Spanish artist Salvador Dalí was famous for his surrealistic works of art, but did you know he also took a shot at flamenco action painting?
© By: Hannet Engel
At the opening of New York’s Gallery of Modern Art in 1965 Salvador Dalí improvised a painting on stage accompanied by the flamenco sounds of guitarist Manitas de Plata and singer José Reyes, father of the ‘The Gipsy Kings’. Filmed footage of that performance was included in the documentary ‘Dalí in New York’ made by director Jack Bond in 1965 and is available online. Watch the video below.
Dalí painting live on stage with Manitas de Plata and José Reyes. From the documentary ‘Dalí in New York’ by Jack Bond in 1965. Source: www.manitasdeplata.fr.
Flamenco action painting is a recent phenomenon, or so I thought. Until my friend and flamenco painter Patricio Hidalgo showed me this rare film footage of Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) performing live together with two flamenco artists on stage. We witness Dalí painting a rider on horseback, probably Don Quichote de la Mancha, and interacting with the musicians. He tries to match the rhythm and intensity of the music, not doing a very good job in my opinion. He tries to end together with the breaks in the music several times, but does not succeed. Dalí does not seem to be familiar with the flamenco rhythm (compás). Being a genius of entertainment, he makes up for it though by pretending to pound the beat with his ‘hooves’ and comically standing up and sitting down again, while stoically holding his famous cane (min 7.34) .
Despite Dalí’s excentric behaviour, guitarist Manitas de Plata holds his own. He has been criticised by some flamenco purists for his unorthodox technique and for playing only rumba. That style is a festive pop version of flamenco and has been made famous world round by the Gipsy Kings, but is sometimes seen as not being actual flamenco. Be that as it may, the performance I see shows a good quality flamenco. Together with the singer Manitas executes difficult flamenco styles pertaining to the traditional flamenco (cante jondo) like seguiryias and tangos. They do end the show with the popular rumba and Manitas even performs a little dance step (pataíta). But I think this shows that he is indeed skilled at the flamenco way of ending a performance with a little on stage party called ‘juerga’.
Dalí and Manitas met on the steamer that carried them from France to New York. Manitas de Plata, meaning ‘little hands of silver’, was actually named Ricardo Baliardo and was a gipsy from the south of France. He was known for socialising with famous people like Brigitte Bardot and Pablo Picasso. Manitas achieved worldwide fame after this visit to New York when he released his first LP ‘Guitarra Flamenco’ and photographer Lucien Clergue organised a photo exhibition about him. Manitas eventually performed in Carnegie Hall fourteen times.
An intriguing artistic detail I discovered is that the sketch of the horseback rider that you can see Dalí conjuring up during this New York performance is also depicted on Manitas’ guitar. This artwork must have been done after the performance. The drawing is depicted on one of Manitas’ album covers (see below), but I have no idea if Dali drew it himself. Looks like it though. I know Manitas was in the habit of letting famous artists the artwork on his guitar. He also got Pablo Picasso to sign his guitar.
Album cover of ‘Hommages’ 1968 by Manitas de Plata showing Manitas’ guitar with a sketch on it of Don Quichote de la Mancha on horseback (probably) by Dalí. Source: prorecordingworkshop.lefora.com.
Dalí might not have been a flamenco artist, but he was a real flamenco fan (aficionao). He was seen several times with flamenco dancer ‘La Chunga’ (Micaela Flores Amaya), a cousin of the famous dancer Carmen Amaya. La Chunga was from Catalunya, the same Spanish region where Dalí was born. She always danced barefoot. Dalí got her to perform on a blanc canvas with black paint on her feet as a sort of live paint-dance performance in the countryside of Port Lligat. I am not sure how Dalí came into contact with flamenco, but being from Catalunya it is natural that he would have known flamenco artists from that region.
La Chunga dancing for Dalí on a blanc canvas, Port Lligat, septembre 1958. On the right: Mercédès Rosales de Senillosa, Chano Rosales and (outside the frame) Antonio Senillosa. Foto: Robert Descharnes (?). Source: virgiliorm.blogspot.nl
As far as live action painting accompanied by flamenco music goes, Dalí was probably the first. I do not think Dalí contributed a great deal to the flamenco itself though. Contemporary flamenco action painting has grown a lot in that sense. Nowadays there are live action painters like Patricio Hidalgo, who are very knowledgeable about the art of flamenco and use their craft to translate the emotion, imagery and rhythm of the flamenco ‘language’ to visual forms of expression. I will be dedicating a future post to flamenco action painting, so sign up for my updates and push the ‘follow’ button on the homepage.