Posted by: PaulChimera
As I contemplate Dali’s bizarrely-titled Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques on the Tip of the Tongue of a Three-Storied Guadian Woman (1958-60; collection Dali Museum, Florida; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain), I’m reminded of just how fortunate I was to have been publicity director of the original Salvador Dali Museum of Beachwood, Ohio.
I got to see this remarkable picture every day, along with so many other mind-bending gems from the Reynolds and Eleanor Morse Collection. I loved Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques the instant I set eyes on it – and my reason actually has more to do with technique than imagery, though I love both.
However, the imagery is of course astounding: a 3-story-tall, undulating form of a woman, inspired by the capricious curves of the architecture of Gaudi, whom Dali deeply admired. The lady is, alas, quite naked – with distinctly erect nipples and no shame in her exposed genitalia. Dionysus – the Greek god of wine and ritual madness – has his own private parts exposed, as the cherries serve as a testicular reference. In fact, the fruit was the point of departure in this work, plucked as it were from a child’s reading book.
The background field workers owe to Dali’s interest in the French painter, Millet, and at right a field of zig-zag elements is the artist’s nod to his consuming interest in nuclear physics and the atomic composition of matter.
My real love of this little oil on panel, only about 12 by 9 inches, owes to the superb detail in the work. The technique represents realism, pointillism, abstraction and, of course, surrealism, all coming together in an enamel-like painting that again expresses the incomparable draughtsmanship of Dali. This one has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. There’s simply nothing like it.
Yet ultimately, and despite a technique that has been lauded incontestably, even by his most ardent detractors, Salvador Dali’s greatest contribution in a work like this is his unparalleled imagination. Who else could dream up the unlikely union of workers in a field and a spitting Greek god of wine – with a mini library thrown in for good measure – but the kingpin of Surrealism, Salvador Dali!
Posted by: PaulChimera
A couple of posts ago I wrote about Dali’s The Dream. Today let’s set our gaze upon The Font, an equally short title where the central figure of the dreaming woman with her mouth swarmed by ants appears, similarly to how she looks in The Dream.
The date of this painting (1930; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain), makes it clear that this picture represents a 26-year-old Dali before Gala entered his life: A young Catalan with a tornado of thoughts, obsessions, fears and sexual fantasies whipping around in his excitable, imaginative mind.
The flowing water from the font – itself in the form of a Medusa figure – might easily be a symbol for the spilling of bodily fluids, and such an allusion isn’t hard to fit into the overall sexual context of the painting. A painting that melds sexual and religious influences – the chalice and host in the center, for example, below which two figures appear to be involved in oral sex. Religious guilt and sexual tension inexorably meet head-on!
Alas, a lion approaches – long held to be a symbol for paternal authority and judgment. From the back of the kneeling figure is an outgrowth of a vulture-like bird and moths representing death or foreboding. A clinging grasshopper is not only a widely known source of fear for the young Dali (he was literally petrified of the jumping, clinging insects), but is theorized to be a phallic symbol.
Phallic seems an apt description, too, of the monolithic structure to the right, with openings in which ants and keys appear. Freud’s psychoanalytic work found that dreams offering up keys suggest the unconscious and the unlocking of the unconscious – as well as sexual penetration. The six spaces in this structure can surely be interpreted as vaginal-like. Counterbalancing phallic references, which also include the stone columns, is the woman’s mouth of ants, not unlike the appearance of female sexual anatomy. And, atop the monolithic form at right, another menacing grasshopper.
Guilt, fear, anxiety, sexual interest, fatherly retribution, eroticism – and more – all find an outlet in The Font, which was typical of the Salvador Dali of this period, charged as he was with sexual curiosity, fears, doubts, discoveries and guilt. Despite such a seemingly disparate array of images, Dali pulls it off with artistic integrity, managing a well-painted composition that set the tone for what critics persist in believing was Dali’s most important surrealist period: the decade of the 1930s.
This blogger doesn’t argue that point, but believes just as strongly that his post-surrealist period – especially his Nuclear-Mystical period – brought us some of the most exciting creations from the hands and mind of Salvador Dali!
Posted by: PaulChimera
It’s unclear why Salvador Dali sometimes included the title of his work directly on the canvas, such as he did here in Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon (1941; Collection Teatru-Museum Dali; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain).
What is clear, though, is that the normally proud and self-assured artist (outwardly, anyway) has taken a bit of an off-ramp here – portraying himself in a melting mask of sorts, recalling his iconic melting watches. Numerous crutches – a favorite element in Dali’s arsenal of surrealist props – help support his flaccid face.
