Dali’s night before christmas (flash fic)

Twas the night before Christmas, and 7-year-old little Salvador was in his favourite place: deep in the psychic vastness of his unconscious mind. He swam through his dreams with prodigious ease, and his dreams were nothing like that of his young friends, whose tend to revolve around petty matters of toys and sibling squabbles and candy canes. Oh no – to compare little Salvador’s dreams with those of others his age was like comparing the collision of two ancient neutron stars with that of two glass marbles. His dreams were fuelled by such a combustion of imagination that he frequently woke up to find himself in a monochromatic world, an ashen world, a world through which he would stumble dazedly, searching for some portal which would take him back to the  cornucopia of his dreams, in which he could again soar freely.

In the heart of night, little Salvador woke suddenly, sitting upright in his bed like a cherubic Nosferatu, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the pitch dark. There was nothing out of place, everything as expected. His school uniform still hung on the cupboard door, his father’s silver pocketwatch still lay on his bedside cabinet, his books on the artwork of DaVinci still splayed haphazardly across his desk. Dangling above the desk his cardboard solar system spun gently; the lunar rays casting planetary shadows which thrummed with a silent cosmic intensity. He rested his head back on his pillow and willed himself hungrily back to his other world, his surreality, and consciousness quickly dissolved like melting butter. But then, mere milliseconds before he tipped back  into the land of Freud, there came a gentle tap… tap… tap… at the window.

Little Salvador turned to face the window, where he could see the faint swaying outlines of the vines which clambered over the house. He reasoned that one of the tendrils must have been tapping his window as it wafted in the wind. He frowned impatiently, closed his eyes, and began to drift again… But seconds later… tap… tap… tap…  This time it was different; quicker, more urgent, less natural. His heart fluttered a little now, but little Salvador was not easily spooked, for the vibrant ferocity of his dreams was matched  by the horror of his nightmares. He untucked himself and crawled over to the window. The tapping had stopped, but he could still see the blurred shape of a thick vine, which moved with oddly jerky movements. He got hold of the corner of the curtain and pulled it open just a sliver…

“OH DIOS MIO!!!” he cried,

stumbling backwards and pulling the curtains off the rail. There, almost filling the entire frame of his window, was the face of a gigantic swan. Little Salvador crawled backwards over his bed frantically, falling face first onto the floor on the other side, the moon’s dazzling light tracking him like a prison spotlight. The great swan peered down at him curiously, as though observing a misshapen cygnet in an inexplicable fit of frenzy.

After a long minute, still breathing in rasps, he peeked over the top of his bed. The swan was no longer there. He stared at the window wide-eyed, until, when he became almost sure that the swan had gone, a slender hand appeared, reaching slowly from beneath the window ledge. It was normal-sized (which brought about some strange relief) and it was clearly a woman’s hand, but it seemed ghostly, unearthly: it radiated a faint golden glow, it seemed almost translucent.  Then, with no effort at all, the hand pushed on little Salvador’s locked window, and it swung open wide. He started, and before he even had a chance to react a flurry of snow swept into his room, coating his bed. Squinting into the blizzard, little Salvador saw the woman’s hand now beckoned him, the forefinger curling and uncurling, before disappearing below the sill.

Out of sheer wonder, or madness, he instinctively ran towards the open window to follow the woman. He looked out the window frantically, searching the shadows of his snow-covered garden below. There was no-one there. He leaned out the window further, trying to look beneath the jutting roof edge. Suddenly, he felt something grip his pajamas at the back, and like a lost pup in one quick motion he was hauled up and out of his window and dropped onto the back of the great swan who perched on his roof. Before he could even utter a yelp, the swan began hopping across the rooftops with its giant webbed feet, before spreading its wings like the almighty sails of the Argo and soaring off into the night sky. Soon the snow-caked rooftops of the sleeping city of Figueres were barely visible, so small they seemed almost Lilliputian, the street lamps nothing more than a swarm of distant fireflies.

