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How Salvador Dalí influenced popular culture

Even if you’re not familiar with Salvador Dalí, you’re almost certainly aware of artists, philanthropists and rock stars that he befriended. John Lennon was an admirer of his, and he even met up with the Spanish-born painter during his honeymoon with Yoko Ono in 1969. The Beatle was later photographed embracing the painter on the streets of Paris. 

Which makes it all the odder, considering Dalí’s distinct disinterest in rock music. He favoured piano music, particularly the way it curved into passages that reminded him of the raindrops that pitter-pattered on his bedroom window. But Lennon was far from the only rock impresario who visited the surrealist, as Christine Argillet, the daughter of Dalí’s publisher, recalled: “As we were at Salvador Dalí’s house in Spain, visitors such as Elvis Presley or Walt Disney would temporarily interrupt the tranquillity of the place and add to the surreal atmosphere.”

Argillet added: “When extravagant visitors would leave, Dalí would right away resume his steady routine. Most days, Dalí was dressed in a very simple manner, wearing shorts, an embroidered shirt and Catalan sandals. He would whistle as he was shaping strange objects and painting for long hours in his fisherman’s house.”

Lennon remarked how much he shared in common with the painter, which isn’t surprising, considering how much of The Beatles songcraft is indebted to the philosophies that make up a painting. It’s easy to find a parallel between the dystopia of ‘The Persistence of Memory’ with the weirdly whimsical ‘I Am The Walrus’, as the two artists journeyed inside of them to find their hidden child. 

Dalí’s approach to art was striking in its immediacy, and powerful in its vibrancy. Collating an impasto of striking colours, contradictions and contrast, the painter’s work made an impression on Andy Warhol, and the two enjoyed a friendship that went beyond the realms of mutual respect. Dalí’s work was more humble to the more kaleidoscopic portraits that made up Warhol’s collection, but the pair regularly dined together in New York, amidst a city of artists, raconteurs and rock stars. 

But Dalí also made his imprint on the commercial world of art, even designing the swirly logo that was used by Chupa Chups as part of their branding. Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart was another fan, and likely modelled the cow in the video for ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ on a painting that belonged to the painter. 

Cinema couldn’t escape the influence of the painter either, as he teamed up with fellow countryman Luis Buñuel to create a series of blinding movies, each one more unsettling than the one that came before it. Together, they wrote Un Chien Andalou, a probing picture predicated on the images woven by a slumber secluded by madness. The images had an effect on The Pixies, who channelled it on their masterwork ‘Debaser’, furthering the essence of punk to more visceral levels. The film Un Chien Andalou likely influenced the lyrical French horror film Les Yeux Sans Visage, which went on to inspire one of Billy Idol’s most fondly-remembered offerings

“Dalí used to get the subject matter and the content out in front of the paint, even if he tried to look like a virtuoso in painting,” recalled Peter Saul, a philosophy Lady Gaga would undoubtedly agree with. What distinguished Dalí from many of his peers is that the work was breathtaking in its eagerness to be appreciated by everyone. 

‘The Persistence of Memory’ held sentimental value, in how eager it was in displaying the necessity of time, frying out over an empty, barren landscape. Purportedly inspired by Camembert, the painting held a wicked undertone of dark humour when you realise the overt cheesiness of the sentiment.

“I can look at Salvador Dalí’s work and marvel at it, despite the fact that I believe that Dalí was probably a completely disgusting human being, and borderline fascist, but that doesn’t detract from the genius of his artwork,” Alan Moore quipped. Like Dalí, Moore has prided himself in presenting art in its most primitive form, enabling people of all races, genders and persuasions the opportunity to engage with the work. Moore’s greatest work, Watchmen, is littered with the concept of time fading before the eyes of the characters who dare countenance it, culminating in a narration that discounts the functions of prescience for something deeper and more everlasting. 

And while the painter would likely have preferred not to be included in the field of rock, he does appear in Lennon’s work, albeit obliquely. On ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, the Beatle remembers his honeymoon “down by the Seine,” favouring the immediacy instead of something more profound or grandiloquent as he might have done in the past. Looks like Dalí’s influence rubbed off on the rocker in more ways than anyone, even the painter, could ever have predicted. 

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