Dali ‘Horns’ in on Interpretation of Vermeer’s ‘Lacemaker’
By Paul Chimera
Dali Society Historian/Writer
“I always want the public to completely understand what I do, and how I do it, right from the start,” said no Spanish Surrealist master named Salvador Dali, ever!
It was, of course, very much the opposite. Dali thrived on consternation, bewilderment, confusion, and mystery. He was a living enigma, and he cultivated that distinction as carefully as his iconic, manicured mustache.
So when the then 51-year-old artist took up the challenge of interpreting one of his favorite artist’s key works — “The Lacemaker” by Flemish master Jan Vermeer — the assignment took shape a bit unconventionally. It started, in fact, with rhinoceros horns!
An inimitable master of showmanship, self-promotion and performance art (people like Elton John, Lady Gaga and Alice Cooper are clearly in his debt), Dali set up shop in the rhinoceros exhibit at a zoo in Paris. What better way, after all, to accurately capture the logarithmic curve of a rhino horn (a naturally occurring curve that was key to the mathematical construction of many Dali works) than to have the animal model its hood ornament in the flesh!
And, figured Dali, why sit on a chair to paint when the edge of a wheelbarrow will do just fine! (See photo)
The first few horns on the canvas’s muted background left onlookers scratching their heads. “How is this an interpretation of a Vermeer?,” they wondered. But Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method — a unique system he developed, allowing him to tap into his subconscious and see things in a different way yet be able to express them “critically” for others to see, too — was about to kick in.
And voila! Those seemingly meaningless rhino horns began to take shape, with the help of other artful brushstrokes, to reveal a recognizable likeness of the woman sewing the delicate laced item in Vermeer’s masterpiece. But now deconstructed in Dali’s Nuclear-Mystical manner to represent his fascination with nuclear physics, and how all matter is ultimately discontinuous: atomic particles “rumping and jumping about!” as Dali colorfully expressed it.
Think Salvador’s “simultaneity” here. A fancy noun, simply meaning that Salvador Dali loved several things going on simultaneously — a strong reason he was so drawn to double- and hidden-imagery.
In the present work, three key things took place at the same time: Dali’s respect and admiration for Vermeer, long-noted as one of his favorite artists; Dali’s expression of his Nuclear-Mysticism, demonstrating a modern, atomic re-imagining of a classical painting; and, of course, another opportunity to create a sensation by being swarmed by the international press as he sat on a wheelbarrow, inches from a multi-ton rhinoceros — and began creating another Dali masterpiece.
“The ‘Lacemaker’ is, morphologically, “a rhinoceros horn,” Dali declared.