Out of the hundreds of paintings created by Salvador Dali, his iconic depiction of melting clocks is no doubt the most famous.
Entitled The Persistence of Memory, this painting served as both an outlet for his imagination and a simple allegory—that time is meaningless.
Dali claimed (like most surrealists) that his images were “dream sequences” or inspired by his subconscious. Surrealism was a popular movement in the mid-1900s that attempted to create art which was “truer” than life. They did this by avoiding logic and reason, which were considered hindrances to creativity. It’s an idea which is still somewhat believed today.
But Dali wasn’t always a Surrealist. Early on in life he was taught to paint in the Impressionist manner.
Born in 1904, this makes perfect sense.
And Salvador Dali was something of a prodigy in art—he was painting almost as soon as he could hold a brush. The image to the left is his first documented painting called Landscape near Figueras which he created at the age of 6 years old.
Dali went on to dabble in several types of artistic endeavors: sculpture, film-making, and the new art of photography.
But Salvador Dali’s appeal was in his fantastic paintings, and his outrageous public image. He was egotistical and outspoken, he deliberately wore clothing that was out of style, and he grew a flamboyant, pointed mustache that became synonymous with the name Dali.
He, perhaps most of all, is responsible for the 20th century idea of what an “artist” acted and looked like.
Salvador Dali’s artwork ranged from just a little bit strange to overpoweringly absurd, but his gift was in using just enough realism in his work so that viewers would believe despite the absurdity of the situation.
In this last painting, Still Life Moving Fast, Dali perfectly rendered many traditional still life objects.
Shadows fall according to nature’s intent, light gleams from the metal knife blade, and a glass bottle refracts light in a realistic manner. But all of that realism was just Dali’s way of holding the scene together so that he could go on to upset our normal expectations of reality.
What more control can a painter exert over his subjects than to make them float in mid-air? To let them tip, and dance, and shoot like comets across the canvas?
Dali truly was a master of traditional painting techniques. He could have created perfectly normal still life paintings and landscapes—but I’m glad he didn’t.
Because art just wouldn’t be the same without this Salvador Dali.
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