While the primary purpose of this Florida visit is to don my Florence Nightingale cap, my beloved “patient” here is doing remarkably well so we ventured over to St. Petersburg yesterday to check out the Salvador Dali museum. I have to say it is one of the most impressive collections I’ve ever seen. The museum itself was recently renovated and it’s a sleek and stylish space that serves the artwork well.
As I try to stay centered during my own creative Sabbatical now that I’m six months into it, I find it refreshing to witness the prolific portfolio of such a fascinating artist. The museum features work that began during Dali’s teenage years and spanned over decades. It’s interesting to see the influences of Dali’s early paintings (the French impressionists, Vermeer, Picasso) and how his style evolved into something truly unique and special. There’s a precision to his technique that’s staggering – I had to peer closely at some pieces just to confirm that they were created with brush strokes and weren’t actual photographs; that’s how real they appeared. I realize a lot of people probably find Dali’s work disturbing and weird, and some of it definitely is, but I admire the context in which it emerged. No one else was doing what he did when he first did it.
I get pretty awe-struck studying paintings that incorporate so many layers of symbolism in them. One of Dali’s paintings that I really loved was Portrait of My Dead Brother (c. 1963). Those Lichtenstein-esque dots you see are actually light and dark cherries that represent both Dali and his older brother, also named Salvador, who died tragically before Dali was born. I love how the cherries create the larger face of his brother – along with the bird that emerges in the upper left corner. So many of Dali’s works are like this – pictures within pictures, meaning within meaning. That’s a mental bandwidth I can’t even begin to tap into.
In the late forties and early fifties, Dali became intrigued with the theories of atomic energy and began incorpoating them into his art. One of these pieces is The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (c. 1952-54), which is a throw-back to one of his earlier and more popular pieces showcasing those recognizable melting watches. I was listening to the audio tour while studying the painting and I was deeply impacted by the narrator’s recounting of Dali’s theories on time (I did my best to jot it down, but I can’t attest to it’s total accuracy):
We used to think that the world we lived in was the element of time. It was time that limited us and gave us our character. But it’s not. It’s space. We are individuals that can go anywhere we want and travel imaginatively. And time doesn’t restrict us.
I love that philosophy of “traveling imaginatively” and I will find comfort in that idea during those moments when I feel pressured by a perceived ticking clock. We have more freedom than we sometimes realize.
NEXT UP: Final Thoughts on Florida