Dali Turns Mundane into Masterpiece with ‘Dionysus’ Miniature
By Paul Chimera
Dali Historian & Writer
There are so many Dali paintings, Dali prints, Dali drawings, Dali…everything that are positively stunning, yet often don’t garner the banner headlines the artist’s larger, more widely known works do.
Dali art doesn’t have to feature soft watches, burning giraffes, spider-legged elephants – or be massive in size – to be sensational.
Today’s post is a case in point – a shout-out to Salvador Dali’s miniatures. There are plenty of very small paintings by Dali that are tiny in dimension but huge in wow factor.
Case in point is the delightful Dali canvas spotlighted in today’s blog post: “Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques on the Tip of the Tongue of a Three-storied Gaudinian Woman.” What’s remarkable about this gem of an oil is that, in its small but stunning space, it actually expresses a multitude of styles.
Once again, as previous posts have noted, Dali could take anything – virtually any everyday object – and, like an alchemist, turn the mundane into the miraculous. The grapes, oranges and cherries are quoted from a school primer, but destined to be the jumping off point for this 12-1/4-inch by 9 inch 1958-’60 miniature masterpiece.
Dionysus was the god of fertility and wine, and here Dali’s inventive mind – the most creative in all of Surrealism – takes over to show the phallic wine bottle become part of Dionysus, who spits out – as the picture’s title promises – an image of Cadaques, Spain, which is being deposited on – what else! – the tongue of the Guadinian woman. The reference is to Antoni Gaudi, the Barcelona architect whose undulating building style greatly influenced Dali.
Dali makes no effort to shield the female figure’s genitalia, while the bold red cherries double as the other figure’s testicles!
I mentioned earlier the many styles Dali reflected in this action-packed picture. In the upper left we see a precisely executed pointillist scene of field workers — surely a nod to Millet, the French painter whose painting, “The Angelus,” Dali was obsessed with.
As your eye follows from that point clockwise, the technique becomes more “atomic,” revealing Dali’s growing interest in nuclear physics and the dematerialization of matter. Even a few rhino horns make an appearance, as Dionysus’s leg begins to disintegrate (Dali was taken by how a rhinoceros horn is a naturally occurring logarithmic spiral.)
The precision of the paint application when we study the oranges, the books and other elements in this tight miniaturist composition remind us that Salvador Dali was a supreme realist who could match technical skill with anyone.
We’d love to know exactly what was going through Salvador’s mind when he set out to create such an unusual work as “Dionysus Spitting….” But one thing worth pointing out is the man often had a sense of the beautiful and the grotesque running through his mind simultaneously. Even if it began with a children’s school book!
As a result, we see the eroticism and somewhat disquieting aggression of the spitting male figure and the bare-breasted female with distended vagina, while at the same time enjoy a sun-suffused outdoor scene, including children playing, above the image of Cadaques.
Perhaps Dali was like that box of chocolates from Forrest Gump: you never quite know what you’re going to get.