Weird Wednesdays: Don’t touch that radio Dalí

(Ariel Quiroz/Flickr, Creative Comments)

I suppose you can argue that, for a column called “Weird” Wednesdays, I am being ludicrously unoriginal in writing about Salvador Dalí. However, consider this for a moment: It’s Dalí. There isn’t an unoriginal bone in his body. By extension, neither is this.

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, a.k.a. Salvador Dalí, a.k.a. the guy who painted the melty clocks, was many things. He was an artist. He was a surrealist. He was the owner of an absolutely rockin’ mustache. He drew the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops.

And he was born in May 1904, in what is now Catalonia, Spain. His mother Felipa Domenech Ferrés and his father Salvador Dalí i Cusí, both welcomed the future artist into the world, naming him after a son that had died nine months prior. So timely was Salvador’s birth, and so close was his resemblance, that Dalí’s parents later told him he was a reincarnation of his late older sibling.

Salvador’s parents fostered his love of art, sending him to drawing school in his childhood years. His mother in particular boasted of his artistic ability, and when Dalí was 14, a few of his sketches were displayed an art exhibition. When Dalí’s mother died in 1920, he was devastated, and continued to reference her in his works.

Though Dalí was accepted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in 1922, he thought his professors were too set in their ways, and failed out after refusing to take an oral exam. Instead, he began to study the finer points of Surrealism.

Surrealism is an art style and cultural movement, with the aim of making its audience uncomfortable and capturing them in a dream-like state. It was art for the so-called “Lost” generation: a rejection of the logical and harsh realities of a post-World War I society, and an escape to the world of the strange.

Dalí joined a cadre of surrealists after leaving art school, experimenting with cubism, dadaism and other abstract forms of art. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Picasso, and developed his own, weird style based on the art he observed, his subconscious musings and even the work of Sigmund Freud (who, for the record, proclaimed that the artist “looks like a fanatic.”)

Dalí’s appearance reflected his art: He’d wear clothing decades out of style, sporting sideburns when the Roaring Twenties was at its height. His iconic mustache, inspired by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, seemed to leap from his face.

In 1929, Dalí found his proverbial muse: a Russian woman named Gala (born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova.) She was already married to a surrealist poet Paul Eluard at the time, but that didn’t stop the fiery romance that erupted (the fact that both Eluard and Dalí practiced polyamory may have helped things). Salvador and Gala married in 1934, and she remained a source of inspiration for Dalí the rest of his life.

In 1931, Dalí painted what is now considered his most famous works, “The Persistence of Memory.” The melting clocks, stretching landscape and odd, deflated figure laying on the ground (meant to be Dalí’s head) had the desired effect: It was strange and confusing. Viewers stared at it for long periods at a time, attempting to delve a meaning. Some argued that it represented the transient, flexible nature of time. Others argued it represented death.

Whatever the meaning was, Dalí didn’t explain it. To be fair, he never explained any of his works. That’s the nature of surrealism—and the nature of a man who showed up to art lectures in a deep-sea diving suit and made a sculpture titled “Lobster Telephone” (which is exactly what you expect: a lobster on a telephone).

Dalí nowadays is practically a household name, and for good reason. His works, though unnerving, struck a chord with the public. His style was both shadowy and bright; the textures of his works, in particular, are smooth in an almost uncanny way, like an oddly-rendered CG image. His works invite contemplation (and perhaps a lie-down afterwards).

Through all this, Dalí kept producing art. Not even fascism could stop him: In 1940, he and Gala fled to the United States with World War II boiling behind them. The duo flipped between California and New York periodically, with Dalí holding lectures and producing paintings, sculptures and even experimental film. Dalí also worked for several advertising firms, creating logos and designing storefront displays.

In 1948, after the war died down, Dalí returned to Spain, painting, traveling and reading up on mathematics in order to add to his paintings—because there’s nothing more surreal than an integral in the arts.

In 1960, Dalí worked on his biggest project yet: a museum and theatre dedicated to the surreal. The Dalí Theatre and Museum opened in 1974, combining architecture and theatre in an odd and lovely twist. You can see it today in Catalonia, and it’s hard to miss: It’s a bright pink, castle-like structure topped with spires and giant eggs.

It ended up being Dalí’s final resting place. When the artist passed in 1989, seven years after his beloved Gala died, Salvador was buried in a crypt underneath the museum’s theater stage, never to be disturbed…

Until last July, when he was dug up for a genetic test. Apparently, his iconic mustache, though mummified, was still intact. Go figure.

From all this, we can learn: Be like Dalí. Give no answers, raise more questions, make good art, and above all, stay weird.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.