Dali Dabbled in Sports — in a Manner of Speaking, Anyway!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
In the shadow of America’s hysterically popular Super Bowl 52, let’s take a look at Dali the athlete. Come again? OK, the man was many things; a sports figure he was not.
But Salvador Dali’s life and work did include some sports references – yes, even to football. And Dali himself enjoyed at least some athleticism: he loved to swim; he had a strange penchant in his younger days for jumping from precariously high perches; and he even made jumping rope a famous photo op!
From its earliest manifestations, Dali’s art referenced sports, here and there. Examples when Dali was just a teenager included “Boxer” (1920) and “Portrait of Jaume Miravitlles as a Footballer” (1922), the latter a reference to what Americans call soccer.
Dali’s only depiction of American football players, at least to this columnist’s knowledge, was “Poetry of America,” in which several players are seen in uniforms that look old-fashioned by today’s standards, of course, but were on-trend (with some artist license) when Dali painted them in 1943.
Actually, Dali nodded a second time to football – America style – in his 1979 “Sports” print suite, which includes a football player and a golfer. Oh, and Dali donned a football helmet in the mid-‘60s as a kind of performance art stunt to draw attention to his interest at the time in creating drawings inspired by typographical spirals or rivers of white space surrounding printed newspaper text. Dali said that, as a child, he would often gaze at these negative spaces and discern soccer games breaking out.
Meanwhile, it seems America’s pastime – baseball – commanded a bit more of Dali’s attention. Baseball players are seen in his statement on war, “Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll” (1945), with baseballs falling metaphorically like bombs.
A baseball game ensues on a black & white TV telecast direct from the left flank of a rhinoceros sporting skyscraper-tall stork legs in Dali’s amusing “Celestial Ride” oil on canvas of 1957. Baseball figured into some of the wonderful artwork Dali executed for the Disney film short, “Destino,” and famed photographer and Dali collaborator Philippe Halsman took a popular photo of Dali with his mustache strategically poking through baseball players’ hands on the sports page of The New York Herald Tribune.
Salvador Dali even reached Olympian levels with his large “Cosmic Athlete” (1960), featuring a discus thrower exuding the aura of the early Greek games, as well as designs for a popular set of Olympic Games medallions in 1984.
Basketball dribbled its way into Dali’s oeuvre in his unique montage for a 3-D hologram in “Polyhedron, Basketball Players Metamorphosing into Angels” (1972).
Finally, the bullfight is Spain’s national pastime, a “sport” that this blogger personally detests, and so did Dali’s wife, Gala. Dali produced prints and other works depicting bullfighting, including the ultimate tribute to the activity in “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” of 1970. It is in the upper left of this immense and beautiful canvas that we find a forlorn-looking Gala, indicating her disdain for the grisly spectator event.