“So it’s taken me about 11 years to complete this film,” Richard Whymark says of his documentary Fiore: In Love With Clay.
“I started when my wife first mentioned Fiore as a family friend who would be the sculptor who would come and visit their home in D.C.," he said. "And she would have a cigar in one hand, whisky in the other, and somehow sculpt members of the family or friends. And she would tell stories about her character as either being very bombastic or very reflective and artistic. She was a great artist and had an artistic temperament as well, and I thought, ‘that sounds like a good story to document.’”
Inspired by stories of the temperamental but talented Fiore de Henriquez, Whymark set out to make his first documentary feature. “When I started doing some research into Fiore’s life, the first thing I discovered was that she had purchased a village in Tuscany – house by house – and turned it into an artists’ colony,” Whymark says. He got in touch with the people who now run the colony and was soon on his way to Peralta, Italy for a celebration of Fiore’s birthday. There he met and filmed many people who knew and worked with the artist.
“And then inevitably, each of those people say ‘oh, you must talk to this person, you must talk to this person,’” Whymark says. “And sometimes that person was in Canada, or in San Francisco, or in New York, or France. So I ended up going around the western world, finding these people who knew Fiore and whose lives had been touched for better or worse by knowing her.”
There was a lot of material to uncover – Fiore led a fascinating life, suffering abuse as a child, discovering at puberty that she was intersex, and later working against the Nazis as a member of the Italian partisan movement, all before she even began her artistic career.
Over the course of more than a decade, Whymark interviewed dozens of colleagues, friends, and non-friends of Fiore, attempting to create a full picture of her complicated life and work. “Now, there’s a lot of contention about any of Fiore’s stories,” Whymark cautions. “She would embellish them to make them seem more exciting, so you never really know what’s true, which is why I like to put every version of the story in the film, so there’s no doubt that one of them is true.”
“The idea that the stories shift and change were a reflection of her personality,” he continues. “Her personality shifted depending on who she was talking to. Not only was she what she referred to as hermaphrodite – what we now call intersex – and so she shifted male and female quite naturally, her personality [also] changed. She could be in love with you one day and then kick you out the next day with great anger and tirades and shouting. And then the next day bring you back in with hugs and love. And so yes, not only were her stories… fluid, shall we say? But her character was as well.”
'Fiore: In Love With Clay' will have its American premiere this Sunday, January 20, at Spike Gillespie’s Tiny T Ranch and is available now for rental or purchase on amazon.com.