Excess of Perfume

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. ”

Salvador Dalí
Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (1987) by Pierre Cabanne

 
 

Femme à tête de roses (Woman With a Head of Roses), Salvador Dalí, 1935

 
 

Drawing by Dalí, 1937

 
 

Package and bottle’s design of Daliflor (2000). Salvador Dali has 50 perfumes in his fragrance base. The earliest edition was created in 1985 and the newest is from 2014.

 
 

In Salvador Dali’s dream world astonishing transformations occur: around the waist and arm of a fashionable woman male hands are wrapped, and suddenly, her head blossoms into a bunch of roses, one leg is stiffened into that of a mannequin, the other flows into the drapery of her dress, whilst the furniture has become animate. The lonely petrified figure in the empty receding space and the cypress grove on the lion’s head recall the romanticism of Arnold Böcklin and Giorgio de Chirico. Dalí often replaced the human head with other heads or objects. He disliked the lack of intelligence and excess of perfumes of rich people around the surrealist group.

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Suppressed Human Emotions

Stills from Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)

 
 

Federico García Lorca crowded his thoughts onto a sheet of stationery from a Barcelona cafe. “I want to weep,” he wrote to Salvador Dalí. “I’ve behaved like an indecent donkey’s ass with you, you who are the best thing in the world for me. As the minutes go by I see it clearly and I am truly sorry. But this only increases my affection for you and my attachment to your way of thinking and your human quality.” Lorca avoided saying more about what had taken place between the two men.

The friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion, but Dalí rejected the erotic advances of the poet. With the success of Gypsy Ballads, came an estrangement from Dalí and the breakdown of a love affair with sculptor Emilio Soriano Aladrén. These brought on an increasing depression to Lorca, a situation exacerbated by his anguish over his homosexuality. He felt he was trapped between the persona of the successful author, which he was forced to maintain in public, and the tortured, authentic self, which he could only acknowledge in private. He also had the sense that he was being pigeon-holed as a “gypsy poet”. He wrote: “The gypsies are a theme. And nothing more. I could just as well be a poet of sewing needles or hydraulic landscapes. Besides, this gypsyism gives me the appearance of an uncultured, ignorant and primitive poet that you know very well I’m not. I don’t want to be typecast”. Growing estrangement between García Lorca and his closest friends reached its climax when surrealists Dalí and Luis Buñuel collaborated on their film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). García Lorca interpreted it, perhaps erroneously, as a vicious attack upon himself. At this time Dalí also met his future wife Gala. Aware of these problems (though not perhaps of their causes), García Lorca’s family arranged for him to take a lengthy visit to the United States in 1929–30.

 
 

 
 

Un Chien Andalou is a 1929 silent surrealist short film by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. It was Buñuel’s first film and was initially released in 1929 with a limited showing at Studio des Ursulines in Paris, but became popular and ran for eight months. The film has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes. The film was financed by Buñuel’s mother, and shot in Le Havre and Paris at the Billancourt studios over a period of 10 days in March 1928.

The film has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes.

The film opens with a title card reading “Once upon a time”. A middle-aged man (Luis Buñuel) sharpens his razor at his balcony door and tests the razor on his thumb. He then opens the door, and idly fingers the razor while gazing at the moon, about to be engulfed by a thin cloud, from his balcony.

 
 

There is a cut to a close-up of a young woman (Simone Mareuil) being held by the man as she calmly stares straight ahead. Another cut occurs to the moon being overcome by the cloud as the man slits the woman’s eye with the razor, and the vitreous humour spills out from it.

 
 

The shot of the eyeball (actually that of a dead calf) being slit by Buñuel

 
 

The subsequent title card reads “eight years later”. A slim young man (Pierre Batcheff) bicycles down a calm urban street wearing what appears to be a nun’s habit and a striped box with a strap around his neck. A cut occurs to the young woman from the first scene, who has been reading in a sparingly furnished upstairs apartment. She hears the young man approaching on his bicycle and casts aside the book she was reading (revealing a reproduction of Vermeer’s The Lacemaker). She goes to the window and sees the young man lying on the curb, his bicycle on the ground. She emerges from the building and attempts to revive the young man.

 
 

An image from Dalí’s dream, part of the inspiration for the film

 
 

The idea for the film began when Buñuel was working as an assistant director for Jean Epstein in France. Buñuel told Dalí at a restaurant one day about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half “like a razor blade slicing through an eye”. Dalí responded that he’d dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. Excitedly, Buñuel declared: “There’s the film, let’s go and make it.'” They were fascinated by what the psyche could create, and decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions.

 
 

Jaime Miravilles and Salvador Dalí as the confused priests

 
 

In deliberate contrast to the approach taken by Jean Epstein and his peers, which was to never leave anything in their work to chance, with every aesthetic decision having a rational explanation and fitting clearly into the whole,  Buñuel made clear throughout his writings that, between Dalí and himself, the only rule for the writing of the script was: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” He also stated: “Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.”

