Having spent thirty-eight years studying the life and art of Salvador Dali (Spanish 1904-1989) I continue to be fascinated by the ways in which people relate to the man and his work. I am also impressed that the passage of time has done nothing to dim his appeal and the enthusiasm that each decade of young people express. “Oh, I just love Dali,” is a statement that I hear all the time from people of all ages.
I’ve often written about the connection people feel with Dali’s imagery and ideas because it speaks to something in their subconscious–the nether region that most of us access only through our dreams, but with which Salvador Dali was in touch much of the time. There are other points of access to his thinking, artistic expression and lifestyle, however.
I notice that those who study, are very knowledgeable about and research the world of Dali have different paths of approach. Some are well informed about his eccentric life with all of its unimaginable events, characters, celebrities, pranks and travels. Others have read all of the voluminous writing that came from the man’s brain and pen over the years. He really did write a great deal and we know it certainly wasn’t made any easier by the use of a computer or even a typewriter. This approach is rejected quickly by some who read a bit of Dali’s thoughts and declare it’s all too abstract, confusing and even unbelievable for them. They often feel that what the man has written is not so much the truth as jokes he is having at the expense of his readers. Others find the work profound.
Still other people are fascinated by the artist’s psychological being. They want to talk about his scatological references, fear of grasshoppers and relationships with his mother and father. They want to know what influence I believe the death of his older brother (the first Salvador) had on him and whether Dali and his wife Gala ever consummated their marriage.
For me, it’s all about the art. I’m not so much interested in the psychological messages and in figuring out what the artist meant as I am in the techniques and brilliance of his ability. People are forever asking me, “what does this image mean?” I tell them that I won’t attempt to make up an answer and that if Salvador Dali himself was with us he would probably give an explanation that would be shear fabrication to confuse and entertain.
In my career as an expert, writer, lecturer and authenticator and appraiser of the man’s art, I have not only examined over 57,000 prints, real and fake, but have had the thrill of examining over a thousand original, unique artworks from his hand. I sometimes get so caught up in the fine details that I have to remind myself to step back and enjoy the total impact of a painting or drawing.
More than anything else, however, I marvel at the facility with which Dali created an image and drawings are the best entre. I have been fortunate to see a great many in private collections in Europe and the United States that are unpublished and not known to others, certainly not to the cadre of self-designated “Dali experts” who daily practice as if they knew what I know and knew what they were doing.
The best thing about the Master’s drawings is that whether they are very complex and detailed or very simple “dedicatories” dashed off at a restaurant table for an adoring fan, they reveal the thoughts that he had in his mind which then traveled down his arm and onto the paper without preliminary drawings or sketches. It’s the spontaneity and immediacy that I love most of all.
The first time I went to St. Petersberg to appraise the collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in 1987, I was totally mesmerized by the manner in which painting details were created to depict so much more that the dashes and dabs suggested alone. The many small paintings, particularly, look from a normal viewing distance as if they are highly detailed, but when examined with magnification (the way I always look at art) it was revealed that the details are, rather, carefully constructed components that suggest rather than specifically transmit all of that detail. Really quite amazing.
Now that I’ve been doing it for so long and seen so much and spent time with so many who knew Dali, every new image is rewarding in that I can immediately fit it into a context, a chronology and a flow of technical development–or not. I still see new things that amaze me all over again at the unending creativity, genius and abilities of Salvador Dali.
It also has added pleasure to the writing of Artful Dodgers: Fraud and Foolishness in the Art Market and the currently in-progress Persistence of Enigma: The Unbelievable Salvador Dali Market.