When one hears the name of Salvador Dali, many things probably come to mind: painter, surrealist, creative, artistic genius… No matter what first comes to one’s mind, and whether one likes him or not, most would agree that Salvador Dali was, more than anything else, unique. Yes, Dali had many influences such as Velazquez, Goya, El Creco, Durer, Leonardo, and Michelangelo (Bradley, 465), but he took their influence and developed a unique style of his own. Dali even made himself rather unique; sporting the curled mustache while often wearing a cape and carrying a walking stick (The Biography Channel Website, 2012). Once, he even delivered a lecture wearing a diving suit (Chilvers, 163), and attended a ball wearing a glass case holding a brazier across his chest (The Biography Channel Website, 2012)! But if we look back at the start of his life, we can get a pretty good idea how he obtained such a whimsical persona.
Dali was born on May 11, 1904 in Figueras, Spain. Being born into the situation he was born into, he was destined for either greatness or insanity because his parents were as different as night and day. When it came to raising children, Salvador’s father depended on discipline and complete order, while his mother, Felipa, was happy to cater to his oddities and revel in his art (The Biography Channel Website, 2012). If that weren’t confusing enough for poor young Salvador, his home ideology was confusing as well; his father was an atheist and his mother a Roman Catholic (Bradley, 464).
To top off all of this confusion, Salvador was told at age 5 that he Reed, was named after his brother who had recently passed. Dali said this caused him to see himself as “a reply, a double, an absence” (Bradley, 464). Not wanting to be a reincarnation of his brother, Dali experimented with his identity. It has been said that young Salvador was “a precocious and intelligent child, prone to fits of anger against his parents and schoolmates.” Because his father would not condone these tantrums, young Salvador was often severely punished with excruciating acts of cruelty (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).
After seeing his elaborate drawings, Salvador’s parents decided to build him an art studio near their summer home in Cadaques to prepare him for art school. In 1916, Salvador transferred to a drawing school at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas, where he chose to spend most of his time daydreaming. He was exposed to painting, after his first year in drawing school, when his father introduced him to Ramon Pichot, an Impressionist painter and an associate of Picasso (The Biography Channel Website, 2012 & Bradley, 464).
In his younger years, Dali’s father was not one to encourage his interest in art, but in 1918 it was his father that organized an exhibit of Salvador’s charcoal drawings. By age 15, Dali had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueras. At 16, Dali was crushed when his mother died of breast cancer. Salvador was not only devastated by of his mother’s death, but also because the good relationship he was finally starting to build with his father was instantly deteriorated again (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).
In 1921 Dali entered the Escuela de San Fernando, Madrid, where he studied Metaphysics and Cubism, experimented with divisionism and Futurism, and delved into classical painters like Raphael, Bronzino, and Velazquez (The Biography Channel Website, 2012 & Bradley, 465). Of course, being the eccentric and outspoken person he was, Dali easily made friends. He met a poet Reed, by the name of Federico Garcia, and a filmmaker named Luis Bunuel. These friendships cultivated Dali’s natural bumptiousness until he was suspended, and eventually expelled for insinuating that his instructors were not proficient enough to appraise his work (The Biography Channel Website, 2012 & Bradley, 465).
In the years to follow, Dali made several trips to Paris, where he met many momentous painters such as Rene Magritte and Joan Miro who was also a sculptor, and other artists such as poet Paul Eluard (The Biography Channel Website, 2012). He collaborated with former classmate Luis Bunuel in 1928 to create a film titled Un Chien Andalou (Rosenblum, 226). He had the opportunity to work with Pablo Picasso, who, along with Miro, arranged an exhibition for Dali’s work in 1929. It was at this show where Dali was first deemed a Surrealist. Andre Brenton praised Dali’s art as “the most hallucinatory known until now” and “a real menace.” Between this exhibit and the film collaborated with Luis Bunuel, Dali was confirmed as one of the artists at the center of the Surrealist movement (Langmuir, 180-1).
1929 was a good year for Dali. This was also the year Salvador met a Russian immigrant named Elena Diakonava, wife of Surrealist writer Paul Eluard. Because of a strong connection between the two, Elena, who went by Gala, left her husband to be with Salvador. She became his inspiration, his strength, his business partner (taking care of the legal and financial aspects of Salvador’s art) and eventually, Gala became Salvador’s wife (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).
From this point, Dali devoted himself to the transcription of dreams and paranoiac visions (Rosenblum, 226). He developed what was to be called the “paranoiac critical method” (Varia, 389 & Langmuir, 181) or “critical paranoia” which involved embellishing on the images of his dreams and delusions and fusing them together with the appearance of the natural world. Dali Reed, described his works as “hand-painted dream photographs.” There were certain images that were reoccurring, much like dreams can be. Some of the reoccurring images included a figure of a woman with half open drawers protruding from her body, giraffes on fire, and melting clocks (Chilvers, 163).
This method was, with out a doubt, the greatest of his discoveries and it is what allowed Dali to present all of his lewd and erotic fetishes in a fairy-tale-like context. Dali applied this “paranoiac critical method” to many things other than painting, with equal success. He used this method in his writings and sculpture, including constructing familiar surrealist objects such as a telephone receiver in the shape of a lobster and the sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips (Varia, 389). The method enhanced his filmmaking, and jewelry making. This method was especially successful in his design of ballet sets and costumes, and as he fabricated book illustrations (Rosenblum, 226).
In the late 1930s, Dali embraced a more traditional style after several visits to Italy (Chilvers, 163). Because of this change in his style, his dedication to fascism, and his excessive self-presentation, Brenton expelled Dali from the Surrealist ranks.
Salvador and Gala moved to New York in 1940 and in 1941 the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art gave him his own exhibit. In 1942 his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali was published. In 1948, the Dalis moved back to Spain.
Most of Dali’s late paintings were of a religious theme, showing his commitment to the Catholic Church (Chilvers, 163 & Whitford, 93). However sexual subjects and pictures centering on Gala continued to be obsessions (Chilvers, 163). Dali also showed interest in scientific discoveries of the time as he merged theories on atomic physics with Catholic mysticism in his art (Whitford, 94). Dali spent 15 years painting a series of 19 large canvases all concerning scientific, Reed, historic, and/or religious themes. This time was often referred to as the “Nuclear Mysticism” period (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).
From 1960-1974, Dali devoted his time to creating the Teatro Museo (theater museum) in Figueres, Spain. He built in what was formerly the Municipal Theater, the exact building where he had had his first art exhibition when he was still a child. This museum holds the largest compass of his works from his earliest artistic experiences to works of the last years of his life. Several pieces were made specifically for the museum and are on permanent display (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).
Due to a motor disorder that caused trembling and weakness in his hands, Dali could no longer hold a paintbrush and was forced to retire in 1980. In 1982, his best friend and wife, Gala, died. The combination of these two events sent Dali into a deep and severe depression. He moved to a castle in Pubol to hide from the public. In 1984 he was severely burned in a fire, confining him to a wheelchair. Friends and fellow artists recovered Dali from the castle, brought him back to Figueres, and made him comfortable in his Teatro Museo.
In November, 1988 Dali had a heart attack and went to the hospital. After a brief recovery he returned to his Teatro Museo. On January 23, 1989, Dali died of heart failure at the age of 84. Today he is buried in the crypt of his Teatro Museo; the place where he had his first art exhibit, just three blocks from the house where he was born, and across the street from the church where he was baptized, received his first communion, and finally where his funeral was held (The Biography Channel Website, 2012).