Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let Me Provide You With a Historian's Interpretation of Your Dali Artwork . . .

With more than 40 years in the business of studying and writing about the life and work of Salvador Dali, I can help strip away some of those onion layers of mystery concealing the real meaning of your Dali artwork.

Many of the ideas in Dali's work were based on Freudian symbolism, personal experiences, the extraordinarily interesting terrain of his native Spanish countryside, and other influences.

Knowing how some of these factors came into play in a given Dali work typically makes the work more fascinating, because it becomes more meaningful.

I was publicity director of the original Dali Museum when it was located in Beachwood, Ohio (it's now permanently located in St. Petersburg, Florida), and had the occasion to live virtually every day with the largest collection in the world of Salvador Dali's original paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sculpture.

I've edited a national journal dedicated to Dali's life and work; written a blog focused heavily (though not exclusively) on his prints; written an introductory essay for a forthcoming catalog of Dali's lithographs, etchings, and engravings; and years back edited a proposed book manuscript by veteran appraiser Bernard Ewell. In his new book, "Artful Dodgers: Fraud & Foolishness in the Art Market," Mr. Ewell kindly included me in his Acknowledgments section: "I have benefitted from the efforts of several editors along the line," Ewell writes. "Paul Chimera helped me with an earlier manuscript and taught me much in the process."

I met Salvador Dali in 1973 and spent some time with him again the following year. "Fascinating" doesn't describe the experience!

CONTACT ME:  Write me at: to discuss your Dali art and get a price quote for rendering an expert interpretation of your work(s). I'm set up to take Paypal -- making it very convenient for the both of us. Thanks!

Paul Chimera @dalifan
Salvador Dali historian
(Photo by Paul Chimera, taken at the St. Regis Hotel, New York City, 1973)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dali's Insecurity Led to His Flamboyance

Salvador Dali hams it up in this photo, which I use here under 'fair use' guidelines, strictly for journalistic purposes (I'm afraid I don't know who took the picture and owns its copyright).

But why did Dali play the public clown so incessantly? His own explanation was that he not only loved being a great painter, but he also admired Charlie Chaplain and fancied himself as something of a "cloon" (clown), too. Fair enough.

However, I believe it goes deeper than that. In his insensitively-titled biography of Dali ("The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali"), author Ian Gibson does in fact reveal something quite telling about Dali: he had always been very self-conscious and would blush beet red at the slightest provocation.

This generally more youthful condition neverthless surely affected Dali inside -- privately, quietly, confidentially, and profoundly. To compensate for it -- to overcome it, or mask it, or deflect attention from it -- he launched a vigorous public persona that was just the opposite of a shy introvert.

He became "madman Dali!"

It was not unlike his ingenious antidote to the cruel taunting by his early schoolmates. They knew Dali had a terrible fear of grasshoppers. They would torment him by throwing the clingy creatures at him -- and it terrified the impressionable Salvador.

Then the precocious boy came up with a plan. He'd construct a strange-looking creature out of paper, pretend he'd come upon it by accident, and that it frightened him even more egregiously than grasshoppers! When his classmates discovered this reaction, they began assaulting the young Dali with this new menace -- and Dali played along, pretending he was even more horrified.

He wasn't at all, of course, but it got the kids to forget about tossing grasshoppers at Dali. Brilliant!

In the case of Dali's showmanship and flamboyance, surely it was borne, in part, anyway, of Dali's own actual tendancy to become easily embarrassed, and his fear of having others detect it.

Persistence of Genius . . .Dali Reborn!

If I've done this correctly, above, you should be able to click on the link and watch a positively fascinating mutli-part video of the conservation process that recently brought renewed life and sparkle to four Dali masterworks in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg: Galacid... (DNA); Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; Ecumenical Council; and Hallucinogenic Toreador.

For me, it was an emotional experience, watching these estimable conservators ply their specialty so meticulously in order to preserve Dali's genius. It's reassuring to know people truly care about maintaining such important and timeless pieces -- ensuring they'll remain glorious works of art to be admired by future generations.

What's more, the conservation process itself was stripped bare, to borrow from the video series' own title. It's nothing short of impressive to learn of the countless details that go into proper conservation of works as huge and monumental as these masterpieces by Salvador Dali. The picture here shows Dali in front of "Ecumenical Council," during the inauguration of the first-ever Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dali's 'Last Supper' Seems to Get Better with Age!

Dali's iconic, hugely popular and much beloved (by the public, anyway) "Sacrament of the Last Supper" is now seen on a wall just to your left when you step off the elevator in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Like a fine wine, the painting seems to get better with age!

I am ceaselessly amazed by the technical virtuosity demonstrated in this canvas. The hair on the Apostles -- just one detail -- is as well-painted as the best Renaissance masterpiece.

It was the first time my wife Anne saw the famed picture in person. As a young girl, she would see reproductions of it that her father would occasionally bring home from his job as a printer. But seeing the original just bowled her over: "It's amazing! How he thought up the idea to portray the Last Supper in so unconventional a manner. And his technique, which makes me almost think I'm looking at a photograph!"

I usually get negative comments from Gallery staffers, who seem to disparage Dali for having the gall to paint a picture, in 1955, that would go on to become -- indisputably -- the most popular work of art in all of this grand museum.

