‘Birth of Liquid Desires’ a Mirror to Dali’s Inner Desires & Fears
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
One painting that truly captures the essence of Surrealism in general and Salvador Dali’s unique brand of it in particular is the great 1932 canvas, “The Birth of Liquid Desires,” which reportedly Gala Dali sold directly to the iconic collector, Peggy Guggenheim.
Here we have a textbook example of how Dali expressed his psychological conflicts and obsessions in a manner almost as if he could gain some semblance of control over them by picturing them for others to see. It therefore must have been cathartic for the artist, only 28 at the time he painted “The Birth of Liquid Desires,” to pour out the mental concerns he was dealing with onto a canvas like this one.
His conflict with his father, heightened especially when he met and fell in love with Gala, a woman 10 years his senior, had been represented in several paintings, in which he likened the legend of William Tell to his own battle with paternal authority and rejection. In the present case, we might see the apple on the head of the would-be victim in the William Tell allegory supplanted by a loaf of bread on the head of the figure with ambiguous sexual identity.
Arising out of the bread loaf is a cloud-like image populated by cypress trees that surely derive from a painting whose dark, foreboding nature had long obsessed Dali: Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead.” The chest of drawers with various bits of clothing and such dangling out of it is directly Freudian in its symbolism, suggesting inner fears and secrets often repressed and yet susceptible to shameful unmasking.
The large gold-colored backdrop has variously been construed as an inspiration borne of the undulating and fantastic rock formations with which Dali’s native Spanish countryside is, and was, blessed, though some have suggested it’s an artist’s palette, or even a contorted violin.
Dali drew enormous and continuous inspiration from these rocky formations, while the more undulating and “softer” parts of the image here may owe to the influence of the Barcelona architect Gaudi, whom Dali greatly admired, and whose distinctive style Dali portrayed in various surrealist works.
Freudian analysis would surely suggest that the various recessed spaces in the structure are symbolic of the female sexual organs, while the bread and various other elongated forms might invite phallic interpretations.
What about the “liquid desires” in Dali’s title? Water flows in the cloud vision at the top, while in the lower right a shamed figure pours white liquid into a receptacle – all not a very difficult leap to the notion of ejaculation.
What we see, then, in “The Birth of Liquid Desires,” is Salvador Dali’s active, sexually oriented, partly conflicted inner self exposed in the form of a meticulously painted work of art that becomes, like so many of his works, a mirror held up to Dali himself, from the inside out! The work is in the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy.