December 17, 2008 / 11:10 AM / 10 years ago

Dali uses myths to explore personal themes

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters Life!) - Surrealist Salvador Dali is known for his elongated figures and wilting clocks but an exhibition about myth in his art reveals a more personal side of the legendary Spanish painter.

"Memory of the Child Woman," painted by Salvador Dali in 1932, is featured in an exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. REUTERS/Salvador Dali Museum/Handout

The exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum in Florida, which runs until January 11, includes paintings and prints of Greek and Roman deities that were inspired by his readings of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, whom he met in 1938.

“A lot of people think of Dali as a surrealist, but there is a lot earlier and then later, in his classical style,” said Sharon Sparkman, a guide at the museum, which has one of the most comprehensive collections of his work.

“Freud said Dali did a good job of self-analysis.”

Although Dali studied Freud for more than four decades, he met the psychologist only once when he presented him with a painting of Narcissus, a hero in Greek mythology who falls deeply in love with himself.

“Dali was drawn to this myth for several reasons, the interweaving of truth and deception, desire and the power of illusion,” said museum spokeswoman Kathy White.

“He knew Freud would be drawn to the trompe l’oeil illusionistic painting, which he was,” she added.

At the core of the museum exhibit are 16 prints from the 1960s, part of Dali’s classical period which began in the 1940s.

Assistant Curator Dick Armstrong noted the tension in the negative images of a father figure in the exhibit, including Saturn. The Roman god of agriculture is shown devouring children and with a drawer littered with bones emerging from his forehead.

A prolific writer, Dali said he cut drawers into the subconscious, and he wrote about his father cutting off contact. Dali’s father disowned his son after the artist began a relationship with a Russian-born woman, whom he later married.

In the work “Memory of the Child-Woman” Dali refers to Oedipus, a symbol of rivalry between father and son for the affection of the child’s mother. It also features William Tell, the Swiss bowman who shot an apple off his son’s head. Dali saw the legends as symbolizing paternal power and threat.

The painting shows a bust of a bearded Tell with a pair of breasts, one nude, the other sheathed by roses. The words “Ma Mere,” or my mother, are seen 10 times in a crevice.

Dali’s modernist twists show up in a print of Medusa, the fearsome mythical woman whose stare could turn men to stone. In Dali’s vision, Medusa’s head is a tangle of octopus tentacles.

Classic mythology even populates Dali’s commercial work.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Advertising for a Nissan Datsun car on display shows the winged horse Pegasus behind his trademark wilting clock.

The museum plans to delve deeper into Dali’s relationship with Freud in a new exhibit that will open February 20.

The waterfront museum in St. Petersburg has more than 2,000 paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures in its collection. It broke ground last week on a new building designed to nearly double its floor space and to withstand the strongest hurricanes.

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