Written by Toni Burton, Collection Curation & Engagement Manager, and  Fiona Jeffery, Description Original Materials Librarian.

Vali Myers (1930-2003) was known as a free-thinking artist and dancer who lived a unique bohemian life that was true to herself. In Vali’s own words she was, ‘Born foxy, she escaped education and cultural conditioning, she was original, solitary and innocent, like a shooting star in the night sky’. (Visual diary, September 1992, p. 13, H2018.442)

Vali and her Fox, 1972, photograph, by Rudi Rappold, H2021.79 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

Aged 19 and already a modern ballet dancer, Vali left Melbourne for Paris to forge an independent life and escape the traditional conventions of domesticity. Life in post war Paris was difficult and Vali spent three years living on the streets of the Saint Germain des Pres Quarter of the Left Bank and dancing in the Paris nightclubs. She mixed with many well known figures including Jean Genet, Jean Paul Sartre and Django Reinhardt. Her international career was established through photographs taken by Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken for his photo-book about bohemian life Love on the Left Bank (1956). George Plimpton, the American editor of the literary magazine Paris Review (1958), wrote about her life and reproduced her black and white drawings.

Vali Myers, ca. 1949-1950, photograph: gelatin silver, by Norman Ikin, H2007.114/125
Vali Myers in front of her mirror, Paris, 1953, by Ed van der Elsken, H2019.51/74 Copyright,
Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken

Vali as an artist, ca. 1951-1955, photograph: gelatin silver, by Unknown photographer, H2019.51/8A Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Hotel Schatz, 1955, postcard of original drawing, by Vali Myers, owned by George A. Plimpton NYC, H2021.90/9 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

In 1958 Vali left Paris, eventually settling in the remote Italian valley of Il Porto. She made her home there for forty years living in an abandoned one room domed pavilion in a rugged and isolated ravine above the seaside town of Positano.

Entrance to Il Porto Wildlife Oasis, ca. 1999, photograph: chromogenic, by Unknown photographer, H2022.22/4 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Il Porto, 1999, photograph: chromogenic, by Unknown photographer, H2022.22/65 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

Vali lived in Il Porto in semi-isolation with Rudi Rappold, and later Gianni Menichetti, who came to the valley in 1971. Their home provided a sanctuary for over 100 animals and Vali fought hard to keep it as a pristine refuge, establishing the Il Porto Wildlife Oasis. The environment of Il Porto and the animals that she cared for, including her beloved pet fox, became her greatest inspiration and featured in almost all of her drawings.

Dido, 1973-1974; pen, black ink, watercolour and tempera, by Vali Myers, H2019.53/2
Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Stella Maris, 1998, pen, sepia ink and watercolour, by Vali Myers, H2019.53/11
Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

‘ “Stella Maris” in the upper left hand of this drawing is a whaling boat with men rowing like fury, busy hunting and harpooning the great white whale above the foam-ing swirl of the sea are my stormy petrels- ’

Visual diary, Il Porto Wildlife Oasis, January 2001, p. 38, H2018.443

“Anima – animals. Love everything connected with them. Kung-Fu (the art of fighting taken from animals). Shamans, art evolved from them, all dancing and drawing, all my dark roots and all my wild suffering.”

Visual diary, Year of the Tiger 1974-1975, January 1975, p. 93, H2018.434

When not living in semi-isolation in her Italian home, Vali travelled regularly to the infamously bohemian Chelsea Hotel in New York to sell her highly detailed drawings. She cut a striking figure with her face adorned with distinctive tattoos and she was feted by the rich and famous of the art and music worlds. Considered a muse to many, she was a friend of Jean Cocteau, written about by Tennessee Williams, praised by Salvador Dali and was an inspiration and friend to Patti Smith, Donovan, Debbie Harry and Marianne Faithfull. Vali established an international career and reputation during the 43 years that she travelled between Italy and New York.

Visual diary, Sunflowers in the shadow of my Night, II Porto Italy, New Year 1976, p. 17, by Vali Myers, H2018.435 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Visual diary, Sunflowers in the shadow of my Night, II Porto Italy, Dog days, August 1977, p. 104-105, by Vali Myers, H2018.435 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

Vali returned to Melbourne in 1993 and established her studio-gallery in the iconic Nicholas Building overlooking Swanston Street. The last years of Vali’s life were spent between Positano and Melbourne before she passed away in 2003.

Vali Myers in her studio, Nicholas Building, Swanston Street Melbourne, ca. 1997, by James Lauritz, H2022.22/827, Copyright, James Lauritz

As well as her meticulously detailed drawings, she also kept visual diaries from the mid 1950s to 2002. Each of these is a creative work, with Vali’s intricate handwriting, interspersed with cut-out pictures, photographs, magazine clippings and sketches.

