The Man Behind The Mustache

The Life and Work of Salvador Dali

By John Adams

dali2Salvador Dali was arguably one of the few artists who became as well-known for his personal style as he was for his surreal oil paintings. From his licorice whip mustache to his google-pop eyes, Dali’s carefully cultivated image became a living work of surreal human art. In October, the newly renovated Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg will be featuring 13 of the artist’s oil paintings on loan from the Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. We thought we would take that opportunity to look back on Dali’s life and work.

A different reflection
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech was born in 1904 (just nine months after the death of his brother, also named Salvador) in the town of Figures, Spain. When he was 5 years old, Dali’s parents took him to his brother’s grave and told him that he was a reincarnation, a story he came to believe.  Of his brother, Dali would later remark: “… We resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections … ” His brother often appeared in Dali’s later works, including “Portrait of My Dead Brother” (1963).

dali2From an early age, Dali exhibited a duality of artistic prowess and scientific curiosity – perhaps he and his brother’s combined intellect? At the age of 12, after attending drawing school, Dali discovered modern painting during a summer vacation trip with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist who regularly traveled to Paris.

After being expelled from university in 1922 for supposedly causing student unrest, Dali spent the next several years moving beyond his admired talent for classical realism. His affinity for experimentation allowed him to see through the “real” and propel him into the dream world that was the surrealist movement.

Media and muse
Dali teamed with surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel in 1929 for the short film “Un Chien Andalou.” In it, he created one of the most shocking images seen on film – an eyeball horizontally split with a razor blade, which brilliantly encapsulates Dali’s bending of reality and illusion. That same year, Dali met his lifelong love, muse and inspiration – his future wife Gala. Over the next 50 years, Gala would appear in various forms in Dali’s paintings.

His seminal work, “The Persistence of Memory,” was painted in 1931. The piece introduced the world to Dali’s surrealistic depictions of melting clocks, barren landscapes, the brutality of the natural world, and the rejection of time as a rigid entity – themes he would revisit throughout his career.

Infinite jest
Even later in life, Dali’s unquenchable curiosity would lead him to a variety of unusual media and processes, including: pointillism (for which Roy Lichtenstein is perhaps best known), bulletism, sculpture, filmmaking, writing, fashion photography, and the use of stereoscopic and holographic images.

In his last years, critics would chastise Dali for his outrageous antics, while his collectors would dismay at what they felt was a “selling out” of his image. After the death of his beloved wife in 1982, Dali apparently attempted suicide a number of times and in the strangest ways, including self-dehydration and self-immolation. Before his death in 1988, Dali’s guardians would allegedly coerce the mentally withdrawn Dali to sign blank canvases that would later be used for forgeries. I can’t help thinking that this amalgam of reality and trickery may have appealed to Dali – the ultimate perpetrator of illusion.

Learn more about Dali and the upcoming Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia exhibit by visiting the Salvador Dali Museum website at:

Left to right: Apparatus & Hand; Eggs on a Plate Without the Plate; Bed and Two Night tables; Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire; Nature Morte Vivante

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The Man Behind The Mustache