Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) was born in in Figueres, Spain. Unlike Dali’s lawyer and notary authoritarian father, his mother indulged his eccentricism and encouraged him as an artist from his earliest days.
He is said to have been a fiercely intelligent child, but often quick to anger, which led to clashes with his friends and strict father. His fiery temperament also sometimes resulted in cruel, harsh behavior towards him by those who were older and stronger.
He started drawing at a very early age, from which it was immediately obvious that he was unusually talented. His parents built him his first studio at their summer home in the coastal village of Cadaques before he had even entered art school.
In 1916, having seen the pieces that Dali was already producing, they sent him to a drawing school at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres, Spain.
Dali didn’t take the institution or his role as an academic too seriously. Instead the artist took what he found in the creative environment and channeled it into developing his (later famed) eccentric identity and persona in the drawing school.
Dali found his family holiday home to be a more inspirational environment than the drawing school. He was more influenced and affected by discoveries of modern paintings that he came across in Cadaques, and by a chance meeting of Ramon Pichot, a local artist.
A year later, Dali enjoyed his first solo exhibition, which comprised of a collection of his charcoal drawings, shown in the family home and organised by his father.
He was just 15 when his first official exhibition which was open to the public was held at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres.
In 1922 Dali was accepted to the Academia de San Fernando, Madrid. The artist was exposed to many new ideas and styles while attending the Academia, he also developed many aesthetic interests there in such as Metaphysics and Cubism, which only helped to feed his ever-more flamboyant character and its manifestations.
Although he was now older and more mature, Dali still wasn’t particularly suited to academia. His rebellious, anti-authoritarian tendencies resulted in him being suspended from the institution for criticizing his tutors, and supposedly starting riots among the students.
Studying at the school, however, did give him the opportunity to explore masters of various periods, which saw him develop myriad interests in renaissance and baroque classicism, alongside extreme modernist ideas such as Dada-ism. He assimilated diverse techniques and perspectives, reforming them through his own individuated methods.
His original talent, and precise skill as an artist was already widely acknowledged by all who encountered his work, but his first solo show in 1925 in Barcelona provided the opportunity for Dali’s work to reach a wider audience.
From 1926, the artist travelled to Paris frequently where he became heavily involved with the surrealists, largely dominated by Andre Breton, who had previously been a champion of Dada-ism. He also met often with artists and intellectuals such as Picasso, whose painterly style Dali can be seen to emanate in a few pieces from the time. Miró, poet Paul Éluard and René Magritte, were also key surrealists with whom Dali associated.
As well as providing a fresh conception of direction, this group also embodied a creativity that was profusely multidisciplinary- most of these artists were painters, sculptors, printers, writers and intellectuals simultaneously. Artistic inquires into Futurism, Impressionism and Cubism dominated this period of Dali’s career, with distinct concern for particular symbolisms – sexual, ideographic and existential reoccurring persistently.
The successes of Dali’s 1925 show were cemented in 1928 when three of his pieces were shown in the third annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh. The exhibition resulted in Dali now being an internationally known artist. Other shows quickly followed; in 1929 he held an exhibition in Paris.
Association with the Surrealists fitted perfectly with Dali’s previous enquiries into the metaphysics and the nature of reality. He was fascinated by the concept of the unconscious, and flirted with the writings and ideas of Freud, which emanated through his works throughout his career. Like Picasso, eroticism, mortality, decay, and the limitations of perceptions, of logical understanding of the world, are key issues that are evident in many, if not most of his works.
The political unrest of Europe permeated literature and art, and it is perhaps that these unavoidable tensions were influencing artists which led Dali to state: “Don't bother about being modern. Unfortunately it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid.”
Dali’s modernism is in fact particularly interesting for the fact that his style of painting and technical skill is inherited directly from his studies of classical painters such as Raphael, Diego Velázquez, and Bronzino.
In 1929, the artist also turned his hand to another craft - adopting the medium of film through which to further develop his creative visions. Collaborating with Luis Buñuel to produce the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), Dali had now added scriptwriting to is ever-growing repertoire of artistic talents.
He would later work in film again with one of the most respected film-makers in cinematic history- Alfred Hitchcock. Besides this and painting, he became celebrated for his work as a sculptor, craftsman of jewellery, printmaking, and work in fashion and advertising.
Dali’s work was always both fresh, yet rooted in classic and high culture because of his taste regard for classic art and literature. A perfect example of this is a range of etchings he produced, Much Ado About Shakespeare. He had previously created illustrations and etchings to portray scenes and characters from various novels and plays, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Goethe’s Faust, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but for Dali, Shakespeare was the pinnacle of great writing- incorporating both impeccable writing, and many of the esoteric themes which intrigued the artist and inspired his own unconscious creations. Dali was fascinated by Shakespeare, and returned to his work time and again to create etchings and prints which brought fresh life- a classic modernity, to the work of his hero.
The artist employed an impressive number of unusual techniques, particularly in the later years in career. Such techniques include creating optical illusions, and working with negative space, visual puns and various visual effects such as trompe l'œil .
He was one of the first artists to use enlarged half-tone dot grids, and experimented with pointillism. Dali can also be seen as pioneering in the way that he adopted holography into artworks. Andy Warhol would later claim that Dali’s visionary experimentations made him of the most important influences on Pop art.
In 1931, Dali created The Persistence of Memory, which was to become of his most famous works. It is the epitomising example of both his perfect skill as a painter, and the dreamlike way that Dali depicted metaphysical explorations of time and absolute reality.
The artist enjoyed a very long career, always in the public eye for various incidents emanating from his eccentricism. One such incident was his addition to the New York World’s Fair in 1939, where he created a fashion exhibition for which he used various seafood and food stuffs to clothe nude models. His tempestuous artistic, and political associations also meant that Dali was always the source of some public interest.
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