Over the years there were plenty of projects that would take up a lot of my time with Dali, and just before, and somewhat after the release of “Ten Secret Recipes for Immortality” was released, there was a theme Dali held onto for quite a while. Dali wanted to be able to reproduce exactly a body when it was pressed on a board, paper, canvas or whatever the media might be. To this end he had several hotel rooms throughout the St Regis to perform his experiments and act as studios. When first introduced to this concept and the work it entailed I was shocked to see the state the room was in that Dali had been executing his experiments on. The walls were literally covered with dried dripping paint and the bathroom in particular, was a mess with the paint everywhere from models showering to get it off.
Up to this point Dali had been applying paint in various methods to nude models. Some paint was brushed on, foreseeing the popular body paintings of today, but other models had paint thrown on them in the horrifying methods of Pollack. When these models were pressed on boards, canvases and paper of every type, the result was always disappointing. The paint would smear and not leave any detail, often rendering the picture or image it made useless. After several tries Dali was getting frustrated, and I knew this would never work. Despite the growing anger of Dali in the poor results, I was always more than happy to work with the nude models that were all hoping to become immortalized. Like an innocent lamb I suggest to Dali we need something like what the police use for fingerprints. Dali gasps and opens his eyes wide to announce “absolutely”, and that I will have to go to the police to find out their secrets. The next day Dali presents me with a typed letter of introduction stating that I am doing research for him and need information on police methods of fingerprinting and signed Dali, (quite incomprehensibly actually, but his name was also typed neatly) So here I had opened my big mouth to get assigned something a bit strange to approach.
After talking to a policeman that happened to be near the lobby of the St Regis he told me the location of the NY Detective section of the police and gave me a name to look up. I made my way to the Detective headquarters and introduced myself to the person I had a name for, who set up an appointment for me the next day to come to the building and be introduced to their methodology.
The next day I arrived to find I actually had a detective assigned to me to show me all the methods the police use to pull fingerprints and got a demonstration of several of the methods. I actually bought some of the two I thought might have the best chances of capturing every pore and every hair as Dali wanted from the police, and made my way back to the St Regis, feeling elated over my findings and hopeful I could deliver the missing ingredient to Dali. The two items I returned with were an aerosol which when sprayed on paper with fingerprints and then heated, revealed the tiniest of details. The second was an actual dusting powder which could be dusted on any surface to reveal fingerprints.
Off to the paint covered rooms with a few hopeful models again and we were pressing them on paper, and gesso covered masonite. To heat the large papers and boards Dali actually made deals within the Hotel kitchen (actually the restaurant that serviced the cocktail lounge and the King Cole Bar) to bake the paper or boards with their ovens, but the results were always less than expected. Since most of the pressed body image was completely missing with these methods, we concluded that since the methodology worked with body oils there was not enough oil on the surfaces of our models. We now took to rubbing oil on the naked models which really was amusing. Not knowing what just the right amount of oil would be there were all kinds of methods developed for applying and removing excess oil.
It did not take long to discover the oiled models produced a smear which lost all the detail Dali was looking for.
One evening, arriving at the Hotel and hoping for supper, Dali greeted me by saying he had solved our problem. He excused Albert Field who was waiting in the cocktail lounge for him, and took me upstairs to show me a small charcoal drawing he had been working on, while the drawing was very nice , he was not interested in me seeing it, but just below it, where Dali had mistakenly let the bottom of his hand rest on the paper. There in exquisite detail was the perfect replica of Dali’s hand, every pore, every hair, every slightest wrinkle of skin. He had found what we had been trying to do all winter long. Announcing I was about to become a very dirty man, Dali put me in a room with three, four foot high drawing boards and handed me several boxes of black charcoal, instructing me to not leave until they are all covered uniformly, and so no strokes could be discerned. Dali took the book that I had brought for him to sign (as I often did) and told me he will do something for me while I worked. Some 4 hours later as I am finishing the fourth drawing board Dali appears and makes an inspection, directing me to make better a few minor spots on the boards, and shows me the drawing he has prepared, of Karl Marx, who I am to be known by from now on, because Markoya was much too difficult.
These boards were used to press naked models against and Dali would finish the details of the work by swiping toilet paper on the untouched areas of the charcoal creating drapery and angels wings. As far as pressing painted woman on canvas, Dali would use this once more, at the opening of his show at Knoedlers. This show featured many stereoscopic works which I had to find and set up front surface mirrors for, including one piece which actually had 4x8’ mirrors in the downstairs hallway.
Right next to this was set up a small stage with a canvas where Dali pressed a painted woman and a small girl, both naked, and covered in silver paint against a canvas as a “happening” for the Knoedler opening. The woman and girl were supplied and painted silver by Jon Stevens who just had a special in Playboy magazine featuring his silver painted nudes. Dali saw the photos and met with Jon once or twice to arrange the spectacle.
Somewhere in this timeframe Dali started extoling the virtues and significance of the number 35. If he ever told me the significance, I’ve long forgotten. But it came up a number of times, and is reflected in some of the signatures he put in my books. The most memorable insistence on the mystical powers of 35 came from Dali inviting models to undress for him. This would happen in the same room(s) as the paint splatters were and all models were flattered thinking that the great Dali was going to immortalize them in a drawing or painting. What was about to actually happen was an entirely different story. Dali was convinced that 35 was not only mystical but occurred naturally in the most amazing place. Thirtyfive Dali, said, was the exact number of wrinkles in the female anus. And to go one step further, we were to prove it by counting the wrinkles on several models that thought they were in for something much more pleasant. Now you might think that having the wrinkles of your anus is enough humiliation, but counting the little puckers was all together very tricky, so Dali had us start to mark them or at least every fifth wrinkle, so the marks could be distinguished from another…….and should I have a count that was not 35…I was told to start over, I made a mistake .
I don’t believe I ever knew what significance 35 had, or what secrets it holds, but that is the story of 35.
The Stories and Mystery of the Number 35
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