There many artists I painted in the last 30 years but Dali, Chagall, Miro, Erte, are among the most well-known that I did “professionally” from 1972 to 1989. Here I discuss the methods I used for the emulations and the provenance that I created for my forgeries of Salvador Dali’s art works.
“Where do I begin? I did most every medium that Dali did with the exception of sculpture, bronzes and jewelry. This includes oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, gouaches, lithographs and etchings. I don’t remember exactly how many oils I did but it’s somewhere over 25 paintings in different eras. Each painting had to make sense so I wouldn’t put elements that he did in the 40’s and 50’s with those that he did in the 60’s and 70’s. This of course applies to drawings , watercolors and gouaches. Dali, unlike Picasso, didn’t catalog everything he did. This opened the door for emulating his art which is the only way I did his “original” one of a kind artwork.
Dali often wrote about work that he did that I couldn’t find in any art books (like the six exploding angels) of which I could only find a couple. Another way was to take a drawing, watercolor, gouache and even etching he did and use that as the basis for an oil painting. I believe all his lithographs were originally oil paintings. (I should mention here that some people believe Dali never did any lithographs. That all of them were photo mechanically produced by collotype or lithography and printed by publishers. Dali would then sign them, or more commonly he would “pre sign” paper that could be bought in blocks of 500 or 1000 sheets.) Anyway, I would use Grumbacher or La France oils and mix them with linseed oil and a “sicitive dryer” that allows the oil to dry more quickly. This is important because it takes 50 years for an oil painting to dry, after which “craqular” begins. Craqular is formed when the paint shrinks from evaporation of the oil. Actually “islands” are formed and the perimeter of each island is a crack. But even with the sicitive dryer it doesn’t dry completely but much better than without it.
I would sometimes use old canvases if I could find them and strip off the paint with commercial paint remover and then cover the canvas with a water based white gesso. More often I would use new stretcher bars and canvas that I purchased in Paris because they are European sizes and still made by dovetailing and glue and even the nails are the same as 40 or 50 years ago. European canvas and stretchers are not available anywhere in the U.S. Then I artificially aged it by bleaching the canvas and staining the stretcher bars with walnut stain. The bleach would damage or burn the fibers and dry it out and make it brittle. This is good because when a painting is new the canvas is very pliable as it ages it becomes more and more brittle.
On a painting that is older you can press your finger on the back of the canvas and feel the difference. At this point I would dilute raw umber until it had a watery consistency and soak the canvas and the stretcher bars. While I was working on the entire project I would smoke Lucky Strikes and put the butts in a 8 ounce glass of water less than half full and put the ashes in another empty 8 ounce glass. I would then cover the entire front of the painting with a less diluted mixer of raw umber to give a slight “patina” depending on what era the painting was completed. How dark the patina was depended on if I wanted to make look neglected or protected and how old it was. Often a painting is neglected by being in an environment that changes from hot and dry to cold and humid. It could be in direct sun light or not. A painting that’s been neglected will also have more craqular than one in a stable environment without direct sun light. I preferred a neglected look most of the time, it seemed more believable.
Now I would use a water based varnish and after it dried to the touch I would bake it in my oven at around 250 degrees for about an hour taking it out occasionally to make sure there was no damage. This would dry out everything, the paint, canvas and stretcher bars. Now I would cover the image with a clear oil based resin. This was never done by Dali or any artist for that matter because it dried so hard it could never be taken off for cleaning or restoration. It was so hard because I had to mix two catalysts together and a chemical reaction would happen. I purchased this in a craft store, old ladies would pour this into ready made molds to make knick knacks. Now there would be another chemical reaction between the water based varnish and the oil based resin. The varnish would crack only slightly. The cracking could be controlled by how much of the water based varnish and oil based resin was used. Thinner coatings produced less craqular. Dali’s generally don’t have craqular because most have been protected in a stable environment but not all of them. Just a touch of craqular seemed to add authenticity.
Because the resin was so hard it made it almost impossible to test the age of the paint although the chemical composition would be the same because Dali used the same oils, La France in Spain and grumbacher in New York. [Dali often spent the winter in New York] If while testing the painting, it was found odd that the resin was used it could be explained that someone stupid varnished it because I don’t believe Dali varnished his own paintings – although I don’t know this for a fact. It also could have been varnished at a later time. Nevertheless, the resin wouldn’t disqualify it as fake. Also at the time, paintings were rarely tested anyway.
Now I would bake it again when the resin was dry to the touch. This not only helps dry it but also binds the water based varnish and the resin together. Now I would again cover the image with diluted raw umber to fill in the tiny cracks then wipe it down so as not to have too much aging. At this time I would take the cigarette butts out of the 8 ounce glass with chop sticks and smear the brown sludge all over the painting front and back including stretcher bars. This would make the patina just right because cigarette smoke is one reason paintings have patinas anyway. Then I would wet the back of the canvas with water and sprinkle on the cigarette ashes I’ve been collecting in the other 8 oz glass and smear it in.
I’ve notice that some old paintings have a gray brown look on the back of the canvas and the ashes soften the raw umber to give it gray tinge. I was at Sotheby’s Beverly Hills in the 70’s before it closed and noticed a man smell a painting. The cigarette smell would make sense. Then I baked it again. Lastly, I use ultra fine wet sand paper and wet sanded the image to scratch it slightly like it! was cleaned with house hold products by a maid or whoever for 40 or 50 years.
Finally I wet the nails (Dali used nails even after staples were used on canvases, also no master European artists used staples) and then salted them so they would rust. I did this after I was done because if I did it before the rust stain wouldn’t bleed around the nails and that gave it another touch of reality.
Now I’d like to mention that the British forgers John Drewe and John Myatt didn’t seem to care if a painting was ever inspected by an expert. The only reason I can think of why Myatt used house paint and K-Y jelly is because it would dry faster. This could have been done better using acrylic water based paints and a drying agent. Acrylic paints are just as vivid as oils and flow beautifully and have a broad range of colors equal to oils. Also Myatt would take a train to meet Drewe with “rolled up canvases” under his arm. So I would assume they didn’t use old or aged stretcher bars.
When a painting ages, the stretcher bars age at the same rate and look like they belong together. I don’t understand why any modern painting would not be stretched. It could happen but why put up a flag? Also Drewe’s ex girl friend said she saw him in the garden rubbing dirt on a canvas to make it look older! This seems not just amateur but worthless. And last why did Myatt put nails in a pail with salt water to rust them if the canvases were rolled up? If the canvases were not aged and you used rusted nails it would be like putting perfume on a pig, why bother?”