Author Archives: Paul Chimera


‘Best of’ Awards in the Career-Long Dali Show!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


With all the award shows these days – Best of this, Best of that – I’ve decided to cite my own “Best of” when it comes to the paintings of Salvador Dali. Dali’s prints and drawings, too, might get their own “awards show” at some future date (one drawing actually does appear in today’s list).


Here, then, are the winners (or at least my votes) in 10 categories, presented in no particular order . . .


MOST NOVEL… Seven Flies and a Model. This delightful, amusing, and very different 1954 ink and watercolor on paper is one that I personally loved to discuss with visitors at the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, when I was publicity director there in the early 1970s.




Dali drew six of the flies with his ultra-realistic technique, while one of them is a real fly glued to the paper! Which one is the real one? You simply must get to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida to find out. (OK, spoiler alert: it’s on the far right in the detail here that shows four flies).


A real fly at far right!

A real fly at far right!


MOST HUMOROUS…Celestial Ride. I crack up every time I look at reproductions of this outrageous painting!


It makes you smile!

It makes you smile!


Unfortunately I’ve not yet seen the original in person. The playful-looking rhinoceros on skyscraper-tall flamingo legs – unfazed by the fact that its flank has a television set installed in it, on which a baseball game is telecast – is, for me, the most uproariously funny work by Dali – a man possessed of an undeniably wild sense of humor.


MOST COLORFUL… Tuna Fishing. It’s pretty hard to challenge this great painting as the winner in this category. The masterwork brings together virtually every painting style practiced at the time it was executed in 1967-’68. And it does so with colors that practically blind us with their vividness – especially the blazing-gold dagger in the middle of this writhing and dazzlingly colorful tableau.


Dripping with dazzling color!

Dripping with dazzling color!


MOST SPANISH… The Hallucinogenic Toreador. I’ve intentionally listed this one after the above category, because it’s arguable that Hallucinogenic Toreador should be considered Dali’s most colorful painting. But let’s not debate it.





The important point is that this masterful canvas brings together everything Spanish, and almost everything Dalinian: the bullfight, with all its color and pageantry; homage to Cubist painter Juan Gris; a nod to Federico Garcia Lorca; a reference to the Spanish legend of the flies of St. Narciso; a revisit of Dali’s childhood self-portrait first seen in Specter of Sex Appeal; the Bay of Port Lligat; extraordinary double-imagery; and more.


SCARIEST…Cannibalism of the Praying Mantis of Lautreamont. This work gives me the creeps!


It's the child-doll that elevates this work to unadulterated creepiness!

It’s the child-doll that elevates this work to unadulterated creepiness!


It makes the hair on my arms stand up some, every time I see it. There’s just something about that doll-like figure of a girl amidst those gruesome towering figures that elevates this work to the winner in the “scariest work” category. (What is it about dolls and clowns, anyway?!)


MOST MAJESTIC… Santiago El Grande. Where does one begin? This huge painting – whose immenseness and grandeur can only be truly appreciated by seeing it in the flesh – literally knocks people over when they see it. I’m not kidding. It’s said to be best viewed from the vantage point of the viewer literally lying on his or her back underneath the rearing steed.


Monumental and majestic!

Monumental and majestic!


From the gallant mightiness of the rising horse, to the Crucifix with rays of sunlight shooting from it, to the grand and endless heavenly vaulted backdrop, Santiago El Grande (St. James the Great) exudes a majesty to which no other Dali work can quite compare.


SMALLEST…Portrait of Gala. This tiny (3-7/16” x 2-5/8”) but masterfully painted oil on panel is a giant attraction at the Dali Museum in St. Pete, Florida.


Small in size, huge in popularity!

Small in size, huge in popularity!


LARGEST… Apotheosis of the Dollar. The proportions of this huge canvas are different from all the other Dali masterworks. And while I confess to not having considered the square footage of them all, I’m fairly confident in saying that Apotheosis of the Dollar – whose complete title is also huge – is the largest Dali oil on canvas, at approximately 13 ft. x 16 ft. 4 in..


Go big or go home!

Go big or go home!


STRANGEST… The winner in this category has to go to The Enigma of William Tell. The elongated hat brim and, most especially the elongated buttock of “William Tell” – a metaphor for Dali’s own predatory view of his father – are too outrageous not to earn this work the honor of being dubbed the strangest.


