Genius or madman? Salvador Dali has been referred to as both throughout the course of his seventy-eight-year career. One who has seen any of his artwork will uncertainly question the sanity of Salvador Dali. Dali is best known for his surrealist works and many consider him the most brilliant Surrealist of his time. But to understand the enigma that is Salvador Dali, one must take a look back into his childhood, his family, and his inspirations.
Salvador Dali was born in Figueras, Spain to father Don Salvador Dali y Cusi and mother Felipa Domenech. The year was 1904. The answering machine had just been invented as well as the first flat-disk phonograph. A remarkable new child’s toy had been created, and dubbed the “Teddy Bear.” In 1907, his sister, Ana Maria, was born. Dali, being the only young male in a female-dominated household, was pampered by his overprotective mother, grandmother, aunt, and nurse. All this attention was not enough for Dali, and he constantly sought ways to seek more. He frequently threw tantrums and would induce coughing fits on himself. He purposely would wet his bed to anger his father. Dali continued this until he reached the age of eight, when he discovered he could anger his father much more intensely by getting himself into trouble at school. By the age of 10, Dali stopped acting out so much, and began to show an interest in art. He produced his first painting. By the time he was 15, he had already set up his own art exhibition. In 1921, a 17-year-old Salvador Dali entered the Madrid Fine Arts School, hoping to fuel his interest in Futurism and Cubism. However, Dali was suspended for a year after urging all students to rebel against the school’s authorities. In 1926, the school decided to expel Dali for similar reasons.
In 1929, Salvador Dali developed an interest in Surrealism, and joined the movement. Dali began developing his method, which he eventually would name “Paranoic-critical” and describe as a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on critical and systematic objectivation of delirious associations and interpretations.” In the following years, Dali produced three paintings: in 1929 he produced ‘The Lugubrious Game’; in 1931 he finished work on the painting he is most well known for, ‘The Persistence of Memory’; finally in 1932 he produced ‘Surrealist Objects, Gauges of Instantaneous Memory’. Dali had created his trademark “soft watches” for which he is now famous. It was during this time when Dali met Gala Eluard, with whom he eloped in 1929. She became his model, his agent, his inspiration, and eventually, his reason for living. She would be the only woman in his life for the remainder of his years.
In the continuing years, Dali painted less, and opted to spend more time developing his method. He began to read the ideas of Freud, and found new inspiration. He sought to explore the unconscious mind, the dream world. He was fascinated with the state of semi-consciousness, the mental state between consciousness and unconsciousness. In this state, the mind is free from the restraints of logic or social regulations. It is simply the pure, unaltered form of the irrational human psyche. Instead of analyzing this state of mind for psychiatric reasons as Freud did, Dali simply wanted to explore it and find a way to portray it with his art. He referred to his attempts at painting the subconscious “hand-painted dream photographs.”
Perhaps because he grew tired of it, or perhaps to keep his own sanity, Dali strayed away from Surrealism and returned to the Classical form of art in 1936. He experimented with several types of classical art, including Classical Spanish, Classical Italian, and pompier. Dali’s departure from Surrealism was made more evident in the 1930's, when he took up a great interest in Hitler, and not Lenin, who was favored by the other surrealists. This created a strain with his surrealist friends, and in 1939 Dali decided to move to the United States. Interestingly enough, he borrowed money from Pablo Picasso, a well-known artist specializing in cubism and abstract art.
Dali wasted no time in generating success in the United States. He participated in the making of several films. He co-directed the first surrealist motion picture with Luis Bunuel, titled “Un Chiea A Dalou A Andalusian Dog”. He designed the surrealistic dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”. He was also filmed the motion picture “Don Juan Tenorio.” By 1951, Dali had become world-famous. In the height of his success, Dali returned to Spain. He began to experiment with sculpture. One might assume that he constantly wanted to explore new ideas and mediums, but this move was for financial reasons. Dali fakes were rampant in the art world due to lithography. Dali took up sculpture as it was something he had never tried before and would be readily accepted by the public and that it would be much more difficult to clone a sculpture. Dali’s sculpture related to his paintings. One would see a sculpture of a Dali soft watch, or bizarre, mutated forms of humans or scenery. He explored religious themes in his art for a time, but also began introducing erotic scenes into his works. Normally, when an artist portrays eroticism in their works, it is to express their own sexual desires or frustrations. Salvador Dali, however, did not express his own feelings, but added the erotic elements to his art to produce a reaction in his audience.
Salvador Dali manipulated his audience to alter the way they would react to his works. He often exhibited strange behavior, and acted quite eccentric, but most of it was indeed, acting. He wanted his audience to question his mental well-being. Dali goal was to influence his audience’s opinion of his works by altering they way they perceived him. He would create a variety of personas for himself to keep his audience entranced in his work, and never sure of what Dali was trying to portray with his art.
Salvador Dali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1981. His beloved Gala died the next year. Dali’s life, it seemed, was falling apart around him. His reason for living had ceased to exist. The 77 year old Dali had, for the first time in his life, lost all inspiration for his art. He lost the desire to paint. Dali became a recluse in an apartment across from a museum dedicated to him. In 1989, Salvador Dali was 85 years old. The disease which he was diagnosed with in 1981 had finally caught up with him, and the most brilliant surrealist of his time was dead. He was buried in a tomb below his Museum in his home town of Figueras.
Salvador Dali, unlike many famous artists, lived to see the rewards of his accomplishments in art. While the last 7 years of his life were somewhat tragic, he lead a very fulfilling and influential life and will forever be remembered for his soft watches and bizarre imagery. His contributions to the art world can be seen in many modern artists’ works and one may suspect that the influence of Salvador Dali will be present in many years to come.