Surrealist Sighting

It was sometime in the mid 70’s, and I must have been 7 or 8 years old. My brother Chris was 11 or 12. We were two New York kids, lucky enough to find ourselves in a tiny chocolate shop on 57th Street, a couple of doors down from the old Russian Tea Room. Our fantastic mother was prepared to buy us any chocolates we wanted. Oh . . yes! Wooo hooo! It doesn’t get any better than that! Righteous Mom.

Chris and I were in a chocolate-dipped, toasted coconut, creme-filled, sugar-coated, nuts, nougat, caramels, and sweets heaven, literally like kids in a candy store! What to choose, what to choose. How about a hundred of everything? ūüôā But my Mom suddenly got distracted by a strange man who was also in the store. A really odd, eccentric looking character. He wore a weird hat, a weird cape (yes, a cape!), and carried a cane. Weird moustache, weird face. Weird all around. Why did my Mommy care about this freak, I thought. We’re supposed to be buying chocolates!!!! How dare she direct her attention elsewhere. The nerve of that woman. But she kept eyeing him. Watching him.

My mother, as I have mentioned before on this blog, is an artist. In addition, she is probably the sharpest and quickest observer of recognizing famous figures in public places of anyone I’ve ever known. She spots people like a hawk. In crowds. In restaurants. On the streets of New York. So clearly she knew who this man was. Ok fine, Chris and I thought. The man is famous in some way. Big whoop. Can we get candy already???? My brother and I were going into sugar withdrawal symptoms at this point! The weird little man paid for his purchase, and walked out of the store with his bag of chocolates. My Mom had not attempted to speak to him, as he was not especially approachable. He just left the store, and walked out onto 57th Street. “That was Salvador Dali”, my Mom said. Huh? Dali who? Neither my brother nor I knew or cared who he was other than the jerk who delayed our candy indulgence. Can we get chocolates now, Mom?? Damn.

Yes, that was our little “brush with greatness”. Encountering Salvador Dali in a tiny chocolate shop which, sadly, is no longer there. Given how our city has changed, it’s probably some wireless T-Mobile store now. Or a Domino’s Pizza take-out.

Like all the famous artists I feature here on Museworthy, Salvador Dali had a muse; his wife, Gala. By all accounts, Gala, the daughter of Russian intellectuals, was a shrewish, domineering woman who was profoundly disliked by most people who knew her. Except for Dali, who was infatuated. He even went so far as to call her “mythological”. Gala certainly inspired him artistically, as we can see in this very interesting nude painting Salvador did of her. I have to say, I’m quite intrigued by it:

 

Gala managed Dali’s career and finances, and did so ruthlessly. Her crafty tactics worked like a charm, and even Dali’s father admitted that while Gala was not the warmest, most sensitive lady on earth, she handled and promoted Salvador’s art career with a great deal of business savvy. He said that were it not for her “my son would have ended up under a bridge in Paris”. Perhaps she is reason that Dali is so well-known not just to art experts, but to the general public. He is not “just another surrealist”, but an iconic art figure of the 20th century.

My research of their marriage was, let’s say, a little discomfiting. They weren’t Ozzie and Harriet, that’s for sure. The Dalis were more like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald on acid. I don’t know, that metaphor works for me. Just as the Dalis’ marriage seemed to work for them. And who am I to judge? Relationships are forged for all sorts of reasons. And as far as art is concerned, a muse is a muse. When an artist finds inspiration as potent and addictive and compulsive as Gala was for Salvador, you hang on to it. Because you are inexplicably drawn to it. Because you have no choice. And so, you create . . .

The Dalis:

Gala Dali died in 1982. As per her wishes, she was buried in her favorite red Christian Dior dress.
Salvador died in 1989, in his hometown of Figueres, Catalonia in Spain, just three blocks from where he was born. To me, he will always be the peculiar man who bought a bag of chocolates, in that little shop on 57th Street.

8 thoughts on “Surrealist Sighting

  1. robert bent says:

    You are such a fine writer!!
    Dali has always been a curiousity to me. I can vividly recall seeing him being interviewed by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and Carson’s incredulous facial expressions when Dali described how he (Dali) remembered his birth! And I bet he had his cape on….maybe he’d spent part of that day at your candy shop before his appearance on the Tonight Show!!
    My grandfather traveled to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in London in 1952 or 1953 on some Cunnard ship, Queen Mary or SS America, and Dali was on board. My grandfather spent time with him during the 4-5 day trip; family lore has my grandfather asking the Master, when first encountering him, if he was Dali and Dali responded that “no, I am a sign painter from Brooklyn”………I have no idea if that’s fiction or what but my grandfather had an extraordinary ability to connect so maybe it is true.
    The nude is beautiful; surrealism leaves me cold, generally.
    Best!

  2. artmodel says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your great comment and terrific anecdotes! While writing the post, I thought that the word “eccentric” could well have been coined for Dali. Seems like a perfect match of a person with an adjective.

    My Mom and my Dad saw Dali’s bizarre appearances on the Tonight Show, like you mentioned. He referred to himself constantly in the third person. How annoying is that? Can’t imagine that going over too well with Carson. As to your grandfather’s memory, I certainly wouldn’t put it past Dali to have given that response. What an odd character Dali was.

    I have come to appreciate surrealism, although I perfectly understand why it would leave you, or anybody, cold. But I was really impressed with that nude, and wanted to post it. My interest in surrealism also has a lot to do with my love of Frida Kahlo.

    Great to hear from you as always, Robert! And thanks so much for your sweet compliment of my writing. It’s something I enjoy, and I guess it shows ūüôā

    Claudia

  3. I loved the post. Dali has always been a favorite of mine studied at a university many decades ago. You have refreshed my memories. I find it so interesting that most artists, whether literary, musical, or graphic, have a slice of their lives that influences their work so dramatically. Look at his art in he former years and then at his relationship with Gala. You obviously have a talent that will not go unnoticed. I will watch it blossom. Thank you for sharing with the world.

  4. 100swallows says:

    I enjoyed your Dalí story and the painting of Gala. Thanks. I saw Dalí once too but he was old then and like a sad clown. He still carried his cane and wore a fur coat but his proud mustache was down to a few whiskers and he just looked tired.

  5. artmodel says:

    Donald,

    Thank you so much for your comments and for contributing to Museworthy! I’m glad you enjoyed the Dali post. You make such an essential point about how artistic figures are influenced by some passionate force in their lives, which inspires them to create. This blog wouldn’t exist were it not for that dynamic.

    I am touched by your generous views about me personally. You are too kind! But as long as people like you believe I have something to share, then I will continue to share it. Thanks for bringing your voice to Museworthy.

    Claudia

  6. artmodel says:

    Hi Swallows,

    Great to hear from you. I’m glad that you also enjoyed this post. I knew my readers would get a kick out of that story. Yes, Dali certainly deteriorated in his later years and was a very odd-looking man. But I wanted to post that nude of Gala to remind everyone (myself mostly) that he had impressive artistic talent and was not just the eccentric character which is the common perception.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Claudia

  7. Chessmaster says:

    Thanks for this 10 minutes of break in my day. I really enjoyed reading about Dali. We use to study his work in university. It’s crazy the amount of time we spent interpreting his fantastic work.
    Great post!

  8. artmodel says:

    Chessmaster,

    Glad you enjoyed reading about Dali. I have to say, this blog post is one of personal favorites so far. Dali’s work definitely demands a lot of “interpretation”, but that’s what makes much of it so intriguing. I can imagine the amount of time you spent studying it.

    Thanks so much for reading and for your comments!

    Claudia

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