The grilled bacon strip might represent Dali’s love of gastronomy, and its shriveled form echoes the “cooked,” melted morphology of his visage – but also adds a secondary ingredient of humor to this unusual and amusing feast for our eyes!
Perhaps the only feature that retains a sense of typical Dalinian pride is that divine handlebar mustache!
Dali was quoted about this work: “Instead of painting the soul, the inside, I wanted to paint solely the outside, the envelope, the glove of myself.”
In a book published by the Teatru-Museu Dali, authors Pitxot, Aguer, and Puig note, “Dali always remembered the piece of flayed skin with which Michelangelo represented himself in the Sistine chapel in the Vatican and argued the most consistent thing of our representation is not the spirit or the vitality, but the skin.”
Posted by: PaulChimera
The Dream of 1931 couldn’t be more suitably titled. After all, it was the dream that was to Surrealist painting what the Moulin Rouge was to Toulouse Lautrec; what ballerinas were to Degas; what landscapes were to Turner.
The dream was the gateway to so many of the mysteries and bizarre, disjointed, compellingly haunting images that arose in the surrealists’ paintings in general and Salvador Dali’s masterful works in particular.
Still, I must say, as author of this blog and a long-time Dali historian, that The Dream had never been a favorite of mine. It’s hard to explain such things, except that you know as well as I that some Dali’s speak to you, while others leave you pleased but not blown away.
But all that changed – and this is a phenomenon I’ve written about before – when I saw The Dream in person several years ago at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. That museum, which has long owned Dali’s St. George and the Dragon etching but had never had a Dali painting in all its history, made quite a splash in the news media when it acquired this important surrealist classic (copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain). And I must say, I was blown away!
What you really don’t detect in a flat book reproduction is the richness and depth of such a work, in this case most notably in the eyelids of the female dreamer. They are painted in a rich, dramatic impasto that really pops when you see the work in the flesh. I was immediately drawn to this 3-D feature of the canvas. And, of course, the brilliant detail – the precise, photographic technique of what she’s dreaming about in the left background – just adds to the appeal of such a painting.
Images of sexuality and shame seem to be represented by the shadowy background figures, while the dreamer’s mouth has vanished, supplanted by the creepy notion of a swarm of ants where her lips should be – reminiscent of a scene from Dali’s important surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou, and of the painting, The Great Masturbator. Rendered unable to speak, doesn’t it remind you of dreams you’ve had where you not only wish to speak, but need to speak, but you can’t? It’s a nightmarish feeling.
Her Medusa-inspired hair and overall appearance really do seem to capture a woman deep in sleep, but Dali goes well beyond that to give us visual entry into the thoughts that preoccupy her private, personal dream world. The Dream is, to be sure, one of the most important paintings in Salvador Dali’s all-important surrealist period of the 1930s.
Posted by: PaulChimera
When I consider a work like Giant Flying Mocha Cup with an Inexplicable Five Meter Appendage (1946; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain), I’m quickly reminded of a word that was one of Dali’s favorites – and very much described Dali him as well: enigma.
What in the name of God does such an odd-looking work “mean”?
Well, like many Dali pictures, this one synthesizes a few influences, while leaving much of the work’s interpretation entirely up to us. After all, even Dali described it as “inexplicable” in his own title!
However, we must remember, perhaps first and foremost, that (a) Salvador Dali was a surrealist, and (b) the surrealists were heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud. And, in particular, by Freud’s important book, Interpretation of Dreams.
We know, in Freud’s lexicon of dream imagery and symbolism, that receptacles (such as the coffee cup here) were symbolic of female genitalia, and that long rods or appendages (such as the outrageously long and bizarre form shown here) were phallic. Could the 42-year-old Dali have had a little sex on his mind at the time he painted this work? The nearby pomegranate, which appeared in several other Dali works around this period, is a classic symbol of resurrection and chastity.
Now, below the floating cup is a stone cube, with inlaid marble and, in the center of the circle, the head of Medussa. But consider that, if you extended the circular pattern up onto the tall shaft coming off the cup handle, you’d be approximating the curve of a logarithmic spiral – a mathematic principle with which Dali was obsessed, and which he employed in creating the beautiful spatial harmony in his works – present picture included.
A figure in the right distance appears to be Arab, reminding us of Dali’s roots, while the background mountain is reminiscent of the same eerie landscape seen in a painting with which Dali was long obsessed: The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin.
For all the individual elements of Giant Flying Mocha Cup that can be examined and deciphered, the larger arc of the painting connects with an absolute truism that can be said of much of Dali’s diverse body of surrealist work: it was quintessentially enigmatic! But let’s not forget, too, that Dali simply enjoyed doing unusual things, often with a dash of humor sprinkled in for good measure. There’s no question that the image of this spectacularly strange coffee cup was calculated to make us smile, if not utter an audible laugh.
