Surrealism and freudian psychoanalysis

It is well-known that Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories had a significant influence on the ideology of the Surrealist movement. Dalí, however, took it a step further. Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams deeply impacted him and served as the first step on the personal and artistic path that led him to create what he called the “paranoiac-critical method.” This method aimed to approach reality by blending perception and subjective projection.

His major pictorial themes were in line with issues central to psychoanalysis, and he particularly tackled topics of death and sexuality in such remarkable paintings as Rostre del gran masturbador (Face of the Great Masturbator, 1929).

Sigmund Freud. Photo by Max Halberstadt

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The impact of the atomic bomb

World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a profound impact on Dalí. The massive destructive power of these artifacts, built based on physics theories that delve into the tiniest particles of matter (atoms), coincided with his decision to return to Portlligat. It was during this time that he embraced mysticism, leaving behind his most sacrilegious and anti-religious phase. However, he often added that he was a “nuclear mystic.”

One of the most famous paintings from this period is Leda Atomica (Atomic Leda, 1947 – 1949), where Gala and the objects surrounding her are suspended in space.

Nagasaki bomb

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Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and microphysics

Almost like a natural evolution stemming from his interest in atomism, Dalí’s trajectory led him to a new phase inspired by the theories on antimatter by German physicist Werner Heisenberg. This was explained by the artist himself in his “Antimatter Manifesto,” published in 1958 as part of the catalog for the exhibition at the Carstairs Gallery in New York.

This period was characterized by a particular obsession with the rhinoceros horn, which, according to the painter, was constructed according to a perfect logarithmic spiral.

Werner Heisenberg

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Seduced by DNA

Dalí carefully followed the great scientific advancements of his time, and when the Nobel Prize was awarded to James Watson and Francis Crick in 1962 for the discovery of the structure of DNA, he was captivated by biochemistry.

After using matter and atoms as creative sources, it was now the turn of everything related to the origin of life. However, he did not limit himself to the scientific realm but connected it to mysticism and religion.

This can already be discerned just by taking a look at the title to one of his most prominent works from that period: GALACIDALACIDESOXIRIBUNUCLEICACID (HomageTribute to Crick and Watson). (1963)

Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, Chancellor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Francis Crick

Beyond two-dimensionality

Dennis Gabor was another Nobel Prize winner who influenced Dalí’s work. In 1971, this Hungarian-born physicist received the award for his research on holography. This advanced photographic technique allowed for the creation of images on a flat surface that appeared three-dimensional, thanks to the use of a laser beam that recorded microscopic details on the film.

The painter immediately found artistic applications for holography and used it to present works that caused visual confusion for the viewer, such as Dalí d’esquena pintant Gala vista d’esquena eternitzada per sis còrnies virtuals provisionalment reflectides a sis miralls vertaders. Obra estereoscòpica (Dalí Seen from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected by Six Real Mirrors. Stereoscopic Work, 1972-1973). (1972-1973).

Dennis Gabor

Holmes stereoscope

Catastrophies and transformations

During the last years of his life, Dalí became interested in catastrophe theory formulated by the French mathematician René Thom in 1950, who gained greater recognition as of the 1970s due to his disciple Christopher Zeeman.

The aim of this theory is to analyze abrupt changes in seemingly stable environments, and it is based on the transformation of abstract concepts into geometric shapes. Dalí used these theories to reinterpret the myth of the abduction of Europa in his painting El rapte topològic d’Europa. Homenatge a René Thom (The Topological Abduction of Europe. Homage to René Thom, 1983).

René Thom

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