“Oh Salvador Dalí of the olive-coloured voice!…
I laud your longing for eternity with limits”.
Federico G. Lorca
My first encounter with Dalí’s art was as sensational as it would to any art lover from the Eastern Block – it took place at the exhibition of Dalí at the Pushkin Museum of my native Moscow. We queued up for several hours during a snowstorm to get tickets. The month-long exhibition opened to the public on a Saturday, but people had already begun queueing up on Friday evening, hoping to get into the museum. Long waiting queues were common at most cultural events which involved foreign artists. People had already gotten used to waiting for basic foods for hours, so that this line was nothing new, really. Except that now they were waiting to see Dalí’s works. Some disliked his work and came out terribly perplexed, others became his new crusaders. People’s reactions could not be more extreme! The creative work of surrealists, including Dalí, was long closed to the public and so that iconic First Soviet Exhibition of 160 Salvador Dalí’s drawings and etchings and a few sculptures was a revelation.
Dalí’s publisher, could not organise the then poorly 84-year-old artist in Spain to attend the Moscow show. But magically the artist was still there, omnipresent, as every graphic and plastic were dedicated to his Russian-born wife Gala, his lifelong muse, only wife and the only love. Looking back at that time I think that Dalí let us discover a bit of the human dark side. During the exhibition, I was far from prepared in any way for such deep thoughts.
Not long after the exhibition, I had my very own and crazy Dalí perfume in an extravagant black bottle shaped like the lips and nose of a woman. Since then, Dalí became one of my meridians in the art and Dalí art collectors became my partners in crime holding the same Dalínian secret. My Dalí admiration became a reality when I based one of my summer collections for Rohmir on his work. A dozen beautiful models walked flawlessly down the catwalk with fire-red Swarovski crystals on their lips and their eyes decorated with blue crystals. I called the collection ODE TO DALÍ, the collection was my humble dedication to the artist.
Years after my show I met three of the artist’s faithful hidalgos, three collectors and connoisseurs of the artist. Their priceless Dalí works are spread across three corners of the world, they live and cherish their possessions of his art like high priests.
Christopher Heath Brown is one of them, he is a US oral and maxillofacial surgeon, author, film producer, actor, as well as art collector..Chris has an extensive collection of sculptures, studies, watercolours, and photographs and he is the only person in the world to have Dalí’s complete graphic collection. Many of the graphics he owns are the only ones Dalí ever created. Chris’s surgeon-sharp recent book co-authored by Jean-Pierre Isbouts called “The Dalí Legacy” made a furore in the world of Dalí fans and art experts. Dr Brown’s simple quote of the Master is wonderful: “Begin the painting like the Renaissance masters. After that, do as you wish. You will always be respected”. This source of the surprising imagination of the great Salvador spirit, “neither intellectual nor sentimental” is in the whole of his being, “united in all the forces of the self”. The book is enigmatic and certainly worth reading, as it delivers plausible answers to unanswered questions relating to the artist.
Who was Gala, I ask Chris of his opinion which he gladly shares with me:
A woman with the most intellectual approach to art, an incredible influence on all things surrealist, Dalí’s radar and sensual guide. She, the soulmate of Dalí, grew up next to another genius woman in Russia: the tragic poet Marina Tsvetaeva. There is no Russian who does not know the name of Marina. These incredible two women knew and honoured each other with unprecedented respect. The word LOVE for Marina was the point of existing. In her view, the “why” remains unanswered as this is only in God’s hands: “You should meet someone for love. For the rest you have books”. Gala gulped down enormous quantities of books and confirmed the sentence of her friend Marina: “There is no paradise on earth, but there are its little corners”. She created these corners of paradise for herself and Salvador. Without this universe there may never have existed this creative tandem, or even Dalí as we know him. Gala was an epicentre of the surrealists’ circle. From the thoughts they exchanged to the lives they led – everything was of importance to Dalí.
For Chris Brown, his and Dalí’s lives have been intertwined since the day of his birth. That same day Dalí was in all the papers as he was meeting the Biritsh Royal Family. Chris grew up in Washington DC and always enjoyed looking at his parents’ Dalí drawings: one of them was a Don Quixote on their living room wall. He then fell in love with art when he was seven. He was most fascinated by Raphael’s St George Slaying the Dragon which hangs in The National Gallery, which also incidentally houses the Last Sacrament by Dalí.
I asked Chris Brown if he had a wish for his collection, whether he is planning an exhibition in the name of the artist and he immediately replied in his generous American way that his only wish is to see the collection for everything Dalí to be in a museum and his first choice would be Monaco, as it is the melting point of Dalí and Princess Grace who had forged a strong friendship upon first meeting each other.
