Hello Dali!

Excerpts from,
Baby Dali. by Robert Hughes. Time, 7/4/94, Vol. 144 Issue 1, p68, 3p, 3c, 1bw HTML Full Text
Was any painter a worse embarrassment than Salvador Dali? Not even Andy Warhol. Long before his physical death in 1989, old Avida Dollars -- Andre Breton's anagram of his name -- had collapsed into wretched exhibitionism. Genius, Shocker, Lip-Topiarist: though he once turned down an American businessman's proposal to open a string of what would be called Dalicatessens, there was little else he refused to endorse, from chocolates to perfumes. He was surrounded by fakes and crooks and married to one of the greediest harpies in Europe: Gala, who made him the indentured servant of his lost talent even as he treated her as his muse. 

Nevertheless, Dali was an important artist for about 10 years, starting in the late 1920s. Nothing can take that away from him. Other Surrealists -- especially Max Ernst and Dali's fellow Catalan Joan Miro -- were greater magicians; but Dali's sharp, glaring, enameled visions of death, sexual failure and deliquescence, of displaced religious mania and creepy organic delight, left an ineradicable mark on our century when it, and he, were young. Dali turned ``retrograde'' technique -- the kind of dazzlingly detailed illusionism that made irreality concrete, as in The First Days of Spring, 1929 -- toward subversive ends. His soft watches will never cease to tick, not as long as the world has adolescent dandies and boy rebels in it. . .

Surrealism was fascinated by childhood, viewing it as the primal forest of the imagination -- the place where all the id's most succulent and aggressive life-forms ran rampant, before civilization paved them over. Hence you could suppose that Dali's own childhood would be rich in suggestion about his mature work. And so it was, in a way; but not the way he meant it to be. 

In his mythomaniac autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, he took pains to spin out a fiction of his early originality. He wanted people to think he'd been found like Moses in the bulrushes, a miracle child: Salvador, Saviour. In part this did correspond to the truth. As Ian Gibson's fascinating catalog essay on Dali's early life makes clear, little Salvador was a horribly spoiled brat. Cosseted, deferred to, aware that a tantrum could get him anything he wanted, he grew up with serious delusions of creative omnipotence -- which, as time went by, coexisted with equally serious problems of sexual impotence, caused (or so he said) by a book with lurid illustrations of the effects of venereal disease that his father had shown him. Dali turned out to be the exact opposite of Picasso's phallicism. He was thrilled by softness, flaccidity. ``Nothing,'' he wrote, ``can be regarded as too slimy, gelatinous, quivering, indeterminate or ignominious to be desired.'' . .

Dali went to art school in Madrid in the early 1920s. ``I'll be a genius,'' he wrote in his diary two years before that. ``Perhaps I'll be despised and misunderstood, but I'll be a genius, a great genius.'' Cold and diligent, he figured out all his poses and provocations in advance. Politically, too, he wanted to be shocking; later Dali would turn into an archconservative, the living national treasure of Franco's long regime, but in the 1920s -- the years of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship -- he was a vehement parlor red. He even did jail time, briefly, when he was arrested as a reprisal against his father's left-wing political activity.

There was, however, nothing particularly revolutionary about his paintings. Seeking a credible genius costume, he did versions of Cubism, of De Chirico's pittura metafisica, and developed his dry, classicizing realism in such images as Seated Girl Seen from the Back, 1925. It is an easy matter to go through this early work identifying, here and there, what would grow and what would not: how the taste for smoothly curved profile and deep black relief that he got from Amedee Ozenfant's decorative Cubism, for instance, turned into Dali's later fondness for writhing, spookily dark shadows cast by figures on a flat ground-plane, the idealized desert of his paintings. Dali's obsession with Picasso reached a height of imitative flattery with his pastiches of the older painter's massive ``classical'' women in white fluted dresses. Likewise, when Dali the Surrealist was pupating, there was hardly a trope in his pictures of 1927-28 that didn't come out of Andre Masson, Ernst, Miro or Yves Tanguy.

But his originality as an artist began with his peculiar experiences of the natural world, such as the contorted rocks at Cape Creus, near his boyhood home, sculpted into fantastically ambiguous shapes by tide and weather; like faces seen in the fire, these were the foundation stones of what Dali called his ``paranoiac-critical method'' of seeking dream images. Dali's art may not tap far into his unconscious, but it reveals a great deal about what he imagined his unconscious to be.

Salvador Dali. The Persistance of Memory. 1931
oil on canvas 9"x13" MOMA

Rene Magritte. Time Transfixed. 1939. 
oil on canvas 57"38" Chicago AI

Form: Oil on canvas.

