Posted by: PaulChimera
Where else but in the labyrinthine recesses of the mind of Dali would something as shocking and bizarre as a giraffe with its long neck ablaze prance from an imaginary state to an iconic element in many of the Surrealist Master’s paintings.
“The Burning Giraffe” of 1935 was the first and best known instance when such an enigmatic image emerged from Dali’s Freudian-inspired brush. The drawers in the faceless woman’s chest and left leg are symbols of inner, hidden, subconscious thoughts – the very heart of Surrealism’s intent to explore the world of dreams.
Meanwhile, interpretation of Dali’s works often must be framed within the context of when they were created. “The Burning Giraffe” came off of Dali’s easel at the time of the Spanish Civil War, and it was widely known at the time that Dali was deeply concerned about just what direction his country in turmoil would take. The foreboding mood of this painting unquestionably reflects that concern – from the eerie aquamarine palette to the haunting woman devoid of facial features, her arms appearing as if the skin were removed, while another curious figure – repeating phallic appendages, some supported by crutches – stands in the shadows behind her, holding what looks like bloodied meat.
The burning giraffe itself is a comparatively small element in the picture, yet nevertheless dominant in both its vivid coloration and its dramatic visual effect. Dali loved paradox and confusion; the notion of a giraffe on fire seems to accord well with the overall, disquieting sense of isolation, if not doom, inherent in this canvas. Though not often credited as such, “The Burning Giraffe” is indeed one of Dali’s war pictures.
All of it a bit gross? Maybe. But Dali’s surrealism was often a political or historical statement, not merely a mirror held up to his dreams. “The Burning Giraffe” is an excellent example of how the Spanish Civil War, which reportedly had begun before Dali finished this painting, weighed heavily on the Catalan artist’s mind. And how untidy things like the cruelty and horror of war sometimes resulted in paintings by Dali that may be a little on the creepy side, yet still manage to hold us in awe of Dali’s unique style and profound intellect.
Posted by: PaulChimera
My tendency in this blog is to talk about Dali’s oil paintings. But my previous post was about a colorful Dali print. And today let’s focus on a trippy little piece most of you probably aren’t familiar with, but which is a great watercolor and ink from 1967, called “The Mountains of Cape Creus on the March.”
This rather charming work on paper is subtitled “LSD Trip,” though most everyone privy to Dali’s inner circle seems to acknowledge that when Dali said, “I don’t take drugs – I am the drug!” he was being a little cheeky, but also telling the truth. Another glib Dali declaration: “Don’t take LSD, take Dali!” The reality was that Dali was extremely vigilant about his health. A protégé of his, artist Louis Markoya, recently told me that Dali was frankly afraid of putting foreign substances into his body. Did Salvador Dali take drugs? I doubt it. In fact, he rarely drank alcohol, beyond the occasional glass of champagne, favoring Vichy water instead.
Drugs aside, the focus in this interesting work, owned by the Paul Ricard Foundation off the coast of France– the same owner of Dali’s monumental canvas, “Tuna Fishing” – are the mountains of Cape Creus, a craggy cove near Dali’s home in Port Lligat, which offered up a rich landscape of curious rock formations that left an indelible impression on Dali all his life. Now, as one might hallucinate the scene, the solidly stationary rocks of that region are on the march – and they appear to be transformed into burly brown elephants on impossibly thin, stork-like legs, a common, and comical, Dali motif.
We also see the head of a chicken in the middle, behind which appears a human figure holding a radiant red flower. Leading the parade are three whimsical fairy-like figures, one holding a crutch, another sporting a sorcerer’s hat, a third in a flowing yellow-orange gown. Flowers, birds and horses cavort in the top distance, while below the mountainous herd, several tiny figures prance across an open plain. Eyes that appear almost like butterflies are seen at various points on the huge mountains-turned-animals, with tears dripping from some of them like honey – adding to the abstract, surreal, trance-like mood this approx. 23” x 32” picture evokes.
Not a well-known Dali, “The Mountains of Cape Creus on the March” is nevertheless another example of Dali’s versatility, sense of humor, and uncanny ability to grab and keep our attention!
Posted by: PaulChimera
Sun Goddess Flower is a stunning example of the unique, sometimes amusing and highly animated connection Salvador Dali had with flowers as a popular subject in his prints, drawings, watercolors and paintings.