The other Dalinian hidalgo, Jordi Casals, whose glamorous universe seems so cloudless now, so extraordinarily happy lives in the very spotlight of the Cote D’Azur art festivals, has spent a most turbulent childhood as a real little bohemian between his revolutionary Catalan father and his artist French mother.
Jordi was raised in the communist culture of the 1960s and 70s, a little like Picasso. While growing up he met all kinds eclectic people whose name may not say much to us, but who were all part of Jordi’s personal legend.
Merchant Jordi may be, but he will not part with certain artworks for the world. For example, Jordi would never sell his most cherished piece is Dalí’s sculpture “Christ of St John”. A part of his life.
Jordi Casals’ approach to meeting people resembles pearl fishing at his beautiful home on the French Riviera. He can see through people and detect their envies and goals, a very helpful gift in his career. The reason he sees through the prism and troubles of everyday life is the fact that he feels the guidance of Dalí. Jordi greets every new day with the gratitude that he may be involved in something as important and breath-taking as art. I think Jordi’s every word during our conversations involved a sense of spirit and purpose.
In honour of Dalí, Jordi is planning to open a gallery for his collection, which at this point has become culturally and historically significant, a little like Noah’s Ark or a time capsule from the 60s to the 00s. The exhibition would house a workshop, for the sake of future-generation art lovers, the museum project has merely been placed on hold and not discarded.
I met Alexander and his son Yaroslav Shadrin at a magical art event organised by power lady and my friend Victoria Bayleys in Moscow. Alexander and Yaroslav have been showcasing their unique Dalí collection (as well as the biggest ceramic collection of Picasso in Russia on another floor) for over a year now in Tsar Basil III’s “Travel Palace” in the heart of Moscow. In this short period, over a million visitors have attended the exhibition. One may think that such an exhibition is unimaginable for a private project, but Yaroslav assures us that “nothing is a miracle”. Father and son own the largest collection of Dalí sculptures and graphics in Russia. Alexander is understandably proud of and passionate for their collection and when the time is right, the pair plan on showing it in other countries, too.
Alexander is a modest person, he used to be a school physics teacher, but the chaotic Perestroika in the post-soviet era pushed him to leave his pedagogic work in order to provide food for his young family. He successfully founded one of the first entrepreneurial cooperatives in the Ural and began to invest his profits in Dalí and Picasso. His son Yaroslav studied law, joined the Bar in Russia and promptly joined his father’s side. In Yaroslav words, “My father is a true connoisseur of Dalí. And he knows to explain passionately and in one breath the story of love between Dalí and Gala – Elena Diakonova was her real Russian name.”
Alexander and Yaroslav have travelled everywhere remotely related to the life and work of Dalí and the role Gala has played in his life. They have bought piece by piece directly from the owners and bit by bit they have assembled their vast collection. Dalí became a close friend, a partner, a guideline to them. The personality of Dalí is the free spirit who never freely and blindly accepted common sense. Alexander and Yaroslav in turn do not accept common sense easily due to the very personality of their beloved artist: “Dalí never agreed with those he did not like” mentions Yaroslav. The artist was forced to abandon his studies at the prestigious Royal Academy of Art in Madrid three times. This for not accepting the opinion of his art professors on his knowledge about Rafael de Santos. Dalí simply found that that nobody could judge his view of the painter. For the first time in 500 years of the academy Salvador Dalí was the first to be expelled with no right to be accepted again, to the great chagrin of his family. Dalí did not seem to mind so much.
On the other hand, Dalí loved and respected his fans. He was of the opinion that “if a spectator comes to see my works and did not react at all, I am not an artist!” Proclaiming this, he greeted every visitor with a snail, a symbol that the world is a mixture of softness and hardness: “Get away from your reality and watch it”. This is also what visitors of the Shadrins’ museum are encouraged to do.
Alexander Shadrin invited Bolshoi ballet dancer actress Anna Nakhapetova to star in a brilliant performance of the passion between Gala and Dalí with a professional ballet ensemble. Upon seeing it one understands the following message: “there will always be mistakes, that is, thorns on a beautiful rose… but let it be an ode to a man who will despite all winds protect and adore his rose”.
All of these unique Dalí connoisseurs, whose very lives are a unique tribute to the artist we know by his angelic name Salvador – the saviour.
Let us save the ability not to fall asleep but spend life thinking and feeling.
Dr Olga Roh
ROHMIR Creative Director