraordinary video. Thank you…

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  9. cocky

    to bad.. i saw van der elskens docu and want to see more of this amazing lady, the unique person you look for your intire life and never will find. but remember the others are dead o.d.’t vali was very strong,otherwise she never could live like she did. and getting allmost 73jrs old. p.s. you can save the youtube by addiing ss , like;ssyoutube while wathcing, hit enter.

  10. cocky

    The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda – 1968 Patti and Vali – 1973 on kickass torrent (searched + found)

  11. Pingback: Vali Myers, a night flower – le rêve ardent

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