Although inspired by Renaissance masters, Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and designer Salvador Dali (1904-1989) is known to the general public for his bizarre and eccentric surrealist images. To this day, his versatile style and imagery exert considerable influence on artists the world over.
Founder and president of the Salvador Dali Society, Joe Nuzzolo is one of the foremost Dali experts. He is solely responsible for building the largest known private collection of Dalí works in the world, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and graphics.
Simply Charly: Before he became drawn to Surrealism, did Salvador Dali experiment with any other styles?
Joseph Nuzzolo: “I’m an Impressionist” once claimed a young Salvador Dali. Impressionism was the first art form he embraced. In keeping with his philosophy that “first one must learn to paint like the masters,” he sought to paint in the manner of Renoir, Monet, and Cezanne. Much in the Impressionist spirit, his first paintings were landscapes inspired by the port in Cadaques and the area surrounding Figueres. As he grew, his artistic brush began to follow some of the contemporary styles that were emerging, such as Dadaism and Cubism. This is evident in the works he produced during his late teens and early 20s.
It is apparent that Dali’s experimentation never ceased in the continuing evolution of his life. In 1914, Dali drew Le sous-marin translated from French as “The Submarine.”
In it, a jovial character with disproportionately long legs grasps a fish in one hand and a periscope in the other, as he blithely streams along above the crude vessel, though it—and everything else in this cartoon-like composition – is adroitly executed by the hand of the future Master of Surrealism.
The basic, whimsical style of Le sous-marin can be legitimately compared with a series of inks on paper that a 13-year-old Dali did for his sister, Ana Maria, which likewise demonstrated his remarkable precociousness (see Salvador Dali: the early years, South Bank Centre, 1994).
Early drawings such as Le sous-marin give us an instructive glimpse into the mind and technique of a young Dali, just beginning to blossom into the young man who would soon become all the rage of Cadaques, the rest of Spain, Europe, America, and the world. Even this far back in his career, we see the respect for careful draftsmanship he would never abandon as the preeminent artistic influence of the 20th century.
SC: Did he admire, or was inspired by, any other art forms? If so, which ones?
JN: Entire exhibitions have been dedicated to Dali and his connection to cinema. In 2007 and 2008, the exhibit Dali and Film went on from the Tate Gallery in London to tour the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He made contributions early on in film with this work with Luis Bunuel in Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930). His love of cinema can be traced back to his childhood. When his mother was alive, she worked at the local cinema and Dali spent countless hours in the dark watching films. He would go on to work with Hitchcock, Disney, and others. In 1976, he created his own film, Impressions de la haute Mongolie. In 1985, he again participated in cinema by allowing himself to be filmed during a symposium at the Dali Museum in Figueres, which explored the connection between Dali’s paintings and the scientific discoveries of his time. If one considers science to be art form than this too was an extraordinary influence on Dali. It would take 20 years for this footage to be released to the public in the daring documentary film, The Dali Dimension.One very apparent influence is the film The Fantastic Voyage. In the mid-1960s, Dali went to see this film, where a submarine and its crew are shrunk to enter the bloodstream of a diplomat to save him from an assassination attempt. The film starred Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasance. Dali was so taken with the movie that he painted The Fantastic Voyage. Using the monochromatic colors of a dream, Dali created a pathway through a world loaded with giant Dalian icons, like a massive phone hanging in a tree and a fountain flowing from a piano. Today, The Fantastic Voyage hand signed lithograph (1965), stands as of one of Dali’s most esteemed graphic works. Dali was also influenced by Americana. He held great admiration for Currier and Ives and their highly successful series of prints depicting life in America. He was so inspired by these works that in 1971 he painted his interpretations of Currier and Ives prints. The same year these were published as seven hand-signed lithographs on paper, titled simply, Currier and Ives. In these works, Dali affixes an image by Currier and Ives on the lower part of the work and then brings it to a Dalinian life in his interpretation, which takes up nearly the entire sheet.
SC: Before he developed his own style, who, aside from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, influenced Dali?
