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Summer’s just around the corner, which means taking to the nation’s highways for vacations and weekend get-aways – the oppressive price of gasoline notwithstanding. Thus, I believe this installment of The Melting Times will forever be known as the “transportation issue.”
Dali, You Can Drive My Car…NOT!
To your Melting Times host’s knowledge, Salvador Dali never drove a car. Not ever. I’m quite certain he never had a driver’s license. (Although Dali can be found in the most unlikely pose, nattily attired and seated upon a Harley-Davidson! See accompanying picture.) But he did seem to have a surreal thing for cars, and it’s interesting how varied his depictions were of this fixture of everyday society. And how the automobile swerved into his artistic activities in other ways, too.
For example, his important retrospective in 1979-1980 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris featured a vintage car hanging from the ceiling in the main entrance hall, along with gigantic sausages, all overlooking an enormous spoon! His famous Dec. 17, 1955 lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, about rhinoceros horns, cauliflowers, and logarithmic spirals, was preceded by his arrival at that venerable institution in a Rolls Royce – which just happened to be crammed with hundreds of cauliflowers.
The Cadillac that was once owned by the notorious Al Capone has sat since 1974 as an outdoor fixture at the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain, atop of which a large sculpture by Austrian artist Ernest Fuchs stands. Also there is his Rainy Taxi, where it rains inside the cab. A version of this was first shown at the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1938, and was alternatively known as Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi Cab. And Dali had a Volkswagen Beetle completely covered with grass in the 1970s.
Can a car be pregnant? It can in Dali’s world!
One of Dali’s most popular and important paintings, with the bewildering title, Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone (1938), was considered Dali’s revolt against a mechanized and materialistic society. It was also a statement about the Spanish Civil War, and nods to Picasso’s large-scale work, Guernica.
The earliest important oil in which Dali depicted an automobile was at the bottom of the impressive Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman of 1929, where the vehicle’s high beams illuminate an ironing board – driving home the point that our dreams often serve up pretty strange combinations of images.
Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman
Dali transformed the ordinary, everyday automobile into elements of the landscape in 1935-1936 canvases such as Apparition of the Town of Delft, Paranoiac-Critical Solitude, and Fossilized Automobile of Cape Creus. An automobile appears in a distant mountain detail in The Angelus of 1932. And when cars didn’t deserve to be part of a craggy terrain, Dali felt they should be properly dressed, with part of them transformed into a brick wall. He pulled it all off with aplomb in his 1941 Clothed Automobile, deigning to compromise the high-profile image of Cadillac as only the amusing master Surrealist could.
Sell, Sell, Sell!
We don’t see the motorcar turn up in any significant Dali work since the 1940s – until advertisers discovered the Dali Midas touch. Nissan commissioned Dali to paint a picture that would feature their Datsun 610 wagon in 1972 magazine ads, as well as a 30-second TV spot showing Dali cavorting about the vehicle, while the voice-over was dubbed in by someone who was clearly not the Master. Although I have no information on what kind of results Nissan realized from its drive down marketing lane with Dali, something tells me the return on investment was surreally good!
Speaking of Peculiar Tales about Taxis.
Your Melting Times host remembers well the time when, as publicity director of the Salvador Dali Museum when it was originally located in Beachwood, Ohio, I was asked by A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse to drive them to the airport, as they embarked on one of their periodic sojourns to Port Lligat. The Morses were the antithesis of flamboyance! While Dali sported brocade vests and walking sticks from Sarah Bernhardt, Reynolds sported a floppy old western-style hat and rancher-style string ties.
And the Morses drove..a Checker taxi. It was, to my knowledge, their only vehicle.
Yes, a powder blue Checker, and that’s what I drove them to the airport in. I’ll never forget how a miniscule knick of paint on the driver’s side door caught Reynolds’ attention when I picked him and his wife up a few weeks later. I had no idea how the knick got there – it was virtually imperceptible to me – but Morse somehow spotted it and raised a little bit of hell over the matter. It wasn’t exactly a rainy taxi, but there was a verbal storm of thunder and lightning.
Planes & Trains, too.
Dali didn’t drive, and he also didn’t fly. At least not until very, very late in life, when his globe-trotting secretary/manager Enrique Sabater finally coaxed the artist into leaving terra firma for the expediency and efficiency of air travel. For many years, of course, Mr. & Mrs. Dali traveled to the United States aboard ships, and fishing boats and sailing boats turn up in numerous Dali paintings.
A freight train car is a prominent element in his huge Perpignan Railway Station masterwork of 1965, paying tribute to what others saw as merely a mundane transportation hub from which Dali shipped his paintings – but which Dali considered the center of the universe, and whose ceiling design inspired his ruminations on the third-dimension and how to achieve it in painting.
Largely unknown to most Dali followers, however, is Dali’s interesting re-work of the Perpignan painting, placing the image of a streamlined, modern-day passenger train where the four gold bans of light form the Maltese cross.
Just as Dali didn’t seem to be enamored of the automobile – and thus tended to depict it in unflattering or unorthodox ways – so too did the airplane receive some unconventional treatment from him. Often it was used as part of a political statement. Take, for instance, the great picture, Daddy Long Legs of the Evening..Hope! of 1940. A flaccid airplane limps out of a canon, as part of a composition that expresses the horrors of war (yet hope, too, symbolized by the daddy long legs spider, referring to an old and optimistic French legend). The original can be enjoyed at the Dali Museum in Florida.
Daddy Longs of the Evening…Hope!
A B-52 bomber appears as foreboding facial features in Dali’s dramatic Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, 1945, and that specific detail was reproduced on the front page of the artist’s Dali News, on Nov. 20, 1945. In Allegory of an American Christmas, painted two years earlier, a plane emerges from a globe that looks like a cracked egg, but the aircraft appears more vegetable-like than mineral in its curious construction.
I can think of no other work by Dali in which an airplane appears. A helicopter, of course, was used as one of the elements in the famous photo by Philippe Halsman, where – through some clever juxtaposition – he and Dali made it appear as if Dali were being hoisted off the ground with his mustache antennae attached to the chopper! And Dali had proclaimed that Spain’s national pastime – bullfighting – would have a more Dionysian conclusion were the dead bull lifted out of the arena via helicopter, an idea Dali actually proposed but was judged too dangerously impractical.
Alas, a fitting point for me to hoist myself from The Melting Times until we land ourselves here again next week. As always, viva Dali!