It just doesn't get much stranger than this!

It just doesn’t get much stranger than this!


SEXIEST… Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity.


Sexy & naughty!

Sexy & naughty!


While Dali infused sexual references in countless paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculpture, it’s hard to beat the erotic implications of this provocative painting, which for years was owned by the late Hugh Heffner of Playboy magazine fame.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)




Salvador Dali and the Octopus: an Artful Relationship

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


As Dali historian for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.©, I’m often asked which Dali images I like best. My answer is unwaveringly the same when it comes to the Master’s oil paintings. My favorite is the immense and majestic Santiago El Grande (St. James the Great), the most popular work of art in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada.


Santiago El Grande

Santiago El Grande


But Salvador Dali was also an outstanding printmaker (among a master of many other mediums), and my favorite of his prints is Triumph of the Sea – though I don’t completely know why.


Triumph of the Sea

Triumph of the Sea


Indeed, there are so many Dali prints that are far more colorful; there is, in fact, very little color in Triumph of the Sea. And there are far greater numbers of Dali prints that examine myriad subjects in a more Daliesque style.


So why Triumph of the Sea?


The honest answer is, I don’t know. And there’s no need to know. When it comes to the art of Dali – to any art – it’s simply enough to know what you like. There’s no need to know why you like it. You just do. That should be enough. And it is.


Somehow, great art makes you feel it. Great art – art that speaks to you – moves you in special ways. It’s hard to explain. But you know it when you see it. When you find it. When it finds you.


Dali Used a Real Octopus


For me, I love the fact that Dali actually used a real octopus (deceased) to create the central dark-ink image in Triumph of the Sea. Here you can see photos of him using an octopus’s tentacles to create a Medusa-like effect on the printing matrix (litho stone).


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The random tableau of the invertebrate’s elongated tentacles creates a kind of raw energy and vigor in the work. It’s aided and abetted by the human figures, and a horse in the upper left (perhaps a reference to Poseidon), that add to the dynamism and emotion that leap off this mixed-media print.


Of course, the sea figured prominently in Dali’s work, and in his daily life. He and Gala lived on the edge of the Mediterranean virtually all their lives, in that wonderful little coastal hamlet of Port Lligat on Spain’s Costa Brava. Indeed, octopus was a common fixture, along with sea urchins and other bounty from the Bay of Port Lligat and surrounding environs.


What’s more, Dali loved Greek mythology. Surely tales of Poseidon, for example – the God of Sea and Earthquakes – inspired the Catalan artist in works such as these.


No Place for the Ordinary


Perhaps more important is the fact that, like just about everything in Dali’s world, he was a man who looked left when everyone else looked right. So it was not acceptable to Dali to use ordinary means of producing limited-edition graphics. He chose to use an octopus (and many other unconventional techniques).


The results were fascinating. Not only in the Triumph of the Sea print, but in a host of works on paper Dali created that used an actual octopus impression as its starting point. And the octopus showed up in seemingly unlikely places, like a wall in Dali’s surrealist totem, the Teatro-Museo Dali. Here are some appearances of the octopus’s influence on the art of Dali…


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Whatever else can be said about Salvador Dali, one thing is certain: he was different!



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)




Salvador Dali’s Influence Remains Ubiquitous, Dynamic & Endless

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Dali the influencer. That’s the Dali I want to talk about today. The man not only influenced virtually every aspect of contemporary art and popular culture during his prolific career, but continues to do so long after his passing nearly 30 years ago.


We see the influence of Dali’s uniquely “Daliesque” style of Surrealism everywhere: in print and electronic advertising. ..


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In fashion and popular music…


Going Gaga over Dali!

Going Gaga over Dali!



In theater…


Actors from the Finzi Pasca Company hang a theatrical backdrop that was painted by Salvador Dali in the 1940's for an adaptation of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolda, at the Auditorio Nacional del Sodre in Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The backdrop is being used in their work "La Verita," a circus show that was inspired by Dali's painting and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)



In gift wear (think melty clocks and runny wrist watches)…


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In the hugely popular and growing interest in body art; i.e., tattooing – frequently showcased on the Salvador Dali Page on Facebook…


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Even in celebrities such as Dustin Hoffman affecting a dramatic Dali stare…




We see all manner of artists — serious and commercial — channeling Dali’s unmistakable double-imagery magic in their work . . .


