Salvador Dali: An Honest Day’s Work!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
I’m in the mood to show a side of Salvador Dali best told through photographs. Today I want to talk briefly about how Dali worked. And rather than showcasing his works themselves, most of the photos punctuating today’s post show Dali at work.
I had the momentary delight and privilege of watching Dali draw a couple of quick sketches when I first met him at the St. Regis in New York City. It’s hard to describe it, but he had this extraordinary command, this control – and speed! Drawing most anything for this man was like you or me passing the Grey Poupon. The effortlessness with which Dali sketched was jaw-dropping impressive. Yet there was a kind of frenetic energy to it all as well. That unmistakable Dali flair.
He made it look so easy ( pass the mustard, please).
Most of his major work was executed in his villa studio in Spain. He had an ingenious electronic easel system, whereby he could raise and lower his immense canvases, thanks to a slot in the floor and a simple but effective pulley system. Dali preferred to work comfortably at eye level; no scaffolds or ladders, except when he painted finishing touches on his ceiling panels at his Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres.
Of course, there were many occasions when such a grand easel arrangement simply wasn’t necessary. Or when Dali was painting in places away from his studio.
One very open space where Dali was known to work was…outside. Here we see him working in the great outdoors in what he described as the most beautiful place in the world – Port Lligat, Spain, on the Costa Brava.
Of course, sometimes outside meant painting while sitting on a wheelbarrow in a French zoo:
And sometimes things got a bit messy . . .
While Dali’s wall-sized masterworks never fail to impress, we should not forget that he was also a great miniaturist. Here we see the Master working on his precise little canvas, “Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques on the Tip of the Tongue of a Three-Storied Gaudinian Woman” (1958, Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).
From his studio in Spain, to the outdoors, then all the way to America, where Dali and Gala wintered in New York City’s stately St. Regis Hotel. Among the great works he painted in his 16th floor studio-suite was what is commonly referred to as “Lincoln in Dalivision.”
Although many if not most of Dali’s portrait painting occurred in New York, some of it was done elsewhere, such as this scene of him working on a portrait of Franco’s granddaughter at the Prado in Madrid, and another of him in England, sketching Laurence Olivier in the role of Richard III – that sketching eventually morphing into one of his most popular portrait paintings.
The Maestro once told biographer Robert Descharnes that “the artist must officiate with headgear!” Dali frequently wore a red Catalan beretina while painting. And, on occasion, he wore a clothes-protecting smock, such as he did here, in this little known photo, while putting finishing touches on apple-headed backdrop images for his play, “Sentimental Colloquy.”
Dali was always, always, always looking to do things differently from the conventional and the predictable. Just two examples involve his work in printmaking. Seen here is the artist lobbing ink-filled eggs onto a litho stone, and employing the interesting pattern of a dead octopus’s tentacles to achieve a decidedly Dalinian effect.
Oh, and a third example of Dali doing things differently: using his legendary facial hair as a paintbrush! Always, always, always the showman!
Salvador Dali took great satisfaction in the craft he performed perhaps better than anyone, ever. That might be a bit of a grandiose statement. But what I know for sure is that this final photo shows a prayerful, satisfied Dali, in the process of completing one of his religious canvases and enjoying the pleasure of an honest day’s work.
(Images used under fair-use for journalistic blogging purposes)