All in a Day’s Work for Dali . . .
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali historian
If this Dali painting doesn’t make you smile, you may need serious counseling.
Salvador Dali had a sense of humor the size of California, and “Celestial Ride” (1957) is a great example of it. Who else but Dali would depict a rhinoceros (average weight 3,300 lbs.) towering over a landscape, supported on skyscraper-tall flamingo legs, and carrying scantily clad (make that unclad) cargo!
Forget about surrealist symbolism for now. Put aside any deep Freudian meaning. Just be present with the image — and delight in how it brings a smile to your face! Surely it does. And that’s exactly what Mr. Dali had in mind. His sense of humor was irrepressible and undeniable.
Dali was human. He loved to laugh. He called himself “one cloon (“a clown”), acknowledging idol Charlie Chaplain, and suggesting such buffoonery was not mutually exclusive with artistic genius. The man had fun.
Was Dali also conveying some serious ideas here? You can count on it. But let’s not get too serious too quickly. I haven’t chuckled enough yet, and I bet you haven’t either.
So now consider the rhino’s flank. Nothing to see here, folks. Nothing, that is, except for a BLACK & WHITE TV SET BEAMING AN AMERICAN BASEBALL GAME! Preposterous! Outrageous! Hilarious!
Why not?! This is Surrealism, friends: spontaneous transcription of thought without any control exercised by reason, ethics or morals. So Salvador Dali — who, while in New York during the winters for many years, couldn’t help but catch flashes of America’s pastime on television or in the newspapers — decided to broadcast a baseball game on a TV set installed on the side of a rhino that anticipated the fantasy of Cirque du Solei by 27 years!
“What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, who has only to imagine in order to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.” — S. Dali
All in a day’s work for Dali.
Didn’t matter that Dali didn’t know an R.B.I. from a UFO. He couldn’t have cared less about the game itself. But you can bet it was the “choreography” of the game, the surreal look of a catcher’s shield-like mask, and the turtle-like appearance of the home plate umpire’s attire that curled the Catalan’s mustache. It was a spectacle to Dali, and Dali loved the spectacular.
And so, it took the genius mind of Salvador Dali to meld humorous elements with some important and serious obsessions. Like the notion of ascension and levitation, represented by, well, the celestial ride itself. And Dali had a real preoccupation with the curve of a rhinoceros horn. Because he discovered it was one of the few shapes in nature that correspond to a logarithmic spiral — a phenomenon that underpinned the mathematics on which many of his compositions were based.
In “Celestial Ride,” then, we get a pictorial expression of Dali’s interest in mathematics and spiritual ascension, while at the same time enjoying one of the most amusing pictures you’re ever going to set your eyes on.