The Complete Spaniard

Surrounding a huge pink dome, sculpted gigantic luminous eggshapes are flanked by golden “Oscar” statues that look like they are about to make suicidal leaps onto the traffic below. Pink and yellow contrast against a palette of deep blue sky background as a take a narrow careful turn into the town. The building is itself of art.
Conservative Figueres in northern Catalonia centres at the bright pink building that stands testament to the art of its most famous son – Salvador Dali.

A triangle and a tourist trail – two things you might not immediately associate with the most famous of surrealist painters. And yet for Catalan tourism, the Dali Triangle is one of its greatest money spinners. A fact that many art aficionados believe would have appealed to Senor Dali himself.

Opinions of Dali remain divided. Was he an artistic genius or merely a profiteering egotistic opportunist?

Dali was indeed a father of performance art and his persona was so flamboyant that it was oft deemed to be carefully managed and a most fastidious cultured eccentricism.

Dali, however, was one of the founders of surrealist art too and has inspired many modernists. Dali was the greatest early exponent of that provocative art which has become so popular and overpriced.

Despite the considerable debate as to whether his were strokes of a genius or merely the mediocre creations of the bizarre imagination of a master of self-promotion, there is no doubting his influence among his artist peers to this day.

After Madrid’s El Prado, Dali’s museum is the most visited museum in Spain. In the carpark, the car registrations read like a library of the towns of Europe. They travel far and wide to see the work of undoubtedly the most famous of Catalan mainland painters.

Pablo Picasso, the man from the islands was really a blowin; his fellow surrealist Miro, born in Montroig near Barcelona, was arguably more talented than Dalia and more true to his work but he was no doctor of spin.

Born in Figueres, a provincial Catalan town Dali was as you might guess that kind of difficult child that we stick with a plethora of acronymic diagnostic labels of ADHD, OCD, and ODD if he had been born a century later. What would Ritalin have done to his artistic prowess?

At a young age, he was already honing his attention seeking behaviour that perhaps was the central tenet to his fame. Some critics would argue that if he didn’t shout “look at me” so loudly his fame might have remained regional.

His father’s aspirations for his son were certainly not realised when Dali chose the path of an artist. Dali’s father reflected the mood of Figueres. He was a staunch Catalan republican, thus Dali was of course a monarchist. His father was a respected notary in the town, an atheist and republican. His mother a staunch and devote catholic.

Dali’s religious beliefs were in his early life pretty non existent but in later life he donned an extremist catholic mantra that many feel was feigned. He also switched politically from supporting the king to the much more distasteful support of Franco’s fascism and even seemed to condone hideous Hitler.

His name Salvador came from a stillborn baby brother who had died 9 months before his birth and who had been given the name Salvador too. His parents doted on him but he consistently felt he was a substitute for the dead baby. His father wished for an academic career for his son, but didn’t discourage his art. He had his first exhibition in the town at the tender age of 14, so he had a precocious start to his career.

Dali popularized surrealism and is considered to be its most effective exponent. He said his work was his reasoned madness where he combined paranoia delusions and observation.

Other surrealists disowned Dali when he became popular and displayed his materialism obsession particularly the profiteering antics he displayed in America. Some famous ads featuring Dali have been posted on youtube where he famously tortuously twists his moustache and face.
Andre Breton famously rearranged his name to “avida dollars”, which translates into “greed for dollars”.

Dali was always great for a quote and this was one of the ways he kept himself in the limelight and courted publicity to the annoyance of his fellow surrealists. During his first visit to New York he described New York as “a great and immense gothic Roquefort cheese.”

Figueres, Cadaques and Poblat make up the route of the Dali Triangle.
The first stop on the itinerary is of course Musee Art Dali in the centre of Figueres. It is the second most visited art museum in Spain and it is often quite difficult to get a spot in the multi-storeyed carpark just beside the museum. It is quite an irony that there is this great monument to the monarchist cum fascist Dali sits in Figueras, which has always been a hotbed for Catalan nationalism.

Most of Dali’s work is now dotted around the world. Dali achieved his true fame in America and a lot of his art is in a museum in St Petersburg in Florida and New York. But there is plenty of his surreal dreamlike work to see in Musee Dali.

The most famous piece is the “imaginary” room that is a recreation of the face of Mae West, with whom Dali was particularly fascinated. Her hair are the curtains, her nose is a fireplace and her lips a red sofa.

Cadaques is one of the northernmost towns of the East coast of Spain and it is on a rocky peninsula called Cap de Creus. Dali used to spend his summers here at his parent’s summerhouse when he was a kid and he was greatly inspired by the place. The red tiled roofs and whitewashed fishermen’s houses feature as backgrounds in many of his works.
Picasso also stayed here during the summer months.

Now it has become a kind of avant garde artistic hangout and still has a strong artistic community.

The reflective ocean looks cool and inviting, especially in the midday heat, but the beaches are stony underfoot.

Later in life, Dali returned here to a modest villa in Port Lligat, which was converted into his home from a number of fisherman’s houses.

The elegant baroque church overlooks the harbour is a replacement for one that was destroyed by the pirate Barbarossa on one of his raids.
The third point in the triangle is the castle at Poblat, which is off the road between Gerona and La Bisbal. In the 1970s, Dali bought this medieval castle, which is now a museum, as a summer residence for his wife Gala, who is now buried here. In the gardens there are some bizarre elephant sculptures.

Dali took great inspiration from the Catalan coast and even in surreal works the boulders and craggy rocky inlets of the wild Costa Brava can be seen.

In the end, a man who constantly reinivented himself on the blurred line of insanity became a caricature of his persona and lost his mind.
In a fire in 1984, Dali suffered severe burns and he moved into Torre Galatea where he became a recluse although some feel it was enforced by his guardians.

Dali became increasingly depressed and paranoid and some of his close friends feared he was being manipulated and works forged that he was forced to sign.

In the early 1990s two Americans were found to be selling fraudulent Dali artworks. It is alleged that he was forced to sign blank canvases and this throws into doubt the authenticity of much of his later work. An unfortunate end.

For most he is remembered shouting like a lunatic and laughing like a maniac, all the while twiddling his great long spidery moustache which was a tribute to Velasquez.

Perhaps Freud should have provided the proper epitaph to the greatest art showman that ever lived: “I have never seen a more complete example of a Spaniard. What a fanatic!”


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