Salvador Dali Biography

Born in Figueras. Gerona, 11 May 1904. Married Gala Eluard, 1934 (died, 1982). Attended Marist Friars School, Figueras, 1914-18; studied under Juan Nunez at Municipal School of Drawing, Figueras, and at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, Madrid, 1922-26; independent artist in Sitges, 1925-30, Paris, 1930-40, United States (mainly in Pebble Beach, California), 1940^8, and in Port Lligat and Figueras, Spain, since 1948; made films with Luis Bunuel (Un Chien andalou, 1929, and L'Age d'or, 1930), and designed ballets (Bacchanale, 1939, Labyrinth, 1941, Mad Tristan, 1944, Sentimental Colloquy, 1944, Cafe de Chinitas, 1944, Le Chevalier remaine et la dame espagnole, 1961); associated with Surrealist group in Paris; Dali Museums established in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in Figueras. Agent: Knoedler and Co., 21 East 70th Street, New York, New York 10021, U.S.A.

Salvador Dali has become known in the popular imagination as the painter of Surrealism. Likewise his paintings have become icons of the movement. Dalfs persona revealed an inborn sense of rebellion against all moral order; at the same time, he ceaselessly sought fame. His startlingly lucid images of dream have become accepted. There is more than an ironic paradox in the conflict between moral rebel and an almost slavish pursuit of the cult of one's own personality. There were many aspects of Dali's character which are similar to those of Andy Warhol. Self-publicity as art is one, and it is ironic that Dali outlived the younger iconoclast. Dali's art shared Pop art's willful ambiguity. The critic Aldo Pelligrini noted of Pop art in 1966, "an ambiguous mixture of the revolutionary and the conformist," and noted that Dali "aims fundamentally at the mystification of the spectator and his art is the art of the showman."

Crucial to Dalfs first Surrealist canvases was his idea of the "paranoiac-critical method," which he developed in 1929. The chief feature of this method of painting was the "double image" or "simulacre," by which Dali meant an optical illusion where one image reveals another hidden within it. The first painting utilizing the device of the "double image" was entitled The Invisible Man (1929-33). Andre Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement, enthusiastically embraced Dali's method, which the latter proclaimed as a radical device in subverting rationality. Throughout the 1930's Dali sought to "systematize confusion" through such optical devices, but. at the end of the decade, Breton and the Surrealists grew tired of what was increasingly appearing to be a gimmick. Not only had Dali embraced fascism, and irreverently applied the paranoid critical method to Lenin, but this activity appeared increasingly empty and at the service of Dalfs voracious desire for self-promotion. Breton christened him "Avida Dollars" and later wrote of him. "Monotony, genuine and profound monotony had already been lying in wait for Dali's work. By dint of always wanting to refine on his paranoiac method, Dali so reduced the content of his painting that it now resembles a sort of crossword puzzle."

At the age of 12 Dali first began to draw. In 1922 he went to the Academy of Fine Arts, Madrid, to study painting. Even as a youth Dali embraced the radical. His father had been an atheist and a republican; Dali' embraced anarchism. Dali's years at the Fine Art Academy were characterized by rebellion, and it appears much of his efforts were devoted to getting himself expelled from that institution, an event which finally occurred in 1926.

In contrast to the Academy of Fine Arts, the University Residence had a greater impact on Dali. There he befriended Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel. During this period Dali experimented with the advanced modern styles of Cubism and Purism. His works were also characterized by the influence of the Catalan Noucentisme. Dali's Portrait of Luis Bunuel (1924) partakes of the realism of this tendency. Surrealism emerged at this time, and this triumvirate can be viewed as the principal artistic figures assimilating its influence in Spain, although Dali and Bunuel would not become official adherents to the movement until 1929.

