Every new year gives pause to the past and hope for the future. This year, 2020, has additional connections: vision.
Better vision means something close to 20-20. The ability to see also has a number of viewpoints. Seeing well is important, and for artists, seeing conjures deeper meanings. For artists, seeing is connected to vision, yes, but also an opinionated version of artistic insight.
Artists look at something and then “see” it, interpret it and translate it into a medium that others can “read.” Basically, each artist has his or her own style, a language, and uses a medium that communicates that message to others.
Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo DaVinci and Georgia O’Keeffe each, as painters, had their own sight, their own vision, their own preference for both subject and paint. There’s no way a person would mistake a Dali for a DaVinci. A Picasso would never be confused with an O’Keeffe. Each had his and her “style,” and each tried to share his or her own vision as an artist.
Style, then, becomes an artist’s vocabulary. When Frida Kahlo painted herself, she included all her flaws. She added a slight mustache, a mono-brow, her bodily flaws, and did it with the aplomb of a woman scorned. O’Keeffe used flowers and animal bones, larger-than-life microscopic focus to speak for her. Both women were asking to be seen beyond their surfaces. DaVinci solved puzzles using mathematical divisions, realism that seemed to breathe in his paintings. Picasso? Well, Picasso sought to counter political injustice using cubism to grab attention and create feelings of horror at the outcome of war. Each artist “spoke” in a language that answered his or her need to be “heard” visually.
Surrealist Dali did as well. He, like Kahlo, showed his own face as a symbol of “self.” He too, showed his mustache. But unlike Kahlo’s barely visible peach fuzz, his was adorned and glorified. It became a surrealistic symbol of who he was: his “brand.”
Dali’s “happening” took precedence at times over his ingenious work. His marriage to a fellow artist’s wife posed a shock to his followers, but Gaya was his lifelong muse. Her form became a literal, religious icon in his paintings and sculptures. She shared his system-bucking behavior and seemed to enjoy the attention their antics received in the press. His work sold and they lived a comfortable life on his earnings.
Like his contemporary Andy Warhol, their theatrics drew people like the proverbial moth to a flame. He is quoted as saying. “No, I don’t take drugs. I AM the drug.” He created a cult-like following and an aura of weirdness for artists during that time period. He became a side-show mastermind for marketing his work. Weirdness sells.
To own a Dali during the 20th century was to be with the “in” crowd. And it is still. His work is shown throughout the United States and Europe. For a short time, some of it will be available to see nearby. The Plains Art Museum has a collection of Dali’s work in an exhibit, “Salvador Dali’s Stairway to Heaven.”
The exhibit is on the third floor of the museum (located 704 First Ave. North in Fargo). The exhibit opened last month and will show through May 20, 2020. It includes more than 140 works on paper. A film and surrealism discussion will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 23. For more information, contact the museum at www.plainsart.org.
If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.