Dali was nothing if not fun!
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali did two versions of The Phantom Cart of 1933 (copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain), at a time when he was deeply preoccupied with his great penchant for and ability at double-imagery.
This work, however, is a more subtle example of Dali’s fascination with how things can simultaneously become other things. And unlike so many of Dali’s paintings that capture the great light, color and energy of the Mediterranean coastal region, Phantom Cart gives us a monochromatic glimpse of vast dessert-like area.
The cart appearing to carry two people is, at the same time, a kind of gateway to the distant town, while those riding simultaneously become elements of the town’s architecture.
This oil on panel is far from one of Dali’s best or most memorable works, but it demonstrates – as so many of his pictures do – two of his most important influences: the Paranoiac-Critical method, which enabled him to translate his unique ability to see double images onto canvas in a “critical” way, so that we too can see them; and his undying admiration for the landscape of his native Catalonia.
And, of course, all of it is executed in that painstaking, precise manner that has never failed to impress even those who might not consider themselves Dali fans. The Surrealist master’s technique was second to none, and his uncanny ability to paint so photographically allowed Dali to make the unreal seem miraculously real!
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali’s 1938 Mountain Lake (Tate Gallery, London; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali) is one of those paintings I’ve always enjoyed looking at – even if for the longest time I had no idea what it intended to portray.
Sometimes a Dali painting just impresses you. It might be the colors used (though in Mountain Lake it’s primarily a kind of sickly green, not terribly well revealed in the present reproduction). Sometimes it’s the odd imagery, and certainly that applies here, where we see, as the central element, a telephone receiver propped up by a familiar Dali crutch.
In fact, Mountain Lake, like Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War, was a kind of anticipatory statement on impending war: the Spanish Civil War in the case of Soft Construction, and World War II in the case of Mountain Lake.
Dali did several “telephone paintings” during this pre-war period, with the phone symbolic of important, pivotal communications between Adolf Hitler and figures like Neville Chamberlain, the English prime minister. One, for example, is his great canvas, The Enigma of Hitler, painted in 1937. In Mountain Lake, Dali’s foreboding picture shows the telephone line leading to nowhere but a dead end. Fragile communications have apparently failed; war seems inevitable.
The lake itself – whose suspected reference is a beautiful body of water at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains – is a subtle example of Dali’s irresistible penchant for double-imagery, since it’s at once both a lake and a very long fish – its scales formed by ripples in the water, its tail doing double-duty as landscape details. Oddly enough, for me, this painting is both haunting and beautiful. It’s hard to explain exactly why – but Dali’s always-perfect draftsmanship had a way of making even those most disquieting subject matter far more palatable.
Posted by: PaulChimera
The Dali painting with the longest single-word title – Galacidalacidesoxiribuncleicacid – will always occupy a special, albeit dubious place, in my memory. That’s because of an unbelievable (and in hindsight, stupid!) experience I had in connection with this painting, back in the 1970s.
Mercifully, the massive 1963 work has the alternative title, Homage to Crick and Watson, and strangely serves two primary purposes: acknowledgement of Crick and Watson’s work in unraveling the structure of the DNA molecule; and commemoration of the terrible flood at Rio Llobregat, near Barcelona, Spain, which took the lives of 400 people on Sept. 26, 1963.
Ironically, there’s only a small hint of the town’s flooding, seen in the deep upper middle distance of this painting.
Crick and Watson’s revelations of the double-helix spiral form of DNA is acknowledged at the painting’s middle left, while at right a clutch of Arab gunmen, in a formation that looks like the morphology of a molecule, seem bent on self-destruction.
Dali’s wife, Gala, seen at middle foreground, contemplates the central imagery of God holding a wounded Jesus, and there are other religious allusions in this complex and decidedly earth-toned work, which is owned by the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain.)
In the 1970s, Homage to Crick and Watson was owned by and displayed in the New England Merchants National Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. It had been owned by the bank for many years and was a permanent and popular fixture of the main first floor area of the financial institution. I set out one day by rail to travel to Boston from Buffalo, New York, to finally see in person this unusual and immense canvas, about which a multi-page brochure had been published by Dali author Carlton Lake.
To my horror, however, when I arrived at Prudential Plaza and walked into the bank, I spotted a gigantic plywood crate leaning against a wall. It seems the bank was undergoing renovation (there was a prominent “Pardon Our Dust” sign in the foyer) and the impressive Dali painting was crated for an indefinite period of time!
