I joyously discovered Salvador Dali as a kid in grade school. I was flipping through art books at the library. Among the color prints of Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt was a strange image of melted pocket watches. One watch was hanging limp over a ledge, another draped like a wet towel across a bare tree limb and yet another appeared wilted over a white figure blob of something resembling a mollusk monster with eyelashes.
It was created in 1931, as hallucinatory and surreal as a painting was for those times or for me at any time. Titled the "Persistence of Memory," it was known to the common ordinary rabble as The Soft Watches. Dreamy images that cast doubtful shadows amidst the waking world. The painting personifies the meaningless nature of time.
It was my first real mind fuck entre to the weird, offbeat and absurd, spurring me on to research more of Dali. His paintings were addictive and there was plenty of that stuff to go around. Dali was born in 1904. A capricious eccentric, self-indulgent and grandiose. An astute businessman while portraying a mysterious persona of the artist as a magical mischief-maker shaman deity.
A bigger-than-life caricature where his antics and persona overshadowed everything he did. Once asked if he did drugs, Dali replied, "I don't do drugs, I am drugs." That embodies his entire bizarre life. He lived 84 years but appears eternal in his personal philosophy and immense body of work. His paintings are timeless but only a mere facet of everything Dali accomplished.
Dali's muse and wife was a Russian poet named Gala. She had him branch out into every financially lucrative aspect of the culture. She had expensive tastes and played Dali like a cheap fiddle. Beside his many paintings and sculptures, Dali designed expensive jewelry, high-end colognes and fashionable couture. He designed stage sets for Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock, and photo shoots for Playboy.
At the height of Dadaism he made avant-garde films with Luis Bunuel and Jean Cocteau. Classic films like The Andalusian Dog and Blood of a Poet. He wrote a surrealist cookbook and designed illustrations for a reprint of Alice in Wonderland. He designed a tarot card deck to appease Gala. She was not only a high-maintenance trophy wife but also known to be a mighty force of her own. Gala was promiscuous in sordid sexual dalliances with lovers half her age. She was at least a decade older than Dali and sexually active well into her dotage.
That’s neither here nor there because it was documented that Dali was asexual and only liked to watch her in the act at wild orgies or secret manage a trois rendezvous. Her extravagant lifestyle was the perfect setting for Dali’s surrealist royal monarchy. He fancied himself a king and maybe he was in a bizarre way. His unearthly presence wherever he went in public, whether walking his pet anteater on a leash or appearing on the 1960’s TV show What’s My Line? Dali loved to crank up the hype machine, spinning shameless self–promotional anecdotes about any and everything Dali.
He’s a god of the lunatic fringe, revealing the persona behind the mask. The mask wears a mask too. He ruled the art world and his influence is still felt a century later. He was hokey, even phony to a point of pretentious upper-crusty prestige for rich art snobs and culture vultures. He understood the con game and played it up like a champ. Dali marked up the priceless value on his art that Andy Warhol, among others, used as a simplistic art con to their advantage. Its beyond me being incapable of understanding how his paintings or any artists works can sell at auction for millions. It’s ridiculous to conceive art for art’s sake.
The cliché “I’ll be famous when I’m dead” doesn’t hold true with Dali. It seems he was famous for his entire life. Long before his birth, an infant namesake sibling Salvador died and made Dali believe he was reincarnated. Anything is possible in a world of roaming souls and free thought. A place where death and rebirth are easy as a walk in the park to the picnic of lost souls. And Dali always had ants at his picnic too.
Dali was a valid argument for alternative ways of viewing modern mundanity. There’s always something else just beneath the surface of every traditional viewpoint. The infinite ways of seeing beyond sight. That special flair for the avant-garde that haunts new and improved ways to approach nothing. The glorious nothingness of everything seen, felt or heard. But you had to be there to feel the full effect of the unusual. The unexpected dreams come true.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Alice Cooper, another weirdo, oddball, and nutcase I cherish. It’s funny how some people are considered weird while others toe the line. Rock ‘n’ roll meets surrealism. In 1973 Dali created a portrait of Alice Cooper’s brain using chocolate éclairs, ants, diamonds and early holographic technology. When Alice met Dali for the first time. Always about the spectacle: “All of a sudden these five androgynous nymphs in pink chiffon floated in. They were followed by Gala who was dressed in a man’s tuxedo, top hat and tails, and carrying a silver cane. Then came Dali. He was wearing a giraffe-skin vest, gold Aladdin shoes, a blue velvet jacket and sparkly purple socks given to him by Elvis.”