Monday, October 6, 2014

Salvador Dali

Photograph of Salvador Dali
(Dali Atomicus, by Philippe Halsman, 1948)
[For reference; not the work of Dali]
     Salvador Dali, born May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Spain, remains one of the most renowned surrealist artists of the twentieth century. Best known for his atypical scenes of melting clocks and elephants with impossible legs, Dali centralized around the surrealist movement, but was deeply involved in a number of others, notably metaphysics, dadaism, and some cubism. Even so, he was eventually separated from each of these movements, due largely to his consistently apolitical stance clashing with the strong political ideologies of groups like the dadaists and surrealists, and also in part because of his entirely ridiculous public image of a wildly eccentric borderline-lunatic with a fascination with the impossible and incomprehensible; some even claim the persona itself to be his greatest work, although how much of an "act" his eccentricities actually were is hard to say. Dali delved into multiple media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and film. 
     His surrealism was sparked largely by direct interaction with and study of contemporaries like Magritte, Miro, and Picasso, while his metaphysical tendencies were with him from a young age. Because of the chronological coincidence much of his working years and World War II, Dali surrounded himself with much of the science and physics of the time, including that of Albert Einstein. 
Soft Watch, Exploding into 888 Pieces after Twenty Years of Complete Motionlessness (1954)

     Einstein's work on topics like nuclear physics, relativity, and time dilation are fantastically represented in the recurring exploding and melting clocks in the works of Dali. The above work (with a title so perfectly indicative of the eccentric personality of its creator) is a personal favorite. Well representative of a great many of Dali's works, it combines the fluid with the concrete in the way the rigid back and metal arms of the clock are like putty draped over the edge of a table, and the border of the watch is like a tangle of vines where it is connected to the face but shattered into countless rigid, wire-like fragments around the 11-2 o'clock range. As indicated by the shadows, the numbers are not resting on the face. They are inches above it, hovering, but with the indication of rapid movement frozen in time. This continues throughout the image: it is clearly in mid-explosion, soon to be no more, but because it was captured at such a delicate moment, it appears to be in a beautiful static decomposition, frozen in the distorted time that its liquid state represents. While it is a smaller detail, and not nearly the most impressive, I appreciate the interesting hatching just past the 6 on the face of the clock, utilizing the intersection of the soft curves that followed the border of the watch to display the intricate curvature of the surface. The combination of the mechanistic, the fluid, and the surreal makes this piece, along with Dali as a whole, a strong personal favorite, and source of inspiration. 
      Dali also had some (albeit minimal) interaction with the church. While he was not particularly vocal about his association, he was both baptized and buried (1989) in the church of Sant Pere in Figueres, Spain, and often liked to represent christian imagery and occasionally integrate it with his other, more concrete topics like contemporary physics. 
Allegorical Saint and Angels in Adoration of the Holy Spirit (1958)
     The above work contains less of the bizarre themes of Dali and really accentuates the beautiful side of his life's work. The themes of life and light and ascension are prevalent here. My favorite aspects of this watercolor work are, as uncommon as this is for me, the use of muted colors and lots of grays, which work quite well in water colors and images of the divine, along with the use of white space in the wings and radiance of light, and, most of all, the way the angels' wings all blur dramatically away from the light source, mimicking extended light beams and smears across the page.  
     Disintegration plays a large theme in the works of Dali. Much like with the watch from before, it follows from Dali's fascination with nuclear physics, and the idea of material being ripped apart atom by atom, literally disintegrating. In some of his more abnormal pieces, Dali applies this to the human form, showing skin, muscle, and bone not only morphing into other materials, as he often does, but being torn apart piece by piece, not in gore, but in material transformation (like what happens uniquely in a nuclear reaction, when the nucleus of an unstable atom experiences fission and becomes entirely different materials).
Kneeling Figure in Decomposition (1950-1951)

     The above may be his most notable sketch of this kind, in which the pictured man is explosively decomposing into the wild geometry riddling the page. Dali enjoyed the integration of multidimensional geometry in his works, and uses it here as both the result of the decomposition as well as an extension of the man's limbs. 
     He did not always depict the human form in irregularity, though. Dali created a great many works on eroticism and the human form in normalized culture.
The Judgment of Paris (1950)
     Referencing back to ancient stories and mythologies, Dali beautifully depicts the human form from the story of the judgment of Paris. The drawing lines clearly show the rounded geometry of the human body, the subtle curvatures and musculature, and language through body positioning. While they are certainly not along the style of the works that made him most famous, works like these illustrate the range of Dali's skill at transforming the world contained within his own mind into a scene for millions to enjoy.


Descharnes, Robert, Salvador Dalí, and Gilles Néret. Salvador Dalí 1904-1989. Köln: Taschen, 1998. Print.

Morse, Albert Reynolds, and Salvador Dalí. The Draftsmanship of Dali: A Portfolio of Watercolors and Drawings. Cleveland: Salvador Dali Museum, 1970. Print.

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