By Keith Whitson
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision,” said Salvador Dali.
Dali is known for his art, often depicting unrelated images in a very strange and dreamlike way. Body limbs are painted broken, distorted or not proportional. He is best known for taking common items, such as clocks, and painting them in a limp state, slumping down over a step or hanging over a tree limb.
For sure, his work is seen as one of the great surrealist painters. He breaks down the structured barriers of how we see life, therefore, the barriers that limit our vision.
I have always appreciated art. It excites me. I could stand in the room with the authentic, hand signed, Declaration of Independence and appreciate it. But, I could stand in the room with an original Picasso or Leonardo da Vinci and get goosebumps.
I know not all who are reading this column can understand that. Each have their own passions, whether it be a sports figure, a celebrity, or other. Whether living or deceased, their works inspire you. It does little good to try and relate your passion with someone who doesn’t share it.
Recently Keeli Parkey and I took a quick journey to East Tennessee State University with the sole purpose of viewing Salvador Dali’s “Divine Comedy” print series displayed at the Reece Museum. These prints are being displayed in three April-to-May exhibitions, beginning with “Inferno” this year, followed by “Purgatory” in 2017 and “Paradise” in 2018.
The “Divine Comedy” begins with Dante’s journey through hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Dali’s surrealist vision makes the 34 prints of “Part I: Inferno” very thought provoking. Each print illustrates one chapter of the “Divine Comedy,” and through these works, the viewer travels with Dante through the nine circles of hell before reaching Purgatory.
Dali had been invited by the Italian government to commemorate Italy’s most famous poet by producing a series of illustrations for a deluxe, full-text edition of the “Divine Comedy.” Dali created 100 watercolor illustrations that proved too controversial for the Italian government. They said he was a Spaniard not an Italian and that his reputation was as an eccentric and irreverent artist.
So, with the help of a friend, he published books in French, Italian and German editions. His illustrations were reproduced using a wood engraving technique. There were 3,500 resin-based blocks carved for the prints that make up the “Divine Comedy” series. The blocks would be cut, a single color applied and then printed onto the paper. Some of the works needed as many as 37 separate blocks to reproduce one painting. After the number of prints were made, the blocks were destroyed so no duplicates could be made.
Not everyone can look at Salvador Dali’s work and appreciate it, but not everyone likes the same type of music or the same type of automobiles. However, I feel the more open minded we can be, the more experienced and knowledgable in as many aspects of life we can be, the more well rounded we become.
While Dali’s art would not be the style you would find displayed in my home, his work fascinates me. I saw it in a new light when visiting the museum recently. To be that close to images and see them in their true color, and not just reproduced in a book, brought new meaning.
What took the experience to an even greater level was sharing it with Keeli, who views art and life on a much similar scale as I do. We read the title of what Dali was depicting, focused on the big picture and then started seeing the many small details and images that were not predominant at first. Discussing the works with each other brought new insight. I was seeing tiny details Keeli didn’t and she was seeing details I overlooked.
We tried to find common threads between the prints, we visualized the intent of each and we tried to get into the mind of Dali and what he might have been thinking at the moment.
The collection on display at the Reece Museum is a donation from alumnus Dr. Frank Barham, consisting of most of the 100 prints that comprise Dante Alighieri’s epic poem the “Divine Comedy.”
The free public exhibit will be on display through May 27. Regular museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.