By David Mbué

Spanish born French artist Salvador Dali, was a renowned surrealist artist of the twentieth century. Dying at 85 in 1989, Dali was a household name, thanks to his prolific all-inclusive novelties in painting, printmaking, filmmaking, sculpture, fashion and advertising. At sixteen, his mother died, sparking off a mental disposition that drew out the surrealist in him. His bio at Biography.com states, “Dalí often related the story that when he was 5 years old, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation.” Apparently, ethereal fantasies shaped his perception of reality from infancy.

At Madrid’s Academia de San Fernando, Dali found artistic ideologies including Classical Renaissance, Metaphysics, Dada, Expressionism, Pointillism, Cubism, Futurism etc. He studied Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez and other notables. He tried styles of René Magritte, Pablo Picasso and the like, constantly affirming, “only after you have perfected techniques of the masters can you develop your own style” (Biography.com). Thanks to psychoanalytic concepts of Sigmund Freud, Dali found a way to mine imagery from the subconscious mind. By manipulating dreams, he obsessed with eroticism, death and decay and pushed reality to theatrical extremities. These became the identity of his work.

the-persistence-of-memory

Date 20th Cent.
Material Oil
Style Period The Western World, Global Revolution, 20th Century, Painting
Description Seashore; large cube pushes into picture-plane at L, truncated dead tree rising from end of cube, limb of tree rising from end of cube; faces of 3 clocks are draped over edge of cube, limb of tree and amorphous object lying in C foreground; back of watch or clock lies on top surface of cube; many ants are crawling on case; rocky promontory extends into sea which recedes into distant sky.
“The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dali
Repository New York: Museum of Modern Art
© artstor.org

For all his prowess, graphic design wasn’t one of his notable skills. However, surrealism as an artistic expression tackles sociopolitical issues via different art forms including graphic design. But he wasn’t just a surrealist; Dali was a superb realist as well. He left hundreds of paintings, sculptures, films and other artworks, but his 1931 painting Persistence of Memory is the piece for which he will be mostly remembered. The painting employs mystical imagery characteristic of his style. Juxtaposed against a setting sun is a heat scotched wasteland. A rocky ridge is on one side and a sea at the horizon line. Three clocks melting in the heat are centrally placed in the image. One is melting around the dry branch of a dead tree. The dead tree seems to have sprouted on top of a solid rectangular block at the lower left corner.  Half of the other clock melts down the side of the block, while the third melts above the carcass of a bizarre creature. The creature resembles a dead bird with exaggerated eyelashes and a wide open beak. The beak resembles a human nose. A smaller rusty clock resting on the solid block at the bottom left does not appear to melt. Instead, tiny black ants gnaw away at it. Behind the dead tree is another rectangular block like a solid metal plate shimmering under the heat.

The carcass, wasteland, dead tree, and ants represent death and decay. Melting clocks point to wasted time and everything that is subject to time. The color tonality is deliberately dreamy, the presence of water confusing and the entire image open to diverse interpretations. Though Deli established a unique artistic voice, his work is mystical and puzzling. Yet he inspired not only a new brand of surrealist artists but also pop culture musicians like Lady Gaga, top rated cologne manufacturers like Fragrance and other innovators.

 

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Salvador Dalí: The 2oth Century Surrealist

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