A Biography of Dali: The Persistence of Memory

Overview

Salvador Dali's work has seared itself onto the collective subconscious of our time to a degree rivaled only by that of Picasso. Images like the soft watches of Dali's painting of 1931, The Persistence of Memory, made at the apogee of his early surrealist period, can truly be said to have become twentieth-century icons. Dali fueled his fame and influence through behavior that was flamboyant, extravagant, deeply eccentric. His paintings, which are defined by their hallucinatory imagery and "magic realism," are ...
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Overview

Salvador Dali's work has seared itself onto the collective subconscious of our time to a degree rivaled only by that of Picasso. Images like the soft watches of Dali's painting of 1931, The Persistence of Memory, made at the apogee of his early surrealist period, can truly be said to have become twentieth-century icons. Dali fueled his fame and influence through behavior that was flamboyant, extravagant, deeply eccentric. His paintings, which are defined by their hallucinatory imagery and "magic realism," are known to a wide audience in great measure because of his incredible flair for self-promotion. Yet the real Dali, the man behind the outrageous and enigmatic mustache, has remained elusive, or, as he once put it, "a secret within a secret." Meredith Etherington-Smith has delved into unpublished letters and previously unavailable archives to penetrate the facade and put the work in context. She explores the profound effect on Dali of the remembered landscapes of his Catalan childhood and of his early relationships with his fellow art students Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel. Lorca was in love with him, and Bunuel collaborated with him on the first surrealist film. The most important secondary character in this extraordinary life, however, is Gala, Dali's wife, muse, and finally tormentor. Their marriage was one of the most bizarre relationships of all time, and it does much to explain the last, tragic years of this great figure who was at once genius and charlatan.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Piercing the flamboyant persona of a self-mythologizing artist, this lively, gossipy, well-researched biography of Salvador Dali lays bare the demons that fed his paranoia and fueled his art. Dali was given the identical name of a baby brother who had died nine months before his birth in 1904. According to Etherington-Smith, editor of Christie's International Magazine , Dali carried a lifelong burden of guilt at having ``stolen'' his elder brother's existence. Shattered by his adored mother's death when he was 17, the Spanish painter craved fame because he needed to prove himself to his father, a bullying notary, reports the author. She maintains that Dali (1904-1989) had homosexual desires but was terrified of being physically touched and probably shied away from a sexual relationship with demanding, possessive poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Dali's marriage to Gala (born Helena Diakonoff) is convincingly presented here as a relationship of mutual, morbid dependence. This biography candidly confronts the darker facets of Dali's life, such as his right-wing politics, his allegiance to Franco in the Spanish Civil War, his masochism, phobias, manipulativeness and frenzied autoeroticism. Photos. (Nov.)
Library Journal
In this first major biography since the artist's death, Etherington-Smith has created a brilliant portrayal of the enigmatic Salvador Dali. The author shows the emergence of Dali and surrealism, detailing his dealings with principal figures such as Andre Breton, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Luis Bunel. Dali's quick rise to fame and fortune through his masterful manipulation of the art world and general public is fully documented; the integral and enigmatic role of Gala, Dali's wife of more than 50 years, is intelligently explored. Though Picasso is certainly a greater artist and Max Ernst or Rene Magritte more ``pure'' Surrealists, it is Dali who has captured the imagination of the greater public. His iconography--arising, as the author shows, from childhood memories of his native Catalonia--has become a key element of the 20th-century mind. A vital work for understanding Dali, his art, and his times that will be popular in public and and academic collections.-- Martin R. Kalfatovic, Natl. Museum of American Art/Natl. Portrait Gallery Lib., Smithsonian Inst., Washington, D.C.
Donna Seaman
Dali made such a spectacle of himself and allowed his work to be devalued so scandalously in his later years that it's difficult to assess his standing as an artist, but Etherington-Smith succeeds in portraying Dali as a "consummate communicator," whether his medium was paint, language, or performance. Dali's childhood was suitably bizarre and rife with the secretiveness of incest and adultery. These experiences contributed to Dali's complex sexuality, a mixture of autoerotism, voyeurism, masochism, and homosexuality. Exceptionally intelligent and talented, Dali was drawing and painting with great facility at an early age, while already displaying the tendencies of the eccentric dandy he later became. Etherington-Smith traces Dali's creative evolution through his early autobiographical works to the oneiric iconography of his surrealist period, and his later obsession with religious and metaphysical subjects. The two major figures in Dali's life, after his domineering father, were Federico Garcia Lorca who loved him and, most importantly, the notorious nymphomaniac Gala, who was more keeper, tyrant, manager, and jailer than wife. Their 50-year liaison, while strange and often painful, was undeniably fruitful. To Gala's credit, she kept Dali sane and working; to her shame, she eventually turned him into a virtual slave to ensure that he produced enough artwork to keep her in cash and young men. Etherington-Smith discusses the more unsavory aspects of Dali's outlandish life with unfailing sensitivity and circumspection, while basking in the glow of his finer moments. Dali dazzled the world with his unforgettable imagery, licentious wit, flair for absurdity, and gift for melding the silly with the serious and the artistic with the crass. It's a curious fact, and one indicative of Dali's ability to tap into the collective unconscious, that this crazy Catalan's meticulous paintings "strike resonant chords in those who are, paradoxically, not interested in painting." This is a lucid and respectful interpretation of an enigmatic and compelling subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679400615
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/23/1993
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 465

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