From trippy aestheticism and downright sadomasochism to the gregarious tales that you simply couldn’t make up – here’s a 26-letter guide to one of the world’s greatest eccentrics
From his infatuation with the downright bizarre – cauliflowers and Hitler, to name just a few – to his fear that Yoko Ono would perform witchcraft with his ’tache hairs, the man’s existence was equally, if not even more, surreal than his work. In this particular case, the label ‘surrealist’ manages to transcend its links to a mere artistic movement and instead stand as an all-encompassing state of being for Salvador Dalí. The Spanish artist thrived on the controversy and sensation that he commanded, using it to fuel the roaring fire that was his work, and his gregarious stunts, money-making product endorsements and all-eyes-on-me attitude make Kim Kardashian look as publicity-shy as Banksy. As a major retrospective of his work gets underway at Tokyo’s National Art Centre, we chart a 26-letter guide on some of the lesser-known aspects of one of the world’s greatest eccentrics.
A IS FOR AVIDA DOLLARS
Within the art community, Dalí was renowned for his love of making money. Because of this, he was sometimes sneeringly called “Avida Dollars”, – both an anagram of Salvador Dali and a reference to his greed. He’d do pretty much anything to make a buck, from designing the famous Chupa Chups lollipops logo and the 1969 Eurovision logo to appearing in ads for Lanvin chocolates.
B IS FOR BYPASSING BILLS
Knowing that nobody would ever cash a cheque adorned with an original Dalí sketch, the artist would generously offer to pay when he dined with large parties, wait until he had the waiter’s full attention, and adorn the cheque with his work and a prominent signature. The cheque would go uncashed and, as if by magic, Dalí would get away with not paying the bill while the cheque would end up framed, incorporating itself into the restaurant’s wall displays. When the surrealist was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1972, he used this technique to worm his way out of his medical bills, as confirmed by Dr Edmund Klein, who cared for Dalí over this period of time.
C IS FOR CAULIFLOWERS
In an unusual move by the artist in 1955, Dalí loaded up a white Rolls Royce Phantom II with 500kg of cauliflowers and set off on a road trip to Paris from his home country of Spain. He explained his actions with a vague “everything ends up in the cauliflower!”. He never did make it clear why he found such deep meaning in vegetables but three years later, he said that he was compelled by their “logarithmic curve”.
D IS FOR DESTINO BY DISNEY
Walt Disney himself approached Dalí in 1945 with the idea of a collaborative film that would silence the critics that felt that his films hid any creative depth under a blanket of bland, commercial-led safety. Inspired by the Disney classic Fantasia and an enthusiasm for contemporary pop culture, the artist agreed, and the result was a picture titled Destino. It was based on a Mexican folk song which was to play while Dalí’s animations took centre-stage. Although it never saw the light of day during Dalí’s lifetime, Disney’s nephew Roy turned what was created into a six-minute short film in 2003.
E IS FOR EROTIC COOKBOOK
In 1973, Dalí published a cookbook called Les Diners de Gala. It’s a sensory stroll through 136 salaciously illustrated recipes. The book is split into 12 chapters and features delectable recipes with names like “Thousand Year Old Eggs”, “Crayfish Consommé” and “Casanova Cocktail”. The cherry on top is the accompanying editorial quips. From his sheer disgust for the “detestable, degrading vegetable called spinach”, to the book’s preface which warns: “If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once.” Although hard to come by, a signed copy cropped up on eBay in 2014, fetching a cushy $1,999.99.
F IS FOR FAMED FRIENDS
Dalí boasted a bunch of famous friends including Elvis Presley, John Lennon, David Bowie and Sigmund Freud. In 1973, the artist heard about rock legend Alice Cooper and became fascinated by his stage show, which was partly inspired by Dalí’s work. He would go on to meet with Cooper, turning up wearing a giraffe-skin coat, sparkly socks acquired from Elvis, and curly, elastic boots.
The relationship between Dalí and Pablo Picasso was one laden with mutual respect. For so long, it was Dalí who greatly admired the artist who was 20 years his senior with zero reciprocation on Picasso’s part. In his first trip to Paris in 1926, Dalí told his fellow Spaniard that he had come to meet him before, even visiting the Louvre – as if to prove how much his work meant to him. In 1934, for Dalí’s first US exhibition, Picasso paid for Dalí’s transport to New York – although relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, this was a real indicator of the respect that he had gained for the younger artist over time and the belief he had in his work.
G IS FOR GALA
Gala is the Russian-born former school teacher who left Dalí’s friend, poet Paul Éluard, for the artist and became Dalí’s muse until his death in 1989. While standing on the edge of a cliff, Dalí once asked Gala what she wanted from him, prompting an answer of “I want you to kill me” – an answer that Dalí credits for curing him of the fits of hysteria he had been experiencing. It’s said that Gala had a strong sex drive and throughout her life had countless affairs, mostly with young artists – her former husband Paul Éluard included – which Dalí encouraged as a practitioner of candaulism. Dalí’s family weren’t too fond of the decade age gap between Gala and the artist, while the fact that she was a mother didn’t bode too well with them either.