One time, for example, when the work was actually disrespectfully hung in the gift shop (and on an easy-to-miss wall at that), I'd asked a museum attendant why the work was being displayed in so inappropriate, or at least inconspicuous, a manner. "If I had my way," she sniffed, "it would be kept in the basement!"

This time around, however, we asked several museum attendants about the Dali, and they all acknowledged with a discernible sense of pride (or was it just wishful thinking on my part?) that people ask about the work all the time. They seemed comparatively effusive in explaining to us where to find the work, since we're not really very familiar with the Gallery.

I used Anne as a kind of "test-marketing" opportunity here, seeing how she'd react to certain details I explained about the painting. For instance, how, when it was unveiled on Easter 1955, some people gasped in disbelief, thinking that the atypical depiction of Christ was actually an image of Gala, Dali's wife!

My wife said, no, she didn't get that impression in the least. Yes, he's beardless and yes he looks generally unconventional vis-a-vis most portrayals of Jesus. But she said he just looked like an "interesting and rather handsome male." In fact, it's my understanding that a male model sat for this striking spiritual portrait by Dali.

Speaking of spiritual, Anne was also fascinated by the way Dali depicted the body of Jesus -- transparent and sort of morphing into, or emerging from, the background sea, all suggesting the spirit as well as the body of Christ. And while she felt the large figure at the top, whose face we do not see, was surely representative of God the Father, I continue to see it as symbolizing the Trinity: the Father, yes, but also the Holy Spirit, and the ascending Christ Himself.

My wife has joined me on several important Dali excursions, including the fabulous retrospective in Philadelphia in 2005 and the hugely impressive exhibition in 2010 at the High Museum in Atlanta. But while many of the works she's seen "are a bit weird for me," she told me, Dali's "Sacrament of the Last Supper" is her favorite -- because it's so calming and "so perfect," as she puts it.

Here's a photo of my wife gazing upon the breathtaking painting.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Revisiting Dali's 'Last Supper' and other Dali-in-D.C. Sightings!

Watch this space for a report on my upcoming sojourn to Washington, D.C., where I'll be touring major musems and collections and reporting on the two and possibly three key Dalis in town: "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" at the National Gallery of Art; "Skull of Zurburan" at the Hirschhorn Museum & Sculpture Gardens; and possibly Dali's "Portrait of Chester Dale," also owned by the National Gallery.

As a side note, I'm also eager to tour the Newseum, which has no Dalis -- it's a museum about journalism and "news" (thus the name Newseum). And The Phillips Collection, also Daliless, but chockablock with some great art.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dali as Judge? The Wall Street Journal's Verdict: Yes!

Check out today's (Fri., June 1, 2012) Wall Street Journal. Eric Felten, who authors a column called Postmodern Times, writes about how, more and more, what art "is" is determined by what a court of law says it is.

Accompanying a headline that reads, Is It Art? Increasingly, Nowadays, That's a Judicial Decision, is a large color illustration of Salvador Dali -- the tips of his mustache sporting the scales of justice, and dressed authoritatively in a judge's black robe.

While Dali is not mentioned in the piece, the illustration gives a nice nod to our boy, in what may be the country's most widely read newspaper.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dali's Book Transformation is, Well, One for the Books!

Salvador Dali's 1940 painting, "Book Transforming Itself into a Nude Woman," wrote a new chapter for me in Dali's endlessly surprising life and work. It hadn't been seen publicly for decades -- and was reproduced in no known book -- until it rather mysteriously appeared in the huge Dali Retrospective (Centenary exhibition) in 2005 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It amazes me how a work this "finished" could somehow escape general awareness by Dali devotees, including its absence from what was essentially the catalog raisone by Robert Descharnes and Giles Neret (Dali - The Paintings, Taschen). It turns out it was purchased by a private collector while it was part of a traveling exhibition in the 1940s, and was thus sequestered from the public spotlight all those years -- until the 100th anniversary of Dali's passing.

In any event, the painting is enigmatic -- even for Dali! The human form resembles the faceless male figure in "Philosopher Illuminated by the Light of the Moon," it's been pointed out -- but both works are a departure from most of Dali's paintings, where human heads are seldom so amorphous. It has an alien look that, well, seems foreign to the iconography we've come to more typically expect in Dali's work. Its only claim to Dalinian familiarity, we might argue, is the crutch supporting the figure's right shoulder.

Two large Bible-like books are opened up, while the one in the foreground metamorphoses into a reclining woman, her buttocks curiously joined by the blade of a butter knife! It's inevitable that we see an echo here of the same basic knife cutting into human form in Dali's remarkable "Autumn Cannibalism" painting. The ink well is generally thought to symbolize Dali's father, who was a notary, although a more Freudian interpretation places the ink well and pen, symbolically, as a female breast and a phallus, respectively.

This allegorical tableau, set out on a beach-like terrain with a rather dark sky behind it and buildings in the background not instantly recognizable (unlike so many background details in others of Dali's works), has a kind of dark and foreboding aura, consistent, perhaps, with the mood of war during which this canvas was painted.

Still, it continues to put me a little off-center in my belief that I "know" Dali. Something about it seems un-Dali-like. It's probably that odd human figure, sans face. Still seems a bit too alien -- even for Dali.