As they flew higher and further away from all traces of humanity, the world he had known just moments before seemed a distant memory, and little Salvador realised that his initial state of panic had now completely subsided, lost in a crashing tide of wonder and awe. The real world with all its logical and coherent decrees, its linearities and geometries slowly began to melt away…

High above them, where the moon once lay, there was now a perfectly formed egg which floated horizontally. It had a slender crack running through its centre, from which there dribbled a thick molten yolk. Far below him there was a great checkerboard lake, the surface covered in thick ice which was checkered black and white. Here and there he saw soldiers scampering across the ice, slipping and sliding, as well as knights outfitted in icy armour, and horses which galloped with a speed and grace which eclipsed that of all the others he had ever seen. A few miles on they came upon a vast plain littered with windmills, only in place of their rotor blades were gigantic spinning butterflies; the dust from their luminescent wings billowed up as they spun wildly, sending a shimmering mist into the sky. There were groves of snow-capped trees shaped like craniums, and great crystallised monoliths alongside building-sized baguettes which were buried deep into the earth. There were mechanical statues with clockwork hearts; and strange giant rubber faces which hobbled around on wooden crutches; and ghostly nomads who were somehow only perceivable in his peripheral vision. Everywhere he looked there were new wonders to behold, but the swan drove on.

As they passed over the next alpine peak little Salvador was met with a sight which filled him with such wonder that he found tears streaming from his eyes. A formation of reindeer towered high above the snowy fields, lolloping on spindly, elongated legs. Their enormous antlers groped for the stars like fuzzy cacti, and seemed to converge above their collective heads into some chestnut coral reef. Occasionally elfin sprites danced in and out of the ossiferous weave of antlers like the baby-faced soldiers of a celestial anthill. At the rear of the reindeer squadron came a gigantic moose of the purest white with great crimson antlers. Cradled above its enormous head, resting in the antlers which were like godly open hands, there rested a golden throne of such splendour and opulence that the night faltered in its aura. And there, seated in his bejeweled throne, sat Papa Noel. His colossal white beard swirled like a nimbus, but this was at odds with his mustache, which was jet black, and swept out and upwards like two royal scimitars, swishing loudly as he turned his great head. Papa Noel glanced down at his watch, which drooled from his arm like an oven-baked brie: time was running out…

As little Salvador gazed upon this seated figure, he suddenly felt the world begin to shift on its axis. The great troupe of reindeer began to stumble on their frail legs, dragging the arctic moose and the great throne with them. As they plummeted towards the ground, so too did the great swan upon which Salvador sat, and he raised his arms, bracing himself for the cold white impact of the snow below.

Then he was back in his bed.

He was holding out his bedcovers like great wings.

It was a dream. Nothing more.

He put his face in his covers and began to sob quietly. He could feel the covers dampening as he clutched them to his face.

But then he heard it.

Tap… tap… tap…

He lifted up his head and through the glaze of his tear-filled eyes he saw the golden woman standing at the end of his bed. She was smiling gently, glowing softly, aura serene.

The woman reached into her pocket, though the motion was unusual, more like opening a chest of drawers. And she took out what looked like a simple thin piece of wood, the end of which was covered in fine hair. It was a paintbrush. She placed it into his hands and he looked down at it. When he looked back up she was gone. He walked to the window and looked down on his garden, the he looked up in the hope he might see the great swan. But there was nothing.

He looked around at his dreary room, and his grey walls, and then again out of the window over the bleached landscape, and then he did something quite unexpected; something completely unconscious. He lifted the paintbrush, and he began to paint over all that he saw. He used no oils, no watercolours, he used only his imagination…

‘Thank you, my muse’ murmured little Salvador, and he painted until he fell into a deep and harmonious sleep.

leda-atomica

***

NB: The final image is Dali’s ‘Leda Atomica’ (1949). Also… MERRY XMAS!!! xxx

Millet’s Angelus: The Enigmatic Source of Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac-critical Surrealism

Angelus-Millet-L
Jean Francois Millet’s Angelus (1859)

There is likely no greater example in art of a single work having such a profound and lasting influence on an artist than Dali’s influence by Jean Francois Millet’s Angelus. Dali had been familiar with the work since childhood; a reproduction of the painting hung on a secluded wall of his grammar school. But the obsessional, paranoiac aspect to the image would not come until a striking vision in 1932 at which point ‘it suddenly appeared in my mind without any recent recollection or conscious association… It left with me a profound impression, I was most upset by it… the Angelus of Millet suddenly became for me the most troubling of pictorial works, the most enigmatic, the most dense, the richest in unconscious thoughts that had ever existed’ (Dali, Tragic Myth). From that point on the work brought about frequent delirious episodes in Dali, during which the symbols and figures of the Angelus would appear in his daily life to plague and haunt his consciousness.

