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Salvador Dali - On a Surrealist Canvas

Anirban Ray Choudhury
One of the best-known surrealist painters of all time, Salvador Dali was an artist extraordinaire. He was one of those rare artists who worked in pretty much every medium. This story aims to paint a brief chronological biography of the artist.
Salvador Dali, the renowned surrealist painter, was born Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech on May 11, 1904 in the small agricultural village of Figueres in Spain.
The only son of a wealthy notary, Dali took a keen interest in the fine arts from a very early age; an interest which was actively encouraged by his parents who built him a private studio at home to enable him to pursue his passion.
After receiving private art lessons in Figueres, Dali studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, and held his first solo exhibition in 1925, at the age of 21. It was at the Academy that he came in close contact with an elite batch of students that included filmmaker Luis Buñuel and poet Federico García Lorca.
However, though he was academically brilliant, he refused to take the degree exams of the Academy, claiming that the ones supposed to be examining him were not qualified enough to judge his work. He was expelled from the Academy following the incident in 1926.
Dali moved to Paris in 1926, and in 1929, worked with Luis Buñuel, helping him write the script for Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) - a film which gained him his entry into the circle of Parisian surrealists led by Andre Breton.
His bohemian lifestyle and a natural affinity towards scandals made him a very welcome member of the group. During this period he concentrated on developing his unique style which he termed the paranoiac-critical method.
He defined the method as the spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena.
Perhaps the best known example of his consciously delusional paintings is The Persistence of Memory (1931) - a unique work expressing the transitory nature of time using flaccid, fluid watches. Dali attempted to create a separate universe through his method; an unreal universe of static dynamism and corrosion.
In 1929, Dali met Gala Elouard, a Russian immigrant and wife of Paul Elouard, the French poet. Though she was ten years older than him, their relationship soon took a romantic turn, and Gala became his muse, his model, and his business manager.
Gala obtained a legal divorce from her husband in 1929, and married Dali in a civil ceremony in Paris in 1934.
In the mid 1930s, Dali's relationship with the surrealists began to sour. His refusal to denounce Hitler's policies was met with opposition from other surrealists, who 'tried' him and expelled him from their group in 1934.
Dali left Paris in 1940 and moved to the United States of America, and with his flamboyant style and a talent for self promotion, soon established himself as the darling of the American high society.
It was during this time that he was nicknamed "Avida Dollars (greedy for dollars)" by Andre Breton, to which Dali replied "The only difference between myself and the surrealists is that I am a surrealist".
Dali's interest shifted from painting to his other interests in the mid 1940s, and he published a novel Hidden Faces in 1944. In 1945, he composed the dream sequence in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Spellbound. He also his flamboyant autobiography during that period, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali.
In 1949, Dali and Gala returned to Spain, spending most of their time in their mansion in Lligat. Dali's paintings at this time took on a more classical approach, focusing on religion and history instead of surrealistic abstractions - in his own words, "To be a surrealist forever is like spending your life painting nothing but eyes and noses.
" His historical pieces also generated tremendous interest, especially The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus which is on display at the Dali Museum in St.Petersburg in Florida. However, while his works during the period received accolades in general, there were dissident voices claiming that he produced nothing of artistic value post the 1930s.
While no one could deny the technical brilliance of his pieces, they were classified as more of gimmicks (e.g., Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951) than as based on any original theme.
In 1965, he turned towards crafting sculptures of bronze and crystal, but here too the lack of originality was evident - he was repeating the themes of his paintings, sculpting soft watches and figures of Venus with drawer's protruding out of her body.
Seemingly, Dali was running out of ideas and therefore, was turning to other avenues to keep his market alive.
In fact, this period in his life is famed more for his pompous parties and eccentric behavior than for any great work of art - Dali, perhaps, was too much in love with the limelight by now to let go of it and focus on what earned him the spotlight in the first place - his paintings.
In 1980, Dali''s health took a turn for the worse. Allegations swirled around that, his wife Gala, who was nearly senile by then, had been giving him a dangerous mix of medicines which damaged his nervous system.
This caused his artistic career to end. With Gala's death in 1982, he became a recluse was diagnosed as suffering from palsy. Unable to hold a brush anymore, he retired from painting.
In 1982, Gala died. These incidents severely disturbed him, and he became more of a recluse, even trying to kill himself on occasion. He expired on January 23, 1989 of heart failure, at the age of 84.