These weren’t merely flowers to Dali, but, rather, living beings exuding a vibrant energy and personality all their own! Sometimes they even sported lips, fingers, even gramophones!
In the slightly tamer Sun Goddess Flower, Dali infuses the flower head with bright yellows and gold, capturing the essence of the sun from which all life and growth is made possible. And the free-flowing leaves and sheer sense of height of the flower echoes the nature of this towering floral phenomenon, which has long held a profound fascination for Dali.
In two of his best religious paintings, for example – The Virgin of Guadalupe and The Ascension of Christ – Dali incorporates the florets of the sunflower face, whose precise arrangement is an example of the natural logarithmic curve found in certain of nature’s creations.
Comparisons can also be made to another print, likewise from the famed Phyllis Lucas Gallery collection from which Sun Goddess Flower originates: Spring Explosive. In the latter work, the same super-tall stalks can be seen, bursting with spirit and exploding with life.
In Sun Goddess Flower, Dali repeats the glowing sun-like nature of the flower’s face with smaller examples of flowers sprinkled about the foreground. Meanwhile, behind it all, we see two human figures – almost always representative of Dali and his father – whose images are made all the more diminutive by the powerful presence of the floral goddess of the sun, incarnate in the form of a flower, keeping us ever-mindful that the sun is the determinant of all life on earth.
Indeed, the earth to Dali mostly meant his beloved homeland of Spain and, in particular, the wonderful environs of Cape Creus and Port Lligat on the Costa Brava. This magical place was a huge inspiration in all of his art. Just a hint of that uniquely-inspiring countryside is seen on the right side of the horizon in this magical limited-edition original lithograph, while a Daliesque bird boldly soars in the sky in the upper left.
But there’s something more about Sun Goddess Flower that makes it unmistakably the handiwork of Surrealist Master Salvador Dali. In a word: technique. Dali, legendary as the preeminent draftsman of his time, was highly effective in evoking a stunning, spirit-lifting spontaneity in such works, through his spatter-technique – a kind of confetti spritz of ink that gives the viewer a sense that we’re not merely looking at a flower, but experiencing a flower in the context of a grand celebration.
That’s really the word for it, because Dali’s Sun Goddess Flower is a celebration of beauty, of nature’s creativity, and the special quality of living things that may not be animal or human, but in Dali’s world take on dazzling, human-like characteristics. It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination, after all, to see the two largest leaves of Sun Goddess Flower as the outstretched arms of a woman – a goddess, as it were – waving joyously over the earth below.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Q. After going to the Dali Museum and seeing “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man,” I feel that painting is very topical, with the political unrest taking place in the Middle East. I’m not saying it’s going to signify the rise of the next definitive superpower that the U.S. became since this painting, but it’s interesting that the adult is pointing in the general area of the Middle East. As well as Africa shedding a tear. (Africa also looks similar to the head of a rhino, in my opinion.) Anyways, just a thought I was having.
A. Ok, the above isn’t exactly a question – but it raises one: was there any significance in the figure in Dali’s painting pointing to the Middle East, perhaps signifying the emergence of a new superpower? The short answer is, I don’t know.
However, it’s plausible. Frankly, Dali had an uncanny ability to predict things. Look, for example, at his 1943 canvas, “Poetry of America,” which I wrote about several weeks ago (check our archives for reference). Just as in “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man,” Dali – in “Poetry of America” – included a map of Africa, seemingly shedding a tear. Both were painted the same year.
In “Poetry,” Dali also anticipated the future trend for “pop” art – in this case, literally “pop” (some call it “soda”) in the appearance of a Coke bottle! And he also foresaw the coming challenge of race relations in America.
In 1959, Dali remarkably predicted that an American would be the first to land on the moon, when, at the bottom of his wall-size painting, “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus,” he included a huge sea urchin-turned-lunar surface, complete with orbiting rings. This was some years before Neil Armstrong made that famous giant leap for mankind.
A great work in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man” shows the earth as a cracked-open egg, from which a human body emerges. In the book, Dali (The World’s Greatest Art), authors Elizabeth Keevill and Kevin Eyres write: “Dali was extremely concerned that the conflict in Europe would spread across the entire world with cataclysmic results. America had recently entered the war and here Dali shows the emerging giant, watched by a young child and its androgynous guardian, waking to redress the geopolitical balance of the world.”
