Just A Daft Moustache
I try hard these days not to be negative. I'm not sure if I manage it too well, but I just want you to know that I am trying. I suspect that the lifetime I've spent so far cushioning myself from barbs by being overtly cynical and critical is hard to fight against; it's like Lauren Bacall says in Key Largo, "When your head says one thing but your whole life says another, your head always loses...". But I'll tell you again; I AM trying.
Of course I'm not trying hard enough.
I hate Salvador Dali. A friend recently wrote something to the effect that Dali was a genius, and whilst it would be foolish to deny that he was an extremely proficient technical painter, I hardly think it qualifies him for genius status. But what is genius anyway? It's hard to say and harder to agree on. During a beer supping, pool playing night in Palm Springs (of all places) recently, the nature of genius was discussed, and I was quite surprised at how freely others were willing to dispatch the title. My own suggestion was that to be truly genius one had to transcend the discipline in question, had to push the boundaries and create something which challenged the existence of those very boundaries, and that more than that, simply doing so in one discipline isn't really enough. Which is why I am willing to suggest that Harry Smith was a genius, and that Salvador Dali was merely a very good technical painter.
Of course I don't know enough about Dali to be able to fully support my claim, but then again I don't have the time or inclination to worry about it. What I do know is that I really hate his paintings, and consider him to have been a self-promoting charlatan who recognised a gap in the market, exploited the avant-garde and made a killing flogging it to the masses. Which, when you stop and think about it, makes him sound a lot like my favourite artist Andy Warhol.
Warhol apparently liked Dali, perhaps because they both did window dressing to help pay the bills, perhaps because he admired moustaches and the way Dali exploited his personal Image As Artist (a very Pop concept). I find it unlikely that Warhol could have liked his paintings.
There is no more overused word in the English language than 'weird'. It should be banned. I am going to trawl through Tangents and replace the word in all my articles. I am trying to ban its use in my Art class. Whenever students see a Dali painting, 'weird' is the word they come up with. Press them on what they mean, and they will inevitably shrug shoulders and respond with 'it's just weird, innit.' I don't find Dali paintings to be 'weird', and I don't think I ever did. I find them to be overly symbolic, over-wrought pieces which, quite simply, try too hard. They are flashy, repugnant, over-indulgent pieces of ego-masturbation. So a bit like Tracey Emin then.
Only not like Tracey Emin at all. Tracey lays herself open with a sometimes horrible honesty, but more usually with a humour that is as self-deprecating as it is self-promotional. Also, Tracey hasn't yet painted clocks that are melting, or landscapes with stupid egg shapes in them.
Television Personalities had a song called 'Salvador Dali's Garden Party'. It's the best thing about Dali by a long shot, and in moments can weaken the intensity of my feelings. It's not the greatest TVP's song ever, but it's a fun mad frolic by Mr Treacy and gang, with a mad voice repeating 'greetings' over and over again (and sounding more like the waiter at an Indian Restaurant than a Spanish artist) and a grand listing of all the celebs who were present (Jack Nicholson, Debbie Harry, Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, to be precise). Dan also tells us about how he dressed up in his favourite Chelsea boots (quelle surprise!) and the paisley shirt he got in Kensington market, which reminds me of the line in the TVP's 'Sad Mona Lisa' that rhymes Kensington Market with Morten Harket, and which is my favourite rhyme ever, along with the Clientele linking England's Green with amphetamine.
Of course there are other Pop connections which I admit also begin to soften my disregard for the Spaniard. Wasn't Dali involved in some German TV show with Nirvana (they of 'Black Flower' and 'Satellite Jockey' as opposed to they of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit') back in the '60s, involving some sort of paint spill action that might have been right out of Yves Klein's notebook? And didn't Adam Sanderson once sport a Dali-esque moustache when he was still with the Jasmine Minks? So it's not all bad news.
But in the end I have to admit that I've always thought that liking Dali was the easy and the obvious way out. I have long held a belief that the ones who are genuinely strange are not those who obviously draw attention to themselves, but rather those who quietly go about their business, doing their own thing in ways which are beyond the mainstream. It's like the Fall sang 'you don't have to be weird to be weird', although I can't help wishing that Mark E. had used a better word.
© Alistair Fitchett