Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Welcome to the Dali Dimension

Surrealist painter Salvador Dali has always had a mixed reputation -- on the one hand, a brilliant, innovative artist, and on the other, an outrageous, arrogant, money- and publicity-loving showman. This split identity dates back as early as 1934 when a mock trial was held and Dali was expelled from the Surrealist movement. He was criticized even then as being a clown who trivialized his work by his public antics. This dismissive attitude toward Dali's work continues to this day.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water -- the man was a genius!

Nowhere is this case made more convincingly than in Director Joan Ubeda's award winning documentary, Dali Dimension: Decoding the Mind of a Genius (2008). The film explores an under-recognized but substantial part of Dali's genius-- his relationship with the science of the twentieth century and how it influenced his work.

Dali Dimension includes interviews with leading experts in science who talk about their experiences with Dali, as well as rare clips of interviews with Dali himself. If you want to fully understand this complex and often outrageous man, you need to see this film.

Dali had a life-long obsession with scientific writing and aspired, like the Renaissance masters, to merge art and science. As he explains it:

"Every painter paints the cosmogeny of himself . . . Dali paints the atomic age and the Freudian age, nuclear things and psychoanalytic things."

Even Dali's "crown" signature was inspired by a scientific image. The crown of milk was taken from a stroboscopic photo of a drop of milk by American engineer Harold Edgerton first created in 1936.

Dali "crown" signature

Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, first created 1936 © MIT 2011. Courtesy of MIT Museum. (For more information go to http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/ )

Early in Dali's career he was fascinated by the role played by dreams in Sigmund Freud's theories of psychoanalysis and strove to develop a pictorial representation of the hidden world of the unconscious. We see Freud's influence in early paintings such as the Great Masturbator and Accommodations.

Salvador Dali, The Great Masturbator, 1929, oil on canvas, 110 cm x 150 cm, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
In 1938 Dali traveled to London to meet Freud (who had fled to London from Vienna to escape the Nazis). Dali says of the meeting:

"I made a scene there. I showed him The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. He liked it a lot and said: 'I realize that I haven't really understood the surrealists. I thought they were drunkards and drug addicts. Now I'll take them more seriously because this painting . . . ' I told him 'forget about the painting . . . I would like you to read my thesis on critical paranoia.' But he turned to the painting again, and I insisted that he read my scientific thesis. I banged on the table and said: 'I want you to read it this very night!" Freud was taken aback and said to Stephan Zweig, 'I have never seen such a perfect example of a Spaniard . . . The man is a fanatic.'"

Dali was also fascinated by the work of physicists Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg who were studying the nature of matter at the atomic level and laying the ground work for quantum mechanics. After the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 Dali showed an even greater interest in nuclear physics.

When asked about nuclear physics in an interview, Dali replied:

"The modern atomic age is very gay. Nothing is more gay than the collision and the explosion of intra-atomic conflicts of nuclear physics. . . For me the more happy thing is nuclear, these terrific conflicts about electrons and penisons [sic] and atoms is everything jumping and rumping [sic] in a completely extraordinary eurhythmic feeling."

Salvador Dali, Exploding Raphaelesque Head, 1951, oil on canvas, 43 x 33 cm., Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, UK
In a 1959 homage to Nobel Prize winner Sever Ochoa Dali wrote:

"Though I am no scientist I must admit that scientific developments are all that guide my imagination and illustrate my poetic intuitions of traditional philosophers until they achieve dazzling beauty in certain mathematical structures or in the sublime moments of abstraction which, on the electronic microscope appear like a polyhedra-shaped virus confirming what Plato said: 'God always does geometry.'"

Other scientific principles that fascinated Dali and were often incorporated in his work are the golden mean, 4-D representation, holograms, antimatter and the DNA double helix. In 1985, at the age 81, Dali hosted the Figueres Congress at the Dali Museum. The theme of the congress dealt with the role of chance in nature. In attendance were Nobel Prize winners, artists, writers and musicians. Unable to attend because of poor health, Dali watched the entire proceedings on closed-circuit TV.

Dali died January 23, 1989. By his bed were books by physicists Stephen Hawking, Erwin Schrodinger, and mathematician Matila Ghyka.

Click here to buy the DVD from Amazon.com

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Closing reception and artist's talk, Sunday, May 1, 2-5pm

1 comment:

  1. Great connection between Dali and physics. He typically gets pegged to psychoanalysis but the science connection seems just as fruitful.