Salvador Dalí is known for being one of the most avant-garde artists of the 20th century and generally throughout Western history. He took part in the Surrealist movement, founded by André Breton in 1924. This current had the unconscious as its engine of development, studied for the first time by Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, with his “The Interpretation of Dream”, published in 1899.
To the artists in this movement, only through one’s unconscious it was possible to understand the truth of human action and to achieve the freedom of the soul of every individual.
This required a continuous fight against every element of rationality, investigating what went beyond visible reality (from here, the term “surreality”) and making every aspect of the irrational prevail: from chance to the paradoxical, from play to magic. To envision to this form of reality, artists used different “ploys”, such as drugs, alcohol, magic games, and starvation.
Salvador Dalí’s art is well represented by “The murky world of paranoia”. He did not invent figures: instead, he took existing and “normal” images and placed them in decontextualize settings, giving them an impression of hyper-realistic hallucinations. Dalí utilized his art as a poetic transcription of his inner reality. He broke the inhibiting brakes of rational consciousness and the old conventions typical of an adult, giving them a sense of ultra-sensible visions: Salvador Dalí had no limits, neither in his private life nor in his art.
It was in 1929 that the artist interfaced the surrealist movement and decided to join this current. In the same year, he met Gala, the person who irremediably changed his life: she would later become his wife and inspirational muse.
A year later, he theorized his new paranoid-critical method, which consisted of the obsessive repetition of certain elements that concern the deepest part of the unconscious, for example sexual drives, death, family affections… this process included the observation of an object and its transformation into another one, with a sense of constant hallucination that changed the state of things.
An example of an object which represents his new method is undoubtedly the clock, an allegory of time and death often recurrent in his production. In particular, in the popular “the Persistence of Memory”, we can find four soft clocks, three of which we can see the front of (above the form, on the tree and the parallelepiped). They are soft because, while dreaming, time and space are deformed: the lengthening and shrinking of the environment depend on the topic and depth of the dream. In the artist’s opinion, this time is well-lived, complete and valuable, which is why we see the dial. The fourth clock, overtaken by ants, is dead and hidden: we can’t see the dial. It represents the idea of decomposition, wasting time without sleeping nor dreaming.
Dalí is also a true all-round artist: he did not limit himself to art in the sense of pictorial depiction but dedicated himself to art in all its facets. There is a perennial mixture of art, fashion and design.
An example is The Mae West Sofa, created by Dalí in the 1930s, with its peculiar sinuous lips shape and its ruby red color. It represents an icon of sensuality, innovation, and almost shock. Salvador was struck by the American actress Mae West, known for her voluptuous curves, shapely ruby-red lips, and exuberant, innuendo-laden mannerisms. The sofa became a design icon, still recognized as a masterpiece and reinterpreted in various editions. We recall the Bocca Sofa, produced by Gufram in 1970 and designed by Studio 65.
Dalí did not even limit himself to the world of design. He devoted much of his time to fashion and clothes designs intended as true works of art. The importance of the world of fashion to the artist is perfectly encapsulated famous quote of his: “dressing up is a way of fighting the greatest trauma of all: birth.”
He first approached this world thanks to Coco Chanel. He contributed with the stylist to the conception of costumes and set designs for theatre productions such as the Bacchanal in New York.
However, the pinnacle of his venture in the fashion world came when he met Elsa Schiaparelli: it was a meeting of two revolutionary and totally non-conformist personalities.
Their collaboration helped define contemporary fashion, and many of their pieces are still considered exceptional examples of the marriage between art and fashion in the early 20th century.
Dalí shared with Schiaparelli the need to break away from tradition, the past and everything that had always been considered ‘fashionable’. The most controversial and discussed piece of their collaboration is the famous Lobster dress worn by Wallis Simpson, the wife of Edward VIII, which will be discussed in the next lines.
