Salvador Dali Art & Biography – The Renaissance Surrealist
To call Salvador Dali eccentric might be a bit of an understatement. However, to call the Spanish artist a genius and an innovator would be highly apropos. While he was a part of the Cubist and Dada movements, Dali is best known as a Surrealist and this would define him as well as separate him from other artists of his time. Dali’s art prints & posters nearly stand in a class of their own.
Dali was born on May 11, 1904 in the small town of Figueres; close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain, to Salvador Dalí and Felipa Domenech Ferrés. Nine months before his arrival, his older brother, who was also named Salvador, died. At the age of five, Salvador was taken to his brother’s grave and told that he was the reincarnation of him. This hypothesis would become truth to Dali. While his father was strict, his mother was warm and encouraged her son to pursue his artwork.
Dali attended drawing school in 1916 and by the next year he had amassed a large enough collection for his first exhibition which was held in the family’s home. Dali’s first public exhibition was held in 1919 at the Municipal Theater in Figueres. Two years later, his beloved mother was stricken with breast cancer and died in February of 1921. This would prove to a defining moment in the young artist’s life and work.
In 1922 Dali relocated to Madrid where he attended the Academia de San Fernando or School of Fine Arts. Dali wasn’t one to shy away from the spotlight and was already gaining a reputation as an eccentric. Wearing his hair long with sideburns, he adorned his body in costume-like clothing reminiscent of the English dandy’s of the 19th century. It was while attending school that Dali experimented with Cubism which overrode the attention from other students as there were no Cubist artists in Madrid during this time. But it would be his exploration of Dada that would define his later work in Surrealism.
His arrogance served as the catalyst for his removal from Academia de San Fernando when he proclaimed that not one of his instructors was adept enough to examine his work. Whether this was accurate or not, Dali was becoming an exceptional painter whose work was regarded highly by both fellow students and faculty alike.
In 1926, Dali traveled to Paris and met one of his idols, Pablo Picasso. The already established French artist had already heard about Dali’s work from fellow artist, Joan Miró. Both artists would have a huge influence of Dali’s work over the next several years. However, the young artist drew influences from everywhere. From the classic masters such as Raphael, Bronzino, and Francisco de Zurbaran to the avant-garde movement of the time, Dali left no stone unturned. Often he would combine the two influences in one piece which puzzled critics, but Dali welcomed the controversy.
In 1929 he met his future wife, Gala. The Russian immigrant, who was 11 years older that Dali and whom was already married to surrealist poet, Paul Éluard, would serve as his muse. Professionally, he was on the upswing as he had two important exhibitions and joined the Surrealist group in Paris. Having already worked in Surrealism for nearly two years, Dali was dubbed the Paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity by the group.
Perhaps the most important piece of work he ever painted was La persistencia de la memoria or The Persistence of Memory which depicted a melting pocket watch which many of interpreted as the irrelevance of time. This was surrealism in its greatest form and inspired much debate.
In later years, Dali wasn’t content with just being a painter, but examined with some unusual processes such as Bulletist – an artistic process that involves shooting ink at a blank piece of paper. He was among one of the first artists to use holography and several pieces included optical illusions. Warhol would later refer to Dali as an important influence on pop art.
In the post World War II period, Dali became more intently involved in Catholicism, but at the same time he was inspired by the bombing of Hiroshima. This was dubbed the Nuclear Mysticism period by the eccentric artist and lead to such work as “The Madonna of Port-Lligat” (first version) (1949) and “Corpus Hypercubus” (1954).
While he was an artist first, like Warhol would become later, Dali was a personality with celebrity status. With his iconic mustache, he was known to pull outrageous stunts such as the 1934 masquerade ball that he and Gala came dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. Then there was the London International Surrealist Exhibition that Dali took part in. His lecture, entitled Fantomes paranoiaques authentiques, was delivered while wearing a deep-sea diving suit.
At the dawn of the 1960s, Dali started work on his most ambitious project of his career, the Dali Theatre and Museum in which he made new contributions well into the 1980s. However, the 80s would also be marked by determinately turn for the worse in Dali’s health when his wife, who by now was near senile, gave his a lethal cocktail of medication leaving his right hand with Parkinson-like trembling which left him unable to work as an artist. At 78 Dali died of an apparent suicide by deliberate dehydration.
Salvador Dali left a body of work that has been examined and reexamined by critics as well as art aficionados. Moreover, he laid the groundwork for many young artists to follow in his footsteps.
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