Mortified, I talked to some people, who talked to some higher-ups, but ultimately to no avail. They certainly were not about to uncrate the enormous masterwork – not even for an ardent Dali aficionado who’d traveled hundreds of miles by train for the sole purpose of viewing it. Lesson learned? Call ahead!
Dali would have loved the confusion and surrealist humor of it all! And at least I did walk away with that Carlton lake brochure.
Posted by: PaulChimera
I liked Galatee ever since I first saw an image of it, in black and white, in the book, Dali – The Paintings, by Robert Descharnes and Giles Neret. Such black and white book photos get easily lost in the tapestry of full-color reproductions. But even then I was intrigued by the work – maybe because of an odd and esoteric little detail, like the fish hanging on some sort of shelving cut into the earth. I just thought that was crazy-cool!
When I saw Galatee (copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain) in color – perhaps in an auction catalog, as it sold a couple of years ago now for some two-and-a-half million dollars – I was of course even more hooked. And when I finally got to see it in person, last year, at the remarkable Dali: The Late Work exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., I was positively mesmerized by the painting.
Why? In three simple words: I don’t know.
Yet there’s something about the painting, and I have a possible theory what it might be. When I was publicity director of the original Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, collection co-owner Eleanor Morse was fond of noting that, while Dali was long searching for expression of the third-dimension on canvas, he’d virtually achieved it, she believed, in his wonderful self-portrait in the lower left corner of the large canvas, Ecumenical Council.
But let me dial forward that third-dimension discussion a bit more – and a little more literally – and point out that there are areas of impasto (raised paint) so carefully executed within the face of Gala in Galatee (via a swarm of rhinoceros horns that form part of her face) that the vibrancy achieved owes to the literal 3-dimensionality of the applied paint!
Based on the mythological notion of sea nymphs, Galatee puts none other than the artist’s wife, Gala, as the beautiful maiden inhabiting a surrealist sea. The almost perfectly square picture expresses Dali’s interest in mathematics and nuclear-physics, where matter is dematerialized and things float in space, as they do at the intra-atomic level.
Dali borrows from Pierro della Francesca in featuring a shell and egg above Gala’s head – religious symbols and elements plucked, though modified, from the Italian Master’s Madonna and Child with Saints (1472-1474). The flavor of the Mediterranean is reflected in the floating mussels, while jasmine flowers – a symbol of purity – appear at Gala’s bosom line.
A painting like Galatee needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Even the best reproductions do it little justice, and I find many of my brethren in the world of Dali aficionados voicing the same observation. The technique in this work is stunning, with those tiny 3-D rhino horns practically looking like bits of candy, glued onto the canvas! Indeed, Galatee is one deliciously sweet Dali masterpiece – not often seen, but now appreciated more than ever.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Some scholars and other followers of Salvador Dali’s art maintain that the Surrealist Master’s two most important contributions to the surrealist art movement were his (1) development of his so-called Paranoiac-Critical creative method, and (2) perfection of double-imagery.
The latter phenomenon got to be showcased quite admirably in the then 36-year-old Dali’s great oil on canvas, Old Age, Adolescence and Infancy (image copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali; collection of the Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA).
Using a brick wall for a backdrop, we can observe how holes cut out in it, and at right a space formed by it, are transformed – left to right – into the faces of an elderly man (almost skeletal-like), an adolescent, and a baby. Notice, for example, how the eye and nose of the old man are also the head and right arm, respectively, of a bowed female figure. Can you see how the images of the seated nurse and the background mountains form parts of the middle face? Notice, as well, a self-portrait of young Salvador, standing near the nurse/nose-mouth double-image, dressed in his familiar sailor outfit.
The very notion of having such hidden and double images arise in this fashion surely owe to the fact that Dali’s heart and imagination were never very far from the unique, expressive landscape of his native countryside in Port Lligat and Cadaques, Spain. And employing his Paranoiac-Critical Method – tapping into the kind of double images true paranoiacs are said to sometimes see, yet being able to transcribe those images perfectly onto canvas (that’s the “critical” part of his method) – Dali was able to provide a vision of the world like no one else.
It simply bears repeating: the geological nature of the terrain at Port Lligat was an endless treasure trove of inspiration for Salvador Dali! While his dreams were, too, along with Freudian symbolism and the power of his love for Gala, nothing was a greater determinant of the images that ended up on Dali’s canvases than the landscape of his beloved Spain. It is no wonder he called Port Lligat “the most beautiful place in the world.”
The result is a work like the present one – allowing us to enjoy tangible evidence that the mind and talent of Salvador Dali were formidable indeed!