“Each morning when I awake, I experience a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dalí”
A madman. An extraordinary artist. A fame-obsessed, money-obsessed maverick. Whatever your conceptions about Salvador Dalí, there’s no denying that the man led an exceptional life, and it’s a life that has produced some of the most thought-provoking artwork of the 20th century. From melting clocks inspired by runny camembert, to lobster telephones, to films that are still making stomachs churn today – Salvador Dalí was certainly on another level. In this week’s Arts and Entertainments section, we’ll be exploring the life of this wonderful weirdo.
Dalí, a massive fan of the work of Sigmund Freud, was quite aware of the effect his childhood had on him. Born to two deeply loving parents in the town of Figueres, Spain in 1904, Dalí’s childhood was charmed, to say the least. According to the artist himself, when he awoke each morning he was asked by his mother “Sweetheart, what do you wish? Sweetheart, what do you want?” Absolutely, this sort of treatment planted within Dalí the seed of what would quickly blossom into his entitled, superior attitude of a little prince which would remain with him his entire life, even as an old man: “I am Da-lí. Da-lí. You must bring me presents. I adore presents.”
Though not academically talented (at one stage in primary school he actually forgot the alphabet), young Salvador’s talents were quickly noticed by his teachers, and he was sent to drawing school in Figueres where his ability flourished. Later, however, when Salvador got older and moved on to study in Madrid, he felt restless and smothered by the rigid, classical teachings of his professors. He wrote: “[I] immediately understood that those old professors covered in honours and decorations could not teach me anything.” He believed them unworthy of judging his work. Nonetheless, this time was a formative one in Dalí’s life, because it was at the Resí, the hall of residence, where the artist would meet his closest and most influential friends.
Friends and Muses
At the Resí, Salvador befriended filmmaker Luis Buñuel and poet Frederico García Lorca. Intense friendships no doubt, the relationship between Dalí and Lorca was particularly fiery. Both would be driven to rage by trying to compete with the other to become the leader of the group, and Dalí was intimidated by Lorca’s brilliance. Soon, they became infatuated with each other. Lorca wrote beautiful poetry addressed to the artist, and Salvador would paint Lorca as the divine figure of Saint Sebastian. Frederico did eventually try to seduce Salvador, but according to Dalí,who came from a devout Catholic household, nothing happened.
Salvador Dalí loved celebrity culture. He famously dined with Andy Warhol & met him at his Factory, and celebrated socialites Nanita Kalaschnikov (yes, that Kalaschnikov) and Amanda Lear were lovers and muses. The Beatles were Dalí-obsessed, too; famously, George Harrison hopped the wall at Salvador’s Port Lligat home and asked for a hair from his moustache (Good thinking, George. Hairs from Dalí’s notorious moustache would later be worth around $300,000).
Film and Photography
Though he’s best known as a painter, Salvador Dalí had a keen interest in film and photography, and was fascinated by the camera’s ability to capture its subjects with such precision. With his close friend, Luis Buñuel, Dalí created what is still regarded as one of his most startling pieces of work, Un Chien Andalou. Film and cinema were still only at their early stages, and the artists’ creation was horrifying for many of its audience. Scenes from Un Chien Andalou include ants crawling out from a hole in a man’s hand, a donkey corpse rotting on top of a piano, and – perhaps its most disturbing scene – an eerily calm man slitting a seated woman’s eye open, leading to an outpouring of fluid (the scene was created by superimposing a shot of a dead animal’s eye being cut open upon the woman’s face). Worried that the horrendous film might cause the audience to become violent, Luis Buñuel showed up to the film’s premiere with rocks in his pockets.
Dalí and Gala
As a child, Salvador Dalí was fascinated by his teacher, Esteban Trayter’s, art collection. One day, Trayter brought into his class a fine painting, of a young Russian girl wrapped in luxurious furs, to show his students. Dalí was enthralled by this painting as a young boy, and later believed it to be a painting of his darling future wife, Gala.
Dalí and Gala were an infamous couple, no doubt; despite being poor as beggars and never paying their taxes, they travelled the world living a lavish lifestyle full of fine clothes, feasts, and wild parties. Allegedly, Gala would travel from place to place, towing massive suitcases filled with money with her to dispense in bank accounts around the globe.
Gala was a formidable character, and Dalí was enamoured by her his whole life. She was ten years his senior and they had an open relationship. At one stage, Dalí bought Gala her own castle. Here, Gala would live with a string of lovers, such as Jeff Fenholt, and Dalí could only visit if he had received an invitation. When was invited, he always brought beautiful presents. Despite their separate living arrangements, Gala and Dalí reigned as king and queen of their own little court, the monarchs of some devoted groupies who were given loving nicknames like ‘Louis VIV’ (This was Nanita Kalaschnikov) and ‘Christ’ (usually applied to male models).
The end of Gala and Dalí’s life together was bleak – subdued by prescription drugs and unable to paint when Gala died, Dalí locked himself in her room and refused to eat. Dalí was consumed by mourning, ‘like a child abandoned by his mother’. He died a few years later, soon after being visited by the King of Spain at his hospital bed.
Salvador Dalí remains one of the most groundbreaking artists of the 20th century. He inspired the next generation of artists, including Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, and his is a name that evokes images of the weird, the wonderful, and the downright disturbing. It is not one that is easily forgotten. Dalí’s legacy is even survived by a crater on the planet Mercury, which is named for him. A fitting tribute, since I think it can be universally agreed that Salvador Dalí’s was a character that did not seem to be entirely of our world.