Salvador Dali St. George and the Dragon
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The surrealist Salvador Dali is considered to be one of the masters of 20th-Century art. His work juxtaposes a meticulous academic technique with depictions of hallucinatory characters in fantastic dreamscapes. He described his art as 'hand-painted dream photographs,' and had certain preferred and recurring images, such as the human figure with half-open drawers protruding from it, burning giraffes, and watches bent and flowing as if made from melting wax.
Salvador Domenec Felip Jacint Dali¬ Domenech was born May 11, 1904 in Figueras, Catalonia, Spain. His father, a prominent notary, encouraged his artistic inclinations and arranged for drawing lessons at age ten from the Spanish impressionist painter, Ramon Pichot. At eighteen, Dali moved to Madrid to study painting at the Academy of Arts. He developed a reputation as an eccentric, attracting attention with his manner of dress, hairstyle, and provocative comments on art. The artist experimented with forms of Cubism and Dadaism during his studies. Dali was expelled before final exams, after asserting that those judging his work were not competent enough to grade him.
After leaving the Academy, Dali went to Paris where he met Spanish painters Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. He established himself as the principal figure of a group of surrealist artists grouped around French poet Andre Breton. The surrealists hailed what Dali¬ called the 'paranoiac-critical' method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity. Essentially, it is the ability of the artist or the viewer to perceive multiple images within the same configuration and a process through which Dali found new and unique ways to view the world around him. Years later Breton turned away from Dali, accusing him of supporting fascism, excessive self-presentation, and financial greediness. He was officially expelled from the group in 1934, in part because of his controversial political views, and was henceforth spoken about by the surrealists in past-tense, as if he were dead. Breton later coined the nickname Avida Dollars for Dali, an anagram of his name meaning 'greedy for dollars.'
In addition to Surrealism, psychologist Dr. Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious -introduced to Dali¬ in Freud's book The Interpretation of Dreams- also strongly influenced Dali's work and philosophy. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Dali perfected the personal style that made him famous: a world of the unconscious that is recalled during one's dreams. In his work, he would juxtapose incongruous, unrelated, and often bizarre objects against desolate landscapes. This disturbing blend of precise realism and dreamlike fantasy became his hallmark.
In 1929, Dali met his wife-to-be Gala. Gala (born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova), a Russian immigrant eleven years his senior, was then married to the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. Dali and Gala were married in a civil service in 1934, and again in a church after Eluard's death. Gala was Dali's muse, inspiration, lover, and model, as well as his business manager.
Dali had his first one-man show in New York in 1933. With a $500 loan from Pablo Picasso, Dali was able to visit the United States for the first time a year later. In the late 1930s, he made several trips to Italy to study the art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, eventually becaming an admirer of Raphael.
In 1940, Dali and Gala claimed permanent residency in the United States in order to evade World War II. During his eight years in the U.S., Dali found great success, having a series of spectacular exhibitions, including a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also understood how the media worked and used it to its full potential. His attention seeking comments and flamboyant appearance -a long cape, walking stick, haughty expression, and upturned waxed mustache- helped raise him to celebrity status. He once famously said: "Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali." His persona brought him numerous patrons. He executed portraits commissioned by celebrities such as Helena Rubinstein or Jack Warner, designed jewelry for Coco Chanel, and even storyboarded the Walt Disney short film Destiny and designed a dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.
Dali had been producing limited edition prints as early as the 1930s, however the images he created in the 1960s with publishers Sidney and Phyllis Lucas are considered by collectors the apex of Dali's lithographs. His publishers encouraged the incorporation of classical themes with Surrealism, and together they assembled fascinating graphic works.
Gala died in 1982, and Dali's health deteriorated thereafter. He suffered from palsy, and had injuries from a suspicious fire in his house in Pubol in 1984. The end of his life was spent in seclusion, first in Pubol and later in his apartments at Torre Galatea. Dali died on January 23, 1989 in his birth town, Figueras.