Box of Pencils Inspired Salvador Dali Masterpiece
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
What inspired Dali?
Answer: all kinds of things. Anything. EVERYTHING!
The man possessed limitless curiosity. He could get excitedly creative over things you or I wouldn’t have given even a fleeting thought to. Or over something monumental, to which he would lend a special twist, making it uniquely his own.
We know Dali was profoundly inspired by nature – specifically the landscape around his beautiful life-long home of Port Lligat on Spain’s Costa Brava. We know his Russian-born wife, Gala, held incalculable inspirational sway over him. And that, in the 1940s, the explosion of the atomic bomb over Japan moved Dali to see and create in a whole new way, giving birth to his atomic/Nuclear-Mystical period.
But sometimes inspiration came in small and inconspicuous packages. Like a box of Venus-brand drawing pencils. That was, in fact, what gave rise to the development of one of Salvador Dali’s greatest double-image paintings – the remarkable “Hallucinogenic Toreador” of 1970 (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).
It’s rather extraordinary to realize that a pencil box literally was the genesis of what might arguably be Dali’s single greatest painting. We can thank the artist’s paranoiac-critical method for it. This was his unique ability to interpret the things he saw through the mind of a true paranoiac, known to perceive double images, hidden images – things not really there (or were they?).
So a glance by Dali at the right moment, with the right mental and visual discipline, transformed the abdominal and chest region of a picture of the Venus de Milo on a box of Venus pencils into what looked like the angled nose and mouth of a man. A man who would become a matador (toreador) in one of Dali’s most colorful, complex and spectacular paintings.
Dali often reminded us that Leonardo advocated the powerful potential of mere random water stains on a wall to evoke ideas and images that could inspire great art. Now Dali, eyeing a box of pencils, would exploit the same idea to impressive ends.
While I’ve stated many times that my favorite Dali painting is “Santiago El Grande,” the truth is that – were I given the opportunity to choose any one Dali painting to include in my personal collection – I dare say “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” would win out. What “Santiago” lacks, “Toreador” has in abundance: a stunning, rich kaleidoscope of color, and a diverse array of elements that make it worthy of Luis Romero’s book, translated as “All Dali in One Painting.”
It may be the most thoroughly Spanish and thoroughly Dalinian masterpiece of them all. And it all began with a pencil box. Now that’s inspiring.