It was Rhino Horns Gone Wild during Dali’s ‘Atomic’ Era!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
When Salvador Dali got an idea in his head, he was often obsessive about it – obsessive to the point of a kind of mania. This passion for what he found indispensable in carrying out his quest to be the best artist of his time was evidenced in, among other things, his focus on rhinoceros horns.
“I see rhinoceros!” became an iconic line in the 2011 Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” in which the character of Salvador Dali – played by Adrien Brody – continuously uttered those words to the amusement and consternation of those around him. It was vintage Dali: seemingly a bit crazy, but of course not really crazy at all.
Dali was crazy about rhino horns for the reason oft-noted in this blog: it was one of the few naturally occurring instances where one could find the perfect logarithmic curve or spiral. This mathematical principle fascinated Dali to no end. He incorporated it and other mathematic principles into the rigor with which all of his artistic compositions were imbued.
Sometimes he seemed to go a bit overboard with this logarithmic eccentricity. One case of that observation might be found in the 1955 oil on canvas, “Ascensionist Saint Cecilia,” one of the little gems in the Teatro-Museo Dali in Dali’s birthplace of Figueres, Spain.
The evanescent and hallucinatory figure of Saint Cecilia – patroness of musicians – can barely be discerned through the maelstrom of gray rhino horns that invade the full width and breadth of this 2 ft. 8 in. x 2 ft. 2 in. canvas. It borders on the outrageous, one could argue, since it seems Dali’s obsession with the horn’s significance has been taken to a point of distraction, if not irrationality. (I’ve included a close-up of Saint Cecilia; ignore the inexplicable mouse cartoon at lower right).
But who are we to question the Divine Dali? I might defend Dali here – not that he needs defending – by pointing out that it is this kind of twist or difference that sets everything Salvador Dali did apart from anything else painted before it, contemporaneously with it, or since his domination of 20th century art.
“It is a composition with a great spatial expansion, with the volumetric spirals creating a three-dimensional effect,” notes a published report on the picture by the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Spain. “A concentric work,” the Foundation continued, “in which the chromatism is focused on the image of the saint, which exploded into golden particles….”
This explosion of rhino horns virtually swarming the work found expression in several other important Dali’s painted around this time in the mid-1950s, including “Saint Surrounded by Three Pi-Mesons”, “Anti-Protonic Assumption,” and “Blue Horns” – the latter a design for a scarf.
Here are just a few images that scream, “I see rhinoceros!” . . .