As to the observation that Africa looks similar to the head of a rhino, beauty – and rhino heads – are in the eye of the beholder!
Posted by: PaulChimera
As a Dali writer-historian, having met and spent some time with Dali, and who has deeply admired and studied his life and work for over 40 years, I’m often asked which Dali painting I consider his greatest achievement.
That’s different from, “Which Dali work is your favorite?” To that question I say, “Santiago El Grande.” Its grandeur overwhelms me.
But Dali’s single greatest achievement in painting? I have to go with “The Hallucinogenic Toreador,” the subject of today’s blog. Why “Toreador”?
First, the work is intensely Spanish, just like the Catalan Master who conceived and painted it. At its heart is the bullfight – Spain’s national pastime and a spectacle one immediately associates with Spanish culture and history. Dali loved the bullfights.
In addition, this painting of monumental scale features, in my view, Dali’s most remarkable double-image, of the many he conceived. In fact, perhaps the second most impressive double-image, in my opinion – the one found in “Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” – appears, in part, in “Hallucinogenic Toreador.” You can see the famous Voltaire bust toward the bottom of the red- skirted Venus de Milo, which also doubles as the red cape the toreador waves at his four-legged opponent.
But the double-image in “Toreador” is ingenious, with the head, left breast and abdominal “crease” in the Venus de Milo in the center of the picture magically becoming the bullfighter’s right eye, nose and lips, respectively. The green skirt is his necktie.
“Toreador” (Collection: Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida) also includes a portrait of Gala – looking glum in the upper left, because, as Dali explained, Gala didn’t like bullfighting; and the image of a very young Dali himself, in the lower right, dressed in his iconic sailor suit and reprising the same youthful image of him in “Specter of Sex Appeal.”
Dali manages to blend several other important elements into this sumptuous feast for the eyes: a nod to Spanish cubist painter Juan Gris’s painting, “Still Life on a Chair,” seen in the lower left corner, which also includes a kind of echo of the Venus double-image; the spectacularly colorful suit of lights worn by matadors, which at the same time is a contemporary acknowledgment of pop and op art; and even a young lady in a bikini, floating on a raft near the slain bull – Dali’s representation of the commercialism and tourism that had begun to encroach upon the once unfettered environs of Spain’s Costa Brava.
When I saw “Hallucinogenic Toreador” for the first time in the original Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, I approached it from a distance of about 100 feet, and thought it was clever of Dali to have affixed a real plastic button on the toreador’s collar, just below his chin. But as I stepped closer to the canvas, I of course realized it was an eye-fooling stroke of genius: the button was indeed painted to look three-dimensional!
So career-summarizing is this painting that Spanish author Luis Romero wrote an entire book themed around it, translating to “All Dali in One Painting.”
Posted by: PaulChimera
In the 1940s, Dali announced – in a kind of paradox so typical of him – that he was “becoming classical,” and “Family of Marsupial Centaurs” (1940, private collection) certainly has a classical tone and technique about it, exuding an almost Renaissance-era feel.
If you thought you “knew” Dali (has anyone ever truly succeeded in figuring out so complex and confounding a genius?), you might be surprised to even learn of the very existence of this painting. It’s quite a departure from what we might typically associate with the Spanish surrealist. It may, in fact, be one of the best examples of the nexus at which Dali the surrealist and Dali the “classicist” merged. But it remains, I believe, a little known Dali oil.
Dali had long been fascinated, perhaps obsessed is the word, with the notion of intra-uterine memories. He claimed with seriousness that he vividly recalled his time inside the womb! He wrote and expounded many times on what he called the “traumatism of birth,” and a number of his important surrealist paintings are themed around an intra-uterine world – more “real” than imagined, according to Dali. There’s even a photo-illustration of him in the fetal position, inside an egg, published on one of the opening pages of his book, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (a must-read for any serious Dali scholar).
Here, in this unusual but remarkably well-painted canvas, we see a family not of human beings, but of centaurs – mythical creatures from Greek mythology, whose heads are human but whose bodies are that of a horse. Like marsupials, which carry their young in a pouch, in Dali’s world the human-horse creatures now take on marsupial qualities, while babies emerge freely from their mothers’ womb, and no doubt could return to them as they please.
