( MY 5 AMAZING DAYS CREATING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY PORTRAIT FOR SALVADOR DALI & GALA )
( THE TOM CRUISE & NICOLE KIDMAN WEDDING )
( TOM SELLECK’S POSTER SESSION )
( VIVIAN’S ICONIC CAREER ADVENTURE & THE CREATION OF MY MONA LISA )
THE 50th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY PORTRAIT & MY 5 DAYS WITH SALVADOR DALI & GALA
My first real encounter with art was when I was five years old and my father took me to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. After wandering around, with my father acting as tour guide, I stood, transfixed, before Salvador Dali’s “Crucifixion” and I was so stirred by his genius that I refused to leave that spot.
Through the ensuing years I took many trips to that museum and spent countless hours gazing at the creation, which influenced and molded me creatively. In the summer of 1973, I was commissioned to re-create a portraiture of Salvador Dali and his wife Gala for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. For me, the assignment was the opportunity of a lifetime, to meet and photograph my idol. The experience was equivalent to meeting the likes of my idols, Rembrandt or Da Vinci.
I accepted the commission without hesitation.
From the airport I hailed a taxi and had only to say, “Take me to Salvador Dali’s house.” I arrived in the late afternoon. The house, rectangular, wider than it was tall and painted solid white, was built into a slope facing the road and the beach beyond. When I looked up I saw a confirmation that the house could belong to no one else. Perched atop the roof made of concrete and painted to match the house, a distinctive symbol of surrealism was displayed – an egg – ten feet tall. For me, being there, in front of Dali’s house, was surrealistic in itself. I could hardly believe that all I had to do was walk up the steps and ring the bell attached to the white wooden door.
The servant motioned me to proceed toward the couch and left. Sitting upon it were a man and a woman, neither of whom took any notice of me. The woman, wearing a white chiffon dress, sat calmly reading a book. The man, sitting to her left, was resting his hand on the top of his gold cane, looking off into the distance. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be standing in the presence of Gala and Salvador Dali, but they said nothing, almost as though I wasn’t really there. The longest minute of my life passed. Speechless, I started to wonder if what I was experiencing could possibly be a dream. I decided to make an effort to speak and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Dick Zimmerman. “I’m here to recreate your wedding photograph.” Dali glanced up at me and immediately went back to his book. Gala looked annoyed and just grunted. They didn’t care that I was there, it seemed. As for me, I was finally meeting my idol and had expected a warm welcome – not an unfriendly attitude. I spoke again,”It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” I received no response from either of them that time – not even a grunt. I felt awkward, just standing there, so I decided to sit in one of the chairs facing the couch. As the silence continued, I became more uncomfortable and wondered how on earth I would ever be able to accomplish my assignment. A few minutes later I heard the doorbell ring and, suddenly, Dali sprang from the couch and ran down to answer the door. That seemed odd to me, after all, he did have servants, but his action wasn’t very surprising in comparison with everything else I had experienced since my arrival. Dali returned escorting two very pretty women, one blonde and one brunette, who were wearing low cut dresses. One woman had her right breast totally exposed and the other, her left.
He brought them over to me and said, “This is Deeek.”
Looking at their faces, I stood, shook their hands and muttered, “Hi, nice to meet you.” With that said, Dali returned to his place on the couch, picked up his book and continued to read. The women turned around and sat in two chairs facing me on my left side. I sat down, feeling dazed and confused. Nothing seemed real to me anymore. No one spoke for at least five minutes. Finally, one woman put her breast back where it belonged and the other did the same. At that point the blonde one came over to me, smiled and whispered in a Spanish accent, “You have passed the test!”
During the entire ordeal, Dali and Gala had been watching me, sizing me up, deciding what kind of man I was. They had wanted to see my reaction to the different situations they had set up and I had met with their approval. What Dali and Gala would never knew was that the mere fact of being in their presence had been so surreal to me, I couldn’t have cared less about two naked women! Dali and Gala were now on their feet and smiling at me. “Welcome to our home!” they both said.
Dali shook my hand warmly and Gala kissed me on both cheeks. I was finally getting the warm reception for which I had hoped, and even more. They were very gracious and treated me like a family member. That evening, Gala invited me to stay and the round-faced servant took my things up to one of the bedrooms. The next day, Gala gave me a personal tour of the Dali Museum in Figueros which was due to open that week. On another day, Dali allowed me to watch him paint in his studio. I considered it a great honor since, I had been told, the invitation was rarely extended and then, only to special people. I quietly sat, five to six feet behind him, as he painted a spoof of a Norman Rockwell self-portrait, where the artist is depicted leaning to his left and looking into a mirror.
