Dalí, the total artist
Born in Figueres on the 11th of May 1904, Salvador Dalí stood out from an early age for his artistic ability and his strong personality. However, it was within the Surrealist movement that he found the opportunity to develop his ground-breaking vision of art.
Dalí died at the age of eighty-four in Figueres on the 23rd of January 1989 leaving behind a vast and unique artistic legacy.
His student years
Gifted with an innate talent, Salvador Dalí showed a keen interest in drawing and painting from a very young age. Thanks to the unconditional support of his mother and father, who were quick to grasp the enormous potential of their son, the boy was able to work on his skills both in school as well as in his free time and, thus, rapidly refined and improved on his technique.
Likewise, from childhood Dalí was exposed to all kinds of cultural trends developing outside official canons, such as the post-impressionist movements, a fact that helped him obtain a much broader and uninhibited vision of the artistic medium.
With this sound foundation of knowledge and growing experience, the young Dalí was amply prepared to embark on a promising academic career in the city of Madrid, where, besides being able to work on and perfect his range of skills, he also had the opportunity to move in the more vanguardist, intellectual circles of Spain.
Dalí and the emergence of Surrealism
After the First World War, Surrealism converted into one of the most influential avant-garde movements thanks to its revolutionary approach, which sought to transform human existence in order to create a better world. However, in the late 1920’s the movement was to reach a critical point.
The communist sympathies of the leader of the group, French poet and writer André Breton, caused the disaffection or opposition of those intellectuals who wanted to confine their actions to solely the artistic field. Furthermore, the author’s capacity for subversion seemed to be waining due to the repeated use of the same creative formulas. Within this context, the emergence of Salvador Dalí was essential in order to ensure the continuity of surrealist painting.
With an imagination and technical skill that was far superior to the majority of his peers, the Catalan painter took Surrealism to a new level and his contributions were far-reaching in both theory and iconography.
Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical method
Despite his identification with the Surrealist group, during the first half of the 1930’s Salvador Dalí differed from the rest of his colleagues of the time by developing a system of his own creation that he named the Paranoiac-Critical Method. With this unique technique, inspired partly by psychoanalytic studies conducted by Jacques Lacan at the time, the painter defended the interpretation of reality according to ones own particular obsessions.
One of the keys to the procedure devised by Dalí consisted of the development of double or multiple images, which were capable of unleashing the viewer’s imagination and giving rise to different interpretations. Dalí’s new artistic approach was praised by Breton, knowing that it could be successfully applied in the field of painting as well as in poetry and filmmaking.
By requiring the artist to play an active role and by asserting the validity of figurative art to represent the irrational world, the creative system designed by the Catalan artist renewed the methodology used traditionally by the followers of Surrealism, who until then had made use of the automatic drawing technique in order to express the ideas of the subconscious in a passive way.
The war and the subconscious
In the late 1930’s Europe entered a turbulent period with tragic consequences. In Spain, the rise of a faction of the army against the Republican government led to a bloody civil war that resulted in the establishment of a fascist regime headed by General Francisco Franco.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Adolf Hitler was managing to carry out his expansionist plans by means of an aggressive foreign policy that would trigger off the beginning of World War II. Forced to leave his homeland after the onset of hostilities, Salvador Dalí found this menacing environment to be a new source of inspiration for his work.
With full stylistic maturity, the painter successfully conveyed the anguish associated with war in order to create compositions that were as disturbing as they were thought-provoking, while at the same time continuing to experiment with the artistic possibilities of his Paranoiac-Critical method, enriching an increasingly popular symbolic universe.
Dalí’s exile in the United States
The Second World War led to the dismantlement of the European avant-garde scene. The German occupation of France and the Nazi persecution of modern art meant that many of the most influential people of the time, amongst them Salvador Dalí himself, made the decision to go to the United States.
This exodus of artists and intellectuals made the nucleus of cultural innovation move from the French capital of Paris to the city of New York, a dynamic metropolis where new experimental trends were rapidly emerging. The influence that Surrealism exerted on movements such as Abstract Expressionism reevaluated the figure of Dalí, who in prewar years had already undertaken an aggressive promotional campaign to curry favor with the North-American public.
Taking advantage of this pre-eminent position during his exile the Catalan painter worked on building up his legend, by starring in exhibitions in the most important of art galleries and by lending his talents to other types of media.
Dalí’s Nuclear-Mystical period
When Dalí returned to Spain in the late forties it was an ultra-conservative country where Surrealism had no place. The Franco regime, which considered that psychoanalysis was an immoral and unpatriotic practice, subordinated culture to its own propaganda interests, so that any form of expression liable to undermine the official ideology, which was based on the exaltation of the motherland and Catholicism, was persecuted.
At this stage of intellectual suffocation, Dalí reinvented himself as an artist, putting to one side surrealist art and painting. The exploration of the subconscious gave way to harking back to the Italian Renaissance style and the study of Spanish mysticism, such as the poet Saint John of the Cross.
The painter fused his interest in Classicism and religion with the latest advances in atomic theory, a world which had obsessed the painter following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That combination of faith and science brought with it the creation of the nuclear-mystical style, of which Dalí was the sole representative.
The final obsessions of Salvador Dalí
In the final lap of his career, Dalí saw his efforts recognised. Now transformed into an international celebrity thanks to his continual presence in the media, the Catalan artist became the subject of numerous retrospectives at major museums.
The exhibitions unveiled the artist’s work to new generations around the world, while confirming the validity of a legacy that Dalí never stopped expanding. In fact, in his last years the painter showed himself to be a multifaceted character, combining deep respect for tradition with experiments that pushed the boundaries of art.
Through the tributes to old masters, Dalí completely distanced himself from most of his contemporaries, showing his strong personality and meticulous technique, while with the adoption of new technologies such as holography, the painter formally renewed his work and deepened his concern for the visual relationship established between the canvas and the viewer.
The book to discover Salvador Dalí’s work
Reference model of the Surrealist Movement, Salvador Dalí is one of the greatest artistic exponents of the 20th century. This book on Salvador Dalí studies in detail the works of this genius of Surrealism.
The reader will find out about the meaning of his paintings, the historical context and his influences, as well as fascinating facts about the life and work of the ingenious creator.