Thursday, April 21, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Dalí

Once upon a time, a young art student at the Academy of Fine Art in Madrid had to give an oral exam to a panel of examiners.  He did not think to highly of the competence level of these professors to begin with, and did not want to do this exam.  He drew the name "Raphael," and upon doing so, said, "Gentlemen, with all due respect, it is impossible for me to talk about this in front of these three professors, because I know more about Raphael than all of them put together."
The young art student was expelled from the school.  His name - Salvador Dalí.
It is also impossible for me to write a "brief" commentary on the life of Dalí as I have typically done for the 40 days of artists.  But I will do my best. 
Born in Figueres in 1904, he was already living a strange life by the age of 5.  His mother allegedly told him that he was his own brother reincarnated (who had passed away 9 months before Salvador's birth).  In the early 1920s, Dalí enrolled in the Fine Arts Academy in Madrid, from where he was subsequently expelled twice for his behavior.  But while enrolled, he experimented with different painting styles.  His first paintings were impressionistic in style, and he also tried his hand at cubism, which particularly got him the most attention from his fellow students.  Later on his style changed once again as he became more influenced by the old masters such as Raphael, Vermeer, and Velázquez.  His paintings often combined the modern avante garde with the classically academic techniques.  His influence from Velázquez inspired Dalí to grow his (in)famously flamboyant mustache.
In the late 20s, Dalí collaborated with the surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel for the film Un Chien Andalou.  He helped write the script, but also had a small role in the film.  Around the same time in 1929, Dalí met the woman who would later become his wife after the death of her husband then, another surrealist artist Paul Éluard.  Her name was Gala.  She would also eventually fall in love with Dalí while she was still married to Éluard.  After Éluard's death, Dalí and Gala were married in a civil ceremony in 1934.  Gala was the greatest of all of Dalí's obsessions throughout his entire life.
A few years earlier, in 1931, Dalí, who had already been greatly influenced by the surrealists and had become part of the group, painted his most widely recognized work The Persistence of Memory.  When he asked Gala if in a few years she would have forgotten the image, she replied that no one could ever forget it once they've seen it.
Several actions of Dalí landed him in trouble with the Surrealist group, particularly because he would make no definitive statement on his political views, while the surrealists were mostly associating themselves with leftist politics.  Dalí was mostly apolitical, and noted that surrealism did not need a political context.  Later in 1934, Dalí was formally expelled from the surrealist group, to which he replied, "I myself am surrealism."
In 1940, at the heart of the second World War, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States, and in this period Dalí would become a practicing Catholic.  In addtion to painting, Dalí was also an active writer and filmmaker.  He was also interested in science and mathematics, and linked the logarithmic spiral growth of rhinoceros horns with a sort of "divine geometry," and would frenquently include the rhino horn motif in his paintings.
By 1960, Dalí was back in his hometown of Figueres building his own museum and theater - which became a work of art in and of itself with various murals on the walls, and rooms designed to look like his paintings.  The museum took about 15 years to complete, with Dalí still making additions to it in the early 1980s.  Meanwhile during that time, Dalí would become even more rich and famous, and the lifestyle began to take over him.  Rather than focus his time on painting, he would literally commercialize himself by appearing on various game shows and talk shows, endorsing a number of products in television commercials, and creating mass products of his own, including his own signature perfume and jewelry.
By 1980, Dalí's health began to significantly decline, and his wife Gala died in 1982.  After the death of his beloved Gala, Dalí himself lost the will to live and was suspected to have performed a few suicide attempts.  By the late 80s, Dalí was badly burned in a fire in his bedroom, and this coupled with his rapidly declining health and Parkinson's-like symptoms took a great toll on his artistic abilities.  Dalí died on January 23, 1989 at the age of 84 and was buried in the crypt of his own museum in Figueres. 
The thing about Dalí is that every biography or commentary written about him always includes details that I never knew about his life.  The hardest part is distinguishing which parts are true, only slightly true, or not true at all.  With Dalí, who could really ever know?

Salvador Dalí
The Persistence of Memory
oil on canvas
24 x 33 cm.

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