JN: Picasso and Miro were undoubtedly Dali’s contemporary influences. But, Dali’s biggest artistic influences were the great masters; Velasquez, Raphael, Vermeer, Rembrandt.
In fact, in 1974 he chose to rework paintings by Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, and Raphael in a series called The Changes in Great Masterpieces. Dali paid homage to these great artists by “Dalinizing” their most famous works. He painted a door over the head of Rembrandt to indicate Dali’s entrée into the mind of the master. He brought subtle but poignant changes to each of the works in the series. What was the 70-year-old Dali trying to say? True, he was imagining himself in the studio with these masters working as a collaborator. But by recreating HIS most famous work, The Persistence of Memory, and adding a fourth melting clock, the message becomes evident. The fourth melting clock, called the clock of immortality, disappears gloriously over the horizon. Dali was saying that when he crossed to the other side, his art would bridge his life and his death. At the age of 70, Dali was confident that he had achieved immortality in the annals of art history and was worthy of walking with the masters. To add an exclamation point to his message, he authorized limited edition lithographs of these works, which were published by Phyllis Lucas in 1974. The Changes in Great Masterpieces are six distinguished hand-signed lithographs by Salvador Dali.
One cannot talk about the influences of Dali without speaking of his contemporary influences, particularly science. He said the explosion of the atom bomb “shook him seismically.” It was not the destructive force of the bomb, but rather the fact that man could build something so utterly devastating to the human race. This began Dali’s immersion into the fields of science. A little known but compelling painting, The Atomic Champagne Glass, epitomizes the influence of the atomic bomb. In it, he juxtaposes two contradictory symbols, the champagne glass, and the atomic bomb.
Dali studied the writings of Einstein and Freud and expressed his enlightenment on canvas. His obsession with DNA influenced one of his famous paintings, Galacidalacidesoxyribonucleicacid. He had occasion to sit with JD Watson, who with Francis Crick founded the structure of DNA. Upon introducing himself to Dali, Watson said, “The second smartest man in the world is here to see the smartest man in the world.”
A broad range of scientific discoveries and principles can be seen in the works of Dali. For a greater insight into the influence of science in Dali’s work, one must see, The Dali Dimension.
Q: Dali once said: “Compared to Velázquez, I am nothing but compared to contemporary painters, I am the biggest genius of modern time.” Do you agree with this self-assessment, and what, in your view, was so unique about Dali and his genius?
A: This is an interesting and enlightening quote, and it really reveals a lot about what Dali thought about modern art. When he said this, he was really commenting about two things: one, the technical aspect of art, and two, how modern artists lacked technical training and proficiency. He thought the world of Velasquez, and an argument can be made that Velasquez was Dali’s favorite painter. Dali felt that Velasquez’s technique and vision were beyond comparison. You have to realize that Dali was trained as a classical painter, and he was one of the very few successful modern artists whose technique was flawless. As for technique, Dali was the preeminent draughtsman among his contemporaries. In terms of vision, Dali was really one of the first pop artists. I believe he paved the way for Andy Warhol, who incorporated pop icons into his works.
In 1965, Dali created a magnificent work titled, The Lucky Number of Dali. While technically sophisticated, the work also exhibits the splash of a Jackson Pollack. He inscribes the work throughout with the number “85” a seemingly meaningless number until one realizes that Dali died when he was 85. For this reason, many today consider this work to be prophetic. This masterly work, which he produced as a limited edition lithograph, is an indication that with his flawless technique, Dali could cross any boundaries.
SC: In what way was Dali’s style different from other Surrealists of his era?
JN: As we look back today and talk about the Surrealist movement, we can say that “surrealism” was more of an umbrella term that covered many different things, as opposed to a term that clearly defined an art form. We can look at a Miró and call him a surrealist, but clearly, his style differed greatly from Magritte and Dali. All surrealists took their inspiration from the sub-conscious mind and tried to extract some expression of art from it. A cross-section of artwork defined as “surrealism” reveals that the journey into the subconscious manifested itself differently for each artist.
