“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí.”
Modesty, notably was not the noble characteristic of this Spanish painter, who walked this planet between 1904 and 1989. The above declaration, made in 1953 was more in the nature of the self-proclaimed ‘inimitable’ genius; a modern-day surrealist.
Dali had a mind of his own and wouldn’t let anyone tell him what was right or wrong – and that’s the mark of a great artist. He never could tow the line of the straight and narrow.
His uncommon appearance (The pointy, oiled moustache that befitted a stand-up comedian more than a sit-down painter), uncommon mannerisms, uncouth speech (at times) and bizarre brush strokes made his artwork stand tall amongst that of his more conformist peers.
Dali’s artwork defied all rules and conventions of his time. Driven to follow his own muse, he didn’t wish to lead or be led. He simply wished to paint the way it pleased him, so his work cannot be neatly consigned to any pre-existing school of art. Yet Salvador Dali was an artist. His unconventional work continues to inspire many, even to this day.
He must have been a little crazy, but then which artist isn’t? One of Dali’s most interesting, and less acclaimed accomplishments was his superb analysis of dreams. A master visualizer, he had complete confidence in his imaginative faculties and could boldly summon apparitions from his dream on his canvas in a manner no artist would ever have dreamt of doing.
Dali felt acutely drawn to the fantastical; the shadowy images that flit over the folds and fringes of our sleeping and waking states. Scientists believe this happens during our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage when massive physiological changes take place in our body, we breathe faster, our heart rate quickens, we perspire more, the pupils trapped in our eyelids begin to flit and our muscles gradually relax. The dreams that we have during this semi-wakeful, semi-drowsy state are always outlandish, vivid and fantastical. Intrigued by these dream apparitions, Dali experimented with elaborate, innovative ways of generating and capturing these bizarre images and later reproducing them in his work.
He would often meditate intensely over a tin plate, placed on the floor with a spoon dangling over it, while he quietly watched the motion, sitting on a chair. In the drowsy state that followed, the spoon would sometimes slide off from his hand and bang the plate, which is when he would abruptly wake up from his stupor and start dreaming all over again, putting aside the memory somewhere safe for his work.
Dali had tremendous faith in the meaning, logic and reality of his surreal impressions. He felt they try to communicate something meaningful to us, if only we’d listen and pay attention. Often what they convey also has a definite purpose and he used these sleep messengers as fodder for his imagination and as willing models for his work.
One legend has it that the owner of a fourth-generation funeral home once tried to ape Dali’s technique and he conjured up images of people gathered over steaming cups of coffee, engaged in animated discussions. This man discovered that his great grand-father had indeed owned a coffee store at the same spot where his funeral home stood.
The enterprising owner had a brain wave. He set-up a “Coffee Corner” at the funeral home. Business began to boom and he soon had to create more space for a business office, viewing room, a chapel and the funeral room now even has a Starbucks chain store!
Dali’s work and life are lessons to us in the power of the possible. Obsessed with the bizarre he was extraordinarily alive and buzzing with ideas.
That’s the legacy he’s left for us to inherit.
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