Mention Salvador Dali, and one is bound to think of melting clocks, dancing hippies and elephants with twig-like legs — recurring motifs in his most iconic works — or even his famous upturned moustache. After all, the late surrealist artist is best known for his wacky paintings and sculptures, many of which were inspired by social commentary.
But an ongoing art exhibition by REDSEA Gallery here aims to show a different side of Dalí’s artistic finesse. Titled Salvador Dali & Pierre Argillet: Thirty Years of Collaboration, it showcases over 100 etchings, drawings, porcelain works and tapestries Dali created between 1963 and 1974 in collaboration with his publisher and friend Pierre Argillet.
The presentation ends 5 October 2016, and includes works from the Pierre Argillet Collection, a US-based travelling exhibition helmed by the publisher’s daughter Christine Argillet. An art collector today, she spent much of her childhood accompanying her father to his meetings with Dali. We met up with her at the launch of the show, where she regaled us with tales about the legendary artist.
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): From his whimsical art works to his flamboyant moustache and outfits, Dali was known to be eccentric. But what was he really like, away from the public eye?
Christine Argillet (CA): Dali was very different from his public persona: He was actually extremely shy. In public he would overdo things, because he wanted to be seen. But I think behind all that, he was someone who was very deep, intellectual and well-read. He was a curious workaholic with a great fascination for science — he often met up with scientists at his house to discuss topics such as DNA. He was also kind and humorous.
LSA: Growing up, you often spent your summer vacations accompanying your father to visit Dali at his house. Could you tell us more about his home?
CA: Dali’s home in Spain was a beautiful and charming place where everything was white, with perfumed and dried camomile flowers everywhere. At at the entrance was a taxidermied bear, which held umbrellas. Dali had a small swimming pool at the patio, and because people liked to jump in, he put some sea urchins in transparent plastic boxes inside to deter them. He also had a pet turtle, to which he attached an ashtray and allowed to wander around the living room. It was a very fun home.
LSA: What are some of your favourite childhood memories of Dali?
CA: I remember once, when I was eight, Dali was mixing perfumes, old colognes and herbs he found in the hills near his home. He entertained me by putting the mixture on his moustache — which made the hairs move. Sometimes, he would ask me to look at his paintings from a distance and tell him if I could see certain special or disappearing elements. If I couldn’t see them, he would say, ‘I have to rework on it’. He would even ask the fishermen and old ladies who lived near his house for their opinions. He valued everyone in the same manner and was extremely respectful.
LSA: What did your father and Dali typically talk about during their meetings?
CA: The most interesting things. It could be about Dali’s last exhibition, or what books they were reading.They also exchanged a lot of jokes. My father was so fascinated by Dali and his beautiful etchings. He found it a pleasure to be with someone always so positive and humorous with great ideas.
LSA: Even with their close working relationship, did they ever have any disagreements?
CA: There were, but if Dali didn’t agree with something, he would just say no. He was very easy to work with. But there was one funny incident: My father once arranged for Dali to do a live etching on a copper plate in Paris, in front of around 100 people from the media. Dali was shy and when he came, his eyes looked strange and wider than usual. He did the etching very quickly, drawing only a squiggly ball. Then he told my father he wanted to leave. My father was angry and said, “I’ll cut your moustache if you leave.”
But Dali left anyway. A few days later, he admitted to us that he had taken LSD the day before doing the etching, because he thought it would help him draw better. But it blocked his ability instead. He fixed up the copper plate from the demonstration and added two women hippies, turning it into a great piece of work called Women in the Waves.
LSA: The Pierre Argillet Collection last exhibited in Singapore in 2014. What’s new and different at this year’s showcase?
CA: The drawings, copper plates and tapestries. A highlight is Argus, which Dali did as a painting before going to Aubusson in France to have it translated into a tapestry. It is a magnificent work that took 2.5 years to hand-weave. The translation is very good, because the craftsmen managed to render the fillings of the red ink and the watercolours in a way that you don’t see the lines when it goes from one colour to another. This is an extraordinary piece because if you look at its back, you can see six tiny threads threaded together to make one thread.
Salvador Dali & Pierre Argillet: Thirty Years of Collaboration ends 5 October, 2016.
REDSEA Gallery, Block 9 Dempsey Road, Singapore 247697, +65 6732 6711, www.redseagallery.com