Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989)

Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and designer. After passing through phases of Cubism, Futurism, and Metaphysical painting, he joined the Surrealists in 1929 and his talent for self publicity rapidly made him the most famous representative of the movement. Throughout his life he cultivated eccentricity and exhibitionism (one of his most famous acts was appearing in a diving suit at the opening the of the London Surrealist exhibition in 1936), claiming that this was the source of his creative energy. He took over the Surrealist theory of automatism but transformed it into a more positive method he named “critical paranoia.” According to his theory, one should cultivate genuine delusion as in clinical paranoia while remaining residually aware at the back of one’s mind that the control of reason and will have been deliberately suspended. His paintings employed a meticulous academic technique that was contradicted in the unreal “dream space” he depicted and by the strangely hallucinatory characters of his imagery. He described his pictures as “hand painted dream photographs”.

In 1937, Dali visited Italy and adopted a more traditional style. This, together with his political views, (he was a supporter of Fascist General, Francisco Franco) led Andre Breton, founder of the Surrealist group, to expel him from the Surrealist ranks. He moved to America in 1940 where he remained until 1955. During this time, he devoted himself largely to self-publicity; his paintings were often on religious themes, although sexual objects and pictures centering on his wife, Gala, were also continuing preoccupations. In 1955, he returned to Spain and continued to paint until 1983.

Apart from painting, Dali’s output included Prints, sculpture, book illustrations, jewelry design, and work for the theater. In collaboration with the director Luis Buñel, he also made the first Surrealist films – Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930) – and he contributed a dream sequence to Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945). He also wrote a novel, Hidden Faces (1944) and several volumes of a flamboyant autobiography.

Although he is undoubtedly one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, his status is controversial; many critics consider that he did little if anything of consequence after the 1930’s. Posthumously, Dali has been reevaluated as ahead of his time and has earned critical praise in the last ten years, due in no small part to several important retrospectives, notably the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2005) and Atlanta’s High Museum (2010).