I once met Salvador Dali. It was – no surprise here – a completely unexpected experience. In the 1970s the great surrealist came to London to arrange for the sale of a set of limited edition etchings based on the travels of Don Quixote. I attended a meeting between him, his UK agent and some useless agency types who were keen to meet someone famous, and the agencyâ€™s chairman brought his son along. It was one of those meet-and-greets that periodically occur in the media business, and involve someone famous that everyone feels they should meet, like David Beckham. When networks are trying to flog reruns of Baywatch, they wheel out David Hasselhoff to excite the execs with a bit of rusty stardust.
Apart from his excessively luxuriant moustache (not pointing upright), Dali looked like an elegant European businessman, and sat silently in a grey suit slumped in a corner of the table, bored, while the media folk spouted fawning rubbish. At the end of the meeting, Dali rose and went over to the chairmanâ€™s son, handing him the notepad on which heâ€™d been scrawling throughout the meeting. He had been making drawings of the boy from every angle. He signed them, gave them to the child and left with a wink, ignoring everyone else. I admired him for that.
In Figueras I went to the Dali museum and saw his jewellery. Some of the pieces pulse and transform, like the crystal-encrusted heart that beats. Many of the pieces have been turned into rather good costume jewellery that’s inexpensive to buy. Did critics attack him because he combined elements of business and showmanship with his art?
Right now US dealers are betting that Damien Hirst’s stock will rise because he has cut out the middle-man and has been dealing directly with buyers – the difference for me being that after visiting many shows by both artists, Dali combined elements of his background geography and dreams to create deeply Spanish visions, whereas there’s nothing in Hirst to reveal anything of himself, and very little to reveal that he has any talent at all. Thinking about it, all of my favourite artists and writers reveal something either inadvertently or deliberately of themselves. Surely it’s impossible for a talented artist not to?
NB I always wondered if the Ruby Lips brooch inspired The Rocky Horror Show.