In art as in life, Dalí broke with conventions and forged new artistic languages and methods capable of examining human psychology. His career began at the Madrid Academy, where he was expelled for inciting a student protest against a painting professor who Dalí considered to be a mediocre artist. Driven by a desire to upend the rational and liberate the psyche, Dalí moved to Paris in 1929 to join the Surrealists. That same year, he collaborated with the Spanish director Luis Buñuel to create the first Surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou
(1929), an absurdist montage of disconnected images, which included biking nuns, decaying donkey carcuses, and a razor-cut cow eye. Though he shared their artistic mission, Dalí disfavored the Surrealist practice of
, a process of spontaneous writing and drawing that was said to unlock the creative unconscious. He prefered deliberate artmaking, leveraging in his paintings the
techniques of the
to illustrate personal fears and fetishes, such as his dread of impotence and proclivity for the human backside. The
of the 1960s and ’70s, such as
, revered Dalí’s
painting style, so much so that he has been called the patron saint of this popular American movement.
In the 1930s, Dalí developed the first Surrealist objects, such as his now-iconic lobster telephone, as well as a new practice of image-making, which he named the “paranoiac-critical method.” Pictures of this kind featured optical illusions and double images, which could be interpreted in multiple ways. The most famous example of this technique, Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach
(1938), features a bowl of pears that double as a woman’s forehead, while the mountainous landscape behind her also resembles a brown-and-white dog. These “paranoiac” paintings challenge audiences to consider how their own viewership can be contradictory and illogical, though Breton dismissed them as mere “crossword puzzles.” While Dalí’s use of
subject matter, such as the display of sexual acts or bodily fluids, troubled his fellow Surrealists, it was the artist’s unwillingness to denounce Fascism in the mid-1930s that eventually led to his excommunication from the group.
Escaping World War II in 1940, Dalí moved to America, cultivating a fame and fortune that earned him the anagrammatic nickname “Avida Dollars.” In his eight years in the States, Dalí designed shop windows for Fifth Avenue, collaborated on set design for ballets, worked on two Hollywood films (Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound
, 1945, and Walt Disney’s Destino
, 1945, released 2003),
and authored two books—in addition to his prolific output of painting and sculpture. In America, Dalí capitalized upon mass media culture—appearing in television advertisements, designing magazine covers, and collaborating with the iconic photographer
—which set the stage for
to do the same. Though some of his contemporaries viewed this venture as low-brow, Dalí became a brand name, one of the first painters to truly achieve global celebrity status.
What inspired him?