Salvador Dali is probably the best known Surrealist painter. After passing phases of Cubism, Futurism and Metaphysical he settled on a painting technique that produced a startling and hallucinatory effect.
He described his pictures as "hand-painted dream photographs". Images in his paitings included melting clocks, human figures with half-open drawers or burning giraffes. Dali had a great talent for eccentricity which he used to promote his work. He was also a significant sculptor, book illustrator and designed theatre sets as well as jewelry. Generally it is believed that he produced his best work during his classic Surrealist period in the 1930s.
"At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since."
"Have no fear of perfection -- you'll never reach it."
"I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous."
"So little of what could happen does happen."
"The world will admire me. Perhaps I'll be despised and misunderstood, but I'll be a great genius, I'm certain of it."
Visual knock out paintings!
Location:The Tate Gallery, London
Dali loved the telephone and it appeared famously in his Lobster Telephone (1936).
In this foreboding painting the phone can be seen as the connection between politicians, possibly Chamberlain and Hitler.
The phone hangs delicately on a crutch indicating the fragility of the situation. Snails crawl up the crutch. The mountains in the background are reflected in the lake beneath the phone to give a double image: the lake can also be seen as a fish with the ripples on it forming the scales and the jagged rock to the left forming a tail.
Sleep was painted for Edward James, a British millionaire who was Dali's patron from 1936 to 1939. Sleep deals with a subject that fascinated the Surrealists: the world of dreams. They believed that the freedom of the subconscious within sleep could be tapped into and then used creatively.
Sleep is a visual rendering of the body's collapse into sleep, as if into a separate state of being. Against a deep blue summer sky, a huge disembodied head with eyes dissolved in sleep, hangs suspended over an almost empty landscape. The head is "soft", appearing both vulnerable and distorted; what should be a neck tapers away to drop limply over a crutch. A dog appears, its head in a crutch, as if half asleep itself.
The head is propped above the land by a series of wooden crutches. The mouth, nose and also the eyes are all held in place by the crutches, suggesting that the head might disintegrate if they were removed. Crutches were a familiar sight in Dali's work. In The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, the artist wrote that he had imagined sleep as a heavy monster that was "held up by the crutches of reality". (With gratitude from dali-gallery.com)
Location:Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA
The painting depicts a monster creature ripping itself to pieces. Dali said: "These Iberian people devouring each other in autumn express the pathos of civil war thought of a phenomenon of natural history."
When Dali learned that the Art Institute of Chicago had acquired this work, he sent a telegram with the following explanation:
"Am happy and honored by your acquisition. According to Nostradamus, the apparition of monsters is a presage of war. This canvas was painted in the mountains of Semmering a few months before the Anschluss and it has a prophetic character. The women-horses represent the maternal river-monsters, the flaming giraffe the male cosmic apocalyptic monster. The angel-cat is the divine heterosexual monster, the hour-glass the metaphysical monster. Gala and Dali together the sentimental monster. The little lonely blue dog is not a true monster."
Dali believed that The Burning Giraffe was a premonition of war. Both of these paintings contain the image of a giraffe with its back ablaze, an image that Dali interpreted as "the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster".
The Burning Giraffe appears as very much a dreamscape, not simply because of the subject but also because of the supernatural aquamarine colour of the background.
Against this vivid blue color, the flames on the giraffe stand out to great effect. In the foreground, a woman stands with her arms outstretched. Her forearms and face are blood red, having been stripped to show the muscle beneath the flesh. The woman's face is featureless now, indicating a nightmarish helplessness and a loss of individuality. Behind her, a second woman holds aloft a strip of meat, representing death, entropy, and the human races capacity to devour and destroy.
Location:Museum of Modern Art, New York
Many of Dali's paintings were influenced and inspired by the landscapes of his youth. Several in particular were painted on the slopes of Mount Pani, which was covered in beautiful umbrella pines at the time.
Many of the strange and foreboding shadows in the foreground of many Dali's paintings is a direct reference to and result of Dali's love of this mountain near his home. Even long after he had grown up, Dali continued to paint details of the landscape of Catalonia into his works, as evidenced by such works as The Persistence of Memory, completed in 1931. Note the craggy rocks of Cape Creus in the background to the right.
One of Dali's most memorable Surrealist works, indeed the one with which he is most often associated is The Persistence of Memory. It shows a typical Dalinian landscape, with the rocks of his beloved Cape Creus jutting up in the background. In the foreground, a sort of amorphous self portrait of Dali seems to melt. Three separate melting watch images even out the foreground of the work. The melting watches are one symbol that is commonly associated with Salvador Dali's Surrealism. They are literally meant to show the irrelevance of time.
When Dali was alone with Gala and his paintings in Cape Creus, he felt that time had little, perhaps no significance for him. His days were spent eating, painting, making love, and anything else he wanted to do. The warm, summery days seemed to fly by without any real indication of having passed. One hot August afternoon, in 1931, as Dali sat at his work bench nibbling at his lunch, he came upon one of his most stunning paranoiac-critical hallucinations. Upon taking a pencil, and sliding it under a bit of Camembert cheese, which had become softer and runnier than usual in the summer heat, Dali was inspired with the idea for the melting watches. They appear often throughout Dali's works, and are the subject of much interest.
In short, this particular work is an important referral back to Dali's Catalan Heritage that was so very important to him. (With gratitude from dali-gallery.com)
Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.