“Family of Marsupial Centaurs” features a rock-rimmed coastline, reminiscent of what Salvador Dali saw every day in his native Spain, even though this picture was executed while Dali and Gala were in exile in the United States during the war. Also note the strict “X”-like structuring of the composition, which divides the canvas into four nearly equally-sized triangles. It helps a rather tumultuous-looking scene flow together in perfect visual harmony – typical of the careful attention to detail that marked all the work of Dali, the master.
Posted by: PaulChimera
“The First days of Spring” seems a fitting Dali painting to consider today, what with spring – mercifully for many – just around the corner. But Dali’s notion of spring is far, far different from that of the rest of us!
Painted when Dali was just 25 years old, “Spring” (in the collection of The Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Fl.) is chockablock with Freudian symbolism meant to display on canvas the deep levels of anxiety and sexual fantasies Salvador was experiencing at the time. His anxiety no doubt revolved around his strained relationship with his father, who never approved of his son’s choice of vocations, and was increasingly put off by Salvador’s bizarre behavior.
Yet, like most children – adult or otherwise – Dali probably felt a certain ambivalence toward his father, wishing for his approval while at the same time revolting against his authority. Many scholars find the man seated in the chair in “First Days of Spring” a probable reference to Dali senior, while the man and boy walking and holding hands in the far middle distance is unmistakably representative of father and son.
As a kind of autobiographical journey through Dali’s thoughts and fantasies – often of a perverse nature – this important canvas features a mélange of sexually-charged Freudian symbolism: the phallic fish, which has turned up in other works by Dali, more blatantly depicting a penis as a fish; several references to female genitalia; and the appearance of steps, which, in Freud’s book, “Interpretation of Dreams,” was unequivocally linked to thoughts of sexual intercourse – the climbing of stairs, up and down, analogous to the back and forth, up and down nature of the sexual act.
The work was “calculated to shock, even repulse the viewer,” wrote art professor and author Robert S. Lubar. I’m not convinced there’s all that much in “First Days of Spring” that repulses (such things are a matter of personal taste and tolerance, after all), but the work was certainly shocking in 1929 – and for many remains so to this day.
I love the observation surrealist poet Louis Aragon made about Dali’s use of collage in several places in this painting (including, for example, the small photo of Dali as a baby): “What defies interpretation best is probably the use of collage by Salvador Dali. He paints with a magnifying glass; he knows so well how to imitate a chromo, that the result is inevitable: the pasted parts of the chromo are thought to be painted, while the painted parts are thought to be pasted.”
Posted by: PaulChimera
It’s hard to imagine that a painting as pretty and seemingly tranquil as Salvador Dali’s “Dawn, Noon, Sunset and Twilight” (1979, collection Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, Figueres, Spain) could potentially represent something a bit more provocative, as we immerse ourselves deeper into it. But then this is Dali! Let’s not forget that he used to proclaim to the world that his art was like an iceberg, of which only a tenth was readily visible.
On its surface, the large picture — painstakingly painted in a Pointillist manner, like a French masterpiece – depicts five images of the woman from a picture that obsessed Dali literally all his life: “The Angelus” by French realist painter Jean Francois Millet, who died in 1875. Dali long believed that the widely popular painting of a couple out praying in a field had actually been symbolic of repressed sexual tension and desires. Moreover, Dali always thought the bowed woman’s figure resembled a praying mantis, an insect infamous for devouring its mate after copulation!
Some observers have thus theorized that maybe that’s what Dali was saying in “Dawn, Noon…” – that this is why the male figure from “The Angelus” is now conspicuously missing from Dali’s canvas. Did she “devour” her partner? Or is such a theory merely the over-the-top product of a too-wild imagination?
Like all art, Salvador Dali’s must ultimately be left to the individual connoisseur’s interpretations, at least in part. What we can deduce for sure is that Dali has made here a late-in-his-career nod to Post-Impressionism, and that the different densities and shades of color, moving from left to right, capture a sense of light at dawn, noon, sunset and twilight – thus the title of this truly lovely, little-known Dali painting.
Posted by: PaulChimera
I first saw – luminously, stunningly in-person – “Ascension of Christ” in Hartford, Connecticut, which was the first stop of the wonderful “Dali’s Optical Illusions” traveling exhibition in 2000, organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum. This is one of those Dali masterpieces that grabs a hold of you by the collar and seduces you to the point of blissful distraction!