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And there’s his influence on present-day artists. Both in terms of these artists’ painting style, and with respect to the subject matter of many artists, who’ve chosen to portray the mustachioed Catalan painter and genius in myriad ways.


As Dali historian for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.© of Torrance, California (I’m based in Buffalo, New York), I proudly claim friendship with three American artists who’ve paid tribute to Salvador Dali in unique and impressive ways. They’ve recognized that Dali was an inimitable trend-setter and genius on many levels.


Bethel, Connecticut artist Louis Markoya, who was a Dali collaborator and protégé, has made it his life’s mission to carry on the Surrealism and Nuclear-Mysticism of his celebrated mentor. Markoya recently completed a series of 12 portraits of influencers in his life, of course including Dali. The ultra-fluidity of the series – which includes Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan and other luminaries – suggests the fluid intra-atomic world, but inevitably also extends the sinewy, fluid look of so many of Salvador Dali’s oils, prints, drawings and even sculptures.


Louis Markoya interprets Salvador Dali

Louis Markoya interprets Salvador Dali



St. Petersburg, Florida painter Steven Kenny adopts a neo-surrealist style in his meticulous pictures, including this outstanding tribute to Mr. Dali…


Steven Kenney's portrait of Dali

Steven Kenny’s portrait of Dali


And Doug Auld of Hoboken, New Jersey, created a series that captured the likeness of famous people in tableaus comprised of butterflies, fish, bees, birds and other elements. His portrait of Salvador Dali – composed of leaves and insects – is nothing short of amazing…


Doug Auld's hidden Dali

Doug Auld’s hidden Dali


Perhaps the main take-away of what I’m imparting today is that, unlike most other artists, Dali’s influence is still so very much alive, so vibrant, so relevant. New books on the artist; novelty items, such as a just-released “action figure” whose mustache can be formed to the owner’s tastes; even Dali socks …


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…and frequent exhibitions around the globe, examining all aspects of his boundless creativity, serve to demonstrate that, as some scholars are indeed now contending, Salvador Dali just might be the greatest artist of all time. Certainly the most popular in his own time.


Yes, such a grandiose statement may still be a little difficult to carve in stone. But it’s getting less and less difficult every day.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)






Dali’s ‘Cheerful Horse’ Title Seems Opposite from what Appears on Canvas

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali could be a man of opposites. He would, at times, say one thing, yet mean something diametrically opposed to what he’d stated. He could, for instance, claim to not like children (he called them “embryons”), yet could be seen with his arm around his godchild. He could say he drank only mineral water, yet some photos show him and Gala at a café with a bottle of beer in front of him.


Dali could insist that he detested all animals except ant eaters and rhinoceroses, yet be photographed cozying up to man’s best friend. Or monkeying around with a chimpanzee. And, of course, he often had his pet ocelot on a short leash.


He could categorically reject abstract art, yet create a masterwork subtitled Homage to Rothko.


So we shouldn’t be surprised that one of Dali’s final paintings has a title that seems utterly inconsistent with the work’s extraordinarily ghastly image. I’m talking about Salvador Dali’s 1980 oil on panel, The Cheerful Horse.






If this horse is cheerful, I’d hate to see what a downtrodden horse of Dali’s would look like!


I truly thought the title of this work, which Dali unveiled during a press conference very late in his life — one of his rarest appearances since the world had known he was seriously ill – was The Rotting (or Rotten) Donkey. Incorrect.


Indeed, Dali did in fact paint a work with such a title – back in 1928. And around the same period he painted The Spectral Cow, which reminds me of the 1980 oil.


salvador-dali-the-rotting-donkey the-spectral-cow-1928

Rotting Donkey, left, and Spectral Cow


Moreover, the rotting donkey motif, if you will, also appeared in film – in the early cinema classic, Un Chien Andalou, on which Dali collaborated with French filmmaker Luis Bunuel.