H IS FOR HEISENBERG
If you’re no scientific theorist but the name “Heinsenberg” still rings a bell, it’s most probably because Breaking Bad’s good-guy-gone-bad Walter White also used it as his drug kingpin alter ego. Dali’s interest in nuclear physics was born long before the TV show sensation, after the 1945 Hiroshima disaster and it was later that the work of the quantum mechanics pioneer started to manifest in Dali’s brain. "I, who previously only admired Dali, will now start to admire that Heisenberg who resembles me" he proudly proclaimed in a booklet that accompanied an exhibition he was working on.
I IS FOR INTENSE SELF-INTIMACY
As a child, Dalí’s father showed him a book with highly explicit images of untreated STDs as a form of ‘education’. From then on, in Dalí’s mind, sex was linked directly to these images as he grew into adulthood. Despite his many homosexual relations, even including a relationship with poet Federico García Lorca, masturbation was where sexual relief mainly lay for the artist. He was a virgin until the age of 25, and his lifelong fear of both castration and female genitalia was all thanks to the scars gained from his early exposure to those photographs.
J IS FOR JAZZY JEWELS
The “Dalí Joies” is a collection of jewellery designed by Dalí in collaboration with an American millionaire named Cummins Catherwood. An abundance of precious stones were supplied, which Dalí incorporated into 39 select pieces and the collection was produced in New York under the supervision of Argentinean silversmith Carlos Alemany. The central piece is “The Royal Heart” – 42 rubies, 42 diamonds and two emeralds adorned a base of pure gold that actually beats like a live human heart.
K IS FOR KOOKY KINK
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, singer Cher recalled the time that she, ex-husband Bono and film director Francis Coppola were invited to Dalí's house for dinner. Little did they know, but an orgy was happening in the neighbouring room. Cher remembered “a beautiful, painted rubber fish”, which she described as “Just fabulous. It has this little remote-control handset, and I’m playing with it, and the tail is going back and forth, and I’m thinking it’s a child’s toy. So I said to Salvador: ‘This is really funny.’ And he said: ‘It’s wonderful when you place it on your clitoris.’”
L IS FOR LIVELY LECTURES
Dalí decided to deliver his lecture at the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition dressed in an antique diving suit, which was meant to represent the mystique of him delving into the sea of his subconscious. When he began to genuinely suffocate inside of the soundproof suit, his audience thought that it was all part of an elaborate performance and saw it as nothing short of normal for the artist who liked all eyes on him. He was also holding a billiard cue and was accompanied by two Russian wolfhounds.
M IS FOR METHOD IN THE MADNESS
The artist was open about his distaste for drugs, declaring in a 1970 issue of LIFE magazine, “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” Instead, he adopted a technique called the ‘paranoiac-critical method’, where he would stand on his head until almost passing out, allowing him to find his trip in semi-lucidity. This involved creating a self-induced state of intense paranoia, allowing him to draw irrational relationships between completely unconnected objects and to envision the landscape of his own subconscious mind with unparalleled clarity.
N IS FOR NAZI OR NOT?
During the Nazis’ rise, most surrealist artists steered away from fascism and Hitler. Dalí, on the other hand, began to paint pictures of him. In his autobiography, The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dalí, Dalí confessed, “I often dreamed about Hitler as other men dreamed about women.” He continued, “Hitler turned me on in the highest… His fat back, especially when I saw him appear in the uniform with the Sam Browne belt and shoulder straps that tightly held in his flesh, aroused in me a delicious gustatory thrill originating in the mouth and affording me a Wagnerian ecstasy.” One of Dalí’s later paintings is called “Hitler Masturbating” and, as the name would suggest, it shows exactly that.
O IS FOR OCELOTS
Not one to settle for a goldfish or a dog, Dalí’s pet of choice was a stunning stone collar-clad ocelot named Babou. The wild cat’s presence caused quite a stir in a famous incident at a Manhattan restaurant, where a fellow diner voiced concern only to be told, in signature Dalí style, that the exotic companion was merely a normal cat that he had “painted over in an op art design”.
P IS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY PRE-PHOTOSHOP
Dalí’s surrealist photography predates Photoshop’s birth by more than half a decade. One of his images featured levitating chairs, streams of water flying across the room and cats frozen in motion mid-air. To achieve the effect of this 1948 shot, the furniture was held up by wires while Dalí jumped and someone out of the frame hurled a bucket of water – and several live cats – into the shot. It took a staggering 28 takes for photographer Philippe Halsman to get the final image.