I’ve heard it said that behind every successful man there is a woman and, at the back of Dali’s studio against the wall, sat Gala. From her position I could hear her making grunting sounds, approving or disapproving, as he applied each brush stroke. Seeing the oneness of their relationship, I realized the importance of my assignment.
Unfortunately, every time I brought up the subject of the wedding portrait, Dali changed the subject. I didn’t want to press the issue and risk irritating my host, so I stayed on as a guest and one day led to the next with no photo session in sight. I finally resigned myself to the idea that I would ever take those wedding photos. I decided at this point that, if I merely stayed there to experience a few days in the life of the most eccentric genius of our time, it was OK with me!
Every day, after lunch, people would start to drop in – actresses, models, artists, the idle rich – visiting, dining and drinking wine. He seemed to be friends with everyone. On occasion he’d take all the visitors, and me, into town by taxi to his favorite restaurant where his usual table was always reserved. Every night was a social event. Not only did Dali paint and sculpt, but he also designed jewelry, clothes, silverware and you-name-it. Dali was constantly creating.
One day Dali was trying to decide which of five alternate designs of a ring to use in his jewelry line. He asked for my input and listened carefully to what I had to say about each design in a way that made me feel like he thought my response was important. Later, a delivery boy came to the house and Dali asked him which of the five rings he liked best. I saw the boy’s surprise and pride at being asked what he thought. Dali treated everyone around him like a special and important person.
Watching him interact with others, made me grow and expand creatively. My most special moment with Dali took place on the third day of my visit, when I had the unique and intimate experience of sitting alone with him in his courtyard, philosophizing about life. He told me his greatest fear – death – and his greatest inspiration – Velasquez. He gave me a lesson on words that sound like their meaning, such as butterfly, which he pronounced “buttaflyeee” and then motioned into the air to show it flying away. We talked about how his fascination with time had affected his art and had inspired the depiction of surreal, melting timepieces. I wished my father could have seen me there in the company of that great man. I started to get the feeling that I was dreaming again and pinched my arm hard to be sure that the experience was real. With Dali looking into the distance and thinking about life, I was able to get a rare, unposed photo of him. I raised my camera and squeezed the shutter to capture that most precious memory. I was never certain if he was aware of the fact that I was invading his private world or not. The moment was unique since the photographs normally taken of him were overly posed, with lips puckered and hand on cane, locking others out of his world. In that one instant I learned the value of time and the importance of capturing a special moment on film.
After five days of enjoying Dali and Gala’s hospitality, and no sign from either of them that we were going to do the photo shoot that I had been hired for, I packed up my gear and made ready to return to London and my normal life. I said my good-byes and was waiting in the courtyard for my taxi to arrive when Dali entered with Gala, both wearing their wedding costumes, and said, “Deek! Now!” I couldn’t believe that they chose that particular moment. I felt as if they’d been testing me the entire time I had been there, all the way up to the moment of departure.
I frantically unpacked my equipment, set up the lights and, sweat pouring down my face, did a twenty minute shoot in about five minutes – shot a full roll of film and completed the assignment I had somehow managed to forget about. Yet another lesson on time from the man who was intrigued with the concept.
As I was leaving they invited me to be the exclusive distributor of Dali’s work in England. I’ll never forget the surprised looks on their faces as I replied,
“Thank you for the offer but I could never mix business with pleasure.”
Despite the fortune that I could have made, the venture would have turned that precious and intimate experience into just another business meeting. That time I was the teacher and the lesson was mine.
Whenever I’m back in New York I still visit the Metropolitan Museum and gaze in awe at “The Crucifixion” knowing that I had been in the master’s presence, or was I?
It’s still so unreal!
TOM CRUISE & NICOLE KIDMAN WEDDING PORTRAITS
In December of 1990 I was commissioned exclusively to create the wedding portraits of Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman.
The wedding was to take place on Christmas day in Telluride Colorado.
Two days prior, Tom Flew me and my assistant from Los Angeles to the wedding site in his private jet, in order to check out the location and to work out the compositions and lighting. The flight was very smoothly–Tom’s pilots were extremely professional. I had only been on two previous private flights, but I felt relaxed. Telluride had a landing strip on top of a mountain about two miles up. It was like landing on an aircraft carrier, one minute you’re looking at the mountains, and the next the bump as the wheels are hitting the runway.
I exited the plane for the shock of my life as the 40 below tempter hit my face–absolutely the coldest temperature I have ever felt.
The log cabin was very cozy and I was extremely relived to feel the warmth of the fire place’s well as a warm welcome as Tom introduced me to Nicole. She was a lot taller than I expected. Her hair was very curly and her face like a porcelain doll with freckles.
