Nov 17, 2014

Salvador Dali, Chocolate and Goodbyes

When you head somewhere for a week long vacation you wonder how on earth you will find interesting things to fill the time.  Then when you wake up on your last full day you inevitably wonder where all of that time went, and how it's possible you are already packing your bags to go home. When Tuesday morning rolled around we were feeling a little sad about having to leave the next day, but we were thrilled to be able to see the Salvador Dali museum an hour and a half away in Figueres.  The museum was designed by Dali himself and is, predictably, a very unique space.  I assume that most of you are familiar with Salvador Dali, but if not you may recognize "The Persistence of Memory" with its famous melting stopwatches dripping off the edges of tables and trees.  Dali is widely considered to be one of the masters of the surrealist movement. To me he is The Master. My views do not necessarily represent the views and or opinions of the producers of The Poundry and furthermore... wait a minute... I guess they do.  Ha!  In your face, Magritte! Dali was my first "favorite artist" going all the way back to when I was a kid staring at a poster my parents had in our living room.  Through thick clouds of smoke I used to stare at "Suburbs of the Paranoiac-Critical City: Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History" and think to myself "The woman with the grapes looks so friendly, but that place is weird and kinda scary".  It's hard to know how much of my fascination with the poster was due of its dreamy nature and endless details or the contact buzz I grew up with, but Dali seemed to me a freaking genius and DAMN, those grapes looked delicious!   Those and a pack of candy cigarettes would have kicked ass!  That's right all you pathologically oversensitive guardians of everyone's wellbeing, candy cigarettes...  Filterless.  They were even better with a beer during cartoons, but I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.

Salvador Dali was a true master.  He seemed to have the talent to do absolutely anything he wanted with a paintbrush, and he could adapt his skills to any style conceivable.  He was a bona fide narcissist and went through a spell of mimicking other artists of notoriety nearly flawlessly just to prove that "anyone" could do what they did, but that no one could do what "Dali" did. Yes, he spoke of himself in third person.  It may have been part of his schtick, but it was annoying nonetheless.  Even at a young age he struck me as someone who would be insufferable in person, but did Stephen care?  No Stephen did not!  Stephen understood that Dali was a genius with a canvas!  

Surrealist artists dealt with dreams and the subconscious by including those realms in the subject matter of many of their paintings.  I have always had a strong connection with my own dreams and have at times kept dream notebooks.  Any dream that was worth remembering was written out to the best of my abilities the first chance I had, and before long I was able to recall much more of my dreams with greater detail and clarity.  What set Dali apart for me was the fact that he was able to paint scenes that were so realistic, and at the same time so unreal that they felt like snapshots of a dream.  To me, many of the movement's artists were clumsy and lifeless.  Their subject matter never spoke to me because it often appeared to be a random collection of unconnected things meant to represent some loose sense of "otherness", but in a way that seemed clinical.  Much of it seemed gimicky and without reverence for the subject or the craft.  Dali's paintings seemed much more personal, like he was trying to deal with his own insecurities through painting scenes that looked like dreams.  Dali also became somewhat obsessed with painting "illusions" or scenes that appeared one way until you realized it could have been two different things on the canvas.  There is a pretty famous visual trick that illustrates what I'm talking about.  It's a two color graphic that could be either a candelabra in the middle of a square or two identical faces looking at each other depending upon how you react to it at a subconscious level when you first glance at it.  It's very crude example, but that "trick" was something that fascinated Dali and was a theme he used in some of his paintings.  

I have been fortunate enough to visit the Savador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida a couple of times and to have now been to his own museum in Spain twice.  Also, a few years ago Monica and I drove to Atlanta to the High Museum to see the largest collection of Dali paintings to exhibit in the United States in fifty years.  Seeing a Dali up close for the first time was precisely the thing that made me realize how critical it was to see paintings you love in person.  All of the reproductions in books fall very short of giving you an appreciation for an artist's craft.  Even if there is a close up detail of an artist's brushstrokes in a book it can't put you in front of the painting to really see how refined or crude their technique is. Colors can be vastly different from a reproduction in a book to the real deal. Dali let you see a brushstroke when, and only when he wanted you to see one.  By that I mean to say that his colors flowed as smooth as if his dreamy subjects were real things that you could hold in your hands.

