January 23rd marks the anniversary of the death of Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalì. I’ve admired his work as a child. At the time I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning behind his work, but it surely amused me. In my teen years, I was drawn to his enigmatic persona, eccentricity and habit of referring to himself in the third person.
Dalì was indeed the definition of a renaissance man. He was a skilled draftsman, classically trained painter, he pursued film, writing, photography, sculpture with vigor and kept company with famous artists and fashion designers. He was very close to Elsa Schiaparelli, one of my favorite fashion designers, and collaborated with her in designing the iconic “Shoe Hat.”
His most famous and recognizable work “The Persistence of Memory” was painted in 1931. This work has been analyzed ad nauseum over the decades. When Dali was asked about the meaning behind the melting soft pocket watches he replied, “the soft watches were not inspired by the theory of relativity, but by the surrealist perception of Camembert cheese melting in the sun.”
Bien sûre, I can relate to his preoccupation with cheese. Some nights I lay awake in bed anticipating the latest raw milk artisanal French cheese delivery to the local Fairway Market.
In the 1940s, he and his wife Gala moved to NYC where he wrote his auto-biography paradoxically titled “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalì.” Secret? He was as much a media devouring opportunist as the Kardashian family. If he were alive today, Comedy Central would give him a reality show aptly named, “Sardonic Salvador Swallows the Earth.” Undoubtedly, the show would be so bizarre, cryptic and hallucinatory that it would gain a cult following–and rightfully so. If only today’s reality shows would document the musings and creations of a genius artist with a mathematical, scientific mind!
In 1949 he and Gala returned to Spain. Having been born into a strict Catholic family and questioning religion over the decades, he experimented with religious iconography, optical illusions, sexual themes and pointillism into the 70s.
What do we have here? Clearly a man whose childhood engrained Catholicism created turmoil and later inspired him to create this amazing work, which displays a repentant St. Anthony questioning his faith in the face of a buxom, unbridled, bleating woman grabbing her pillowy gifts to mankind. Look further and behind her is what appears to be a decapitated torso with jutting breasts.
In 1974 he created the greatest tribute and temple to himself, the Teatro Museo Dalì, a theater and museum, which houses the largest collection of his works.
He remained in his hometown, Figueres, until his death at the age of 84.
While I doubt I will ever visit Figueres to visit his museum, the Dalì Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida houses an extensive and exhaustive collection of his entire artistic career.
Finally, I stumbled upon a few interviews he conducted over the decades. This interview, conducted by Parliament chain-smoking Mike Wallace on the TV show 60 Minutes, is funny, bizarre and epitomizes a man more egotistical than investor-owner-Shark of the Dallas Maverick’s, glazed-eyed-Mark Cuban.
Some of the interview is indecipherable so here is an excerpt of the transcript:
WALLACE: Dalì, first of all let me ask you this, you’re a remarkable painter and you’ve dedicated your life to art. In view of this, why do you behave the way that you do? For instance, you have been known to drive in a car filled to the roof with cauliflowers. You lectured, as I mentioned, once with your head enclosed in a diving helmet and you almost suffocated. You issue bizarre statements about your love for rhinoceros horns and so on. You’re a dedicated artist, why do you or why must you do these things?
DALI: Because for this kind of eccentricities correspond with more important and the more tragical part of my life.
WALLACE: The more important and the more tragical part. I don’t understand.
DALI: The more philosophical.
WALLACE: Well, what is philosophical about driving in a car full of cauliflowers or lecturing inside a diving helmet?
A car filled with cauliflower? Well, HELLO DALÌ, someone like you comes only once a century!