The Cheerful Horse – looking, of course, anything but idyllic – is really quite extraordinary. One has to presume Dali couldn’t escape his demons during the twilight of his life and career. His thoughts became increasingly preoccupied with death and decay. With calamity. With catastrophe. This is evidenced in a host of paintings he created in the early 1980s, featuring beds and nightstands and stringed instruments swirling about in a maelstrom of angst.


The Cheerful Horse exudes tremendous energy. It’s fecund with emotion. The color palette is somber where you’d expect it to be, then brighter, sunnier, and more cheerful elsewhere – justifying, albeit marginally, the work’s title.


The overall handling of paint reminds me of his work of two years earlier: Allegory of Spring.


Allegory of Spring

Allegory of Spring


Seeing the photo of Dali and Gala at that press conference in Figueras, Spain, with this large painting behind them, saddens me. I remember when this event made international headlines. And I felt hopeful that the great man seemed tenacious and indomitable. On the other hand, you couldn’t escape the fact that he looked old, weak and drawn, while Gala looked every bit 10 years his senior.




And yet through it all, Dali brought the world a “cheerful” horse – a description quite the opposite of what appeared on his canvas. Dali had painted again!


The horse had long symbolized energy, strength and power as it appeared in countless paintings, drawings, prints, watercolors, and sculpture by our dear friend, the divine Salvador Dali, Marquis de Pubol. In the aged and ailing Dali mind, his curious horse painting was a cheerful one, even if it doesn’t look that way.

And the fact that Dali wasn’t quite ready to hang up his paint brushes gave us reason to cheer.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)





Salvador Dali Literally Turned Michelangelo’s ‘David’ on its Head!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali had a lifelong love and respect for the Old Masters. He acknowledged their influence in very specific ways, at times, in certain of his works. And he emulated their technique and affinity for craftsmanship in his sharp, careful painting style.


References to great masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Velazquez, Vermeer, and Michelangelo – among others – can be found throughout Dali’s prodigious career.


One of the earliest is seen in his 1930 oil on canvas, Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman. Direct your gaze to just below the center of the canvas and you’ll find a rendition of Leonardo’s iconic masterpiece, The Mona Lisa.


Da Vinci's Mona Lisa in Dali's surrealist canvas.

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Dali’s surrealist canvas.


And as I’d pointed out in a recent blog post, Dali quoted the pointing angel from Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks in his 1952 painting, Anti-Protonic Assumption. Both of these Dali’s were relatively early works when we take the long measure of the artist’s astonishingly productive catalog.


Leonardo_Da_Vinci_-_Vergine_delle_Rocce_(Louvre) anti-protonic-assumption_jpg!Large


But the very last works by Salvador Dali punctuated a period that was by no means devoid of his appreciation of these masterful precursors. One work in particular is truly surprising, because it combines a nod to one of the most famous works of art of all time – the statue of David by Michelangelo – with Dali’s penchant for hidden/double imagery.


I’m talking about Landscape with Hidden Image of Michelangelo’s David, completed in 1982. Dali literally turned our vantage point on its head, cleverly camouflaging a full-length image of David within the rocky landscape – readily discerned with a 180-degree turn of the picture.


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I cannot think of any other Dali work – be it a painting, drawing, print, etc. – where this “upside down” device was employed.


Increasingly, as more focused attention is given to Salvador Dali’s serious work at the easel, we’re seeing the strong connection between him and the great old masters.


Indeed, two distinguished art historians and authors – Dr. Christopher Heath Brown and Jean-Pierre Isbouts – are putting the finishing touches on a substantial book that delves into this very subject – the connection between the art of the Old Masters and the art of the 20th century master, Salvador Dali.


Watch this space, brought to you exclusively by The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.©, for further information on Mssrs. Isbouts and Brown’s forthcoming book.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Mystery of Baseball Players Revealed in Dali’s ‘Melancholy, Atomic’ Painting

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


When it comes to examining the extraordinary, complex, and often confounding life and work of Salvador Dali, you never quite know how – or if – you’ll connect the dots. But sometimes the solution comes when you least expect it.


Such was the case recently. In the most oddly-timed, esoteric, yet fascinating of ways.


It involves the interesting painting, Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll. This strange and haunting composition is a dramatic statement by Dali on the horrors of war, with World War II obviously on the artist’s mind as he executed this 1945 canvas.