Let us look at some of the most iconic dresses made during the Schiaparelli-Dalí collaboration. The first worthy of mention is the Lobster Dress, a perfect combination of art and fashion. This animal is a recurring element in Dalí’s works, representing, according to the artist, the pinnacle of eroticism. He placed the lobster on the white fabric of an evening dress, a color which had always been regarded as an unquestioned symbol of modesty. In doing so, Dalí breathed new life into the white dress, giving it an erotic meaning.
Another noteworthy creation of theirs is the skeleton dress, made in 1938. Dalí modeled the matelassé fabric to create bone-like features on the dress’s fabric, giving the dress a remarkable interplay of quilted reliefs that amplified the departure from tradition with a push towards innovation and eccentricity. It was worn by Ruth Ford, sister of the Surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford and a notable figure in cinema.
The duo also conceived accessories together, such as a belt depicting Mae West’s lips, at this point an obsessive element for the artist.
Dalí didn’t limit himself when it came to jewelry either: he sketched an entire gold collection, then manufactured by the New York artisan Carlos Alemany. Between 1941 and 1979 around 49 jewels were crafted. The Catalan artist transposed his typical paintings subjects, also key to the Surrealist movement, using a new medium. He let his fantasy portray religious figures and sacred elements, such as hearts, crosses and the Madonna. When reading the names chosen for the items, some renowned pieces on canvas are immediately recalled: The Eye of Time (1949), The Space Elephant (1961), the Royal Heart (1953).
All the pieces are unique, and the choices of materials, gems, dimensions and peculiar shapes communicate his taste for luxury and extravaganza, other than their traditional symbolic associations: gold, platinum, diamonds and rubies, but also sapphires, emeralds and pearls. Today the jewels are permanently exhibited at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Catalonia.
To the artist this new way of expressing his creativity was not less significant than any of his other creations. Through his jewelry he still transposed his daring perspectives, bizarre visions and Freudian symbolism. About it Dalí said: “Illusory! Dalínian jewels are totally serious. I’m glad that people smile at telephone earrings. A smile is something pleasant. But those earrings, like all my jewels, are serious […] They connote the speed of modern means of communication; the hope and the danger of an instantaneous change of thought.”
The most iconic element of the collection is The Eye of Time, made of platinum and rounded by diamonds, that compose also the teardrop cascading from the left corner. The Iris is made of blue and purple enamel, where a functioning watch appears with his signature.
We have already mentioned how crucial time is for Dalí’s production, and the previous
paragraph further proves that. The influence of Dalí’s work goes beyond painting and traditional artistic methods, and his attention for watches and their symbolism didn’t go unnoticed.
When observing at the Cartier Crash, one of the most wanted and exclusive watches ever produced, it’s impossible to leave the resemblance with the protagonists of The Persistence of Memory overlooked. Its origins are sometimes attributed to an anecdote dated back to the 60s, when a customer brought into Jean-Jacques Cartier’s boutique a watch deformed by fire. This said, it would be naive to exclude the Surrealist inspiration.
Lastly, to conclude our analysis on Dalí’s production and remark his deep influence on pop culture, it’s interesting to investigate his relationship with his times and cultural surroundings.
In the pre-WW2, where fast communications and the popularity of mass media was arising, the artist managed to leave his mark in one of the most important production companies (then and now).
In 1945 Disney hired Dalí to help in the ideation and realization of a short movie, Destino, that even if never completed due to the outburst of the war, was nominated to the Oscars and acclaimed by the critic. It was storyboarded by the artist himself, and his hand in the creation could not be more manifest: the scenes look like paintings come to life. In an enchanted spell, Dalí imaginative world starts to move, and his sensual, absurd figures constantly transform. The body of Dahlia, the fatally I’ll-loved protagonist, allegorically turns into a bell tower, a dandelion, a ballerina and a baseball.
In this article we have mentioned only few of the artistic adventures undertook by Salvador
Dalí, and we could go on discussing his multifaceted persona. He shaped the 20th century imagery, becoming a beloved, collected, fascinating and intriguing artist. Today his mustache and peculiar facial expressions are a trademark of the most relevant artist of the mid 1900s and are a recognizable symbol of irreverence.