Dali’s particular brand of surrealism, or Dalinian art, is difficult to categorize. One thing that amazes me about his paintings, and something that I think sets him apart from the other surrealists, is amount of information in each image. For example, a painting like the Metamorphosis of Narcissus is a delicately balanced symphony of different imagery. The messages one can draw from this painting are so abundant and diverse; it could be said that the painting changes with the viewer.
SC: Is Surrealism still a force in the 21st-century art world, and, if so, who among the modern Surrealists have been influenced by Dali?
JN: Few artists today would label themselves as strictly “Surrealists.” Still, you would be hard-pressed to find an artist alive today who has not been influenced by Salvador Dali. Jeff Koons has publicly proclaimed that Salvador Dali had influenced his body of work. Dali’s sculpture, The Bust of Kennedy (1971), which is a bust of JFK, with the paper clips of bureaucracy stuck to his head, has striking similarities to works by Koons. The art movements like the Lowbrow movement and the Comic movement all owe some debt to Dali. I find the ghost of Dali when thumbing through the pages Juxtapoz and Art News. But his presence can also be felt in mainstream publications like Time and Newsweek.
Film Directors like Spike Jones, Michel Gondry, and David Lynch are making “Surrealist” films. The influence of Dali can be seen in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Fisher King. Had Gilliam finished his film, Don Quixote, his homage to Dali would have been immortalized, as Dali depicted Don Quixote on numerous occasions, most poignantly in his 1965 lithograph, The Face in the Windmill.
While the official “Surrealist” movement may have ended a long ago, its spirit is very much alive, and it remains the most influential art movement today. Pay attention, and you will see Dali in both print and television advertising. Dali is everywhere!
SC: Some critics say that the work Dali did from 1929 to 1939 was brilliant and durable, but after that came decades of kitsch and commercialism. What is your view of this assessment, and, if it’s true, why did Dali transit from “brilliance” to mediocrity?
JN: My opinion has always differed. In addition, the opinion of most of those critics has changed as well. Dali painted some wonderful works after this period and his, graphic work began to have a distinct voice. Keep in mind that many critics snubbed graphics for a long time. Dali placed a great deal of effort into his creation of limited edition graphics in the 1960s and 70s. But at this time graphics flew under the radar of the “art elite,” so the critics were ambivalent. However, Andy Warhol, whose entire career centered on limited edition graphics, changed all that.
Dali’s meteoric growth in popularity made graphics a necessity in order to satisfy the demand of a Dali-hungry public. It was a positive evolution for the artist. This is expressed in his black and white, 1965 lithograph, The Drawers of Memory, with a woman who, after desperately rifling the drawers of her life, lifts a tuning fork to the sky, seeking a message of inspiration. The colorful Bullfighter, completed in 1980, is one of Dali’s last limited edition works, where Dali glorifies the bull, not the matador, by encrusting the beast with jewels.
Dali was constantly reinventing himself, therefore redefining Surrealism, and the critics had a hard time keeping up. After all, how do categorize the work of an artist who is always ahead of his time? But opinions changed in 2005 with a Dali exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Put on by the Gala-Dali Foundation and involving such prestigious names as Dawn Ades and Michael Taylor, it rocked the art world and made many critics do an about-face. Since then, most critics have become champions of Salvador Dali, seeing him as a major impact on the art of the 20th century.
SC: By all accounts—including his own—Dali was an eccentric, and his antics were legendary. Was he really an oddball, or was this eccentricity just a façade? Do we know what kind of person he really was in private?
JN: There were two Salvador Dalis. The one who friends and associates like Alex Rosenberg, Peter Lucas, Frank Hunter, and the Dali Archives knew: a disciplined and focused worker who spent hours in the studio. Then there was the public persona, and this is what most people remember about his personality. Dali behaved eccentrically when the cameras were rolling, wearing a diving suit to an interview, sitting on a throne with his pet ocelot, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling these eccentric episodes a façade. They were just another side of Dali. One must realize Dali was attempting to make his public image a work of art. Like his works on canvas, it would require the viewer to look beyond the surface and into the hidden imagery of his life. Andy Warhol and many artists since have followed Dali’s example. That is why you hear people say, “If it weren’t for Dali, there would be no Warhol.”
