Sunday, October 7, 2012

Salvador Dalí - Ann Tai

During my visit to the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) a few years ago, I was impressed by Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory: the molten pocket watch that represents eternity, the bizarre colors... It was Dalí s characteristic style to manipulate objects to depict his thoughts and feelings. As viewers, we are entranced into spending minutes, even hours, interpreting his artwork.

Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, Spain on May 11, 1904. He showed his gift in drawing at an early age, and was accepted by the Academy of San Fernando, the famous art school in Madrid, at age 17. In the Academy, Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, and the ongoing Surrealism movement in Paris, which advocated for subjective depictions in thought and sensation, inspired Dali. Dalí also employed what he jokingly called ‘a spontaneous method of irrational associations.’ In his later artworks, he incorporated atomic and micro compositions after the emergence of the nuclear science field. Dalí's health condition deteriorated after his wife's sudden death and he passed away in 1989. 

Salvador Dalí was a gifted draftsman, and his works include drawings, sculptures, films, etc. He also published books and opened the Dali Salvador Museum. As a painter, he was famous for his eccentric style, his novel composition, and double images, which were recognized as paranoiac by some people. However, Dali drew with a conscious and selective mind. As Dali wittily commented, “The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.”


Study for Ana Maria Sewing, pencil on paper, 1926 (up)
Study for Girl Sewing, pencil and ink on paper, 1926 (down)
Dalí was more conscious of realism in these early study drawings of sewing girls. In Study for Ana Maria Sewing, Dalí concentrated on the composition of light and shadow on the girl's face, and he simplified other parts of his work. The base lines of the space are still visible. In the Study for Girl Sewing, the base lines that radiate from the center of the painting (window) are apparent. Viewers can also see the rough approximation of the girl's arms, legs as rectangular boxes, and fists as spheres. Both study drawings used the line drawings, the contour approximations, and the baselines in order to give himself a better understanding of the final drawing. 

Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion, etc. 1930 on canvas (up)
Scan from the book Salvador Dali: the early years (down)

This surrealistic oil painting is one of Dalí s early experimental works of multifaceted images and negative space, created after his return from Paris in 1930. His drawing at the time starts to show his preference of rich colors and solid contour lines that contributes to a surreal feeling. The bizarre object in the center is one image that can be interpreted into many images-it is a lion/horse, a group of humans, and a sleeping woman. If the viewer follows the larger contour, the image of a lion or a horse appears. However, if observed from the other end, it becomes a sleeping woman. If the contours are viewed separately, a group of standing humans appears out of the artistic mass. There are two tiny figures on the left of the horse torso. Dalí consciously merged together many images (as shown in the lower scan) and then created a multifaceted negative space. The small variance in color around the image mass as well as the lack of dense shadows helps to conceive more interpretable images. These merging’s are demonstrated in the black and white negative space drawing that is only composed of a simple object and white background. 

Telephone in a Dish with Three Grilled Sardines at the End of September', oil on canvas (1939) 

This surrealistic painting in 1939 is metaphorical in every sense. In contrast with the surrealistic drawing style in Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion, etc., this oil painting demonstrate more maturity. At the time of the work, Dalí and his wife left Spain due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Dalí was also expelled from the Surrealist Group due to political reasons. This painting is intriguing at first look because of the uncommon composition of objects. There is a plate on the front of the wooden table, with a telephone and Sardine fish in it. In the background, the shadow from the plate creates two figures that seem to be fleeing off into the distance, further from the plate and our observance. They are submersed into the dark and brooding background. The telephone in the plate is related to the 1938 telephone conversations between Adolf Hitler and British Prime Minister Sir Chamberlain, who used the appeasement policy to avoid wars. The Sardine fish that is fallen apart, and the dark and depressive scenery are symbolizations of a vulnerable Spain at the outbreak of wars. From the shadow, viewers can tell that there are actually two light sources: one comes from the front which highlights the telephone and the plate of fish; another leaks from the background. It seems as if wars were forcing people like the Dalí couple out of Spain. 

The drawings that I chose from Dali's works from 1926 to 1939 show changes from his early drawing style to his final style: From realism to surrealism, then to a surrealism profuse in metaphors and interpretation. The three groups of drawings also represent a concise study drawing, a negative space/double image, and meaningful art symbols, all of which I wish to learn from our drawing practice.

Wash, Kenneth: Salvador Dalí, Masterpieces from the Collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum (NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc.) 1996
Andreose, Mario: Dalí (NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.) 2004
Raeburn, Michael (ed.): Salvador Dalí: the early years (NY: Thames and Hudson Inc.) 1994

Image Sources:
Telephone in a Dish with Three Grilled Sardines at the End of September':

Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion, etc. 1930 on cavas
 (Scan see resources)
Study for Ana Maria Sewing, pencil on paper, 1926 
Study for Girl Sewing, pencil and ink on paper, 1926 

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