Stay with me. Because I’m about to connect the dots in what I think is an intriguing way. One that is not my interpretation, but Dali’s own explanation. Delivered in the most unlikely of contexts.


In Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, virtually the entire scene is a dark, foreboding sort of underground space – a suggestion created by the appearance of a hint of daylight in the upper right, where bomb-dropping spider-legged elephants are on the march, together with an angel-like figure before them.




Elsewhere, human facial features are poignantly supplanted by a bomber airplane unleashing its deadly load, while at lower left an anguished-looking man is seen, out of whose neck an orb descends – and that is where we begin to connect some dots.


Because, in Salvador Dali’s remarkable mind – while he was in exile in the United States during the war – he associated baseballs (orbs) from America’s favorite pastime with bombs dropping from the sky!




We see them from the aforementioned man’s neck; raining down from the upper portion of the canvas; from the right cheek of the face formed by the bomber; from the pachyderms mentioned earlier; from the baseball bat-like shape running vertically along the right side of the painting; from a crutch and vase – even out of the face of the baseball player swinging his bat.


Why baseball? Was it merely that the balls make a conveniently plausible metaphor for bombs?


For years, I presumed it was simply Dali melding two starkly contrasting realities: the horrors of the raging war, and the persistence of America’s favorite sport (speaking of “Persistence,” notice the long soft watch on the side of the bomber face). He was, after all, now residing in New York City, and wouldn’t return to Spain for another half-decade. One could not help but be exposed to baseball, if only on television.


But my conjecture was replaced by fact – straight from Dali’s mouth – when I finally got to see him recently on a clip of the old Dick Cavett show. As fate would have it, baseball legend Satchell Paige was also one of Cavett’s guests that evening. So, when Cavett was growing increasingly confounded by Dali’s hard-to-follow loquaciousness, he digressed by asking the artist if he liked baseball.



Dali said he did not, explaining that he was familiar with the game only through photos – not actually viewing the sport in action – and that everybody was always “on the ground, in the dust – looking melancholy.” Dali even emphasized his point by leaning over toward the floor, in a kind of gesture of depression, to further illustrate what he meant.


And that was my “Aha!” moment. There’s where the “Melancholy” in the painting’s title comes in. And that’s why Dali appropriated the sport of baseball here – to symbolize a sense of melancholy. And the balls-turned-bombs made perfect sense. It was, in a way, genius!


Or at least genius, Dali-style. And, if you look at the painting carefully, you’ll even see a couple of players sliding in the dirt  and the dust.





Dali on Ed Sullivan Was Surely a ‘Really Big Show!’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I recently expressed great joy in finally seeing Salvador Dali’s appearance on the old Dick Cavett Show, after literally decades of not-so-patient waiting. Dali was such a colorful, unpredictable, amusing and, yes, seemingly crazy character, that watching him talk and explain his ideas and thoughts in a forum like a TV talk show is a truly special experience.


Dick Cavett did a decent job of handling the wildly unpredictable actions and responses of his surrealist guest, even if at times Cavett’s conduct was a bit on the juvenile side. On balance, I think he followed Dali’s inscrutable mash-up of English and Catalonian fairly well. He had at least a reasonable grasp of some of Dali’s ideas and concepts. And he did a respectable job of showing and guiding Dali’s own descriptions of a series of new prints Dali had on view at the time – Memories of Surrealism – at a New York gallery.


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Three of the graphics in Dali’s Memories of Surrealism print suite


But there are two other clips of Dali on American television that this Dali historian/blogger is still sleuthing through sources and resources to find. One I’ve seen once before, flashed quickly in some archival newsreel, while the other I’ve seen only pictures of.


The first is news footage of a press conference Dali held, presumably somewhere in New York City. Seated in the front row was Harry Reasoner, at the time probably the best-known TV journalist in America, if not the world.


At one point, Dali was signing his name – or perhaps creating some other spontaneous image – on a blackboard, using a can of shaving cream instead of a paintbrush! He held a razor in his other hand.


In a flurry of frenetic activity, the shaving cream spattered wildly about – and a sizeable clump landed on the expensive double-breasted suit of Mr. Reasoner! The newsman sat motionless, either trying to be cool, or perhaps paralyzed by what had just happened!


I saw this clip only once, so many years ago I can’t begin to guess when or where. But I must see it again, if it would only somehow show up on Youtube or in another forum.


