Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Q&A: Madame Christine Argillet

(Christine Argillet)

Saint Petersburg’s Dali Museum isn’t the only place in Florida to see mind-blowing works by the eccentric Spanish master. Here in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, visitors can always marvel at Salvador Dali’s mastery by touring our area’s Wentworth Galleries, at Town Center Mall and on Las Olas Boulevard, respectively. This weekend marks the perfect time to visit, because it affords the rare opportunity to meet the last living link to Dali himself.

Madame Christine Argillet, whose father Pierre served as Dali’s publisher, friend and confidante for five decades, will be at both Wentworth locations on Saturday to present “Salvador Dali: The Argillet Collection.” It includes rare etchings and watercolors, along with selections from the famed Dali suites “Mythologie,” “Les Hippies,” “Goethe’s Faust” and “Poemes Secrets d’Apollinaire.”

Madame Argillet, who currently runs a gallery in California specializing in surrealist and Dadaist art, grew up around Dali; famous black-and-white photographs show the artist in a playful mood, tugging at the pigtails of the young Christine. She has plenty of fond memories of Dali as well as insight into his art and his process, and she was kind enough to share some of them withBoca Raton prior to her area appearances.

(Salvador Dali with young Christine)

For a lot of us, when we hear the name Dali, certain iconic images come to mind. But we don’t necessarily know a lot about the man behind the art. Having grown up with him, what was he like generally, in your experience?

He was a very simple man—a workaholic who started very early in the morning. Around 6 o’clock you would see the light in his studio. We would see him mostly in Spain, where he had his house and where he used to work on large-scale paintings, most of which are now in Florida at the Dali Museum. What was very stunning is that when he was working, he had an easel where there was usually a painting with geometric shapes. You wouldn’t recognize Dali’s style at all. When people would look at him with a sort of interrogation in their eyes, he would say, ‘You wouldn’t think it’s me, but it’s me: I start all my paintings with the Golden Ratio and am working on geometric shapes. And once this is done, I paint inside those shapes.’

It was always something that looked easy. He has a fabulous technique, and his pencil was kind of running behind the ideas. You would be stunned to see a drawing appearing in a few minutes. He had a wonderful spontaneity, which was the other side of him. On some paintings, he would spend months and months, working patiently on the canvas. On other works he would be extremely rapid. He would work on sculptures, tapestries, drawings, films—he had such a large approach to art. He would even work with people on clothing designs, books. He had this extraordinary skill that he could be good at everything he touched. He wanted, in a way, to be the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century.

He would meet, in his house, very simple people, like fishermen or seamstresses, and he would call and ask them to look at his paintings and tell him what they would see. And he would have, at the same time, scientists coming from all over the world, telling him about the latest research on DNA or things like that. He would be passionate about that. And he would value people exactly in the same way, from very important people in their field to simple people. He was very respectful and very simple.

Do you have any insight into where the incredible visions found in Dali’s work originated from—what inspired them?

It isn’t for me to say that directly. I have some answers, but I cannot speak to that directly. When I met Dali the most, I was between the ages of 5 and 20. And that was in the mid-60s. What has been said is that he was somebody very alone. He was dreaming a lot, and was impressed by things that he didn’t understand always. For example, he had a brother who passed away before him, whose name was Salvador Dali as well. And he would say, for instance, that going to the cemetery with his parents on weekends and seeing his own name engraved in the stone was extremely disturbing. It has been said that this created some of the visions in his works. He always said that he couldn’t understand, when he was young, why a part of himself was buried.

There’s also his bad relationship to his father, which led to rebelliousness. There are things that are linked to the beginning of his life, where he rejected the political correctness that existed in Spain at that time, which was a very religious country. On the other hand, he had this knowledge of art and culture, and he would be researching them always.

(Dali’s “Nude With Garter”)

What impact did your father have on Salvador’s work?

I would say that my father was somebody quite humble and would never have felt he had an impact on Dali. But my opinion is that my father read a lot, and had long conversations with the artists and with Dali in particular. He had these long talks with Dali on topics that would be interesting to illustrate, and sometimes Dali would say, ‘Oh, I would love to illustrate this novel, let’s say, or this poem.’ And my father would immediately have everything prepared for Dali to work. He would go to the printmakers and have them do different proofs. He knew that Dali would jump from one idea to another very quickly, and he had to be extremely rapid. He understood that quite early, and the beauty of this collaboration is certainly the fact that he understood that. He needed to follow Dali very rapidly, the minute he wanted to create something. That helped create this fabulous collection in a few years.

Are there examples of your father’s friendship with Salvador that transcend the art world, into the realm of the personal?


They had a great understanding of each other. Dali used to say that Argillet was more Dalinian than himself sometimes, which was a good complement! My father was fascinated by Dali. He had an immense pleasure working for Dali, because it was like starting a new day and a new life, and being on another planet. It was work and personal pleasure at the same time.

Did you always want to follow in your father’s footsteps into the art business?

I had the chance to meet a lot of artists with my father. He took me to Picasso, to Dali, to Wifredo Lam. All of these artists had been fascinating for me, and I had a very close relationship with my father. We would think about art, go to exhibitions together, prepare exhibitions together. I traveled for him, presented the collections. We did not always agree on the way they had to be presented. I think my father, in a way, had so many points of interest that, like Dali, he would jump from one thing to another.

When he passed away, more than 10 years ago, I was so intrigued with these collections. I was thinking, what should I do and what can I do? The idea was that these works were mostly not known in the U.S. And as we were just setting up in California with my husband, who is an artist, I thought, maybe it would be good to present these etchings and drawings in the best museums and galleries we could, and have them known, and share them with other collectors. That’s the goal I had in mind, and I’d say that after 10 years now, I’m quite satisfied.

(Dali’s “Argus”)

Does this collection at the Wentworth Gallery cover a particular period of Dali’s career, or does is span many of them?

I’d say it covers mostly the ‘60s, through 1971. It was a very interesting time, because Dali had changed radically. From the beginning of the ‘60s, he was very meticulous and worked a lot on his drawings. At the end of the 60s, after 1967, he started to be extremely spontaneous and rapid in his works. It’s fascinating to see how a talented artist goes from a meticulous drawing to something that is like a gesture, sometimes.

Where were you when Dali passed away? Did it have an impact on you?

It’s amazing you ask that, because I was thinking about it with my husband yesterday. It’s really something I haven’t shared. It was January 1989, and we knew that Dali was not well and was declining rapidly; he had been ill for many years. I remember very well that moment. I was in Paris at the time, and my father immediately took a plane to his funeral.

At that time, Spanish television had nothing about Dali on film, and my father had been one of the first to use his video camera in Paris, around 1968. My father had recorded Dali at home, dancing the Charleston. It was a very fun thing, and they requested this film when announcing the death of Dali. It was a very special day for us. It was like losing someone from the family.

Madame Christine Argillet will appear from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 at Fort Lauderdale’s Wentworth Gallery (819 E. Las Olas Blvd.) and from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 at Boca Raton’s Wentworth Gallery (517 Town Center Mall, 6000 Glades Road). Both appearances are complimentary, but reservations are strongly required. Call 954/468-0685 or 561/338-0804.

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