Tom was a very gracious host and told me to help myself with any food or drink. He was very friendly and what I felt most interesting was his energy…lots of it! If something needed to be done he would handle it in a flash. Here’s a great example of Tom in action that I will never forget:
That evening we were having a great time decorating the Christmas tree when we realized that Tom was missing. Nobody knew where he went.
We finally found Tom outside the house, rescuing a woman whose car was stuck in a snow bank. He was shoveling her car out of this snowbank outside in just a flannel shirt in -40, amazing!, without thinking of himself or his warmth he just reacted to someone in distress and that was that! So for me it of course it was instant admiration…there was no celebrity super star ego on board, just a guy wanting to do what was needed to help!
The next day I was ready for the portrait sittings. The guests had all arrived, the ceremony was very nice and the various compositions that I created came off with out any problems–even the portrait of the entire guest list with a composition that I felt had to be shot outside. I had set up the composition inside with a rehearsal of everyone in an assigned position. So that when we moved outside in -40 degree weather, they would all know were to stand and in 45 seconds I was able to capture and complete that composition before the frostbite set in! When it was over Tom told me he was very thankful for my smooth professionalism and the event had come to its end. Mission accomplished!
A Brush with Death
What was to follow would be the most terrifying experience of my life.
Tom had to fly a few of the guests back to Los Angeles, so he charted another plane for myself, my assistant, and four other people. The takeoff from the short runway atop of the mountain went according to plan, and incidentally the only way to take of from that aircraft carrier was to pull up the emergency brakes while revving the engine, then releasing the brakes for a quick takeoff. This was a scary experience, but routine for the pilots.
We were in the air for about ten minutes when there was an enormous rush of heat and smoke from the back which instantly filled up this tiny eight-seat Learjet. The four passengers were hysterical, there was smoke everywhere and the window cover slides were also melting. There was an emergency siren going off and the pilots who were a couple of feet away were on the radio, shouting “Mayday, Mayday!”
When you encounter something so incomprehensible and so life-threatening, it’s funny to see the different ways in which other people face it. The four other passengers were screaming hysterically that they were going to die!!! My assistant was sitting quietly and looking petrified. For me, the situation was so unreal–I felt as though I was watching a movie. Believe it or not, I was not really scared. I felt as if there was nothing really happening, and that combined with the fact that it felt like a movie led me to feel that it would somehow work out in my favor and anyway. As it was, I had no choice but to sit there calmly and go with the flow, even though I felt so unreal and unready to die at that time, but I was secretly preparing myself for the possible end.
In a life threatening situation such as this, time feels distorted and moves differently. And before I could focus on the seconds, the pilot made an emergency landing in an old deserted airport runway in New Mexico. He had miraculously spotted the runway and just went for it! I don’t even remember this miracle landing or the time involved as my thoughts were so busy going over the highlights of my life, but somehow we landed safely.
We shortly found out later that when landing a Learjet, it is necessary to discharge the pressure in the engines through a valve release, but our pilots neglected to do this, so instead the built-up pressure was released and backed up into the plane shortly after takeoff. When Tom found out about this almost disaster he was furious that a charter flight had such incompetent pilots, he had them immediately fired and had his own plane flown back to New Mexico to pick us up and return us intact to Los Angeles.
TOM SELLECK POSTER SESSION
I was commissioned by the Shooting Star poster company to create a portrait of Tom Selleck for worldwide distribution.
Tom was living in Hawaii at the time, shooting for Magnum, PI. I flew to his home in Hawaii. The house was very beautiful, like a tropical paradise. I knocked on the door and the maid indicated that Tom was running late from the studio. She told me to make myself comfortable, and I asked her if it was okay for me to look over the house and property in order to establish a location and background for the portrait. She invited me to go wherever I pleased. I wandered the tropical grounds with a beautiful pool, incredible flowers, a spectacular waterfall and outlined three perfect locations and went back inside to wait for Tom. Tom arrived very shortly after that. He was larger than I had expected and had a very strong presence about him, almost bigger than life, and very much the star quality that he and his highly-rated show portrayed.
He was very polite and very apologetic for being late and indicated that we should move to the kitchen. He said that he had heard of my reputation as a very creative artist, and felt very priveleged to have me create this artwork, and made it a point to stress his respect for me, reminding me that I was the artist. He reassured me saying, “Whatever you want me to do is totally fine with me.” He reiterated, “I want you to do whatever you want. You are the artist and I respect your talent! So what would you like me to do?”