The last missing link in the spectrum of TV appearances of Salvador Dali occurred on January 29, 1961. That’s when Salvador Dali shot onto the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York. The “shot” was literal.


Picture dated in the 60s of TV American presenter Ed Sullivan (L) looking at Spanish artist Salvador Dali (R) showing how to paint with a spray gun. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

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Dali’s performance art involved him pointing a pistol, loaded with paint-filled capsules, at a large canvas and shooting it to create a rather remarkable image of the Crucifixion. He called this technique “bulletism.”


Bulletims of the longer-rifle variety.

Bulletism of the rifle variety.


The affable Cavett was one thing. But how on earth did Sullivan – a kind of stoic, stone-faced host – react to Dali’s appearance on his show? How did Sullivan introduce his guest to begin with? What did he say Dali was going to do? And what did the two say after Dali shot his way into further fame?


These are questions to which I must have answers. This is a TV appearance of Salvador Dali I must see. If any reader out there can help, kindly contact me through the Salvador Dali Society, Inc.© And if I find it, be assured you’ll see it in this space.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Salvador Dali Was and Always Will be a Media Star; Enjoy him on the Dick Cavett Show and Dancing the Charleston Outside!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Fellow Dali nuts who know me well know that, for countless years, I lamented and expressed serious frustration over the fact that I was aware Salvador Dali had appeared on the old Dick Cavett Show, but had never seen a clip of it.  And honestly thought I never would.


What’s more, when I was told Dali came on Cavett’s set holding an ant eater and that he tossed it onto the lap of actress Lillian Gish, my level of intrigue – and frustration – grew ever more intense. “I must see this appearance of Dali, if it’s the last thing I do!” I’d insist.


But how? When? Will I ever? Am I hopelessly obsessed?


Many, many years of frustration passed. I could only try to picture in my mind’s eye such eccentric acts of the man whose flamboyant personality and kooky antics were as colorful as the palette with which he painted.


Then, not more than a few months ago, someone pointed out to me (I think it might have been my friend, Elliott King, himself a well-known Dali specialist), that there was a clip of the Dali Cavett Show appearance — finally — on youtube. I was elated and quickly went there and played the video. It was truly wonderful to see. Such as it was. But it was only a brief snippet of what was clearly a much lengthier interview. Still, my long-anticipated wish was finally fulfilled, albeit not entirely.


But now, which I ecstatically learned only a day or two ago, the entire interview is online! The Holy Grail! I literally waited decades to find it.  And it didn’t disappoint. Here it is, my friends . . .



But why? Why, for some of us, is seeing Dali in such contexts so important?


I have a theory that most probably won’t share it. Here goes: some of us want to observe the famously eccentric artist “in action” to determine for ourselves if he was genuinely a bit crazy, or if it was simply a put-on to get noticed and make headlines. Below, check out Dali on the Ed Sullivan Show, on BBC Radio, and on I’ve Got A Secret . . .


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I mean, there have been productive and successful people who were, at the same time, certifiably a little nuts. Was Dali one of them?


You’d have to watch more than just the Cavett clip to answer that. But, especially for those not particularly familiar with Dali, it wouldn’t be hard to find Dali’s appearance on the show not only way out there, but potentially indicative of a man with — let’s be blunt — a major screw loose!


He rambles on about rhinoceroses…the way he always pronounces “butterfly” “booterflyeeeeeee”…how Madame Dali chooses his clothing but the rest of him is his domain, including his famous mustache, which is “the constant tragic element of my face”…and how that celebrated facial hair becomes melancholic and depressing at night…how he never jokes…and how he doesn’t like children or animals (cats and dogs are vulgar, he declared), but two exceptions are the rhinoceros and the ant eater, which he keeps referring to not as an ant eater, but as an “eat-ant.”


Cavett asks him if he likes baseball, and Dali says he only looks at photographs of the sport and that, for him, it is all about people “down on the floor, catching dust, creating one tremendous melancholic effect, because everybody’s in this position,” as Dali leaned over, “in the floor, in the dust.”


