Recently I was at a digital exhibition, sitting in a huge empty building watching clocks melting on the walls and elephants with giraffe legs walking to the music of Pink Floyd and I was smiling ear to ear.
This is the world of Dali, maybe the most famous Surrealist artist of all time.
I remember seeing the The Persistence of Memory for the first time. I was in the middle of one of my time & alternative realities obsessions, reading my way through Cortazar and Borge to Einstein (which I had to give up in about 2 minutes due to apparent lack of brains) and here was a visual representation of my newly formed ideas.
Then came the Venus of Milo with Drawers, another very visual demonstration of the secrets buried in all of us; the Hallucinogenic Toreador, a painting that I couldn’t took my eyes off at the Dali Museum at St. Petersburg, USA ; the Space Elephant and many other paintings, objects and sculptures.
After observing Dali’s work in as many museums around the world as possible and reading about him and his life, I reached the obvious conclusions:
- Dali was an egomaniac genius whose works make me understand and appreciate surrealism.
- He was either incurably crazy or had a very unique sense of humour. Or both.
- I might be just slightly envious of Gala.
The second feeling got stronger after I’ve visited their houses in his native Costa Brava and caught a glimpse of the life they built together.
As a young art student, Dalí assimilated a vast number of artistic styles and displayed unusual technical facility as a painter. It was not until the late 1920s, however, that two events brought about the development of his mature artistic style: his discovery of Sigmund Freud’s writings on the erotic significance of subconscious imagery and his affiliation with the Paris Surrealists, a group of artists and writers who sought to establish the “greater reality” of the human subconscious over reason.
That was also when he met Gala.
The city was full of artists, writers and jazz from around the world creating works that would shape the 20th century. Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Bunuel, Picasso, Miro, Magritte, Cole Parker, Joyce and Stein were among a group of young people who survived the Great War and came to Paris to paint or write or compose or do whatever they wanted to achieve and the city gave them the freedom to try.
The Russian born Gala was very much at home in Paris and an influential member of the Surrealist movement. She also had a husband, a daughter, dozens of admirers and a ménage a trois. Dali was a budding artist ten years her junior. Shortly after they had met, Dali invited a group of artists, including Magritte, Bunuel, Gala and her husband to his childhood home in Cadaques for a summer holiday. He later wrote in his autobiography Ma Vie Secret that when he met Gala, he knew that only with her he could reach his true potential and true life goals. All his life Dali was no stranger to exaggeration but this time he was correct; after that visit, they were never separated after that summer in Cadaques; Gala became his muse, model, wife and goddess.
Over five decades, Dalí made hundreds of drawings and paintings of Gala, showing his multifaceted wife as the Madonna, as an erotic figure, or as a dark and mysterious woman. Dalí also started signing some paintings “Gala Salvador Dalí,” showing the couple’s strong bond.
On Gala’s insistence, they had an open marriage. They had a turbulent life together, for they were both passionate creatures, both in their beliefs and personal life; flirting with fascism, religion, the New York years, the regular orgies. They were quite similar in their flamboyant styles and constant need for fame and fortune.
But through it all, they shared something special : their love story.
I read somewhere that when he declared his undying love for her, Gala smiled and told him ‘My dear boy, then from this day onwards we shall never be parted’. I thought that finding the one person that you just feel that is right for you and acting on that impulse against all odds is the stuff one reads about or watches in romantic movies. It is inspiring that it also happens in real life, albeit a surrealist one.
There are three museums in Costa Brava – known as the Dalinian Triangle – where the memories of Dali & Gala are still very much alive. The Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres; Castell de Pubol, the castle Dali bought for Gala in their later years and their seaside house in Portlligat, Cadaques.
The Dali Theatre Museum is a crazy place built on the remains of an old cinema that was burned down by the Franco troops. Later, Dali insisted to build his dream theatre there; by then he had the money and the connections so he got his wish. It’s a building full of his installations, paintings, sculptures, optical illusions and one of his pet projects, the Mae West room. His tomb is also in the museum.
In an adjacent building, there’s the Dali Jewels, a small museum showcasing 38 extraordinary jewels Dali designed and a must-see. Some of the pieces took my breath away but unfortunately – or shall I say luckily? – they are for exhibition only.
The Castell de Pubol is a small castle in the very cute village of Pubol, that Dali bought, designed and presented to Gala. He also signed a legal document detailing the ownership rights; stating that Gala was the lady of her castle to live as she wanted and visitors – including Dali himself – would only be allowed at her written invitation.
It was known that Gala had a very active sex life and had many extramarital affairs throughout her life including her ex-husband. Dali, with this gift, was presenting her the perfect playground with utmost understanding acceptance and respect. One can only imagine the fun she had there. In the garage there’s the old horse carriage that she used to drive around the village next to her Cadillac that she was driving a few days before her death, to visit her beloved Salvador. She was buried at her castle.
The house in Portlligat is my favourite among all, most probably because it’s on the lovely Med coast with gardens full of olive trees. In other words, it’s a white house on a blue beachside full of sliver-green trees. I can’t imagine better colours.
The house is actually made of nine fishermen’s huts that Dali bought and expanded over time, so it’s a bit of a maze. Having said that, I found the interiors shockingly normal. Of course there are the expected stuffed animals and the Oval Room with the strange acoustics that Dali designed for Gala, but it’s also full of light, lovely Catalonian furniture and the yellow wildflowers that Gala liked so much.
The real Dali effect is in the swimming pool. Which swimming pool is complete without a couple of thrones to sit on, Michelin dolls, Pirelli tyres and a Mae West coach? Well, this one had all and some more.
When he heard about Gala’s death, Dali was at Portlligat. He left his house to live at Castell de Pubol because he didn’t want her to be alone and never returned back. The two unfinished paintings he was working on are still hanging in his workshop.
Dali once famously said ‘Surrealism ? It is me.’ I believe he had a point