Posted by: PaulChimera
One of the goals of the Surrealist painters was to shock, and certainly the title of this important surrealist work by Salvador Dali is still a bit shocking, even in a time when it seems nothing is capable of making us blush anymore.
The Great Masturbator is a kind of psychic snapshot of where the 25-year-old Dali was at the time he painted this large work, which today hangs in the Reina-Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain. The central image is the widely-seen rock at Cullero, on Cape Creus in Spain, which Dali likened to a head with its nose pressed to the ground. It has become a bizarre (and not especially flattering) kind of self-portrait of the artist, most universally recognized in his iconic masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory (1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York).
In the present 1929 canvas, the large yellow rock-turned-head morphs, at right, into an art nouveau decoration, and in the upper right to a seductive woman whose breast nudges a phallic lily, and whose mouth is suggestively close to the private parts of a man – his left thigh revealing a trickle of blood that could suggest castration or menstruation.
Affixed to the underbelly of the beast, as it were, is a large grasshopper, crawling with ants, a symbol of decay and death – while the insect itself was literally a source of abject fear for Dali, who apparently couldn’t stomach the creature’s tendency to suddenly jump and cling to a person’s head, face, wherever (an aversion I share as well!). A precarious structure of rocks and shells balances atop the rock-head, while a lion with a crazed look and revealing an engorged tongue or perhaps raw sausage – plainly phallic – adds to the angst and eroticism of the picture’s overall tone. We know from Freud’s work that a lion’s head symbolizes sexual savagery and libidinousness; Dali often also included it as a metaphor for parental (fatherly) authority.
In The Great Masturbator, then, Dali lays bare some of his inner thoughts: his fears, personal anxieties, persistent obsessions. The great masturbator rock-head was to appear again and again in future paintings by the Surrealist master, becoming one of the most obsessive and ubiquitous of the various images unique to Dali’s style and paranoiac-critical interpretations of his one-of-a-kind world.
The one constant – whether it was masturabators or Madonnas – was the precision of technique that characterized all of Dali’s work at the easel.