The Spanish painter Salvador Dalí was one of the best-known surrealist artists (artists who seek to express the contents of the unconscious mind). Blessed with an enormous talent for drawing, he painted his dreams and bizarre moods in a precise way.
Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, near Barcelona, Spain. He was the son of Salvador and Felipa Dome (Domenech) Dalí. His father was a notary (one who witnesses the signing of important documents). According to Dalí's autobiography (the story of his own life), his childhood was filled with fits of anger against his parents and classmates and he received cruel treatment from them in response. He was an intelligent child, producing advanced drawings at an early age.
Dalí attended the Colegio de Los Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueras, Spain. By 1921, he convinced his father that he could make a living as an artist and was allowed to go to Madrid, Spain, to study painting. He was strongly influenced by the dreamlike works of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978). He also experimented with cubism (a type of art in which objects are viewed in terms of geometry—the science of points, lines, and surfaces). He was briefly imprisoned for political activities against the government and was finally thrown out of art school in 1925.
Dalí's own style eventually began to show itself: he would draw, in an extremely precise manner, the strange subjects of his dream world. Each object, while carefully drawn, existed in strange contrast to other objects and was contained in a space that often appeared to tilt sharply upward.
His personal style showed a number of influences, the strongest among which was his contact with surrealism. The surrealists believed in artistic and political freedom to help free the imagination. Dali's first contact with the movement was through seeing paintings; he then met other surrealist artists when he visited Paris, France, in 1928. Dali created some of his finest paintings in 1929.
In the early 1930s, many of the surrealists began to break away from the movement, feeling that direct political action had to come before any artistic revolutions. Dalí put forth his "Paranoic-Critical method" as a way to avoid having to politically conquer the world. He felt that by using his own vision to color reality to his liking it would become unnecessary to actually change the world. The Paranoic-Critical method meant that Dalí had trained himself to possess the power to look at one object and "see" another. This did not apply only to painting; it meant that Dalí could take a myth that was interpreted a certain way and impose upon it his own personal ideas.
A key event in Dalí's life during this time was meeting his wife, Gala, who was at that time married to another surrealist. She became his main influence, both in his personal life and in many of his paintings. Toward the end of the 1930s, Dalí's exaggerated view of himself began to annoy others. André Breton (1896–1966), a French poet and critic who was a leading surrealist, angrily expelled Dalí from the surrealist movement. Dalí continued to be very successful in painting as well as in writing, stage design, and films, but his seriousness as an artist began to be questioned. He took a strong stand against abstract (unrealistic) art and began to paint Catholic subjects in the same tight style that had previously described his personal nightmares.