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Monday, June 27, 2011

Salvadore Dali

Sacrament of the Last Supper, 1955, Salvadore Dali
If I had to name my favorite artist of all time, it would, without a doubt, be Salvadore Dali. I was first exposed to Dali about thirty years ago when I was stationed in the Air Force near Washington D.C. and had almost unlimited time and very limited money. The National Gallery of Art naturally attracted me to it's incredible storehouse of painted treasures. On the ground floor, in a room totally devoted to it, hung Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper. It was incredible. It's a big painting, perhaps in the neighborhood of 9 by 15 feet as I recall. Unlike today's generation, I seldom use the word "awesome", but no other word I can think of adequately describes this exquisite masterpiece. I think I sat and gazed at it for at least a half-hour, not because my legs were tired, though they were, but because of it's sheer, overwhelming, religious and visual power.   
Persistence of Memory, 1931, Salvadore Dali
Salvador Dali was born in Spain in 1904. In Paris, he adopted first Impressionism, then Pointillism, and eventually Futurism. Following these forays into contemporary "isms" of the day, he returned to Madrid where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. There he found his own personal style of illusionistic realism that he never abandoned. In 1931, he painted what was probably his most famous and familiar work, The Persistence of Memory.  Characterized by his trademark limp watches, I now have a necktie with a portion of that painting emblazoned upon it. When I taught school, I was a walking art history lesson.   
Salvadore Dali, 1960
Face of Mae West, 1935,
Salvadore Dali

No item on Dali would be complete without mention of his other trademark, his amusing little handlebar moustache. Equally amusing and much more outrageous was his personal behavior, often as little more than a means of garnering attention for himself and his work. Live, on TV's Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1950's, perhaps trying to outdo Jackson Pollock, he once threw open buckets of paint at a large canvas. He loved rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, of whom he sometimes painted surrealist portraits. His The Face of Mae West, for instance, comprises a stage set with a couch for a mouth, curtains drawn back for hair, and numerous architectural elements for the facial features.  Despite it's unconventional makeup, the likeness is unmistakable. Dali died in 1986 following a fire in which he was badly burned.  He was 82.

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