Nayef Abouzaki - The Unique Style of Salvador Dali


The Persistence of Memory


Dali wanted to revolutionize the art of the twentieth century. All of his initial efforts to improve techniques that were already mastered did not gain him any significant fame. He tried to improve many different styles of art, such as Impressionism, Pointillism, Futurism, Cubism, and Neo-Cubism (Secrest 15). Nevertheless, he sought to fulfill the needs of his mental and social life through a new form of art. This new style of art was Surrealism that allowed Dali to express all of his “erotic desires” and at the same time change the way the world viewed art.

Dali sought a change in his life after the meeting with the Surrealists in 1928 in Paris and he knew that this change was not going to occur in Catalonia. However, the Surrealists saw in Dali the future of the movement, because he was armed with an exceptionally rich imaginary baggage. This baggage was a result of his erotic desires for women and his undying interest in the concept of the unconsciousness devised by Sigmund Freud. His precise style enhanced the nightmare effect of his paintings. By 1929 he had become a leader of surrealism.

Dali’s first Surrealist period was in the year of 1929 when he first joined the movement in Paris. One of his most prominent works during this period is The Great Masturbator, which was influenced by his strong attraction to the wife of Paul Eduard, Gala (Secrest 128). The main subject in this work is a large female figure with a fractured head, yet very calm and taken into deep emotions. The presence of the cracks on the face could signify a form of physical exhaustion. Nevertheless, the picture can be analyzed from different aspects since Dali was able to incorporate many odd objects to it. An example of this is what appears to be a grasshopper on the woman’s belly. This work somewhat depicts Dali’s emotions toward Gala. The appearance of Gala was a revelation for him. He saw in her the imaginary female figure that he has been long waiting for. Gala for him was an object of worship, because she represented his childhood reveries.

As his style matured, Dali’s works became more and more affected by the concept of psychoanalysis devised by Freud. Dali’s works were increasingly shaped into dreamlike illustrations. This was clearly seen in his most famous work the The Persistence of Memory, in which he depicted several clocks as melted in a desert setting with the ocean appearing below the horizon. Dreams consisted of a large segment of his life, because he would take siestas, or midday rests, in which he encounters more and more dreams (Etherington-Smith 9). He considered the siesta as a state that is achieved at the moment that one forgets about one’s body or in psychoanalysis the state of the unconscious. Yet, his dreamlike style was combined with his sexual desires to give a variety of works with different themes.


Among them is The Spectre of Sex Appeal, in which he depicts himself as a child watching a brutalized body of a woman, who is barely able to support herself with the aid of the sticks (Secrest 130). Her head seems indistinguishable and seems as if it blends with the giant rocky cliff in the background. He depicts this state of exhaustion of the woman by the use of crutches to support her back and her arm. This style persisted in numerous of Dali’s future works and did not mature any further; rather, he tried to keep it consistent to address different themes with the same effectiveness. Nevertheless, Dali adopted the influence of politics and religion into his surrealist style.

In 1934, Dali was accused of showing an interest in the fascist movement led by Hitler and as a result he was kicked out of the Surrealist group in Paris. This did not affect Dali’s art or life because by that time he was well known worldwide for his special style. The main advancement in Dali’s style was the production of religious works. The most famous and also the first of all of his religious works was The Madonna of Port Lligat, in which he arranged the picture around a piece of bread that is visible through a hole in Jesus’ body (Etherington-Smith 328). Here the influence of Gala was also seen, because he incorporated her into the picture as the Virgin and as angels.

The style of Salvador Dali was the most famous and most creative of the twentieth century because he developed and nourished a style that was insignificant before his time. The dominant themes in his career revolved around his childhood sexual desires and on the study of the unconscious mind. Gala’s presence in his life greatly relieved of many mental complication, which allowed him to incorporate other themes into his works later in his career. The Great Masturbator, The Persistence of Memory, The Specter of Sex Appeal, and The Madonna of Port Lligat are the works that can summarize the themes that were incorporated into most of Dali’s works.

Works Cited

Secrest, Meryle. Salvador Dalí. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1986.
Etherington-Smith, Meredith. The Persistence of Memory:
A Biography of Dalí. New York: Random House, 1992.