This week Aestheticons’ regular contributor, Dominic Baker, waxes his moustache, suspends disbelief and the forces of nature to celebrate the work of the “Man from Figueres” the irrepressible talent of Salvador Dali
Strap yourselves in its about to get weird….
Salvador Dali where do we begin – his unconventional childhood, his schooling, film and theatre, the symbolism within his many works, his unconventional relationships, his references to science or maybe his politics or religious views? All of which were possibly as vivid and vivacious as his actual works – if not more so.
Unusual by the fact, unlike so many earlier Masters, he was one of the most famous painters that was not only posthumously celebrated, but he managed to experience fame and notoriety during his lifetime. As he dominated the abstract and surrealist worlds for decades and was, arguably, the first celebrity modernist. He made modern art both more accessible and much more popular.
I think it is important to start with his childhood – it had such a profound effect on his state of mind.
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was born in Catalonia, Spain in 1904 . His would be older brother, also named Salvador, had died 9 months before. When he was five years old he was taken to his brother’s grave, where his parents told him that he was the reincarnation of his dead brother, something he later believed!
Dali education was tumultuous. He discovered painting in 1910, having had a rather impressionistic foray into art from the age of six. Following the trauma of his Mother’s death from breast cancer in 1921, he moved to Madrid in 1922. Whilst studying at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando along with his studies of the techniques of the Dutch Masters – he was already a fine painter – he began to experiment with Cubism and Dadaism, but managed to get expelled in 1926 being accused of causing unrest.
In 1929, he met his future wife, Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (later to become Dali’s muse called “Gala”) who at the time was married to surrealist poet Paul Eluard. She was ten years older than Dali and a Russian. The romance drove a wedge between Dali and his father. Dali’s completion of a highly controversial religious painting, bearing the inscription ‘Sometimes, I spit for fun on my Mother’s portrait’ was the final straw and his father forcibly ejected Dali from his family’s home and threatened to disinherited him. His father’s wrath eventually ebbed and he eventually accepted his son’s lover.
In 1931, Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” (MOMA) – our featured image – was completed, possibly the most important piece of the entire Surrealist movement. The dripping clocks seemingly reject the idea of time being rigid.
With the Spanish Civil War and Second World War in the 1930/40’s, Dali moved to the US where he was an instant hit with his own style of self advertising. He met many famous and influential people including heroes, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Whilst in the US he developed his iconic appearance with his famous moustache influenced by a 17th century Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez.
He collaborated on films and photography working with Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel and designers like Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior.
By way of payment to his secretaries he often gave them paintings, later to be worth millions.
In 1936 he attended at a surrealist lecture in London dressed in a full diving suit – symbolic of plunging into the depths of the human mind.
In 1937 in Paris he completed the stunning “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” that is thought, in part, to have been influenced by Dali’s recognition of the success he had enjoyed in the US.
The same year his beautiful “Swans Reflecting Elephants” was completed and seized by the Nazi’s following the invasion of France in 1940.
In 1948 Dali and Gala returned to their home on the Catalonian coast at Port Lligat where they settled for over thirty years. In 1951, the celebrated “The Christ of Saint John of the Cross” (owned by Glasgow Museums) was painted. Inspired by a 16th century sketch and his own “cosmic dream” it carries a remarkable and evocative message.
In 1952 Dali’s fascination with the atom and nuclear physics led to his depiction of his muse, Gala, in “Galatea of the Spheres”.
In 1969, somewhat curiously, Dali designed the logo of Spanish lollipop business “Chupa Chups”.
I will finish with the fact that in 2017 Dali is still a cultural icon; his self-portrait and his iconic moustache are now the subject of an many artists. Almost an exercise in branding, a poster boy for a whole genre with their artistic interpretations of him – it is what he represents, the avant guard, the weird, the ground breaking, the popular and, of course, the surreal.