The biggest inspiration to me is Vali Myers, a fiery demon angel who covered the world in her goldleaf and fine ink, gypsy dancing and hordes of animals; a fox in human form.
“She was an Amazon. An indomitable creature, a stoic and spartan nomad soul. A primeval, telluric, pagan spirit.”
— Gianni Menichetti on Vali
She was born in the 30s in Australia, later working in factories to save money for dancing lessons. She left for Paris at 19 to pursue a dance career, ending up living on the streets of the Left Bank, a haze of opium and darkness, though she kept living through her drawings, eventually being exiled from France.
“We lived in the streets, in the cafes, like a pack of mongrel dogs. We had our very own codes. Students and people with jobs were kept out. As for the tourists who came around to gawk at “existentialists,” it was all right to con them. We always managed to have rough wine and hash from Algeria. We shared everything.”
She married a gypsy man named Rudi, went back to Paris, then left together to quit opium. They went walkabout through Europe, finding a small little house in the Italian valley of Positano, called Il Porto, and they lived there with a brood of animals, which grew larger every year – dogs and cats and foxes and goats and donkeys and a gaggle of others.
Then came a beautiful Italian boy named Gianni, who Vali took as her lover, she tattooed his forehead and her own face with curlicues and dots, a spirit moustache, and a paw print on Gianni’s third eye. A girl named Caroline lived in a cave nearby.
“She gave me my first tattoo in the first month I lived with her, a five-petaled flower around my navel. I find that a rather beautiful place. And from then on we began to tattoo each other, and a lot. I covered her feet and hands with a blue lace of tattoos. She did my right hand, and I did my left one. For me, that tattooing was my initiation, and a kind of spirit marriage. Indians believe that tattoos stay with you forever, because after death the soul still keeps them.”
— Gianni Menichetti
She lived as a recluse for 40 years, working on her drawings, caring for her menagerie, crawling over cliffs, adoring her pet fox, Foxy, walking to the city for dancing, then coming back in the morning, working on drawings by oil lamp until the sun came up. She would work on pieces for years, the finest ink work, a meditation, almost always including a doppelganger of herself.
❝I just draw – ever since I was a little girl. People always try to label it, but you can’t label this work, it’s original. It’s like asking why do you dance? You do it because you have the spirit inside you… If I didn’t draw I’d go mad. Artists are like shamans – they have that compulsion and nothing can stop them.”
She began selling her art in Europe and New York, moving into the Chelsea Hotel with many other famous artists of the 70s and 80s. But she always returned to her valley, where Gianni awaited, Rudi had become a drunk and taken leave, so it was just Vali and Gianni and the dogs and eels and all their other animal companions.
“When I feel joyous, I dance, and when I don’t, I draw. The feeling to draw is so strong, that if I had to go to prison, I’d see it as an opportunity to sit and create without any distraction.”
Later in her life, she moved back to Melbourne, Gianni staying in Il Porto to care for the animals. She was a spitfire until the end, she died at 72 in 2003.
“Let it all be animal, my life and death, hard and clean like that, anything but human… a lot I care, me with my red heart in the dark earth and my tattooed feet following the animal ways.”
“From the ice and the watery depths, Vali could turn in a moment to fire in her wild imagination. She loved Semiramis, the legendary queen of Assyria, who flung herself on a flaming pyre at the death of her favourite horse. She always yearned to belong to a tribe. She had such a strong instinct for sharing. But, being such an extraordinary individual, I always felt she belonged to a non-existent tribe, or to one that vanished a long time ago. She never belonged to her own time anyway. She would have loved to have lived in the very old pagan days, without man-made gods and just the religion of nature.”
— Gianni Menichetti on Vali
I feel such a strong connection to this woman – even our art style is similar. Her adoration of animals is parallel to my own, the way she lived in seclusion in nature with a sexy young man as her lover, her wild, barefooted dancing ways, her gypsy style, her tattoos and passion for living, her wanderlust, her disgust at typical life, that a regular job would be like a suicide, that she always longed for a tribe – so many things in common with her that how could I not be inspired and feel a kinship?
I re-read her biography when I went away on my trip, to be renewed by the way she lived, to remind me of how I had lost my damn way, how I had been swayed by bullshit, and to be brave, so brave, and only focus on what is really important to me, my lusts and passions and to never hold myself back, to rejoice in wild ways, for that is who I am, my soul is burning, as hers was, and I tattooed my love of her on my arm, to remind me: LIVE, damnit, so that when you die, you feel satiated.
This reminds me of me and my dog, so much.
“I’ve had 72 absolutely flaming years. It (the illness) doesn’t bother me at all, because, you know love, when you’ve lived like I have, you’ve done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I’m in the hospital now, and I guess I’ll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go.”
More about Vali:
Vali Myers: A Memoir by Gianni.