Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Surrealism (pt. 10)

His 1937 painting of the Metamorphosis of Narcissus is typical of the style to which he devoted himself throughout his life.  This subject is taken from Classical mythology, which tells of Narcissus, a hunter who was tricked into looking at the beautiful reflection of his own face in a pool, the attraction to which paralyzed him from ever leaving the pool and, consequently, kept him there indefinitely, until his death on the spot.  Dalí's painting shows Narcissus on the left, a golden statue-like monument, frozen stiff with head bowed over a stagnant pool of water.  The background landscape of the setting is dramatized with cliffs and mountains and threatening storm clouds.  Several naked figures can be seen marching or dancing in the background along some path leading up to the horizon, perhaps in the middle of some kind of pagan ritual (which would fit with the Classical subject matter).  On the right is another statuesque form that looks similar to the Narcissus on the left but, upon closer observation, actually looks more like a hand coming up out of the ground and holding an egg, from which blooms a flower.  Ants crawl up this hand, perhaps symbolizing once again the ravages of time and the imminent plunder of other assailing entities (albeit very small).  The egg and blossoming flower have long been connected with Freudian sexual imagery, as well as the sinuous forms of the two statuesque objects.  (Narcissus was held to be of extremely beautiful appearance in Ancient Greek mythology; to portray his image with phallic symbols is extremely Freudian).  On the far right, a dog chews a piece of bloody meat (another symbol of ravaged devastation and decay).  A painting like this may reference Classical mythology, but it tells the story through modern psychology and Freudian metaphors.  Surrealism often takes subjects out of their original context to present them from different angles, leading to new interpretations.  Here we see blatant and eerie allusions to sexual innuendo.  As Narcissus stares, frozen, into the pool to look at the beauty of his own reflection, we as viewers mimic the act by looking into the painting.  But the "beauty" we see has been converted into sexual images and unsettling references to decay and deterioration—that these characterize our world now and are what make the old myths relevant to us today.  Still, paintings like these tend to insist on eluding comprehensive interpretation, not to sound dismissive.  It's just weird.

No comments:

Post a Comment