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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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An Aesthetic

By Franklin Gottheimer, '39
The Magpie, June 1939, v. 23, n. 2., p. 54.

FRANKLIN GOTTHEIMER describes the work of the sensational surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, whose conceptions of the subconscious add colorful contributions to the vagaries of modern art.

Not long ago he went careening through a window he had decorated for Bonwit Teller's and was nearly decapitated by a pane of razor-edged glass. Recently, dowagers and duchesses crowded into the Alien Levy Galleries where work commanding prices rising beyond the four digit mark was on exhibit. His name is Salvador Dali, and he is certainly the most famous (or infamous if you so wish it) of surrealist painters.

Dali has again delved into the realms of the subconscious, perhaps a little deeper this time, and emerged with a new phobia. He calls it "interpretations of paranoic phenomena," and indeed it appears a neurotic product. Perhaps the artist is afflicted with paranoia (the dictionary defines the disease as a form of insanity marked by systematic delusions) but is a genuine realist who portrays what his mind's eye sees. It is more probable that he is, as many suggest, a grandiose and talented faker who has found a unique "get-rich-quick" scheme.

In accordance with the "paranoia" method, Dali paints a face whose moustache is the arm of a woman, its eye the head, and its nose and chin the body. He gives shape to double and triple images, but the crowning point of the show was the huge "Endless Enigma" of six blended designs with many "supplementary" objects thrown in.

Dali's use of color and design, however, is masterly, and he seems to be closely familiar with all phases of anatomy. Like many great painters, he began as a copyist, and once was famous for his copies of Vermeer. He is a great admirer of Vermeer, who was noted for his use of gold, silver, and blue lights and much of his work shows the latter's influence.

The "dream paintings" of the young Spaniard are filled with myriad jottings and designs, ever recurring symbols. Some of the more popular are the incompleted telephones, plates, fine-lined women skipping rope, snails, branches, bureau drawers, brown and purple jagged hills, skeleton framed boats in dry dock, and Valkyries. Each has its psychoanalytic significance.

"The Sublime Moment" is a razor blade piercing a branch suspended by a teardrop over a plate of fried eggs, while an unfinished telephone also hangs from a limb in the blueclouded sky. However, Dali's work is not without its antecedents; he does not seek to create a new art form without good bade in the past. The woman in the moustached face is clearly Vermeer's sunlit girl, and the checkered floor tiles, window drapes, and tapestry map hangings are part of the studio background that adorn all the Dutch master's paintings. Red, pink, and purple cloths are copied from El Greco and strongly suggest that artists brush handling. Dali also has his "Saint Jerome," a landscape pierced with spectral colored lights above a plate filled with little telephones, all in a sombre blue. "The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image" is the tide of a less complex design, and "Debris Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone" is just what the title implies.

Dali also caricatures and lampoons. A clipped photograph of Shirley Temple's face is mounted on a red sphinx body, while a purple hat perches on her curls. The only other celebrity shown is Harpo Marx crowned by sea-food.

His plastic creations were also displayed. Chief of these was a large trylon and perisphere painted with his symbols; a disarmed Venus is mounted upon the ball. Drawers open out of her body so that she looks like a utilitarian art object. The trylon is painted with names, among them Vermeer, Leonardo, Picasso, Bins stein, and Freud, while the largest and the only one appearing twice is Dali's. A large painted bust of an Elizabethan woman, such as are oven found in antique shops, is enclosed in a huge shell, while ants crawl across her face, and an egg opens upon her chest, on which shine hundreds of tiny spoons.

And all this is considered the systematic interpretation of the associations that objects suggest. Thus the growing band of modern neurotics has an aesthetic leader, to guide them through their chosen ways of confusion and delusion.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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