A ‘Typical’ and yet ‘Atypical’ Dali


By Paul Chimera

Dali Writer & Historian


Today’s Salvador Dali painting – “Image Mediumnique Paranoiaque” of 1935 – is both typical and atypical of Dali’s imagery and style. It’s a very small picture, open and airy in parts, tight and precise in others. What was Dali thinking when the 31-year-old set up his canvas on this occasion?


Of the many mysteries that surround Dali the man, and his unique brand of surrealism, there’s one thing we know incontrovertibly: he was inspired very heavily by the landscape of his native Spain. In the case of “Image Mediumnique Paranoiaque,” Dali has depicted the vast, open Bay of Rosas, into which he placed some unlikely characters.


The appearance of the Bay of Rosas falls on the typical side; he had shown this golden sand stretch of real estate many times in his paintings. But more atypical, at least to my eye, are the two chaps in the right foreground.


One of them seems to be looking for something on the beach (or is it something behind the other fellow?), while the other man is leaning over to write a letter. Meanwhile, in the distance, a cyclist heads toward them – or at least toward the foreground of the scene – while, at left sits a woman in water – and she’s fully clothed.


There can be no doubt that woman is Lidia. She was a local in Dali’s Port Lligat hamlet, considered eccentric and, not surprisingly, something of a kindred spirit with Salvador. They got along famously and he depicted her in a number of his paintings.


On the inanimate side of the painting’s elements, an amphora rests on the beach, along with boulders in the area where the two guys in floppy caps strike a pose.


What’s remarkable about this painting is Dali’s use of space, and the apparent disassociation of the images. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? Two dudes at right, one writing a letter outdoors on a beach, the other looking curious; a woman – fully dressed, seated in a patch of water as if it’s a perfectly normal, routine thing to do; a cyclist (a rather odd mode of travel on sand) approaching for no apparent reason.


No one is really connected to anyone else, and yet there they are. Why?


Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious: Surrealism was about painting one’s dreams. Exploring the subconscious. Do dreams ever make much sense? No. Are they often populated with strange images in strange juxtapositions with a completely upended sense of space and time? Absolutely.


In “Image Mediumnique Paranoiaque,” the sun sets on a painting that is seldom considered when one thinks about the art of Dali, and yet it’s one of his most enchanting and, indeed, puzzling little jewels in the medium of oil painting.


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