Isn’t it amazing how Salvador Dali had this magician-like ability to galvanize our attention on so many levels! In this large, major religious canvas we are almost put in a trance by what’s going on – or what we think is going on – and by how Dali has rendered it so splendidly. Of course, the sheer size and, more importantly, the luminosity and sense of the miraculous in the work transfixes us as we contemplate this at once both beautiful and mysterious work of art.
We see the figure of Christ rising toward an energized, electrifying view of the heavens, guided by and guarded over, it would seem, not necessarily by God – although we might draw that inference overall – but indeed by the figure of Dali’s wife, Gala, peering out from the clouds. A symbol of the Holy Spirit is clearly intended by the dove below her chin, while Gala has been portrayed as Christ’s mother not only here, but in another monumental religious work by Dali: “Corpus Hypercubus” (“Crucifixion”) of 1954. Interestingly, “Ascension of Christ” is subtitled, “Pieta.”
But Dali – master of illusion and of manipulating space and time – throws us off some by the oddly juxtaposed perspectives and points of view in “Ascension.” The Christ figure is seen emerging either backwards or upwards – we don’t know. Meanwhile, it’s less than clear just what plain Gala would be standing on in relation to the angle of the rising Christ. What’s more, we have a more normal and natural field of vision in the landscape shown at the bottom, below the large yellow circle, further confounding our perspective here.
And just what is that brilliant golden sphere? Is it a splitting atom or human cell? Is it the sun? Does it represent the circle of life? Could it be a sea urchin? What we do know is that directly behind the ascending Christ figure are the florets of a sunflower – a natural design by which Dali was intrigued, because its continuous circular pattern follows the laws of a logarithmic spiral – a naturally occurring phenomenon he also found in the horn of a rhinoceros and the morphology of a cauliflower.
The foreshortened view of Christ (whose apparently soiled feet would surely symbolize Christ’s many pilgrimages by foot) was achieved via a glass floor Dali had specially installed in his studio in Port Lligat, Spain, on which he’d position models for various effects. And the intensity in which Christ’s fingers are curled lends a power and drama that help make “Ascension of Christ” one of the most breathtaking achievements ever to emerge from Dali’s easel.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali set out to have a lot of fun in his career – and he wanted us to have fun, too, as we navigated the artistic highway he set down for us. One fun picture, as it were, is his remarkable 1935 “Paranoiac Face.”
This oil on panel is the only Dali painting I’m aware of that was actually meant to be turned 90 degrees in order to appreciate its clever double-image.
Viewing it straight on, horizontally, what do you see? A clutch of natives sitting and lying before a primitive hut, right? Some trees appear behind it. Nothing to see here, folks.
Or is there?
Turn the picture 90 degrees clockwise…and suddenly you’ll see, well, the very title of this painting! The belly of the reclining figure becomes the right eye of the face; the same reclining man, together with the space behind him and the pot near him, become the nose. The figure dressed in red doubles as the lips. And the trees now serve as his bushy hair!
Just plain cool!
The genesis of this Dali double-image is rather charming. Reportedly Dali spotted an African hut scene on a postcard (see image below). But viewing it from a vertical angle first, he thought it was a reproduction of a new Picasso work. Through the uncanny phenomenon Dali called his Paranoiac-Critical Method, he was able to modify the original scene so that it did this wonderfully inventive and revealing double-duty!
Dali’s so-called Paranoiac-Critical creative method involved his unique ability to view the world around him the way a true paranoid would: seeing exaggeration of figures and shapes, and often double-visions of things in a kind of controlled delirium. That’s where the critical part of the Paranoiac-Critical method comes in: Dali could take these “crazy” visions and carefully, critically express them in paint (and other mediums) so that we, too, could see them.
Dali’s “drug” was no drug at all; it was his inimitable way of seeing beyond the obvious.
Often, the result was a work like “Paranoiac Face,” which is deftly executed, visually stunning, and simply a bit of artistic fun – both for the man who created it, and for those of us who enjoy viewing it!
Sadly, according to Dali writer and confidant Robert Descharnes, the whereabouts of “Paranoiac Face” are unknown, and, tragically, he believes it’s probably destroyed.