Salvador Dali and the Octopus: an Artful Relationship
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
As Dali historian for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.©, I’m often asked which Dali images I like best. My answer is unwaveringly the same when it comes to the Master’s oil paintings. My favorite is the immense and majestic Santiago El Grande (St. James the Great), the most popular work of art in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada.
But Salvador Dali was also an outstanding printmaker (among a master of many other mediums), and my favorite of his prints is Triumph of the Sea – though I don’t completely know why.
Indeed, there are so many Dali prints that are far more colorful; there is, in fact, very little color in Triumph of the Sea. And there are far greater numbers of Dali prints that examine myriad subjects in a more Daliesque style.
So why Triumph of the Sea?
The honest answer is, I don’t know. And there’s no need to know. When it comes to the art of Dali – to any art – it’s simply enough to know what you like. There’s no need to know why you like it. You just do. That should be enough. And it is.
Somehow, great art makes you feel it. Great art – art that speaks to you – moves you in special ways. It’s hard to explain. But you know it when you see it. When you find it. When it finds you.
Dali Used a Real Octopus
For me, I love the fact that Dali actually used a real octopus (deceased) to create the central dark-ink image in Triumph of the Sea. Here you can see photos of him using an octopus’s tentacles to create a Medusa-like effect on the printing matrix (litho stone).
The random tableau of the invertebrate’s elongated tentacles creates a kind of raw energy and vigor in the work. It’s aided and abetted by the human figures, and a horse in the upper left (perhaps a reference to Poseidon), that add to the dynamism and emotion that leap off this mixed-media print.
Of course, the sea figured prominently in Dali’s work, and in his daily life. He and Gala lived on the edge of the Mediterranean virtually all their lives, in that wonderful little coastal hamlet of Port Lligat on Spain’s Costa Brava. Indeed, octopus was a common fixture, along with sea urchins and other bounty from the Bay of Port Lligat and surrounding environs.
What’s more, Dali loved Greek mythology. Surely tales of Poseidon, for example – the God of Sea and Earthquakes – inspired the Catalan artist in works such as these.
No Place for the Ordinary
Perhaps more important is the fact that, like just about everything in Dali’s world, he was a man who looked left when everyone else looked right. So it was not acceptable to Dali to use ordinary means of producing limited-edition graphics. He chose to use an octopus (and many other unconventional techniques).
The results were fascinating. Not only in the Triumph of the Sea print, but in a host of works on paper Dali created that used an actual octopus impression as its starting point. And the octopus showed up in seemingly unlikely places, like a wall in Dali’s surrealist totem, the Teatro-Museo Dali. Here are some appearances of the octopus’s influence on the art of Dali…
Whatever else can be said about Salvador Dali, one thing is certain: he was different!
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)