Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term “Surrealism” in 1917. Thereafter, it became a word used often by great artists such as André Breton, Paul Éluard, and other contributors to the Surrealist magazine “Littérature”.
The authors of “Littérature” paid close attention to the outlandish genres and avant-garde experiments of the time, focusing their interest on magic, dreams, and the absurd. They claimed that one product of human thought was “pure psychic automatism”: the idea that in a state where dreams and sleep have complete supremacy, free associations and the arbitrary interplay of ideas will weave themselves together into a higher reality.
Before long, they had discovered a new poetics, a profound, romantic reflection on the imagination. The greatest advocates of abstract surrealism and figurative realism were the Catalans Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, respectively.
Salvador Dalí was an excellent and technically precise draftsman, and used brilliant and luminous color to represent objects, landscapes, and people with a near-photographic realism. He represented all of his obsessions in his work, such as his predilection for repetition as well as mixing human and monstrous elements together. He reflected upon his obsessions in vast, expansive spaces.
Dalí defined the so-called “paranoiac-critical method” as a spontaneous system based on irrational thought and delirium. Much like the intellectual Narcís Monturiol, the poet Fages de Climent, and the pharmacist Alexandre Deulofeu, Dalí did not fit into the most orthodox of molds. But the brilliant Dalí took his extravagance to the extreme and converted it into a substantial part of the “attrezzo” with which he earned his living.
This eclectic Catalan artist, simply put, was a daring, imaginative, and eccentric megalomaniac, who could take in all of his surroundings and turn them into something beastly.
This great artist left us with an extensive legacy: his personal symbolic universe. They include: Melting clocks that re-interpret the theory of relativity; Bernini-inspired elephants that take phantasmagorical and phallic forms; Eggs that recall intrauterine life and become symbols of hope and love; Ants that symbolize death, corruption, and sexual fervor associated with carnal egotism; and Lobsters that symbolize decadence and Dalí’s own fears.
Without a doubt, Dalí, thought to be the greatest and most universal Catalan painter of all time, was also a Catalan who (like the poet Josep Pla) never denied his Spanish side: He was pro-monarchic and even left his bequest to the Spanish state. In Dalí’s case, no one can forget that he was an anarchist during a part of his life yet also had ties to the Franco regime. At the same time, he never stopped showing a great displeasure toward the same regime that murdered his great friend, the poet Federico García Lorca.
These opposing actions show how Dalí had reservations about living out his own way of life, and how he saw this so-called opposition as two sides of the same coin. It is as if the evocations coming from his own world were powered by the haphazardness of the wind.
Even so, Dalí always felt very Catalan, and loved the land, its gastronomy, its people, and especially the fishermen of the Empordà region. We can find that his work is full of references to the land where he grew up, such as Cap de Creus and the beaches of Roses. The Empordà is reflected in works such as “The Madonna of Port Lligat”, “The Basket of Bread”, “The Great Masturbator”, “Rhinocerotic Figure of Phidias’ ‘Illisos’”, “The Persistence of Memory”, and “The Festival at the Hermitage”.
Dalí’s anarchism and Catalan roots show in his work, which reached universal significance. In looking closely at his work, we see that it breathes Catalan-ness, irony, impulse, and sincerity, all with the stamp of Salvador Dalí, artist of himself and lover of Gala.
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