Dali's childhood urge was to be a cook, but he started painting at the age of six. Soon he showed signs of aggression and was sent away by his parents to live with a family friend, Pitchot, also an artist. Dali's earliest influences were indeed Pitchot's work and many of his paintings furnished the washroom he spent so much time in. Dali's childhood was full of perverse and sadistic elements that were to become a major part of his symbolist paintings. The
washhouse, where Dali used to hideaway, became the source of many of these image-inducing experiences. He used to fantasise there, as a boy, about the local blossom-picker. He fuelled his fantasies by using two large melons supported upon crutches, to simulate the buxom young lady.
His desire to do the exact opposite of his friends and stamp his uniqueness upon the world sought to precipitate itself in violence. In one such incident, Dali, while walking with a friend, pushed him off of a fifteen foot high bridge onto the rocks below. Further, Dali almost numbed the situation by watching the companions mother take bowls of his blood out of the room and calmly ate a bowl of cherries. Dali's acts of sadism and masochism didn't cease with time. One of his sources of enjoyment was throwing himself down stairs. 'The pain'
he said, 'was insignificant, the pleasure was immense'
. Pleasure and pain seemed intimately entwined. Dali wanted both. One other childhood incident of note included a wounded bat. It was kept in Dali's washhouse hideaway and stayed there overnight. When Dali returned to it was being devoured by a mass of ants. He impulsively bit into the seething mass delirious with pleasure. Much of the aforementioned is present in Dali's symbolism, for example the crutches, the ants and the cherries. However, Dali's imagery had another culprit - his very own blood. By this I mean his natural circulation - Dali used to stand on his head for substantial periods of time to induce hallucinatory images.
Amongst Dali's most famous friends were Picasso and Freud. Indeed much of the surrealist movement can be paralleled with the work of Freud at that time. Psychoanalytic theory purported to explain and interpret dreams, hidden unconscious desires and the tapestry of symbolism thereof. This is the foundation of the surrealist movement. Picasso's influence can be seen in Dali's experimentation with impressionism and cubism before joining the surrealist movement in 1929. Dali soon went into film and produced "Un chien d'andalou" with Luis Bunuel , famous for its slitting of the eye image and the symbolic ants crawling out of the man's arm. Dali developed his paranoiac critical method soon after this in 1933.
Dali broke away from the surrealist movement in 1931 due to his reactionary nature. Breton coined his nickname Avida Dollars- an anagram of Salvador Dali - to denote his idea that Dali sold out. It is also purported that his praise of Hitler and monarchist leanings led to his expulsion from the surrealist group and was no longer attending meetings by 1934. Time did not dampen Dali's eccentricity and in the same year as he married Gala, 1958, he also lectured at the Spanish Theatre d'etoile with a 12 metre loaf of bread.
Some of the symbols used in Dali's paintings and sculptures and where they arose: Ants, Flesh
- from the aforementioned encounter with the wounded bat. Food
- This comes from Dali's childhood urge to be a cook. "Cooking is very close to painting"
he once said, "When you are making a dish you add a little of this and a little of that. It's like mixing paints". Cherries
- this is from the eating of a bowl of cherries at his friend's bedside. Fried eggs
- from his intra-uterine images. Phalicism
- Freudian influence Teeth
- Also Freudian, supposed to symbolise sexuality Crutches and melons
- from the fantasising in the shed. Instruments of mutilation
- a reflection of Dali's sado-masochistic nature Impotence
- Dali's preoccupation with and fear of sex, impotence and association with Freud. Anti-Automaton/Mass production
- a theme of surreal artwork Double
- from his 'paranoic critical' method (see later)
Dali's paranoiac critical method involved a kind of self induced psychosis. It was essentially the wilful distortion of reality until one could see wild visions jumping out of ordinary objects. The idea was the use of double imagery in order to "...systematize confusion and contribute to the total discrediting of the world of reality".
Dali would stand on his head to induce hallucinations as inspiration. One example is that of the following picture, Le surrealisme au service de la revolution, 1931, which, when viewed on it's side resembles a face. There were many more like this in Dali's work.Breton saw his paranoiac critical technique as isolated levels of delirium: " Dali's first rate intelligence excels at reconnecting these levels to each other immediately after the event, and at gradually rationalising the distance travelled. The primary material of his work is furnished by the visionary experiences, the meaningful falsifications of memory, the illicit ultra-subjective interpretations which compose the clinical picture of paranoia, but which to him present a precious lode to be mined"
"The two greatest strokes of luck that can happen to a painter are (1) to be Spanish, (2) to be called Dali"
"When I was three I wanted to be a cook. At the age of six I wanted to be Napolean. Since then my ambition has increased all the time"
"One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion that the world of dreams"
"When I paint, the sea roars. The others splash about in the bath"
"You have to systematically create confusion - it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life." - 1980
"People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings" - 1980
"Painting is only a minute part of my genius" - 1980
"Politicising is the worst mistakes an artist can make, Nobody knows whether the Venus de Milo was communist or fascist" - 1980
"The ends of my moustache are radar aerials with which I guess everything that happens in the world around me and that people think throughout a day"
"The desire to survive and the fear of death are artistic sentiments"
Salvador Dali's museum was built while he was alive and is in his birthtown of Figueras. There is a great deal of multimedia material in the museum and some of it has mechanical and illusory qualities. One particular piece is a picture of some butterflies, beautifully painted in themselves. However, when you look into a silver bottle at the reflection of the painting, at a certain angle one can se the vision of a beautiful woman. This is a good example of Dali's double imagery found in his paranoiac critical method and also of some ingenious geometric insight.
Dali died in his birthtown of Figueras on January 29th
1989 However he is still regarded as the epitome of surrealism