Master Spotlight :: Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali drawn by Rama Hughes

Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist and an icon of Surrealism. Surrealism was an art movement known for dreamlike imagery. His most famous work is The Persistence of Memory, a painting of melting clocks.

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech was born in1904, in Figueres, Spain. The young Dali was intelligent and advanced for his age, but he got angry easily and was punished for that. His father was a lawyer and very strict. His mother though forgave his occasionally odd behavior. At an early age, Salvador was created sophisticated drawings. His parents built him an art studio, organized his first exhibition, and sent Dali to drawing school. He was an oddball a daydreamer. By the time he was fourteen years old though, he earned a public exhibition at the Municipal Theatre.

In school, Dali was influenced by numerous artists and art movements, especially Cubism, Dadaism, and the work of classical painters like Raphael and Velasquez. After school, he travelled to Paris where he met influential painters like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Rene Magritte who introduced Dali to Surrealism. His first experiments were oil paintings, small collages of dream images. His classical, detailed technique created a fantastical realism in these dreamscapes. Dali’s biggest contribution to Surrealism was a mental exercise (that he called the “paranoiac-critical method”) that helped him access his subconscious to enhance his creativity. It became a way of life for Dali, and he became a living symbol of the Surrealist movement. His most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory, is also one of the best-known pieces of Surrealist art. Also called Soft Watches, the painting shows pocket watched melting in a landscape. It suggests many ideas including one that time is not rigid and that everything is destructible.

Over time, Dali became infamous for his odd behavior. He grew a famously long mustache, wore capes, and attended parties in strange clothing like wetsuits or women’s clothes. Critics said that his eccentricity overshadowed his art work. His peers organized a “trial” to expel him from the Surrealist Movement. They claimed that it was because Dali refused to take a stand against Fascism, but Dali was been famously apolitical. It is more likely that the other Surrealists were simple embarrassed by Dali’s weirdness.

During World War II, Dali and his wife lived in the United States. While he was there, the Metropolitan Musem of Art hosted a retrospective of his work. Dali wrote an autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. He moved away from Surrealism to create scientific, historical, and religious paintings. He called this period “Nuclear Mysticism.” Those paintings were famous for their technical brilliance. They incorporated geometry, optical illusions, and holography.

When he moved back to Spain, he purchased the remains of the Municipal Theatre that hosted his first show. He train formed the property into the Teatro-Museo Dali or the Dali Theatre Museum. The museum opened in 1974. It was based on Dali’s designs, and is considered the largest Surrealist structures. Right now, it contains the broadest range of work by the artist from his earliest experiments to artwork that he created in the last years of his life.

In his old age, Dali’s failing health forced him to retire from painting. He died a few years later at the age of 84.
Salvador-Dali-The-Persistence-of-Memory-1931

I saw an exhibit of Dali’s work when I was pretty young, and I was disappointed to see it in person for some reason. The images I’d seen in books were so interesting and weird. The actual paintings were meticulous and more carefully created than I imagined. Now though as an artist and a teacher, I appreciate the skill and patience that went into these amazing flights of imagination.

Salvador Dali Painting

I am in the process of teaching my students about Dali right now. Besides being an incredible inspiration to them creatively, his traditional approach to painting gives me an opportunity to teach fundamental skills. In the past month, I have used his example to teach form, depth, perspective, juxtaposition, composition, and more. They’re also pretty tickled by his sense of humor and incredible quotes.

Portrait of Dali drawn by yours truly, Rama Hughes

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Posted by Rama on 09/26/14 under master of the month
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