Sunday, 18 May 2014


“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.” - Salvador Dalí

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí (Born: 1904, May 11, Figueras, Catalonia, Spain Died: 1989, January 23, Figueras, Catalonia, Spain) was the Spanish artist who developed visual surrealism together with Magritte. But being more talented, successful and commercial than the others, Dalì was eventually expelled from the surrealist group, but nevertheless remained the most famous of the surrealist painters. To begin with, the surrealists did not include painters in their group. Surrealism was a cultural movement that began in 1920 with its centre in Paris. The group would meet in cafes and discuss psychology and social revolution. But later, visual arts played an important role in delivering the surrealist message to the public.

Salvador Dalí, being an accomplished painter with an eccentric personality and a genius for marketing himself, became a foreground figure of the surrealist movement. Dalí showed talent for drawing and painting at a very early age, as can be seen from his “Landscape Near Figueras” from 1910. At the age of 18, he began his studies at Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts) in Madrid. He was well-known among his fellow students for his eccentric behaviour and dandy like manners, but even more so for his paintings; he was very gifted. In 1926 he was expelled from the school just before his final examination, after proclaiming that none of the professors were qualified to examine him.

In his work, Salvador Dalí was influenced by Raphael and Velázquez among others. Diego Velázquez inspired him to grow his famous moustache, which became his trademark. For a few years, Dalí was noticeably influenced by Picasso and Miró (Dalí and Picasso met in Paris in 1926). The cubist influence can be seen in Dalí’s painting “Cabaret Scene” from 1922, for example.

In 1929 Dalí joined the surrealists, and together with Magritte he rapidly developed the visual surrealist style. This was also the year he met his wife and muse, Gala. From this time is Dalí’s most famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory” (1931), which displays a landscape containing melting watches. Liquid shapes were often used by Dalí in his paintings, as were images of elephants and other animals. Images of the egg also played an important role. Psychology was of the utmost significance to the surrealists.

Surrealists were heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, but did not admit to Freud’s description of the dark side of human nature. Dalí said: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” Salvador Dalí accomplished a lot of things outside of painting. He participated in making films, the most famous one being “The Andalusian Dog” that he created together with Buñuel in 1929. He worked with Hitchcock, Disney and photographer Man Ray. He designed jewellery and sceneries for the theatre as well as making contributions to the world of fashion and many other areas. Some well-known examples of his work are The Lobster Telephone, Mae West Lips Sofa and the logo for Chupa Chups.

He often managed to create scandals, thus contributing to the mystic aura surrounding his person. In 1934, at the age of 30, Salvador Dalí was expelled from the Surrealist group. They were outraged by his refusal to take a political stand against fascism and by the commercialsation of Dalí’s work. Dalí said to this: “I myself, am surrealism.” Another citation by Dalí on this matter is: “The only difference between me and the surrealists is that I am a surrealist.” Dalí published his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”, in 1942. It was a description of his life and work thus far and it received both praise and criticism. The book contains many accounts of his high opinion of himself, as well as colourful descriptions of his odd character.

The Dalí Theatre and Museum in his home town Figueras houses the single largest collection of Dalí’s work. He started working on the museum in 1960, and it was opened in 1974. The museum is a testament to the fantastic imagination of Salvador Dalí. In the basement of the museum lies Dalí’s crypt engraved with his title Marquis of Púbol, bestowed upon him by King Juan Carlos in 1982.

The painting above, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” (1940) depicts a slave market, while a woman at a booth watches some people. A variety of people seem to make up the face of Voltaire, while the face seems to be positioned on an object to form a bust. Dalí describes his work on the painting “to make the abnormal look normal and the normal look abnormal.” The image of Voltaire coming in and out of view in the painting is perhaps telling as Voltaire on the one hand harshly criticised slavery and on the other hand, together with fellow philosophers Guillaume Thomas Raynal, Denis Diderot, and Buffon, he speculated and tried to explain that the different races had separate origins and at times seemed to doubt that black people possessed the same intelligence as white people. He has also been charged as an anti-Semite although most of his critiques are actually directed towards religion as such and the bible, rather than Judaism specifically.

The painting contains a device often used by Dalí, an image which can be interpreted two ways – Voltaire’s face or two nuns. L Bonnarô (2002) in an interesting article states: “The perceptual reversal of ambiguous images has been a source of fascination for psychologists and artists alike, albeit for rather different reasons. For some artists, the allure in introducing ambiguity is to create in the observer an experience that is, explicitly, purely subjective and qualitative. It is a way of emphasising the constructive nature of perception, the observer’s share. For the psychologist, on the other hand, image ambiguity serves as a tool to probe the dynamics of the visual and cognitive system: the retina receives a single image comprising multiple interpretations, yet the visual and cognitive system is constrained so that only one percept is available at a time.”

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I've recently returned from Barcelona! Picasso, Dali, Gaudi ~~ such huge influences! I couldn't get enough ...