Iconography: When compared to Rene Magrittes Time Transfixed, an important point about surrealism is made evident. Time is an ephemeral thing that cannot be pinned down. Time is a mechanical invention, one which we have Descartes to thank for, and in essence, time often does not make sense. Dali makes this point clear with the melting watches. Time is an internal dialogue, as people, we have all experienced the feeling that time is going by too quickly, and sometimes, such as when we are studying, writing essays, or doing research for an online textbook, time can seem to move too slowly. Ants are also a favorite of Dalis', and are a recurring theme in most of his paintings, as well as a film he did with Buñuel  titled, Le Chien Andalou, in which at one point, a man observes ants as they crawl out of him through a hole in his palm. It can be assumed that Dali is commenting on the silliness of time, likening it to the seemingly pointless scurrying that we observe ants doing...written about this work on www.artchive.com "Over the next few years Dalí devoted himself with passionate intensity to developing his method, which he described as 'paranoiac-critical', a 'spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivation of delirious associations and interpretations'. It enabled him to demonstrate his personal obsessions and fantasies by uncovering and meticulously fashioning hidden forms within pre-existing ones, either randomly selected (postcards, beach scenes, photographic enlargements) or of an accepted artistic canon (canvases by Millet, for example). It was at this period that he was producing works like The Lugubrious Game (1929), The Persistence of Memory (1931) and Surrealist Objects, Gauges of Instantaneous Memory (1932). Flaccid shapes, anamorphoses and double-sided figures producing a trompe-l'il effect combine in these works to create an extraordinary universe where the erotic and the scatological jostle with a fascination for decay - a universe that is reflected in his other works of this period, including his symbolic objects and poems (La Femme visible, 1930; L'Amour et la mémoire, 1931) as well as the screenplay for L'Age d'Or (1930).

Context: "It soon became apparent, however, that there was an inherent contradiction in Dalí's approach between what he himself described as 'critical paranoia' - which lent itself to systematic interpretation - and the element of automatism upon which his method depended. Breton soon had misgivings about Dalí's monsters which only lend themselves to a limited, univocal reading. Dalí's extreme statements on political matters, in particular his fascination for Hitler, struck a false note in the context of the Surrealist ethic and his relations with the rest of the group became increasingly strained after 1934. The break finally came when the painter declared his support for Franco in 1939. And yet he could boast that he had the backing of Freud himself, who declared in 1938 that Dalí was the only interesting case in a movement whose aims he confessed not to understand. Moreover, in the eyes of the public he was, increasingly as time went by, the Surrealist par excellence, and he did his utmost to maintain, by way of excessive exhibitionism in every area, this enviable reputation."
( - Text from "ART20, The Thames and Hudson Multimedia Dictionary of Modern Art")


Salvador Dali. Gala Angelus. 1935
Form: Oil on canvas

Iconography: "Meeting Gala was, for Dali, a revelation and a terror. Here was the personification of all his fantasies, and yet his fear and loathing of erotic acts made it impossible for him to approach her. It was Gala who put an end to his torture by proposing a walk one day, during which Dali confessed his love. They eloped to Barcelona in 1929. Gala was to become a major influence in the work of Dali. She was to feature in many of his works, often surrounded by controversy. In The Sacrament of the Last Supper, Dali gave Christ the features of Gala, and in many pictures he portrayed her as the Madonna. On other occasions, she influenced some of his worse pieces, encouraging him to rush out pictures purely for financial gain. This was a contributing factor to Dali's expulsion from the surrealist movement." (www.bbc.co.uk)

Context: "His Rift with the Surrealists
 It seems strange that Dali, who for many people is synonymous with surrealism, should have had such a turbulent relationship with the movement. Although at first he was welcomed into the movement, the surrealists objected to some of Dali's work. They were scandalised when Dali painted The Lugubrious Game, which included a man whose underpants were soiled, and they were angry when he painted portraits for money instead of pursuing the artistic dream. The final straw was Dali's consent to design advertisements for a company making tights, and by the 1940s his links with the surrealists were severed. Nevertheless, Dali considered himself to be a true surrealist. He once said: The only difference between the surrealists and me is that I am a surrealist. He considered his work to be true surrealism, and that the surrealist group, by adopting a certain style and set of rules had disqualified its own existence. The surrealist group, in turn, felt that his works had become no more than puzzles where the viewer searched for the double images rather than looked at the paintings. It was Breton, the leader of the surrealists, who gave Dali the nickname 'Avida Dollars', an anagram of Salvador Dali, and an indication of  the light they saw Dali in. Designing adverts and fashionable clothes (for Dali saw a link between art and fashion) were not suitable occupations for a surrealist; he was giving them a bad name, and the bad name they gave back to him indicated their displeasure." full text at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A585344