I discovered Vali late, only last year when I found out that two of my favourite pieces of artwork in the Chelsea Hotel – intricate drawings of a rabbit and a horse – had been made by her.
She was also at the centre of one of my favourite Hotel Chelsea legends – the time that she tattooed a lightning bolt onto the kneecap of a starstruck Patti Smith, the latter considering this her official initiation into the world of art and bohemia therein.
Vali herself was an unmistakeable sight at the Chelsea – intricate facial tattoos, a mane of bright red hair.
She was written about by Tennessee Williams, had a pet fox, smoked opium with Jean Genet; she lived a double life between rural Italy and hipster New York; each of her drawings took six months to two years to complete, and she refused to sell them for less than she thought they were worth, even when she was broke.
You have got to be filled with admiration for a woman who, when she was dying, said:
"I've had 72 absolutely flaming years. It doesn't bother me at all because, you know, love – when you've lived like I have, you've done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I'm in the hospital now, and I guess I'll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go."
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