op0160
Dali’s The Angelus (1935)

It was from such paranoiac visions however that the systematic approach to Dali’s work would emanate, and would come to formulate the paranoiac-critical method, a means by which the artist ‘organizes and objectivizes in an exclusivist manner the limitless and unknown possibilities of the systematic association of subjective and objective ‘significance’ in the irrational… it makes the world of delirium pass onto the plane of reality’ (from Dali’s 1935 essay ‘The Conquest of the Irrational’). The Angelus thus served as the genesis of Dali’s latency-driven works which would later represent a crucial component of the surrealist movement at large. The analytical frame to Dali’s technique is expounded in his 1938 work, The Tragic Myth of Millet’s Angelus, a work which was believed lost for many decades following the outbreak of the second work war.

harp
The male figure from the Angelus appears in Dali’s ‘meditation on the harp’ (1932-33)

Dali’s persistent visions, which are reflected in the innumerable allusions and appearances of the Angelus in his artworks, led to an astounding discovery, which was only verified over a century after the work’s creation by modern x-raying technology. Dali had been particularly haunted by the lurking sense of death evoked by the image, in particular the sense of the loss of a child (perhaps a conviction which colluded with the burdensome death of Dali’s brother in childhood), though in the image there is nothing which explicitly suggests such, other than the grim aspect of the standing figures. But Dali had little doubt that there this was a depiction of the death of a child, and he continued to write his entire Tragic Myth, his entire paranoiac activity manifesto based on this unproven belief: ‘The great mythical theme of the death of the son, an essential sentimaent that became apparent in my Tragic Myth of Millet’s Angelus, was confirmed once my thesis had been completed, without my having yet been able, until recently, to verify it’ (from the later commentary added to his Tragic Myth text). Then, after many years of doubt by almost all those other than Dali himself, the painting was analysed, and there, beneath the many layers of soil and oil paint, there lay the unquestionable outline of a small coffin, the size of which would suit only a child. Dali was right all along.

homage to millet.jpg
Dali’s ‘homage to Millet’ (1934)

To finish, here’s a sublimely surrealist description of the Angelus written by Dali:

“In the picture this lonely, crepuscular, mortal place plays the role of the dissection table in the poetic text, because, not only is life fading out on the horizon, but also the pitchfork is plunged into the real substantial meat which the ploughed land has been to man throughout all time. It is plunged into the earth, I said, with that greedy intentionality of fecundity appropriate to the delectable incisions of the surgical knife during the dissection of any corpse which, as everyone knows, is, under diverse analytical pretexts, secretly only looking for the synthetic, fertile and nourishing potato of death. Constant dualism stems from this, felt throughout all ages, a sort of ploughed-earth nutrition, a table for eating – the ploughed earth nourishing itself from that manure as sweet as honey which is nothing but that of the authentic, amoniacal, necrophilic desires – a dualism that finally brings us to consider the ploughed earth, especially when worsened by the twilight, like the best-laden dissection table, which among all others offers us the most appetizing and prime cadaver. This corpse is seasoned with that fine and imponderable truffle that is only found in nutritive dreams consisting of the flesh from the rounded shoulders of hitlerian atavistic nurses, and with an incorruptible, exciting salt made by the frenetic, voracious squirming of ants… ”

– Salvador Dali, in ‘Explanation of an illustration from the Chants de Maldoror’ (found in the appendix of Tragic Myth)

