“I am Surrealism” said Salvador Dali upon arriving in New York to showcase his art. Eccentric, over-the-top and totally narcissistic, he is one of the most famous Spanish painters of the 20th century. In this article, KAZoART will bring you closer to this legend and his surreal influence on the work of modern day artists.

Salvador Dali with Ocelot and cane, 1965
Salvador Dali with an Ocelot and cane, 1965

To Surrealism and beyond: Salvador Dali

Surreal is right. Dali was everything but ordinary when it came to his artistic approach. So much to the point that he made efforts to estrange himself from other Surrealist artists of his time. This eventually led to his exclusion from the group altogether. However, Dali was not afraid of being eschewed and it certainly did not prevent him from becoming the icon that we know today. His art was developed through the use of a “paranoiac-critical method”, something that artists still tap into in order to draw original inspiration from the hidden parts of their minds.

To talk about Surrealism and to only mention Salvador Dali is to forget his contemporaries, who were both artists and writers such as André Masson, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst, Man Ray and specifically, André Breton, who published a Surrealism manifesto in 1924. Breton was the first to define the Surrealist movement as “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express…the actual functioning of thought…in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from aesthetic or moral concern.”*

The artist must be attentive to the images that emerge in their mind. To achieve a proper representation, one must reassess objects so that they can be evaluated according to what they truly are and not according to their previous material context. This is no simple feat and proved to be major challenge for artists.

Breton praised Dali’s work in this regard by writing: “Dali’s great originality is found in the fact that he can participate in this action both as an actor and a spectator. He has succeeded in being half judge and half on-looker in a trial brought about by pleasure and reality.”**

A new vision

This method, which requires a certain control over the artist’s visions and delusions, contradicts the idea of pure automatism, and unravels Breton’s interpretation. This is what will lead Salvador Dali to be excluded from the Surrealist movement, in addition to making Fascist statements which were condemned by the contemporaries that did not agree with his extreme political stance.

Salvador Dali’s paranoiac-critical method is a technique developed by the French psychoanalyst, Lacan, which practices a different approach than what was set out by Breton. It requires an overcoming of daily perception and a continuous metamorphoses of thoughts. Everyday obsessions and fantasies have to be made understandable for viewers when painted onto the canvas. Thus Dali’s finished products depicted thoughts that had previously been analysed, criticised and reworked on his own.

Modern day Surrealists on KAZoART 

Clara Crespin, Un soir….un minotaure, acrylic on canvas
Clara Crespin, A la frontière de deux mondes, acrylic on canvas

The strangeness of Clara Crespin’s work reminds us of Dali’s art. Its untoward associations and hybridization of objects and beings seeks to reveal something behind the simplicity of reality. Her art is meant to be seen and understood while not being conformative. Through her work, she is able to convey sensations, feelings and moments that are the equivalent of universal feelings Dali portrayed.

The metamorphosis

Gilles Konop, Niebieski i szary twarz, aquarelle sur papier, 32 x 24
Gilles Konop, Niebieski i szary twarz, watercolour on paper, 32 x 24
Gilles Konop, Czapka i kolory, aquarelle sur papier, 40,7 x 29,7
Gilles Konop, Czapka i kolory, watercolour on paper, 40,7 x 29,7

The constant transformation of forms, distortion of objects and combining of two separate entities into one are all characteristic of Dali’s style. These disturbing and fascinating visuals have been present in his works since the late 1920’s. They often reveal unexpected double meanings. The Persistence of Memory and The Great Masturbator are perfect examples of such. These metamorphoses are vehicles by which Dali can stage his obsessions (questions about mortality, sexuality, eroticism, etc.) After all, an artist needs to not only create but also to reveal.

Gilles Konop transforms, diverts and hybridizes everyday beings to give us a new and unique vision of the world. In this respect, his work is close to that of Dali’s.

The dream

Lucid dreams, dreaming under a spell of hypnosis, or memories of dreams – all of the Surrealist artists saw these states as inexhaustible reservoirs of artistic inspiration. Here, no thoughts of reason or interpretation can prevail. The debate surrounding the difficulty of transcribing a dream onto the canvas without the use of human interpretation is ongoing amongst Surrealist scholars and artists. Breton preferred autonomous drawing under hypnosis, thus leaving the final product up to chance. While Dali, on the other hand, applied his method of paranoiac-criticism and saw dreaming as a means of probing the mind and thus analysing it. His paintings then become inner journeys and avenues leading to a deeper realm of thoughts. To access the inner depths of our minds, one must see the exploration as a physical process, just as Surrealist artists did.

Modern day Surrealists on KAZoART 

Emilie Lagarde, L'oubli, peinture à l'huile, 114X97
Emilie Lagarde, Forget, oil painting, 114X97
Emilie Lagarde, le cheval de la bataille de la grande dévoreuse, huile sur toile, 85 x 86
Emilie Lagarde, The Horse and the Battle of the Great Devourer, huile sur toile, 85 x 86

Emilie Lagarde, like Dali, taps into her dreams and memories to reproduce them on canvas. Through the use of dark, visual enigmas, she creates haunted worlds where questions and doubts are scattered throughout her shadow-covered painting.

* André Breton, Complete Works, critical edition established by Marguerite Bonnet, with the collaboration of Philippe Bernier, Etienne-Alain Hubert and José Pierre, Paris, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », t.1, 1988, p.328

** André Breton, Complete Works, critical edition established by Marguerite Bonnet, with the collaboration of Philippe Bernier, Etienne-Alain Hubert and José Pierre, Paris, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade » , t.4, p.509.