Among the most famous men of the 20th century is artist Salvador Dali. What made this artist stand out from the rest was not only that his art was iconic but he had a most unusual personality, sense of fashion, trademark mustache and he was a real showman. One tends to wonder if he was mad or just eccentric.
With Dali, it all probably began in his strange childhood. Before he came into the world his parents had another child also named Salvador Dali. Strange, isn’t it? When the first Salvador was 22 months old he died of a stomach infection. Nine months later the second Salvador was born and strangely strongly resembled his dead brother. This is where we really step into the bizarre. His parents started to think that perhaps he was the reincarnation of their dead son.
When Dali reached the age of five his parents took him to his dead brother’s grave site for the first time and actually told him that they thought he might be the reincarnation of his dead sibling. Of course, this affected Dali psychologically and his later artwork included allusions to the dead child he actually believed was the best part of him. Personally, I think parents should never psychologically upset a child’s well-being.
Other strange things continued to occur and during his childhood, Dali had a most disturbing habit of attacking people for no apparent reason. Once when he and a friend were walking across a bridge Dali saw that a safety railing was missing. Since no one was around he decided to toss his friend off the bridge. As a result, his friend fell about 5 meters and landed on sharp, jagged rocks and got most seriously injured. You would think that this would disturb Dali in some way. Instead, Dali, who was five sat by watching his friend’s mother taking care of him and as she walked by pouring out bowls of bloody water he just smiled and continued eating cherries. Another most disturbing incident happened when Dali was taking care of a wounded bat. One day he noticed that the bat had been overtaken by ants and was slowly being eaten alive. Dali’s reaction was to take the bat and bite into it ants and all.
Dali was well-known for his love of making money. Due to this, there were people who called him “Avida Dollars”. This was an anagram of Salvador Dali and also in reference to his greed. Everyone knew that Dali would do practically anything to make a buck. It was Dali, who designed the famous Chupa Chups lollipop logo and the 1969 logo for the Eurovision Song Contest. The artist has also appeared in ads for Lanvin Chocolates, brandy, and Alka Seltzer.
These all were his ways of making money legally but in a way, he was also a con man. When it came to selling one of his paintings for an astronomical amount he told his rich customer that the paint he had used had been mixed with the venom of a million wasps. Another scam involved Yoko Ono, who had requested a strand of hair from his mustache and for it Dali asked for $10,000. Ono paid him the money and he sent her a dried blade of grass. He imagined that his real hair could be used for incantations or such things.Dali was even clever enough to find a way to avoid paying restaurant bills. He was in the habit of inviting large groups of friends to expensive lunches. When the lunch was over Dali would write up a check for the amount. Actually what he did was to doodle on the check knowing full well that no one would cash that check knowing that it had an original sketch by Dali on it and so he got away with not paying the restaurant bill.
Besides being an artist Dali was also a showman and he performed some really interesting stunts. Once Dali delivered a lecture while wearing a full deep-sea diving suit and arrived at a speech in a Rolls-Royce that was full of cauliflower just because he found this vegetable unusually shaped. In order to sell his book, “The World of Salvador Dali” he created a hospital atmosphere in a Manhattan bookstore. Dali lay in a hospital bed with fake doctors and nurses around him, hooked up to a machine measuring his brain waves. Any customer who bought a book got a copy of the reading from the machine. Then it was time for cauliflower again and this time Dali filled-up a limo with the vegetable while driving through the streets of Paris and actually handed out cauliflower to very confused Parisians.
Obsession with Hitler
Dali had an unusual obsession with Hitler. During the rise of the Nazis Dali preferred to paint Hitler. One of his paintings looks like a landscape but actually is a photo of Hitler turned sideways and created to look like a placid lake. He seemed totally obsessed by Hitler and the fascination in itself was rather bizarre.
Collaboration with Photographer Philippe Halsman
A collaboration developed between Dali and famous photographer Philippe Halsman. Together they created “Dali Atomicus” which is an ode to Dali’s famous painting “Leda Atomica”. This photo depicts Dali, furniture and several cats suspended in mid-air. It is most unusual especially that it was done at a time before Photoshop or special programs to help create the special effects. Amazingly it was made the old-fashioned way with the furniture held up by wires while Dali jumped and someone out of frame threw a bucket of cold water and added in some live cats. To get what they wanted the photographer and the artist had to redo the shot 28 times.
It was the oddest thing the way Dali got his inspiration. One way was with a tin plate and a spoon. Dali would sit in a chair holding the spoon above the plate and nod off. As he was falling asleep the spoon would drop on the plate, it made a noise loud enough to wake up the artist and he jotted down the surreal images he had seen in his dreams. Other times he would stand on his head until he practically passed out letting himself become semi-lucid. This became his most famous technique and it was called the “Paranoid-Critical Method”. It involved creating a self-induced paranoid state that let him draw irrational relationships between unconnected objects and to depict the landscape of his own subconscious mind
When It Came to Love
It was in August of 1929 that Dali met Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, known as Gala, who became the love of his life. The problem was that Gala was already married to French surrealist poet Paul Eluard. Her relationship with Dali could develop because Gala and her husband had an “open marriage”. When she finally got divorced, she and Dali got married in 1934 and stayed together until her death in 1982.They never had a traditional marriage and during their time together also saw other people but had an extremely happy relationship. Eventually Gala became Dali’s muse and business manager. At this time Dali would often sign his artwork with both of their names. He built her a castle in Spain in 1968. They had an agreement about the castle that Dali could visit her there only after he had obtained her permission in writing.
Continued in Part Two Dali, the Royal Heart, and Alice Cooper