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Died: 23rd January 1989
Salvador Dali (May 11, 1904-January 23, 1989) is a central figure in the Surrealist movement whose career is characterized by constant evolution and experimentation in the realms of painting, sculpture and film. Like other Surrealists, Dali's work is influenced by a fascination with transforming the world of dreams and the unconscious into a tangible visual language.
Dali was born in Figueres, a small town near Barcelona and trained at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. His first one-man show was held in 1925 in Barcelona, but it was his inclusion in the 2nd annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh three years later which helped garner international recognition. Dali's combination of precise painting and unusual subject matter, from which famous motifs such as ants, melting clocks and disassembled bodies emerged, was informed by Freud, psychoanalysis and paranoia. Dali’s works are often sensual renditions of desire and fantasy. The result was highly complex compositions and visual symbolism. Characteristic of the works of this period are odd objects scattered across barren landscapes, most famously The Persistence of Memory (1931), teeming with ants (a Freudian symbol for sexual desire) and littered with melting clocks, creating a hallucinatory, dream-like work that has become synonymous with the Surrealist movement as a whole. In describing Surrealism, Dali wrote: “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” Dali’s affiliation with the Surrealists was, however, fraught with tension which stemmed from his unwillingness to conform and his approach to self-promotion. In 1934, Dali was "expelled" from the Surrealist group and for the rest of his life created works which defied characterization.
In 1941, Dali finished his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, which intermingled factual and fictional scenes from his life. At the outbreak of World War II, Dali along with lover and muse Gala Eluard fled to the United States in self-imposed exile. Although celebrated for his paintings, Dali was also a passionate and innovative filmmaker. His 1929 film, Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) was a collaboration with director Luis Brunuel, has become a classic example of avant-garde cinema. The film lacks a definitive narrative. Instead, it is informed by the Freudian notion of free association, jumping from scene to scene, including the now infamous scene of an eyeball being slit in half. Later films by Dali include collaborations with the likes of Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock.
Continuing in the vein of experimentation, Dali’s later works were characterized by an interest in the sciences, particularly physics, and a return to classicism and the stylistic tropes of the Italian Renaissance. Religious subjects were also commonly explored, in works like Christ of St John of the Cross (1951), in which Dali continued to experiment with optical illusions and strange perspectives, which characterizes his earlier works as well. As Dali’s health deteriorated, the output of artworks decreased, while the number of international exhibitions of his work grew in number. By the time Dali passed away in 1989, he had already become one of the most well-known and important artists of all-time, remembered for his eccentricity, experimentation and definitive role in the history of modern art.
Watch an excerpt from a 1986 documentary on Salvador Dali:
Watch the first part of Un Chien andalou with commentary from Robert Short:(read less)
Techniques & Media: Drawing, Film and Video Art, Painting, Print, Sculpture
Inspirations & Key Themes: Dreams, Freudian theory, Imagination, Old Masters, Science and Nature, Subconscious, Time