Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Salvador Dali

Descharnes and Neret

Taschen 2006

The sole difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.

Salvador Dalis eccentricity and flair for self-promotion made him one of the most notorious artists of the 20th century. People who had no interest in art knew of his loony publicity stunts and paintings of soft watches. A Bohemian version of a tabloid celebrity, he had no qualms about exploiting his talent for fame and money. Andre Breton, a fellow member of the Surrealist group, dubbed him Avida Dollars, a cunning anagram of the artists name. Nothing about Dalis life was normal or sensible. He turned up at the Sorbonne in a white Rolls filled with 1000 cauliflowers. He danced in the Venice piazza dressed as a 27-foot tall giant, and paraded a 15-metre loaf of bread through Paris. He tried to patent inventions like kaleidoscopic glasses to be worn whilst driving through boring countryside, and he loved his wife Gala to the point of dementia.

All of this tends to distract from the real issue here, which is Dalis art. His complex, bizarre pictures are not to everyones taste, and some seem to be cultivating oddity for its own sake. But his simpler paintings are extremely powerful, rendering visible images we usually see only in dreams. Its hard to deny the effect of the famous stringy, turquoise woman with open drawers on her body, or the queasy horror of his comment on the Spanish Civil War, perversely titled Soft Construction with Boiled Beans. Dalis titles are a riot in themselves, my favourites being Hairdresser Depressed by Persistent Good Weather, and Bed and Two Bedside Tables Ferociously Attacking a Cello. Such was Dalis indisputable technical skill that this picture is exactly what it says in the title.

Descharnes and Neret are clearly fans of Dalis art and their text is full of quotes from Dali himself, bringing his contradictory personality to life: Either I was too much ahead of my time, or much too far behind, but never contemporaneous with ping-pong-playing men.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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