Art is not created in vacuum. It forms as a product of cultural, economic and emotional upbringing of the artist. Dali’s inner world is vast and complex, and his symbols become the hints to discovering and understanding the artist’s true nature, his mind and soul. Almost every artist begins his journey at the same Start line. Dali sets himself on a path with the desire to learn painting, lacking the super powers. The Dali museum in St. Petersburg divides the art collection into several sections from his early works and anti-art to surrealism, nuclear mysticism, and masterworks. Housed in a sunlit, modern building, the show begins with his very early paintings he completes at the 13 years of age.
Early Dali art may shatter your perception of someone’s talent. It doesn’t look great. Dali early paintings show different styles and influences, mainly borrowing from the French impressionists and Fauvism.
Dali art styles & symbolism
Dali (1904-1989) is the most notorious surrealist artist. His artwork has been one of my major influences for many years, mostly because the artist is able to express his psyche in visual terms so well, painting the melting life inside him that goes far beyond his dream state. With remarkable skill, he renders tiny details on small panels and huge canvases alike. In his work, Dali elongates the natural forms and de-personifies people with sightless, stretched or egg-like faces. He scatters the symbols throughout his paintings, and turns the rational world upside down with his vivid, barren landscapes of complex stories.
Deeply influenced by S. Freud’s work “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Spanish artist explores the irrational and his dreams in the beginning of his professional career. The surrealists rejected the rational mind, horrified by the rootlessness of the world war I, and explored the irrational instead. Although Dali is the best-known surrealist in the group, not many of us know that the artist breaks away from the surrealist movement due to some irreconcilable differences steeped in social and political views. The museum in St.Pete explains that Dali didn’t like the surrealists’ ideas of commune living and sharing, and his desire for self-promotion and individuality led him to part with the movement in a decade after he first joined the group in 1929. But at that time the artist gets fascinated with the optical illusions, creating his double image paintings, challenging our perception of rational and irrational.
Dali is a notorious artist who is able to redefine himself and his mission after leaving the surrealists and entering the times of abstraction and subjectivity. He brands himself as a classical artist who loves Renaissance and aims to infuse his art with spirituality and classical ideals, unlike the abstract painters of his generation. He comes up with a new term the “nuclear mysticism,” and begins to paint huge canvases filled with the universal subjects, religious and historical themes. Influenced by the advances in science and technology, Dali’s late works (1949-1989) transform the surrealism style into monumental optical illusions, historical symbolism and the reverence for the universal. Besides having a number of solo shows in Spain and America, in 1974 he opens up his own museum in Figueres, Spain to house his art.
Art is not created in vacuum. It forms as a product of cultural, economic and emotional upbringing of the artist. Dali’s inner world is vast and complex, and his symbols become the hints to discovering and understanding the artist’s true nature, his mind and soul. Through his art Dali reveals many of his fears, such as his sexual fear of women and his intense relationship with his short-tempered father. Dali also had a brother. Also named Salvador, he died as a toddler less than a year before Dali’s birth. This family tragedy was deeply embedded within the artist’s psychic and affected his perception of himself. Numerous surrealist paintings project the artist’s sexual anxieties in his self-portraits with soft, stretched heads and figures.
In his paintings, Dali often explores the authoritarian rule of his father during the surrealist period, depicting his father faceless and indifferent. The artist also paints small, father-and-son figures representing former closeness. Small, distant figures give a feeling of warm memories the artist longs for. The surrealist landscapes often have the airless, orange-yellow glow that contrast the dark blue sky sky and the mountains.
One of the main subjects for Dali is women. He often depicts women deformed, stretched or as the cut-out figures during the surrealist period. He often depicts his nanny as an old figure with a cut out body supported by the crutches. Women often turn their faces away from the viewer to conceal the artist’s emotions towards women. In his late works women become Venuses, saints and symbols of female beauty for the artist.
During the surrealist period, Dali paints elongated figures supported by the crutches. The crutches represent a fear of impotence, death. In his work, rotting, limping bodies suggest the horrors of wars.
Ants and flies are symbols of death and decay, decomposing the pray.
Roses represent female beauty and sexuality.
Venus represents female love and beauty.
Melting watch represents the fluidity of time. The “Persistence of memory” is influenced by the discovery of the atomic energy and the sub-atomic world. Dali breaks the word into rational sub elements where Time stops limiting us. The image of the melting clock came to the artist after seeing a piece of cheese melting under the sun.
Melting, broken eggs are symbols of memories in the mother’s womb.
Keys represent unlocking the unconscious mind.
Piano represents a fond memory of summer concerts at the beach, and a scary memory of books his father placed on the piano that had the illustrations of the sexually transmitted diseases (St.Pete museum reference)
Gala: Dali’s muse & promoter
Dali was a tireless self-promoter. Together with his Russian-born wife and manager – Gala (Elena Ivanovna Diakonova) they worked on connections, marketing, and new job opportunities for the artist. Dali might not have achieved his fame during his lifetime, if he and his wife didn’t pursue those relationships. The couple lived between the U.S. and Europe, while Dali not only painted and exhibited his work in galleries, but also worked on his jewelry, opera sets and costume design. He also contributed to the art scene with his book writing, numerous illustrations, holograms production, and the creation of the dream-like sequences for Hitchcock’s film Spellbound.
It’s interesting to see how close Dali and Gala were, how she influenced the artist, and how strong their partnership was despite their open marriage arrangements. Considerably older and not a striking beauty, Gala captured Dali’s heart at once when they first met in 1929. She quickly began an affair with Dali, and became his life-long muse. Gala divorced her husband, French poet and one of the founders of the surrealists, Paul Eluard to marry Dali.
We can recognize Gala’s face in many of his paintings where she models for the artist both clothed and nude. Gala becomes a symbol of female perfection for the artist. In the Dali museum at St.Pete you see Gala in a double painting of “Lincoln” and as virgin Mary in “Columbus.”
Dali dies in 1989 after receiving the international acclaim with the retrospective shows in Germany, Spain, U.S.A, Holland, England, and Japan. Almost every artist begins his journey at the same Start line, but not everyone gets to the finish line. As artists, we go through several developmental stages, and only the persistent ones win. Dali succeeds threefold.
The Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL
Below you’ll find some of the Dali artworks shown at the Dali museum in St. Pete.
The Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL
The Dali museum houses a pretty vast, once private art collection of A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. They started their Dali collection in 1943. In 1982 the Dali museum in St. Pete was inaugurated. They simply ran out of wall space and decided to build a museum to gift their art collection to the public. What’s amazing to see here is how many artworks they acquired from one artist that included both huge canvases and tiny pieces, all of which hung in their house in Cleveland.
I recommend to sign up for the virtual tour of one of the Dali’s paintings on the 3d floor (free with admission). It’s really fun. Also, download the museum’s app that guides you through the collection. Check out their special events schedule and evenings at the museum.