This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #20.
Artists are often enigmas, eschewing all attempts from the media to explain their art or themselves. There was one artist that was in different, in every single way: Salvador Dalí. In his autobiography he writes with complete sincerity how he felt about himself, "Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí”.
With no sign of modesty, a notable infatuation in the bizarre complete with his less than common upbringing and later life, the man’s existence was even more surreal than his work. "Surrealist" fitted him so well that it could be argued that he outgrew it, managing to transcend the title. For some surrealism was just an artistic movement, but for Dalí it was an all-encompassing lifestyle.
Although born in 1904, the seeds of strange in the artist’s life can be traced back three years earlier. In 1901, his older brother, also named Salvador was born. Unfortunately his life lasted just 22 months, dying of gastroenteritis just nine months before the birth of his new sibling. Upon learning she was to be having another son, Dalí’s mother decided to give her second son his late brother’s name. An odd gesture in itself, the act did have spiritual undertones. When the second Dalí was five years old his parents took him to his brother’s grave, where his parents informed him he was the reincarnation of his late brother. This is said to have had a great psychological effect on the man, highlighted by his later work which contained allusions to the dead child.
The trend of abnormality continued through adolescence. In his autobiography he writes how he routinely threw himself down the stairs, explaining that “(t)he pain was insignificant, the pleasure was immense”. These acts of masochism weren’t saved for just himself though. He once pushed his childhood friend off of a 15-foot bridge and, while his friend lay injured, he nonchalantly proceeded to eat some cherries instead of seek help.
Showing talent as a young artist and probably to discourage the young man pushing anyone else off a bridge, his mother encouraged him to seek artistic endeavours. His gift was quickly noticed and he hosted his first public exhibition at the age of just 15. Attempting to further his studies he later attended art school but chose not to complete his studies, refusing to show his work in the final show announcing that none of the professors were competent enough to review him. His reasoning for leaving was not entirely ideological though. Whilst undertaking his degree he was financially supported by his father, this would end as soon as he finished a degree and so he moved to Paris and continued to be financed by his father. Cash was reason enough for self-sabotage.
Although his legacy is survived through his influential work and his surreal outlook on life, Dalí is renowned for his pursuit of money. A starving artist he would never be. André Breton coined the nickname "Avida Dollars”, an anagram of Salvador and a reference to his greed. He sought out jobs anywhere, from designing the famous Chupa Chups lollipops logo and the 1969 Eurovision logo to appearing in ads for Lanvin chocolates.
He also knew how to hang on to his money. Well aware that nobody would ever cash a cheque adorned with an original Dalí sketch, the artist would generously offer to pay when dining with large parties. When he had the waiter’s full attention he would adorn the cheque with an illustration and his signature. The cheque would go uncashed added to the restaurant’s decor and Dalí would get away with not paying the bill. Later when he was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1972, he used this technique to avoid medical bills. His own staff were not immune to this trick either. Instead of payment, he would give them his works of art. Although at the time that couldn’t pay their bills, many have since cashed in on them later in life with their value skyrocketing into the millions.
A life full of controversy and sensation is hard to sum up in one short article, with the Spanish surrealist being the true embodiment of a renaissance man. With a gift for gregarious stunts, money-making product endorsements and all-eyes-on-me attitude he was the ultimate show-off and if it wasn’t for his immense talent that is what he would be remembered for. Instead that is just a small part of the man known as Salvador Dalí, the man who made himself unforgettable.