***

NB: Just as a short additional piece of Dalinian trivia, another fascinating story/conspiracy theory involving the Angelus has to do with the legendary Van Gogh and his cutting off his ear. Another of Dali’s recurrent delusions of the Angelus was the association of the woman figure with the praying mantis; seen as evoking Freudian notions of the atavistic, primal instincts of the mother figure, and her aspect, in conjunction with the bowed head of the father figure, which Dali saw as being reminiscent of cannibalistic urges following the death of the child (note that in all the works by Dali containing both figures, the female towers above the male to represent this mantid analogy). Dali goes as far as to say that ‘it is indeed this insect that we are going to see illustrate in a dazzling fashion the tragic myth contained in Millet’s Angelus’ (Tragic Myth, 81), thus situating the mantis at the very centre of his own decipherment! What’s interesting though, and what links Van Gogh here, is that Van Gogh showed a similar obsession with the Angelus image, but only whilst in his  most delirious state of madness. Now get this, in the late-80s, whilst Dali was very ill and not wholly in his right mind, a scientific discovery was made involving mantids: the mantid is the only known living creature on earth to have what is known as a ‘cyclopean ear’, that is a ‘single, midline ear’ (discovered by Yager and Hoy). This discovery was found a great many years after Dali’s conception of the mantis being so central in the Angelus, and even further after Van Gogh’s psychotic episode during which he cut of his ear, and yet it gives some clarity to the reasoning behind Van Gogh’s cutting off his ear and not any other part of his body, a mystery which baffled historians for many years. Could this indeed be the answer, lying deep in the unconscious workings of this enigmatic painting?! Could it be that the unconscious presence of the mantis also infected Van Gogh in his delirious state and led him to the act of severing his ear?! We will never know for sure, but it is certainly a theory which champions the authority of the unconscious mind, and which undoubtedly makes Dali all the more endearing.

Salvador Dali’s Don Quixote

“Maybe the greatest madness of all is to see life as it is rather than what it could be” -Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

“There’s a method to my madness, and a madness to my method” – Salvador Dali

A small selection of Dali’s artworks based on Cervantes’s timeless classic Don Quixote:

img658_lo-res

img668

img670

img654_lo-res

img672

b6671b9f9a39dfed43c22e4f7d45f081

img651_lo-res

img666-1

original

8377ff33ab569e22d2a08cd551a26520

dali-don

0064-A_DonQuichotteALaTeteQuiEclate_DonQuixoteWithExplodingHead

img655_lo-res

el-ingenioso-hidalgo-don-quijote-de-la-mancha-dali-y-alonso-D_NQ_NP_21395-MLA20208993718_122014-F

20184_detail1_zoomed

dali-500x350

donquixotedali19

donquixotedali16

donquixotedali5

donquixotedali17

donquixotedali7

***

NB: images (mostly) sourced from The Salvador Dali Museum.

Salvador Dali’s Adventures in Advertising

What sets Dali apart from the majority of the surrealists was his willing suffusion into the consumer landscape, a move which infuriated many of his fellow surrealists including the founder of the movement, Andre Breton. Breton dubbed Dali ‘Avida Dollars’, an anagram of Dali’s name which translates as ‘eager for dollars’. Dali took centre stage in many advertising campaigns of the 60s and 70s including Brainiff airlines in 1968, Lanvin chocolate in 1969, Nissan and Iberia airlines in 1972, Alka Seltzer pharmaceuticals in 1974.

Dali’s Lanvin chocolat ad, 1969

He also designed the cover for various issues of Vogue in the 40s.

Vogue cover, 1944
Vogue cover, 1939

He even updated the now iconic design logo for Chupa Chups logo in 1969 which remains relatively unaltered to this day.

Dali advertising Chupa Chups, 1969

Dali’s art continues to influence advertisers in and around the twenty-first century, in the form of global brands like Lipton Ice Tea, who produced a Russian ad in 1998 inspired by his soft self-portraits:

Dali inspired Lipton’s ad, 1998

Volkswagen also released a Dali inspired ad in 2008 to promote their new Polo Bluemotion:

Dali inspired Volkswagen ad, 2008

Although one of the main aims of the surrealists was to contest the post-war consumer-capitalist spectacle by reinvigorating the imagination, Dali was attuned to the overwhelming power of the capitalist machine. Ideologically, he perhaps preempted the later Pop artists whose popularity peaked in the 60s, who understood that the only way to tackle the spectacle was to become a part of it – thus the very form of art became the means by which people were able to perceive the truth of modernity and their total subsumption by the spectacle.

Dali’s involvement in advertising was thus far more than a mere capital-led endeavour, rather, it was demonstrative of an artist wholly in tune to the subconscious forces at play within Western society.

Continue reading “Salvador Dali’s Adventures in Advertising”