Salvador, Feliz cumpleaños! (Born, 1904, 11 May)
We had to write out the phrase Avida Dollars, to ensure that it was what we thought: the best anagram ever. Devised by Andre Breton for Salvador Dali, it nicely encapsulated the leftish surrealists’ resentment of Dali’s over-developed commercial sense, and most of all, his success. Since Hitler’s rise occurred about the same time, they tried to smear him as a fascist as well. As Clive James so justly wrote, Marxism will always be popular among artists without talent, since it allows them to blame society for the fact no one wants to hear what they have to say.
Not that Dali was blameless; he was just gloriously Dali. Indeed, as he maintained, he was surrealism. At the risk of being glib, he was the flip side of impressionism. As rendered by Dali, one of those people who vividly recall, or imagine, their dreams, images appear on the canvas in a wild Freudian melange, but drawn with absolute precision. As opposed to the impressionist approach of ‘subjectifying’ actual sense data.
But like most if not all labels, the surrealist tag is pretty unhelpful.
Dali makes a related point in his Diary of a Genius when he quotes Montaigne – “There is a greater difference between one man and another than between two animals of different species.”
In Venice, 9 May 2013, TVC caught ‘The Dali Universe’ at Museo S. Apollonia, just around the corner from S. Marco. This comprised etchings, gouaches, lithographs and sculpture, the former his unique takes on literature, mythology, religious iconography and historical events; the latter crystalising various painted brands such as melting clocks, elephants with legs like stilts and so on. Dali anticipated Warhol and Koons in his production techniques and truth to tell, there is something empty about these later works, despite the precision in execution.
In May 2013, TVC found a wider and impressive array of graphic and replicated works on permanent display at Potsdammer Platz. Ants, flies, lobsters, clocks, lions…As Dali said, “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.”
He did various graphics, displayed in the Berlin collection, inspired from the canon:
A series of lithographs of various scenes from Don Quixote, that Dali maintains he did by firing (from an arquebus) bullets at stones filled with lithographic ink. Thanks to the benevolent oversight of St James, all of the spatter organised itself, we are told, into the correct components of the desired image, a conceit of which Cervantes would have approved.
In 1960, he exhibited 100 illustrations for the Divine Comedy. He commented that he had again made “nonsense of abstract art, which is dying of envy. When they ask me why I have depicted hell in bright colours, I answer that romanticism committed the ignominy of making us believe that hell was as black as the coal mines of Gustav Doré where you cannot see a thing. All that is wrong.”
In 1969, Dali created 21 dry point etchings to illustrate the publication of a text version of Tristan und Isolde. Incidentally, Dali’s moustache is, so he claimed, a reaction against the luxuriant one of Nietzsche: “Mine was not to be depressing, cataclysmic, crushed under by Wagner’s music and fog!”
His work endures, not because he was a superb self-promoter (as was Picasso), but because it is singular, it is genuinely strange, it displays a beautiful sense of discretion and felicity in choice and application of colour, and his draftsmanship is magnificent.