Superrealism, or hyperrealism in the surreal world is what Dali mastered, and that is why he will always be considered a genius.  Dali became a media darling in the 1930's and even landed the cover of Time Magazine in 1936.  He enjoyed his role as a pop culture phenomenon, playing the part of the eccentric narcissist to the hilt, and people ate it up. Andy Warhol is the only other artist I can think of who was embraced by the cult of celebrity as much as Dali, but to me Dali's fame was more warranted and tougher to achieve because the cultural turmoil in the 1960's almost begged for an eccentric artist's face to be one of the poster children for the larger public's consumption.  Would pop art would have received so much attention ( really Mr. Warhol, a can of tomato soup? ) had Dali not become a household name thirty years earlier?  Warhol may have been able to create strong design images ( which is not to say that I connect with his work ) but there is no way in hell you could put a paintbrush in his hand and watch him create anything in the same league as almost any Dali painting.  I'm sure Warhol would have agreed.  After all, wiping swaths of color on photos of people who were already famous was Warhol's gift to the world.

Monica, Marcus and I rode with Jose to Figueres that day, and Scott, Tannon and Samo all met us there a couple of hours later.  Monica and Marcus were both surprised at how much of an impact the museum had on them.  Monica was able to see paintings she had known since her art history classes in high school, so this trip made the connection she had with his paintings more "real".  I loved watching her walk around, once again in awe of what we were surrounded by in Spain.  We all had an early dinner out on the sidewalk at a cafe close to the museum before heading back to Barcelona.  Once we got back Monica and I went out again to track down more churros and chocolate since we had been excited about consuming as much chocolate as possible during our trip.  We did find some, which took more work than we would have thought, but it was worth the effort.  Why don't more restaurants have dipping chocolate on tables here in the States?  

Dali Museum, Figueres

This is what greets you as you walk into Dali's museum.  There is an open courtyard where this statue stands atop a full sized car and is connected by chains to the tower of tires which supports a small boat.  The building wraps around this courtyard and has several gold mannequins which all seem to be worshiping the statue.  If any of you are Herschell Gordon Lewis fans you might feel as I did that you are in the middle of a scene from the first splatter film, 1963's "Bloodfeast".  Were the mannequins really calling out for Ishtar to come back to life, or was I hallucinating?  Who could tell in this place?

Jose was very kind to offer us a ride out to the museum, and he was happy to be our guide to one of Spain's many world famous artists.  Jose and Samo could not have been more wonderful to us during our amazing vacation

The tower of tires stands in front of a large window through which you can see the largest canvas I've ever seen. It's roughly forty feet wide.  I didn't think it was a real canvas until I saw the wooden frame it was attached to at the bottom. How does an artist keep their perspective while working on something of this magnitude?

Looking back through the large window at the courtyard and the installation with the statue and the tower of tires.  You can see the gold mannequins in various poses of worship within the wall

Detail from "Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon"

Detail from "The Image Disappears" in which upon first glance you see a reference to a Vermeer painting of a woman reading a letter.  Eventually you can let go and see the nose, van dyke and eye of Diego Velasquez, a Spanish painter from the 1600's. Dali played around with this and many other forms of visual deception throughout his career

This is part of the entrance to a small collection of jewelry designed by Dali.  Perhaps the most impractical jewelry ever, but still interesting.  

Okay, being shiny and having a gemstone may technically make Dali's designs "jewelry", but the fact that this piece was maybe twelve inches tall and had a motorized door that opened and closed to offer a view of the face underneath it all made this the kind of piece you'd have a hard time wearing during a night on the town

Salvador Dali's body lies within this vault behind one of the rooms full of paintings of his wife, Gala.  Hers was the face on the poster I stared at for hours with a contact buzz as a six or seven year old.  It is always strange to be so close to the resting place of someone you have admired for your entire life

Leaving Barcelona

Our last meal in Barcelona was a lovely desert of lightly sweet churros, a Cafe Americano for me and an Indian Tea for Monica.  The waitress informed us that most people leave about half of the dipping chocolate once they finish their churros, so we only got one cup of it to go with our two orders of the delectable fried bread sticks.  She knew what she was talking about because we had roughly half of the chocolate in our cup after there were no more churros.  I have to ask though, how is it that there is ever any chocolate left when all anyone has to do is lift the cup to their mouth, toss their head back and drink the rest of the chocolate?  I don't understand it.  Chocolate is maybe the greatest single edible object known to man, and they bring it to you in drinkable form!  I guess Monica and I enjoy fun things more than most people.  That's the only thing that makes sense.  Damn!  I want some churros and chocolate right now!

