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I believe one of Dali’s greatest works is not an obvious surrealist painting per se. Rather it is only after analysis doesn’t this work enter the surreal, thus, what appear very real turns unreal through interpretation. This exercise in itself is another subtle mind game which exist throughout the works of Salvador Dali. Perception is never just perception, and what appears to be something is almost always something else. Let’s take a closer look at a perfect example of this in Dali’s paintings.
This work, Dali From The Back Painting Gala From The Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1972), is a brilliant example of Dali’s mastery of technical painting. Yet, this painting is an attempt to reveal psychological insight taking place at the moment of the painting, which is the subject of the painting itself. The title to the work is typical in Dali’s paintings, long, descriptive, and slightly surreal. The title is supposed to reflect the phenomena, in other words an objective description of what is happening, but of course it is not objective. It is a subjective description made to look like an objective one, meaning, “What I’m seeing right now is how I want YOU to see it.”
What does the title mean by “Six Virtual Corneas” and “Six Real Mirrors? Well, let’s break down what is going on. We see the painter, and his canvas, which for all we can see is empty. We see Dali and Gala’s reflection in the mirror, though something is off, they are both missing their right eye. We see their left eye, 2 eyes. We can infer, that the viewers of the mirror, Dali and Gala, also have two eyes each (which we don’t see), that makes four, plus two equals six. These are eyes are the corneas, they are also the mirrors. The eyes are reflections, but what are they reflecting, apparently an immortalized Gala. How is Gala immortalized, through Dali’s eyes and through his work. What Dali sees is an incomplete “Dali” and incomplete “Gala”, they will be complete through his painting. In fact, the mirror in the painting is the painting, it is what Dali sees, and what he sees is Gala-Dali unfinished, that is, in the process of becoming, not done, but, immortal.
The important point here is that Dali cannot see this eternalized couple himself, he needs something else to “look through”, the mirror is symbol for this, but it is not the looking through apparatus. What Dali needs to look through is see himself reflecting back on himself. He needs Gala to do this, to project his thoughts on her and through her, so he can see them both. In other words, imagine sitting next to some while you are painting. They can’t see what your painting. For a moment you make eye contact, in that moment you not only see them, but you also infer what they might be thinking of you. So through that look you get an idea of yourself. For Dali this means, starring at himself to get to himself, and what he is doing is immortalizing Gala. In that intimate moment he is living through his creation of Gala, a creation that we see as “unfinished”, he can never finish it, cause she is eternal.
You can see this work throughout many of Dali’s paintings, and in Dali prints and graphics. What do you think?