Le Grand Masturbateur by Salvador Dalí
by Gabi Kennedy
Surrealism, which began approximately in 1920, was defined by André Breton, a french writer and poet, as being “based on the belief, in the omnipotence of dreams, in the undirected play of thought”. Using the unconscious as a source from which to draw inspiration and imagination, Surrealists studied the work of Freud, tapping into their own repressed fears and desires as a way to illustrate a sort of augmented, absolute reality in which they meshed their dreams and subconscious psyche with the world that surrounded them, which is in and of itself the basis on which psychoanalysis functions. One of the most influential surrealists, Salvador Dalí, was a master of showcasing his absolute reality, flawlessly merging his dreams and realities. Even Freud commented on Dalí’s ability to illustrate the concept of sublimation through his art: “Up to now I have been inclined to consider surrealists, who seem to have chosen me as their patron saint, as incurable nutcases. The young Spaniard, however, with his candid, fanatical eyes and unquestionable technical skill has made me reconsider my opinion. In fact, it would be very interesting to investigate the way in which such a painting has been composed.” A blatant example of this blending of realities is in Le Grand Masturbateur, which he completed in 1929. This painting, which is oil on canvas and 110 by 115 cm, is a spectacular show of bright blues and yellows, constituting representational and abstract figures that seem to blend into one another seamlessly. The face, meant to be a portrait of his muse Gala, was painted to resemble a natural rock formation in Cap de Creus in Catalonia. The two small men and their shadows painted at the bottom of the painting were in reference to Dalí’s obsession with the “double” and the alter ego. Dalí painted this shortly after his first visit to Paris for his first Surrealist exhibition.