Our unbelievable week in Spain had to end eventually, and Wednesday morning we all loaded our bags into two vans and rode out to the airport.  I spent most of the ride trying to absorb every last view of Barcelona, wondering if we might ever make it back.  There was so much we wanted to see that it could easily take another full week to visit everything on our list.  I know that Monica misses it because when she talks about the trip she does it so wistfully that I want to hug her and tell her we'll go back some day.  I am going to keep an eye on the progress at La Sagrada Familia.  If it is completed while I can still travel I will see it in its realized form.  I'm not picky though.  If anyone wants to pay for us to go back in the next few weeks we can figure something out.  Seriously!

Me, Samo, Tannon, Pep and Jose outside the airport in Barcelona.  It was a bittersweet goodbye.  They were unbelievable hosts and they have some friends for life as a result.  Cuidate, mis amigos! Espero que nos vemos pronto. Nunca olvidare a ustedes

The Mediterranean coast just outside Barcelona

The obligatory cloud shot on our way back home.  It was great to see our sweet dogs again.  Ripp and Bella frrrrreaked out when we got back home.  Other dogs would give us the cold shoulder, or "the paw" when we got back from being out of town for a few days.  These guys were not about to leave our sight!  They really are great... most of the time.  I'm pretty sure the cats never even noticed we were gone for a week.  Aside from coughing up hairballs, urinating inappropriately in random rooms in the house, drawing blood when you pet them one nanosecond longer than they are willing to be petted and making the most irritating noises ever heard by any living creature in the history of mankind, I'm not really sure why they still make cats.  Oh, they smell like death too.  I didn't want to forget that one. Come on, let's all give it up for cats!  

Endless thanks to Samo, Jose and everyone else who helped make our time in Barcelona so special!  Thanks to all who came out to the Day of Doom Festival and to all of the people who worked the venue running sound, or catering, or providing security, etc.  And thanks to the artists who designed the posters.  We can't wait to get ours framed and up on the walls. They will mean a great deal to us for years to come.

Finally, thanks to all of you for putting up with all of these posts about our trip to Spain.  I know it can be incredibly tedious to look at someone else's vacation photos, but I love photographing things and sharing.  So much about this trip had to do with things that have inspired me as early as the age of six, the period when I first began playing drums as a teenager, and everything in between including up to today.  I try to provide a glimpse into my own inspirations, and into the experience of being in a band.  This trip was a perfect marriage of friends, things that inspire me, and of people who have been inspired by what our bands have done.  It was made especially sweet by being able to share it with Monica and by watching her own amazement as we walked through places I have loved for almost twenty years, and also by being able to share our experience with all of you here at The Poundry. 

Cheers to all, and safe travels!


  1. This was a great read, Steve. I didn't know that Sleep used "Soft Self Portrait..." for the cover of their Volume 1 record, nor did I realize that Dali was such a narcissist. When I was younger, finding out things like that about an artist used to sort of spoil my appreciation for their art, but not any more. A while back, a friend accused me of liking Henry Rollins' music because I liked his ideals. I replied that I don't like ANY artist because I think they're cool or whatever; instead, I only like their art on its own merits. Then I realized that if that were true, then I can't dislike someone's art because of their personality, which I had done up until then. As author John Steinbeck pleaded with those who scrutinized his personal life, you have to separate the art from the artist.

  2. Thanks, Tim! Boy, if we had to like our artists' personalities before we could sing their praises there wouldn't be nearly so much art in the world! I'd definitely be screwed! Lots of creative, motivated people are tough to be around. It's good that you can separate the art from the a-hole... I mean artist.