Visual diary, Vali Myers Il Porto 1969 Italy, by Vali Myers, H2018.430 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Visual diary, Sheila Devi 1993 Il Porto Italy, September 1992, p. 13, by Vali Myers, H2018.442
Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Visual diary, Sheila Devi 1993 Il Porto Italy, February 1994, p. 70, by Vali Myers, H2018.442
Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust
Visual diary, Sheila Devi 1993 Il Porto Italy, 1992-1995, p. 88,
Vali Myers by Ed van der Elsken, H2018.442 Copyright, Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken

In her diary, Vali writes about her travels and preparations for an exhibition in Melbourne after her return to Australia:

‘Came back to the valley from Melbourne, touching down in Sydney, Singapore, London, then Naples – considering, I was all O.K. Now on the 20th I begin to sleep and unwind. All my animals are fine – it’s springtime and toads are everywhere. I’ve a lot to do between now and sometime in September, organising the shipping of crate-loads of prints and posters and books etc. from Holland where everything is stored and here, having invites and posters made in Naples for my show at the Emerald Hill Gallery in South Melbourne.’

Visual diary, Sheila Devi 1993 Il Porto Italy, March 1993, p. 39, by Vali Myers, H2018.442
Visual diary, Sheila Devi 1993 Il Porto Italy, February 1993, p. 37, by Vali Myers, H2018.442
Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

Belts and necklace belonging to Vali Myers, H2018.467/1-4 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

In 2018 the Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust donated Vali Myers archive of drawings, visual diaries, and personal effects to State Library Victoria. As well as her artworks, the archive includes photographs, posters, paintboxes and art materials, jewellery and cosmetics, books and videos, personal papers and her brass bed. This gift to the State Library honoured her final wish to bequeath her life’s work to the people of Victoria.

The Library is currently undertaking the archive’s cataloguing and digitisation and a Finding Aid has been created for the pictorial and realia components of the collection which is now available to researchers. The finding aid for the manuscripts component is in progress. After selective digitisation has been completed, links to the digitised content will be added to the finding aids. This work will ensure that this collection is preserved and made accessible to researchers now and in the future.

References

  1. Bakker, Marco, 2020, Running before the wind: portraits of Vali Myers, The Netherlands : Ben Knelange
  2. Cullen, Ruth, Vali Myers [videorecording] : the Tightrope dancer (1989) & Painted lady (2002) / 2 films by Ruth Cullen
  3. Ed van der Elsken : camera in love, [2017], Munich, London, New York, Prestel
  4. McIntosh, Martin and Jones, Gemma (ed.), 2012, Nightflower : the life and art of Vali Myers Melbourne, Outre Gallery Press
  5. Menichetti, Gianni, 2006, Vali Myers: memoirs Fresno, Calif. : Golda Foundation
  6. Myers, Vali, 1980, Drawings: 1949-79 London, Open House, Introduction: George A. Plimpton
  7. Myers, Vali, 1992-1995, Visual Diary, Sheila Devi 1993 II Porto Italy, H2018.442
  8. Spinks, Tracy, 2013, Vali Myers : Between the dusk and dawn, Bundoora, La Trobe University
  9. Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

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This article has 11 comments

  1. A friend came to know Vali when she returned to Australia, perhaps meeting her at the Theosophical Society.

    One night we saw Vali at Young and Jacksons She impromptu danced for the patrons upstairs with her full skirt whirling madly. What an original she was.

    • Thank you for your comment. The archive contains numerous photographs of Vali dancing, and a photograph of Vali with Jenny Kee and friends at Young and Jacksons.

  2. A wonderful woman and a beautiful human being. Vali will always be remembered by the people that she touched, influenced. Thank you for deciding to help make the world aware of Vali xx

    • Thank you for your comment. Vali has inspired and influenced so many. The Library is promoting an awareness of Vali’s life and work as part of Women’s History Month on Iconic Women.

  3. Stephen Masters

    An aberration. Startling, eccentric, beautiful soul who flew with angels. That rare thing an original. Exquisitely wild and absolutely true to herself.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I sat next to her on a tram once, soon after she had moved back to Melbs in 1993. I’ll confess my friend who was with me knew who she was and could barely contain her excitement. We share a surname so easily remembered. Take care Anne

  5. I visited Vali several times in her studio in the Nicholson Building. She was an amazing woman with a wild and wonderful spirit. I bought several of her prints, videos and books and showed them often to my students, several of whom were strongly influenced by her style. I feel privileged to have known her.

  6. I had never heard of Vali before – what a fabulous life and true artist, our Frida Kahlo? Thank you so much for the great article.

  7. Dr Graeme H Williams OAM

    I remember her first show at the Emerald Hill Gallery run by one of Melbourne’s other non-conformist artists, the irrepressible, Siri Omberg.

  8. I feel drawn to this artist like no other.
    Her life was an inspiration to me.
    I was looking to see if the public can view her work anywhere. Any guidance you can give me on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
    Vixen

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