“I don’t do drugs, I am drugs” are the words of Salvador Dali, the legendary surrealist and perhaps the most bizarre of all painters! This eccentric genius produced over 1500 paintings along with several sculptures, figurines, novels, drama sets, screen plays and even short films. He even designed costumes and illustrated books.

Dali was one of the primary pioneers of the Surrealist movement which included artists like Picasso, Bunuel, Magritte and Miro. Surrealism involves a great deal of imagination and the application of symbolism to reflect a deeper reality. Dali used the technique of illusion or veristic realism, an exaggeration of reality. He unraveled his own dreams, fears, addictions and desires through his paintings. Dali’s favourite symbols were elephants, rhinoceros, eggs, Freudian objects and watches which he used repeatedly in many of his paintings. He juxtaposed a real life object/human/animal with the use of dreamy colours contrasted with a detailed texture. He boldly exposed controversial and tabooed topics like voyeurism, castration, violence, Oedipus complex and irreligion.

Persistence of Memorycompleted in 1931 is definitely Dali’s Magnum Opus and his greatest contribution to art. The imagery of melting watches that suggest the persistence of time is one of the finest and most famous metaphors ever used. The creature sleeping under a watch is a self portrait. A “spin-off” of this painting named The Disintegration of Perisitence of Memory is very intriguing too.

Metamorphosis of narcissus (1937)is my personal favourite. In this work, Dali recreates the story of Narcissus [the Greek dude who fell in love with his own reflection and died (of hunger?) because he could not stop staring at…er…himself!]. Ironically, Dali himself was a stubborn narcissist. The image of a sapling growing out of an egg is beautiful. It takes a genius to contrast the reflection of Narcissus with a hand figurine. The magical imagery in the milieu and the complex brush strokes are the work of a true master. This painting is also celebrated for Dali’s use of approximate symmetry and multiple symbols.

Temptation of St. Anthony (1946) is a veristic-narrative painting which takes a diverse approach on the biblical anecdote of St. Anthony. Dali blends realism and surrealism brilliantly by the use of his favourite “elephant symbol”. St. Anthony and the elephants stand for reality whereas their absurdly thin, almost spider-like legs depict surrealism. St. Anthony uses his cross to scare away the temptations of sex (depicted by an erotic nude woman), wealth (depicted by the elephants and a horse) and power (depicted by the decorated castle).

Homage to Newton (1985)is a bronze sculpture by Dali which shows Newton’s (or any scientist’s) qualities of “open heartedness”: suspended heart and “open mindedness”: open head. Dali’s Lobster Telephone (1936) became the most famous object of the surrealist movement.

An Andalusian Dog and Destino are two surrealist short films by Dali and his filmmaker friend Luis Buñuel. An Andalusian Dog is received praise for its scene showing the slicing of a human eyeball with a razor. The ‘ants crawling out of palm’ scene is pretty disturbing too. Producing such a film in those days was very expensive and Dali almost went bankrupt by the time the film was completed. Destino was an animated short in collaboration with Walt Disney. Dali started working on it in 1946 but could not complete it in his lifetime. It is an amalgamation of Dali’s paintings and animation. It was later released in 2003. Both can be found of YouTube.

Dali was more famous for his eccentric personality and “mad-man” tactics than his art! His wide-eyed antics in his photos annoyed many traditional critics. His experiments with his pet cats and his gaudy moustache did not go down well with many of his colleagues too. He went around claiming stuff like “he stole my dreams!” He never returned pens taken from fans when asked for an autograph. He avoided paying tabs at restaurants by doodling on the checks he wrote. His advertisement of Lanvin chocolates was hilarious. When he appeared on The Tonight show, he carried a leather rhinoceros and refused to sit on anything else. He produced a “film” called Impressions of Upper Mongolia in 1975, the story was sort of a treasure hunt for hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the imagery was based “on microscopic uric acid stains on the brass band of a ballpoint pen on which Dalí had been urinating for several weeks”!

Almost all of Dali’s paintings can be seen on http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/salvador-dali To know more about Dali you can watch Adrian Brody’s portrayal of Dali in Midnight in Paris and Little Ashes starring Robert Pattinson as Dali.

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Adwaita Bhagwat

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