Thursday, September 29, 2016

Salvador Dalí: An Artist Biography by Jenna Klaassen

Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904 in a small town in Barcelona, Spain known as Figueras. Dalí’s childhood was filled with private education and fits of megalomania. In fact, Dalí’s power-fuelled and extraordinarily violent infancy is now considered to be one of his primary inspirations. By being hypersensitive to his surroundings during his formative years, Dalí learned to transform the extremities—his terrors, his ecstasies, his world—into art.  His Spanish heritage has also informed many of his pieces. Oftentimes, the rocky ravines of Catalan country and the sandy gulf of Rosas find their way into the background of Dalí’s paintings. Another influential aspect of Dalí’s childhood was the death of his older brother, another Salvador Dalí. At the age of five, Dalí established an internal dichotomy: he claimed he was the reincarnation of his brother; and with two Salvador Dalí’s came two, disparate sources of influence. In this way, even at an early age, Dalí recognized the significant impact that his surroundings would continue to have on both him and his artwork.

Dalí’s paintings can fit into various stylistic moulds, including Impressionism, Pointillism, Futurism, Hyperrealism, Abstractionism, and predominantly, Surrealism. Dalí dabbled in each of these various visual styles of art as a student at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1922. The transition into this formal artistic education shortly followed the death of his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferrés. After leaving art school and Madrid, several years passed as Dalí fine-tuned his ability to put his paranoiac and extreme visions onto the canvas. Another external influence that held great importance in shaping Dalí’s work was fellow artist, Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico made a large surrealist impression on Dalí as he pioneered the use of cavernous perspective, enigmatic shadows, and evocative imagery—each of which are now symbols of Dalí. One such painting of Dalí’s that alludes to de Chirico is his 1927 oil on wood panel painting, Apparatus and Hand.

Apparatus and Hand
Salvador Dalí
Oil on Wood
            In Apparatus and Hand, Dalí’s sharp shadowing mirrors that of de Chirico. He thoughtfully positions the shadows to the left of their corresponding objects, and furthermore, the lines with which he creates these shadows are piquantly acute. Although such avant-garde and phantasmagorical imagery is not all that Dalí has created as an artist, I have chosen Dalí precisely for his dream-like and mystifying technique.

            As a psychology major, I have taken a particular interest in Dalí’s musings on Sigmund Freud. As a conducer of surrealist art, Dalí recognized that not every stroke or choppy procession of objects was a conscious decision. In fact, Dalí viewed his art as a twofold, Freudian-like process: an initial outpour of his subconscious followed by subsequent conscious reasoning and delusions with which to finish the work. Furthermore, Dalí has even claimed that he himself is the most surprised by what ends up on a canvas, further demonstrating the supposed critical potency that his subconscious has on his art. Sleep, a piece created by Dalí in 1937 is an oil painting on canvas that seemingly directly corresponded with his piqued interest in the father of psychoanalysis.

Salvador Dalí
Oil on Canvas
            According to Dalí, “in order for sleep to be possible, a whole system of crutches in psychic equilibrium is essential. If only one were missing, one would wake and above all the little boat would disappear immediately” (Barnes, 2009). Dalí’s Sleep is itself a direct manifestation of this concept—a small boat can be discerned as emerging from the ocean’s horizon and the mountainous face is held upright, and thus lulled into sleep, by way of strategically placed stilts. From this, it is clear that Dalí’s Sleep is influenced by his surroundings and his unconscious ruminations. Moreover, in accordance with one of Freud’s many theories surrounding sleep, Dalí’s Sleep references the unconscious manifestations (perhaps unconscious needs or desires) that ultimately float into one’s subconscious during slumber as if on a tiny, elusive boat, that at any moment, can disappear with consciousness or wake.  

            Another one of Dalí’s pieces that particularly intrigued me and ultimately prompted my decision to choose Dalí for this project is an oil on canvas painting created in 1944. The piece is named Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee and features his primary muse (his wife Gala), arachnid-legged elephants, veracious cannibalistic tigers, a bursting pomegranate, a miniscule bumble bee, a gun, and more.

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee
Salvador Dalí
Oil on Canvas
            Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee is based on a dream that his wife had one night of a bee buzzing around a pomegranate fruit. While both the fruit and the bee make it into Dalí’s work, the primary focus of the image is his wife’s naked body, the long-legged water-walking elephant, and the fish-tiger compilation. Like many of Dalí’s surrealist pieces, this painting features impossibly perplexing elements of reality that when combined, transport the viewer into a dream-like, fantastical alternate universe. Additionally, I perceived Freudian influences on this painting as well because each seemingly unconnected element suggests that the unconscious must be the glue piecing them all together. While I am unable to make sense of each and every element of this painting (beyond perhaps the Port Lligart backdrop seemingly stemming from Dalí’s Spanish heritage and his naked wife as a carnal muse), such inscrutable characteristics is what draws me to Dalí’s work in the first place. When viewing a Salvador Dalí piece, onlookers are transported from their immediate reality into a dream-like world, where reason is optional and possibilities are endless.

Works Cited

Barnes, Rachel. Salvador Dali. London: Quercus, 2009. Print.

Grenier, Catherine, and David Radzinowicz. Salvador Dalí: The Making of an Artist. Paris: Flammarion, 2012. Print.

Soby, James Thrall. Salvador Dali. New York: Museum of Modern Art New York, 1946. Print.

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