Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hello Dali!

"There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad." -- Salvador Dali, Spanish painter (1904-1989)

What's the best part of being a student? The field trips, of course!

Yesterday, Cliff and I headed an hour west to St. Petersburg and the Salvador Dali Museum there. Located on the bay, it's the most comprehensive collection of the Surrealist's works in the world, thanks to the efforts of A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse who gifted the city with their extensive collection from their four decades of friendship with the Spanish painter and his wife, Gala. The collection contains some 96 paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, and some 1300 other items exhibited in rotation. The works displayed cover the years 1917-1970.

Seeing Dali's work in all its glorious strangeness was a marked departure from the scholastic order and piety of French Gothic. But in the interest of expanding my general knowledge of art history, re-visiting Dali and Surrealism was a healthy choice!

Most people are familiar with Dali's repetitive image of the melting clock, famously depicted in "The Persistence of Memory". The museum cleverly recreates that image in an outdoor bench.

A contemporary and compatriot of Picasso and Miro, Dali is best known for his graphically disturbing paintings with recurring themes of death and decay (symbolized often by flies), the mysterious nature of women (usually depicted from the back with faces unseen), his contempt for government and bureaucracy, the influence of Sigmund Freud's emerging theories, and his love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church. He adored his wife and often featured her prominently in his work, depicted as an angel or his muse.

What struck me most, though, was his absolutely mastery of any style he tackled. In his teens, his colorful landscapes resemble those of Late Impressionism or Cezanne. As a young man in his 20's he painted with astonishing realism and a breathtaking chiaroscuro (he often imitated Diego Velazquez) such as seen in his simple "A Basket of Bread". But in the same year, he created other works in the Cubist style and began experimenting in his own version of Surrealism, a sort of "super reality" of dreams and imagination considered by the painter to be more real than conscious, visual reality.

He was evidently a complex and troubled man, noted as an arrogant and grating personality even among his fellow Surrealists. Most photographs of Dali show him wide-eyed, eyebrows arched, a caricature of himself in black cape and iconic mustache. Definitely one of the art world's more interesting characters! And one I'm not inclined to forget.

1 comment:

  1. I went there a couple years ago as an MSU Alum. It was very interesting to view his art.