Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Surreal Life

Magnet # 239:  Dali's Melting Clock

Material:  Pewter

Purchased By:  Me

The famous Surrealist Salvador Dali was born on this day in 1904.  From his somewhat humble beginnings as of the son of a middle-class Spanish lawyer, he would go on to defy his father's strict discipline and much of the art world, challenging the concept of what art was and constantly reinventing himself as an artist.

Dali was a uniquely gifted artist and skilled draftsman who was partially inspired by Renaissance masters as well as modern artists like Picasso and Joan Miro. But Dali combined classical art with modern concepts in a way that was all his own. To be sure, there were Surrealists before and after Dali, but none of them really captured the attention of a widespread audience the way he did, both with his stunning work and flamboyant behavior.  He was unafraid to cause a scene or offend anyone and fell out with his father, who demanded his son apologize for some of his outrageous actions.  He was also expelled from the prestigious art school he attended in his youth after he claimed none of his teachers were capable of judging his work.  He even fell out with his Surrealist colleagues after refusing to share their leftist politics.  They went so far as to hold a mock trial and expelled him from their midst, but Dali was not deterred, claiming he was surrealism all in himself.  Perhaps Dali's most famous sign of nonconformity was his incredible moustache, which he grew to great lengths and often posed straight upward.  As time went on, Dali shifted his attention from paintings and sculpture to more modern artistic pursuits such as film and fashion.  In doing so, he collaborated with unlikely partners such as Alfred Hitchcock, Christian Dior, and Alice Cooper.  He even joined with Walt Disney to create Destino, an animated cartoon that wasn't completed until after both men had passed away, in 2003.  No matter what he was working on, Dali was always exploring the boundaries of what art could be.

One of the most important events in Dali's life occurred in 1929, when he met Elena Ivanovna Diakonova - better known as Gala - a Russian who was married to Paul Eludard, another Surreal artist. Although she was about a decade older, the two quickly became enamored with one another and began an affair, moving in together not long after. Eventually, they were able to marry. Gala had inspired several other Surreal artists and she soon became Dali's greatest muse, appearing in many of his works and he even came to sign both of their names on his paintings. But even before they met, Gala was never one for monogamy and continued having extramarital affairs at Dali's encouragement, even with her former husband. All the way into her late seventies, she continued her relationships with young artists, lavishing gifts on them, including her husband's paintings. Of course, Dali had his own mistresses that included other, younger muses. But they never parted from one another and Dali worshipped Gala. He was completely dependant on her until her death and even after. He was never the same after her passing, and it's believed he even tried to kill himself to be with her. He finally passed away in 1989 but he was not buried with his beloved wife. Instead, he lies in a crypt under the Dali Theatre and Museum in Catalonia, Spain. For many years, the artist spoke of how he longed to be buried alongside Gala at the Castle of Pubol and some believe that the frail, dying man was manipulated into this arrangement. Even if they have been cruelly separated in death, their love lives on in much of the work he left behind -theirs may not have been a traditional marriage, but it was definitely an undying, surreal love.

If you'd like to see some of Dali's work in person, you don't have to head all the way over to Spain, although there are noteworthy collections of his art there. But there is actually a very impressive collection of his work here in the United States, at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. All of these images were purchased by one American couple, Albert and Eleanor Morse. Just before they were married in 1942, they attended a retrospective of the artist's work and were so struck by it that they began buying his work and even formed a friendship with Dali and Gala, becoming their companions and patrons. Eventually, they decided to share all of the works they had amassed with the public, first in their homestate of Ohio, and later, when they moved their collection to Florida. I've visited the Salvador Dali Museum there and it really is a great place to check out if you're a fan of Dali's works. They have pieces ranging from about the size of a shoebox to intricate images that cover huge spaces, and even more unusual pieces, like some jewelry he designed for Mrs. Morse. And they'll be moving to an even more impressive building in January, less than a year away. So that might be an even better time to check out the museum, if this post has piqued your interest.

When he passed, Dali left behind more than 1,500 paintings and other works, such as illustrations, drawings, and sculptures.  So many of them truly push the envelope on what can be considered art, yet also show the influence of previous art masters.  Dali has now become a master himself, influencing subsequent generations.  And though they may imitate him, one thing's for certain - thanks to both his talent and notorious antics, there will never be another Salvador Dali.


  1. Even though Dali is not one of my favorite artists, you wrote interestingly about his work and life and maybe I'll give him another chance. Thanks for reintroducing him to me.

  2. That's great - I hope you'll be able to enjoy his work more this time.