To see both sides of Dali, check out the DVD The Doorway to Dali. In it, you can see Dali in an interview by Mike Wallace. While the answers to Mr. Wallace’s questions are a bit unusual, his manner and tone suggest nothing but authenticity. This is in stark contrast with accompanying footage of Dali explaining his painting, The Hallucinogenic Toreador. While synthesizers blare, Dali makes outrageous gestures and confounds the viewer with the explanations of his imagery.”
SC: Like other Surrealists of his era—René Magritte, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst among them—who were trying to apply Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to painting, Dali too was fascinated by Freud. How is this fascination reflected in Dali’s works?
JN: It’s reflected everywhere. Dali’s works are inspired by his own Paranoaic—Critical Method, a method directly inspired by Sigmund Freud. He used this method to tap into his sub-conscience and see the ordinary world through a psychological lens. Dali took his interest in Freud seriously and counted his meeting of Freud as one of the greatest moments in his life. No other artist was more directly influenced by Sigmund Freud. This is evident by the number of personal subjects in his paintings. His images are filled with memories of childhood, personal struggles, dreams, and aspirations. They incorporate highly personal visions of his mother, dead brother, and father. His paintings are a lifetime photo album depicting the inside of his mind.
SC: You are a renowned Dali expert, and you have examined and sold thousands of authentic works by Salvador Dali. How did you get interested in Dali, and what do you consider your field of expertise.
JN: I have worked with literally thousands of Dali collectors in the last two decades, and my expertise in the area of prints is difficult to challenge. It is not just authenticity, but the potential value a work of art may hold. Having been on the front line of the market for so many years and having dealt with thousands of collectors, I have developed an expertise at picking the right work at the right time. I was the first Dali dealer to recommend the Drawers of Memory to my clients strongly. Today it is the most valuable limited edition Dali graphic. Many of my clients are holding highly prized Dali works based on my recommendations.
I began to be interested in Dali in my late teens. It was early1980s, and I had occasion to meet Andy Warhol. I soon became aware of his admiration for Salvador Dali. This motivated me to look deeper into the works of Dali. The more I studied, the more my passion for the artist grew.
I officially entered the art business in 1987. The first works I ever sold were Dali works. I soon learned the best way to build a business of selling art is to become a tenacious advocate for the collector. As part of my advocacy, I have used my expertise to assist collectors who have been wronged in the market. I have issued reports that have enabled collectors to get their money back for works that were not correct. This has gone as far as calling the dealers who ripped them off and procuring a refund. I have worked with law enforcement on cases involving the works of Dali. And I never charge for this service. I do not think people who have been cheated should have to pay to make themselves whole.
I am a staunch supporter of civil code 1740-1741, which states that every artwork sold in California should come with a Certificate of Authenticity. I was recently interviewed for the Los Angeles Times about this, here is the excerpt:
“A dealer would have to be a darn fool not to provide something in writing as the law requires,” said Joseph Nuzzolo, a Redondo Beach art dealer specializing in Salvador Dali prints. However, Nuzzolo said, the Law on art prints goes only so far in protecting buyers, “Every fake I’ve ever seen has a certificate of authenticity that was also a phony.”
The Los Angeles Times
Thursday, July 3, 2008
That is why I have developed and trademarked, The Bulletproof Authentication, which provides authenticity, not just from me, but from third party recognized experts as well. When you receive a Bulletproof Authentication on your Dali, you not only get our seal and letter of authenticity, but also you get 100 years of expertise. Frank Hunter of the Dali Archives and Peter Lucas of the Appraisers Association of America, both knew and worked with Dali, and each has over 40 years of experience in the Dali market. I have over 20. Every collector should insist on a Bulletproof Authentication. If your dealer refuses to give it to you, I suggest you offer to pay for it yourself and make it a condition of your purchase. If he still refuses, run the other way and call me at 1-888-888-DALI, or visit my website at Dali.com. I would much rather work with you as a collector than a victim.