Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) was born in rural Spain and was influenced at an early age by an artistic family-friend he and his family stayed with during the summers. Dalí kept many sketchbooks and diaries which reveal that he greatly admired artists such as Francisco Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Dali also read a great deal of philosophy and psychology as he grew up, specifically works by Voltaire, Kant, and Freud. These works came to have a significant impact on his future painting techniques. Dalí moved to Madrid to complete his education and continued to be highly influenced by his contemporaries.

Most people associate Dalí with his eccentric surrealistic work. While the majority of his body of work is surrealistic, I think it’s important to emphasize that Dalí, like us, first mastered basic techniques such as perspective, drawing from real life, and working with positive and negative space. His surrealism emerged after a long process and many years of sketching in sketch books and playing around with many techniques. Like Picasso, Dalí was formally trained as an artist and could draw and paint realistically if he so chose, but rather decided to incorporate additional techniques, styles, and symbolism into his work that differed from the “realistic” path.

Dalí played around with cubism a bit and in the late 1920s began to incorporate more imaginative images into his drawings and paintings. He combined his “interest in the problem of perception and the nature of reality” with his artistic abilities to create recognizable yet distorted scenes and subject matter (Wach 8). Through his work Dalí wanted to combine elements of the physical external world with those of the intangible internal psyche, and painted pictures that could almost be acceptable as dream worlds. He incorporated modern thoughts of Freud and Einstein on the relativity of time and the relationship between the subconscious and conscious world throughout his work. Common symbols he used were time, eggs, human figure, animals, and elements of nature such as rocks and water. Dalí lived most of his life in Spain, but also lived briefly in Paris and in the United States during the Second World War. He painted, wrote, made films, and dabbled in other artistic endeavors up until his death in 1989.

On a more personal note, I chose Dalí because of all the eccentric side-notes to his artistic story. In my Spanish classes, the teachers always mention how in 1936 he addressed a crowd at the London International Surrealist Exhibition dressed in a full diving suit, helmet and all. He said he wanted to convince the audience that he was “plunging” into the human mind with his work. One teacher toured Dalí’s house in Spain and reported that he put the head of his bed against the wall with a window, then put a mirror on the wall across from the bed and the window so that he could observe the sunrise when he woke up in the morning. Dalí also made several very strange films. Watch just the first 2 minutes of this video and you’ll get a taste of his style:


(the first part is a spanish interview, but there are subtitles)

Girl Sewing, 1925-6.

This study drawing of a woman sewing shows Dalí’s attention to perspective even in surrealistic works. He uses more linear, rather than empirical, perspective here, but it is obvious that Dalí has thought a great deal about where his line of sight is, and what he can and cannot see in the painting. His drawing has several reference points that make it easy for him to reference in his final work—just like our drawings.

Study for Portrait of Frau Isabel Styler-Tas, 1945. Pencil.

The second piece I chose is also a study drawing for a work. Here he incorporates a more empirical (though arguably surrealistic) perspective defining the woman in the foreground and the distant hills rocks and trees as the background. He does a good job also of using stronger lines in the foreground and less defined/harsh lines in the background to give even more depth to the piece.

Portrait of Frau Isabel Styler-Tas, 1945.

Soft Watch Exploding 1954 ink.

Finally I chose a study drawing for Dalí’s perhaps most widely-recognized piece. His exploding soft watch incorporates external themes of memory and time, and is based on a recognizable item [i.e. a pocket watch]. He does a good job of using negative space to define the shattered bits of clock breaking apart, and his quality of line also adds to his theme of questioning the immutability and mobility of time.

Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion 1954.


Dorsey, Paul. http://daliplanet.blogsome.com/category/hitchcock/.

Bailey, George. 19 Aug 2001. http://sdali42.tripod.com/gbdaliphotos.htm .

Felix Fanes. “Salvador Dalí: The Construction of the Image 1925-30.” Yale University Press; New Haven: 1999.

“Salvador Dalí: A Guide to His Works in Public Museums.” The Dalí Museum; Cleveland, 1956.

Vision Works. 2010. www.changingworld.com

Wach, Kenneth. “Masterpieces from the collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum.” Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers; St. Petersburg, FL: 1996.

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