When Lillian Gish carefully composes a perfectly sensible and interesting question to Dali – “Have you, from the beginning of your work, your great craftsmanship in painting, a message to give the people that we perhaps don’t understand?”, Dali dead-pans a coldly blunt, “No message,” shaking his head. The audience laughs and claps. “Could you invent one?” Cavett interjects, to sort of soften the dissing of Miss Gish’s gently posed query.


Dali, though, claims he is against any kind of message. And when the host comments that Dali’s paintings have a dream-like quality to them, Dali corrects him, noting, “It’s never a dream, it’s hypnogogical images. It’s 10 or 15 minutes before you fall sleeping. Vivid, irrational images, and catch images and paint with a more careful photographic style.”


Enjoy the clip!


*     *     *     *     *     *



And speaking of video clips, this one’s a hoot – and demonstrates quite the opposite of the “craziness” observed in the Dick Cavett Show appearance. Indeed, it reveals a down-to-earth charm and wit – not to mention a bit of fancy foot work – as Salvador joyfully treats us to his interpretation the Charleston. It’s nothing less than delightful! Perhaps the most playful footage ever of the controversial and eccentric Master.



Was Dali a little crazy? Um, yes — like a fox! In fact, a psychiatrist once observed that Dali had one of the “most ordered” minds of anyone he’d ever examined.

But did Dali act the part of a crazy man, in part because he was admittedly eccentric but even more so because he knew it would cleverly and irrepressibly help market his art and heighten his fame? Claro que si! (Look it up if you don’t know Spanish).

One thing’s for sure: Dali was fun to watch on shows like Dick Cavett’s. He had a great sense of humor and a profound love of Charlie Chaplin. And, I think, it showed.



(All images/videos used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)









Dali’s ‘Madonna of Port Lligat’ Keeps Us Coming back for More!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Certain paintings, drawings, prints and other creations by Salvador Dali have something about them that’s a bit of a mystery to me. They’re works that not only grab ahold of me, but seduce me into coming back to them time and again, insisting that each time I return I discover something new.


Do you ever have this kind of experience with certain Dali’s? It’s really quite exhilarating! It’s art that not merely speaks to you, but almost literally reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and tenaciously draws you in with an ineffable sense of awe. Dali is just so damn exciting!


I’m having one of those experiences right now. As I write this.  As I again contemplate the extraordinary painting, The Madonna of Port Lligat of 1950.


At the time, the 46-year-old Dali considered it his greatest achievement to date. I loved the photo that ran in LIFE magazine when the immense canvas was delivered to New York’s Carstairs Gallery. It showed Dali with his hands clasped in utter self-satisfaction as he gazed up to watch the giant canvas being hoisted to the 6th floor gallery; it was too large to fit on the stairs or elevator. Dali proclaimed it was all “like childbirth!”


What I love about a painting like this is how it can be enjoyed in whole or in part – on a kind of macro- or micro-level. The overall impact owes, in part, to its sheer size. It looked commanding indeed when I finally saw the original in the Dali: The Late Years exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2010 (though I lamented it was behind Plexiglas).




In more specific terms, the portrait of the auburn-haired Christ child – for which Juan Figueres, a 6-year-old from Cadaques, posed – is stunning. Close-ups of this central portion of the picture reveal spectacular detail in Gala’s embroidery and the Eucharistic bread seen through the transparent cut-out through both the chest of the Child and the Madonna.


The Christ child looking magnificent in auburn hair.

The Christ child looking magnificent in auburn hair.


One detail that’s always intrigued me is the cuttlefish bones seen at left in The Madonna of Port Lligat. Cuttlefish are remarkable sea creatures that change colors and emit electronic-like changes in their appearance. In Dali’s world, those changes became, at the right side of the painting, angel wings from which the image of Gala morphs.


Studies for cuttlefish bones transforming into Gala.

Studies for cuttlefish bones transforming into Gala.


As Dali’s first major Nuclear-Mystical work, everything in The Madonna of Port Lligat floats in space, representing then-new discoveries in nuclear physics – notably findings about the discontinuity of matter.

Nothing touches anything else.

Nothing touches anything else.


Alas, Dali popularly symbolized his fascination with atomic physics and mathematics – in particular the logarithmic curve – via the horn of the rhinoceros. And here, in the cubicle at the bottom of the painting, is the first appearance of the animal, whose unique horn would be the basis of a recurring motif in many Dali works to follow.