While in Madrid, Dali had assimilated the explorations of Cubism, Surrealism, and other avant-garde movements such as Ultraism. In 1922 Breton lectured in Barcelona and in 1925 Louis Aragon lectured in Madrid at the University Residence. Bunuel had participated in Ultraism tangentially as a contributor to reviews such as Ultra and Horizonte. On returning to Catalonia in 1926, Dali resumed such activity in the context of the review L'Amic de les Arts, published in Sitges, near Barcelona. Dali joined with Sebastia Gasch and Lluis Montanya to form the radical wing of this group. They adopted a Dadainspired, anti-artistic stance somewhere between Ultraism and Futurism. In 1928 Marinetti, the leader of Futurism, visited Barcelona and shortly thereafter Dali, Gasch, and Montanya signed the leaflet Catalan Anti-artistic Manifesto (known also as the Yellow Manifesto because of the color of the paper on which it was printed). While written in Catalan, this manifesto called for the abolition of the national dance, the Sardana, and the destruction of the historical, gothic quarter of Barcelona. By the time Dali joined the surrealists, he was already an enfant terrible.

During the Spanish Civil War, Dali embraced Catholicism and Monarchism. His later paintings reveal a mystical content as is evident in The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949) or in Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951). Dali's turn toward a more traditional iconography paralleled a mannered attention to style. Dali was fond of evoking the great academic masters Raphael, Velazquez, and Vermeer. As in the case of the mature de Chirico, an interest in technique paralleled this stylistic preoccupation, but Dali had the technical ability to achieve what eluded the Italian painter. Nevertheless, technical brilliance and stylistic bravado have proven to be both a triumph and stumbling-block, leading one to question the manifestation of any authentic content in Dali's paintings. Paintings like Anti-Protonic Assumption ( 1 956) are hard to take seriously and seem to do more to affirm the painter's virtuosity than his sincerity. Likewise Dalfs series of society portraits reveal more of a crass commercialism, somewhere between Mannerism and kitsch.

Dali was one of the more gifted artists of this century and his activities were not confined to the realm of painting. He was a prolific and brilliant writer of numerous books and essays. His earliest writings included insightful criticism which appeared in L'Amic de les Arts and in a variety of Surrealist publications in the late 1920's and 1930's. Most famous were his diary-style books, such as The Secret Life of Salvador Dali and Diary of a Genius, where fact is embedded in the fiction of Dalfs artificially created persona.

Dalfs contribution to film is perhaps of greater import. In 1929 he collaborated with Bunuel on Un Chien andalou, composed of a series of dHocated images arranged in a choppy narrative sequence, which Dali claimed was devoid of any meaning beyond "a simple recording of images." Most famous among these images are the opening close-up sequence, where a razor blade slices the eye of a woman, and the sequence where a man's efforts at approaching a woman, object of his desire, in the confined space of a room, are hindered by the burden he drags: two pianos laden with rotting donkeys. Attached to the ropes pulling the pianos are two priests, images of the moral bankruptcy Dali ascribed to the Catholic Church. The former was a shocking assault on the numbed sensibilities of the Parisian avant-garde, proclaiming the presence of dream ("the inner eye"); the latter is one of Dalfs favorite images of "putrefaction." Dalfs second collaboration with Bunuel, L Age d 'or, extends the use of anti-clerical imagery and provoked violent protest when it was screened at Studio 28. The most potent of its images was that of the survivors of the orgy at the Chateau de Selliny based on Sade's 720 Days of Sodom. Their leader undoubtedly resembles Jesus Christ. Following L'Age d'Or, Bunuel increasingly suspected Dali of opportunism and their friendship waned. Bunuel fondly remembered Dali in his memoirs My Last Breath (1982): "Despite all the wonderful memories from our youth and the admiration I still feel for much of his work, when I think about Dali I can't forgive him for his egomania, his obsessive exhibitionism, his cynical support of the Falange, and his frank disrespect for friendship. I remember saying a few years ago, during an interview, that I'd nonetheless like to drink a glass of champagne with him before I died, and when he read the article, he responded, 'Me too. But I don't drink anymore' ".