The Poet and the Painter: Author David Francis Finds Surprising Familiarity in the Relationship between Painter Salvador Dali and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Brought to Life in the New Film Little Ashes

By Francis, David | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), March 2009 | Go to article overview

The Poet and the Painter: Author David Francis Finds Surprising Familiarity in the Relationship between Painter Salvador Dali and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Brought to Life in the New Film Little Ashes


Francis, David, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I was in Paris on a writing fellowship. I was searching for inspiration when I discovered a poem by the celebrated and gay Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. It was his "Ode to Salvador Dali": Art is not the light that blinds our eyes--it's love ... painted like a game of snakes and ladders. After reading the piece, I stared out from my studio window to the Centre de Danse across the street, where a young dancer suspended French ballerinas--one and then another. He stared back.

When we met in the street later that afternoon, he told me his name was Olivier, that he'd been a young music star in Cameroon, and that he'd been forced to free the country (or face five years in prison) after he came out of the closet to his audience one night.

In 1920s Spain, when Lorca was a student in Madrid, the penalty for sodomy was 15 years in custody, and still he published his erotic love poems to the eccentric young painter and fellow student Salvador Dali. Their affair became legendary, inspiring the new film Little Ashes, flush with dreamy scenes of Lorca (portrayed by the Spanish actor Javier Beltran) and Dali (played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame). In one scene their young bodies swirl together under moonlit water as they share their angelic first kiss. In another, in the midst of an attempt at lovemaking, Dali, on the verge of being penetrated, panics. He abruptly departs for Paris, leaving the devastated Lorca behind: And yet I suffered for you. I gashed--my veins--white lilies dueling jaws about your waist.

In Paris, after reading Lorca and hearing the rest of Olivier's experiences, I began writing my own story--about a young Australian painter who travels to Soviet Moscow, where he falls deeply in love with a dancer. This story, which was also inspired by the time I spent in Moscow in 1984 (when being gay could mean five years in the gulag), grew into a novel, Stray Dog Winter. Dali writes in his early autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali that in Lorca, "the poetic phenomenon in its entirety and 'in the raw' presented itself before me suddenly in flesh and bone, confused, blood-red, viscous and sublime, quivering with a thousand fires of darkness. …

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