Three other details in this large masterwork recall three other Dali paintings: the basket of bread to Gala’s lower left; the design to the right of the rhinoceros – the same as that seen in Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero; and the dematerializing face to the right of that, seen in the 1967 work, Future Martyr of Supersonic Waves.


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Taken as a whole, or examined in its seemingly endless details — such as the piece of hanging cork, seen here in Dali’s study for it —




The Madonna of Port Lligat is another giant achievement from the studio of Salvador Dali.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Dali Painted what he Saw, Not just what he Dreamed!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Everyone has their “thing” when it comes to Salvador Dali. Some love how mind-bending his paintings were. Not to mention his drawings, prints, and three-dimensional objects.


Others are fascinated by his scientific and mathematical mind. Many couldn’t get enough of his eccentricities, especially when they went public in what was invariably headline-making fashion.


Of the many “things” that make Dali irresistible to me is how you can discover certain elements in his pictures that were NOT the products of his fertile imagination, but actual things he saw in his daily life. Things that became important details within his surrealist – and sometimes not so surrealist – paintings.


Like any artist, surrealist Dali was a keen observer of his surroundings, and I find it interesting to look at some of what he saw converted into oil on canvas.


A great example is how Dali was inspired when he traveled in Italy and was taken by the deep perspective of the proscenium of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, created by architect Andrea Palladio. Witnessing this architectural work gave rise to Dali’s Palladio’s Corridor of Dramatic Surprise of 1938 and, a year earlier, Palladio’s Thalia Corridor.


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Another Italian architectural wonder – the intricate and awe-inspiring interior of the Pantheon in Rome – informed Dali’s remarkable painting, Raphaelesque Head Exploding.


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And the Bernini sculpture in Rome’s Piazza della Minerva square moved Dali to create his famous elephants sporting skyscraper-tall spider legs and carrying impossible obelisks or other objects on their backs.


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The Church of Santa Maria in Cadaques was a great landmark for inspiration, resulting in a host of early canvases by Dali in his pre-surrealist days.


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Speaking of Cadaques, that region, including Cape Creus and Port Lligat, was home to unending inspiration for Dali in the peculiar and distinctive rock formations of a largely craggy coastline. Most important is the rock at Cullero, which inspired Dali’s Great Masturbator head that appeared not only in his The Great Masturbator painting of 1929, but in many other works of his surrealist period.


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Another popular natural fixture in Dali’s Spanish homeland are cypress trees, which appear in numerous Dali canvases. One in particular, My Cousin Carolinetta on the Beach at Rosas, was obviously inspired by an actual cypress tree growing within a boat, as you can see in the delightful photo here.


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Cypress trees dominated the haunting painting, The Isle of the Dead, by the German artist Arnold Bocklin. This work inspired many artists, including Salvador Dali. Another artist’s work that inspired Dali to borrow a friendly element from it, was Ayne Bru’s Martyrdom of St. Cucufa. The resting dog in the early painting showed up in two of Dali’s: Myself at the Age of Six When I Believed I Was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea…, and Dali, Nude, in Contemplation of Five Regular Bodies (not its complete title).


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Another artist whose specific work moved Dali to paint a particular work was Pablo Picasso. His famed Guernica canvas inspired Dali to paint Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone. Notice the light bulb and anguished horse in the Dali quoted from the Picasso – both works making a statement about the horrors of war.


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And then there is a disparate array of objects Dali saw in his everyday life that figured into his paintings. We’re talking such things as …


A CHESS PAWN, seen in Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love:




A COKE BOTTLE, appearing (years before Pop art was in vogue) in Poetry of America:




CAULIFLOWER, prominently seen in Nature Morte Vivante:




BREAD, beautifully captured in two versions of Basket of Bread:


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WATERMELON, in Feather Equilibrium:




A FREIGHT TRAIN CAR, featured in The Perpignan Railway Station:




FLIES, flitting about in The Hallucinogenic Toreador:




CORK, hanging by a string in The Madonna of Port Lligat:




A SUNFLOWER, beautifully depicted in The Virgin of Guadalupe:


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SAILING BOATS, found in such precise works as The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition:




The list could go on and on. I love seeing such objects becoming a part of a Salvador Dali painting. He was so much more than just a painter of melting clocks!


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)