I proposed my first idea: to stand him in front of the waterfalls, flowers in the foreground, and take advantage of the setting sun’s light. We were to trying this scene with a couple of different wardrobe changes. Without a second’s hesitation, he said in a whiny voice, “Naaaaah I don’t want to do that…but you are the artist so whatever you want to do it’s okay with me! So what would you like me to do?”
I felt a bit confused by this remark, especially after he had expressed his confidence in my ideas, but I still had two more ideas to propose. I described the second idea to Tom in detail, which I felt was even better than the first. He reacted in the exact same tone as before: “Naaaaaaaah I don’t want to do that, but listen you’re the creative artist so whateger you want me to do that’s fine!…so what would you like to do?”
By now I was wondering if this was all just my imagination…so I took a deep breath and proceeded to explain the third idea. Immediately he responded, “Naaaaaah I don’t want to do that! But whatever you want to do is okay with me!”
My face was white. I felt the blood draining. I was confused, bewildered, and hoping this was all a joke. Perhaps this was a hidden camera and I was being plunked? I once again held my composure and I responded in a very quiet tone, “Tom, I’m totally confused, you express to me with conviction three times that whatever I want to do is okay with you, and then I express myself and you say ‘Naaaaaaaah…I don’t want to do that’…can you tell me what’s going on?”
Without hesitation he then said “Maybe we should do this another time!” This was not an option for me. The trip, my time, and all the expenses involved were costly, and I had no logical explanation for all this confusion.
I felt the only way to handle and salvage this production was to ignore this very bizarre situation and take charge. So I stood up and said in a very authoritative voice, “Let’s go over your wardrobe!”
To my astonishment, and almost as if I was his commanding officer. He stood right up and said “Okay!” and led us to his closet to make our selection. I was dumfounded but relieved, and pretended not to be surprised by his willingness. We went up to his closet and he said, “Listen, you choose whatever you would like me to wear, that’s fine with me. You’re the artist and you know how you see this.”
I responded, “How about using this top and these shorts?”
And to my disbelief, the same exact words were started, “Naaaaah, I don’t want to wear those…but you’re the artist…” I went through this one more time with the same response…no exaggeration, “Naaaaaaaah.” I handled it in the same manner as before. I selected kahki cargo pants and kind of a hunting shirt, and suggested that we move on to the location. Tom responded with a positive “Okay!”
I positioned Tom behind some flowers and about ten feet in front of the waterfall. As I was starting to compose, he jumped forward because his pants were getting a few drops on them, and he ran into the house. He emerged with a pair of kahki shorts and went back to his position. I proceeded to show him a Polaroid which he loved and approved. I proceeded to create the composition, and we were finished.
All things said and done, I made it out of there with the finished product.
The poster company was extremely happy—so happy that they printed thousand more copies than originally planned. Just before the finished posters shipped, Tom Selleck issued a cease and desist on the distribution, claiming that I coerced him into wearing shorts which he found unflattering. They also happened to be the same shorts that he wore week after week on Magnum PI….go figure! Just as quickly as the posters were withdrawn from distribution, he dropped the law suit with no further explanation. To this day the poster is still the largest selling poster in history,…and I’m still confused
Vivian iconic career & painting
This is the first portrait I created with my contemporary Realistic technique. I painted it in 1983 and throughout the years it has become very special to me, it’s become an iconic symbol that represents my overall viewpoint on art. It is my Mona Lisa and a symbol that represents and communicates the direction of what originally inspired me to focus on portraiture since childhood. I thought it was appropriate to display this explanation for it, as this has become a symbol for where I have come from and the the quality and direction that I have resolved to maintain.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in London, an unusually sunny one. I was strolling down Kings Road, looking forward to a relaxing day. I noticed, strolling in my direction half a block away, an unusual face coming towards me…she had an innocence and a look right out of the renaissance, an image I simply had to capture on canvas. I asked her if anyone had ever painted or photographed her, and in a very shy she responded with a sheepish “No!”
Capturing a Classic BeautyI asked her if she would give me an hour of her time at my studio which was just around the corner, and she agreed. I quickly called a friend who was a makeup artist, and within 45 minutes I was able to capture this image which became the cover of British Vogue Magazine. What followed was quite remarkable, as this cover became a launching pad for her, inciting several top magazines, ad agencies, and cosmetics companies to seek out her image, and within six months, she became the top beauty model in Europe.
Creating the Oil PaintingThe painting also helped launch my career to the top, and became a representation of my art. So when I decided to develop my mixed media Portraiture, I felt it only fitting for Vivian to be the first image I would transform into my first Z Portraiture painting. Today, it has once again became an icon for me as it represents the exact direction that defines and signifies portraiture for me.