Paris and Europe 1950 - 1958
It was a rough and tough time... there was nothing romantic about it. We didn't hang out in the café's because it was hip - we didn't have anywhere else to go... dancing kept me alive. I saw so many of my friends die.
Vali's dream was to dance for a living in Paris, but the bleak poverty of Paris in 1949 was a bitter shock to Vali. The city was completely ravaged by war, money was scarce and jobs were almost impossible to find. Refusing to turn tail and plead for money to return home, Vali began a life on the streets with the rest of the world's displaced.
Jewish and Gypsy refugees fleeing camps, writers, artists and petty thieves - they all formed a vagabond family that made the Paris cafes their home. Vali lived on the streets of the Latin Quarter of Saint Germain des Pres on the Left Bank for three years, surviving on bread and milk and carrying a knife for protection.
Vali became notorious in the Quarter for her phantom-like face and almost supernatural ability to dance. Vali drew crowds of spectators dancing for hours to African musicians in cafes and nightclubs. Photographer, Ed van der Elsken, made Vali the main subject of a series of photographs documenting bohemian life in postwar Paris published in the book 'Love on the Left Bank' in 1956. A chronicle of the early 50s in Paris, the book also features the artwork Vali carried with her constantly during this time. Elsken made Vali the subject of another project in 1971 – a film entitled ‘Death In Port Jackson Hotel’ - named after a drawing Vali had created from 1968 to 1969.
Vali was expelled from Paris in 1952 after years of constant harassment over vagabondage and association with the crazy Pierre Feuillette, who was also photographed by Ed van der Elsken and features in ‘Love on the Left Bank’. After stints in prison for vagrancy, Vali left Paris and began her 'walkabout' of France, Italy, Britain, Brussels and finally Austria. It was in the winter of 1952 in Vienna that Vali met a young architect, Rudi Rappold, who shared Vali's urge to keep moving. For three years they travelled from country to country hounded by police and authorities. Finally, in an effort to keep Vali legally in Europe, they married and returned to Paris.
Paris was now awash with a new wave of post-war Anglo Bohemians. The dollar's exchange rate turned North American artists and writers into neo-aristocrats and Vali mixed most of the 'hipster' set including writers Jean Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams and Jean Genet. It was also during this period that Vali became addicted to opium and would smoke with Jean Cocteau late at night.
Vali's artwork was first recognised by George Plimpton, writer and founder of The Paris Review. He had known Vali for years and like many others, was seduced by her sensual dancing and haunting face. Plimpton published a portfolio of her drawings in the Paris Review #18 in the spring of 1958 and wrote an accompanying preface. The writer went on to purchase almost all of Vali's early work and the two shared a friendship for many years.