Tuesday, January 25, 2011


One of the first painters who made a strong impression on me was the Spanish artist Salvador Dali. Instead of painting straight reality, he incorporated psychological dream imagery into his paintings, creating works that had a striking and bizarre quality. He worked in several mediums, including film, sculpture, and photography, and collaborated with many other major artists.

Dali was influenced early by Picasso and Miro, but also by classical artists like Vermeer and Velazquez. He used both traditional and modernist techniques in his work.

The Great Masturbator (1929) is centered around a distorted human face looking downward and based on a rock formation. A female face rises from the back of the head. The woman's mouth is near a thinly clad male crotch suggesting fellatio may take place. The male figure seen only from the waste down has fresh cuts that are bleeding. There is a locust, a swarm of ants, and an egg, all common elements in Dali's work. The painting represents Dali's conflicted attitude towards sex. As a youth Dali's father had exposed him to a book that showed explicit photos of people suffering from advanced untreated venereal diseases to educate him.
The images fascinated and horrified Dali, causing him to associate sex with putrification and decay.

The First Days of Spring (1929) is a painting that deals with Dali's troubled relationship with his father. In the distance is the shadowy figure of a man holding the hand of a small boy. On the left is a figure seated in a chair with his back turned to the entire scene.

In 1929, he collaborated with the surrealist film director Luis Bunuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou. The following year they produced L'Age d'Or. These films were revolutionary surrealist works. Dali officially joined the Surrealists group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. They hailed what Dali called the paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater creative activity.

In 1931, Dali painted what is probably his most famous work, The Persistence of Memory, which introduced the surreal image of melting watches. The painting rejects the notion that time is rigid or deterministic and alludes to Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Dali was highly imaginative and had an affinity for partaking in unusual and grandiose behavior. Dali and his wife Gala attended a ball in New York where they dressed up as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. The uproar in the press was so great that Dali apologized, but the Surrealists in Paris were not happy about him apologizing for a surrealist act.

Most of the surrealists were associated with leftist politics, but Dali maintained an ambiguous position on the subject of the relationship between politics and art. This led to trouble with his colleagues and for various reasons he was expelled from the Surrealist group in 1934.

Dali produced many works in the 1930s including The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table in 1934.

In 1936, Dali took part in the London International Surrealists Exhibition and lectured while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a couple of Russian Wolfhounds.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) (1936) shows the struggle of war that can sometimes be both self-fullfilling and self-mutilating at the same time. Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) which depicts Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection in a pool. Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) focuses on double-images that cause the reflections of swans on a pond to look like elephants, and incorporates a self-portrait of Dali. The Burning Giraffe (1937) deals with Freud's idea that the human body or mind is filled with hidden drawers that can only be opened through psychoanalysis. The image is set in twilight with a deep blue sky. There are two female figures, one with protruding drawers and both with protruding phallic forms held up by crutches. In the distance is the burning giraffe, an image Dali used in the film L'Age d"Or in 1930. He believed it to be a premonition of war. He produced Mae West Lips Sofa in 1937 and Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach in 1938. In 1939 Dali produced Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time was a satire of the sexualization of child stars by Hollywood.

The Face of War (1940) was painted at the end of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of World War II. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944) was intended to express Freud's discovery of a lengthy narrative in a dream where an instantaneous chance event causes the sleeper to wake up.

Dali also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Spellbound (1945) creating the dream sequence that takes place within the narrative. It delves into the themes of psychoanalysis and dealt with the idea that a repressed experience can trigger a neurosis.

Basket of Bread (1945) was a gift Dali painted for his wife Gala is simple and beautiful.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951) is a depiction of the crucifixion without blood, nails, and a crown of thorns at an extreme angle that Dali claimed came to him in a dream. Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954) has the landscape of the original flooded with water and showing the disintegration of the world. It was symbolic of the new physics where quantum mechanics is symbolized by digitizing the old image. Crucifixion (1954) depicts the crucified Jesus upon the net of a hypercube. Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954) depicts her buttocks consisting of four converging horns that are threatening to sodomize her. Living Still Life (1956) illustrates the decomposition of a fruit dish. In 1958, Dali produced The Rose. 

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970) transmits Dali's passion for bullfighting.The Swallow's Tail (1983) was Dali's last painting and was the final part of a series based on Rene Thom's catastrophe theory.

Salvador Dali created some of the most fascinating works of art of the 20th Century depicting not only the world in which we live, but the dreams, desires, fears, and anxiety of our inner landscape.

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