Q IS FOR QUIDS-IN
It’s a known fact that, in true Avida Dollars style, Dalí refused to pay his secretaries and instead gave them his works of art. Although that couldn’t pay their bills at the time, many have cashed in on them later in life with their value skyrocketing into the millions. This approach, alongside his technique of bypassing bills (see ‘B’), have been subject to multiple case studies and research in business and finance. When applied to a business setting, it highlights the importance of cashflow and trading with goods of a specific, known worth.
R IS FOR REINCARNATION
In 1901, nine months before Dalí was born, the artist’s brother, also named Salvador, died of gastroenteritis at 22 months old. Dalí’s mother bestowed her second son his late brother’s name and, encouraged by his parents, Dalí believed he was the reincarnation of his late younger brother. This had a huge psychological effect on the artist and much of his later work would contain allusions to the dead child that he believed was the best part of him.
S IS FOR SUPERIORITY
In 1953, as quoted by Smithsonian Magazine, Dalí said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dalí.” The statement was typical of the self-professed genius, to whom modesty held zero interest. He continued to write, paint and talk about himself – his favourite subject – until the day he died in 1989. His words were more than enough evidence of his high regard for his own being, but a further example includes the book he wrote about his work, bearing the subtle title Diary of a Genius.
T IS FOR TURNING TABLES
While the sadomasochism of Dalí’s character is usually played down as mere ‘eccentricity’ in a mad-genius kind of way, someone who dissected his behaviour as being deeply malicious and plain psychopathic was George Orwell. The author-turned-art critic penned a highly critical essay called Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali, which was about the artist’s autobiography. He described the book as “a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight” before categorising the artist’s personality as an “unmistakable assault on sanity and decency”. Orwell did, however, recognise that Dalí was a very hard worker, ensuring that “(h)e has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings”.
The novelist wrote about Dalí’s apparent exemption from the basic moral principles that the rest of the world abides by out of common decency, noting, “Just pronounce the magic word ‘art’, and everything is OK: kicking little girls in the head is OK; even a film like L'Age d'Or is OK… So long as you can paint well enough to pass the test, all shall be forgiven.” But where does this line of reasoning end? “If Shakespeare returned to the earth tomorrow,” Orwell writes, “ and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.”
U IS FOR UN CHIEN ANDALOU
Un Chien Andalou, which translates from the French as ‘An Andalusian Dog’, is the short film produced by Dalí in 1929, in collaboration with Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Although opened at Studio des Ursulines in Paris with a limited showing, its popularity demanded a further run of eight months. There was no clear narrative, and the darkness evident in most of Dalí’s work is especially present when a woman’s eyeball is cut open.
V IS FOR VISUAL VISIONARY
When Dalí first met musician Alice Cooper (also see: ‘F’), he gave him a plaster sculpture of his brain, crowned by a chocolate eclair with real ants running down the middle. He then asked Cooper to model for him, which he did under armed guard, since he was wearing a diamond tiara worth $2 million. In 1973, the artist went on to create a revolving hologram of Cooper covered in diamonds and biting the head of a Venus de Milo statuette – without a glimmer of modern-day technology at his aid, Dalí’s hologram was way ahead of our time.
W IS FOR WHAT’S MY LINE
In an episode that aired on January 20, 1952, Dalí appeared as a guest on 50s game show What’s My Line, in which contestants had to guess the profession and name by asking yes-or-no questions. Dalí claimed to be at once a writer, TV personality, athlete and cartoon artist. One contestant got a little on the wrong side of riled and nearly gave up, proclaiming, “There’s nothing this man doesn’t do!”
X IS FOR (E)XTRA-SPECIAL SOUVENIR
Ever the self-promo connoisseur, the curious advertising methods utilised for the 1962 launch of his book, The World of Salvador Dalí, included the generous gift of a free printed copy of the artist’s vital signs with each and every book. Cosied up in a bed for a Manhattan book signing, he was wired up to a medical machine that measured his brain waves and blood pressure, giving a copy to each attendee who could walk away with a record of his vitals in the exact moment that they met him.
Y IS FOR YOKO ONO
In a story told by Amanda Lear – a French singer, actress, and model who served as muse and lover to Dalí in the mid-1960s – Dalí was once contacted by Yoko Ono, who requested a strand of hair from his moustache for a project she was working on. Dalí demanded a sum of $10,000, which Ono coughed up. Concerned over sending something as personal as one of his own protein filaments, Dali sent a dried blade of grass instead, worried that Ono might use the hair for witchcraft.
Z IS FOR ZANY
There’s something completely comical about Dalí’s uncontrollable and completely bizarre behaviour, and the fact that he could get away with it. As a child, he apparently enjoyed throwing himself down the stairs, explaining in his autobiography that “(t)he pain was insignificant, the pleasure was immense”. Alongside this, he once pushed his childhood friend off of a 15-foot bridge and, while his friend lay injured, nonchalantly proceeded to eat some cherries instead of seek help.
Salvador Dalí runs at Tokyo’s The National Art Centre until December 12