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Salvador Dali Biography (Surrealist Painter)

Salvador Dali was born on May 11, 1904 in a Spanish town of Figueres, Catalonia, as Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali, into a middle-class family. His farther, Salvador Dali i Cusi, was a notary and his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferres, was a haberdashery importer, a business inherited from her father who had passed away. Felippa was pregnant only a few weeks from marriage to Salvador Dali's father.

However, their first child wasn't exactly the Salvador Dali that we know today. Dali had an older brother of the same name who died in infancy on August 1, 1903, only 3 months after he was born. He also had a sister Anna Maria who was 3 years younger. At age 4 Dali attended the municipal kindergarten. In 1910 he attended the Immaculate Conception, primary school run by the Christian Brothers where he learned to speak French.

At age 10 he received his first set of oil paints from a family friend, the German artist Siegfried Burmann who is temporarily staying in Cadaques, Spain. From an early age Dali expresses an exceptional talent in drawing and painting and upon his death is considered one of the most important painters of the 20th century by the art community.

Throughout his life, Dali has striven to become noble which could be summarized in his self-proclaimed comment: "At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since."

The Persistence of Memory (1931) detail
An oil painting by Salvador Dali.

Due to complexity and extensive scope of content displayed in his paintings, such as objects appearing within objects as illusions and his famous double images as experiments with perspective, Dali's enigmatic paintings are sometimes painted with photo-realistic precision.

Often called by Dali himself as dream photographs, they succeed at making the viewer look for meaning in his work whether there was a meaning or not. Other times, when people vehemently exclaimed that they have figured out the meaning of an object in one of this paintings, Dali was known for sarcastically agreeing with them giving no further comments.

A closer inspection of his identity reveals that he might have been secretive about the meaning of his work and is known for exaggerating events of his life which makes writing a biography containing genuine information challenging. It could be interpreted that the hidden nature of meaning in his painting doesn't necessary lie in the fact that he didn't want to explain his paintings but rather due to the way in which they were painted.

The discovery of the Jewish-Austrian neurologist and psychologist Sigmund Freud had influenced Dali's interest in painting an array of objects inspired by studying his own subconscious processes. Dali claimed that he had invented a philosophy he based his artistic processes on, which was the 'paranoiac-critical' method.

To enter the state which is needed to achieve this practice, according to Dali, one must become not only fantastically or mildly paranoid but experience the real clinical condition of paranoia, while maintaining the thought that reason is still hiding in the back of one's head to remain functional so the painting may be conceived.

Or in other words, again by Dali himself: 'a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivation of delirious associations and interpretations'. A good reference to this would be a conversation between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali from the movie titled "The Death of Salvador Dali" (written and directed by Delaney Bishop; Dali Movie)

Salvador Dali: Thank you! thank you! thank you! thank you!
Sigmund Freud: Have a seat, Mr. Dali.
S.D.: Dali, would like to go insane!
S.F.: Excuse me?
S.D.: I want to go mad! Dali was once crazy and his work was brilliant.
S.F.: So you have cured your madness then and since curing madness is the goal of my profession I don't see any need for my services.
S.D.: But you can cure madness, so... you can create madness.
S.F.: You want me to take things I know about the psychosis of madness and then inflict them on you?
S.D.: Or you can just tell me, and I'll inflict them on myself.

Dali was known to study famous thinkers and as any intellectual, created comparative remarks. Sarcastically, Dali compares his mustache to that of Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, as being the exact opposite. Whereas Nietzsche's mustache was thick and apparently pointing downward indicating over-elaborate thinking and depression, his own was pointing straight up to heaven indicating positiveness and confidence.

Dali had on at least one occasion mentioned (whether this is true or not, is doubtful) that in his childhood he had an intense fear of grasshoppers (a condition referred to as acridophobia) which, according to him, led him to jump out of a window at a sight of a grasshopper in a room on the second floor of his house. Salvador Dali is very well known for telling fantastical stories such as this and it is often impossible to check their authenticity.

Having a self-evident obsession with publicity and attention, Salvador Dali had developed a charismatic character to promote his artwork. Dali had expressed enough fantastical, mysterious and secretive behavior, that was no doubt perfect for his self-advertising campaigns.

To make it clear, a biography written about Salvador Dali must not be solely based on what he would say about himself and his work. Rather, to investigate Dali's life one will have more luck should he refer to books and film as well as other resources.

Just as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali was one of the few artists to become famous during their life times.


  • Books on Salvador Dali
  • - Salvador Dali - Avida Dollars, an article by an artist.
  • - Salvador Dali Interview - Listen to Salvador Dali talk about Paranoiac-critical and his moustache, of course.
  • - Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida - Official site.
  • - Wiki on Dali Wikipedia.
  • - Salvador Dali - A Detailed Biography.

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