 
 

 
 

Over the course of his long career Dalí associated his work with a wide range of predecessors (including Paul Cézanne, Le Corbusier, Giorgio de Chirico, Arnold Böcklin, and later Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci), but none of them came close to rivaling Johannes Vermeer. Throughout his life Dalí remained entirely unwavering in his belief that Vermeer was the greatest painter who ever lived and the artist whom he most dearly wished to emulate.

The first screening of Un Chien Andalou took place at Studio des Ursulines, with an audience of le tout-Paris. Notable attendees of the première included Pablo Picasso, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau, Christian Bérard and George Auric, in addition to the entirety of André Breton‘s Surrealist group. The audience’s positive reception of the film amazed Buñuel, who was relieved that no violence ensued. Dalí, on the contrary, was reportedly disappointed, feeling the audience’s reaction made the evening “less exciting.” Buñuel since claimed that prior to the show, he had put stones in his pockets “to throw at the audience in case of disaster”, although others had no recollection of this.

 
 

A death’s-head moth

 
 

Against his hopes and expectations, the film was a huge success amongst the French bourgeoisie, leading Buñuel to exclaim in exasperation, “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?”

Modern prints of the film feature a soundtrack consisting of excerpts from Richard Wagner‘s “Liebestod” from his opera Tristan und Isolde and a recording of two Argentinian tangos sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Olé guapa.” This is the same soundtrack that Buñuel chose and played live on a phonograph during the original 1929 screening in Paris. They were first added to a print of the film in 1960 under Buñuel’s supervision.

Film scholar Ken Dancyger has argued that Un Chien Andalou might be the genesis of the filmmaking style present in the modern music video. Roger Ebert had called it the inspiration for low budget independent films.

Different of Himself

“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with diverse kind; thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.”

LEV 19:19

 
 

There are three laws Yahweh gave Moses, rejecting unions and mixes practiced by pagan peoples and held by the Jews as aberrations. The first forbids creation of monstrous animals; the second is metaphorically taken to be the banishment of bisexuals. They carry a notion of impurity pointing to the spiritual confusion of the gentiles. Christianity, in turn, interpreted them as laws against wickedness.

These ancient prohibitions are engraved in some of our subconscious, and are the reasons for some of our atavistic fears expressed in “antinatural” visions of monsters and prodigies. These, at the same time, are images of temptation, like the hermaphrodite, the sphinx, the ram with a man’s torso, the foetus begot by Frankenstein, today’s eugenic beings and clones, creatures of undefined sex, marked beings.

Capricorn it is merely a zodiac sign that combines in its dual image the pull to the mountain (the goat) and the abyss (the fish). But read between the lines of our atavistic fear which the ancient prohibition fosters in us, this sign could also be a mating of two beast of different species, separated by a line: the ram and the fish, in other words… Satan and Christ.

The Shaman’s Collection defies bisexuality or hemaphrodytism by attaining an open, almost graceful, almost levitating, almost superhuman asexuality, albeit carnally disquieting and vile. In sealing the male/female partition, the shaman transcends the duality that preys on common man, and sheds it as he would a corpse’s shroud.

Medusa, on the other hand, shows the frightening evil version of the androgyne as a bald (masculine) and shaved (obscene) black-mass priestess sporting a fancy shawl at her bosom as if in contempt of the pious mantilla. A sliding drop of semen stains the picture, reminding us –more to our terror, we are not quite sure in what way– of that Levitical prohibition: “Thou shalt not wear a garment mingled of linen and woolen”. We find ourselves facing the old supernatural horror that undoubtedly divides us into two: attraction and repulsion which makes us different from ourselves.

The bipartition of the picture we mentioned in the dividing line of Capricorn is also the axis of The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, in which Arturo Rivera alludes to Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll’s passion for photographing little girls. The child figure, now spurious and morbid, discovers her nakedness. She wrenches away the ample piece of clean cloth to reveal on her skin the line of an excrescence. Here, I should like to mention a “magic” experience that appears over and over in Arturo Rivera’s painting: significant coincidence. I asked the painter whether the bat drawn in the upper part of this painting referred to Lewis Carroll’s photographic studio, where, among an ample collection of toys and dolls for little girl’s comfort, was a wing-flapping, flying bat the writer himself had made. No, said Arturo Rivera; he knew nothing about that bat. I record this as one of many coincidences that abound in this artist and his work. I have noticed a whole string of them, one after the other. They apparently are not motives at the same time necessary, and they bring me to a very enigmatic aspect of his painting: nature and the distribution of objects in his pictures.

Updating a myth rather than portraying symbols, the appearance of a wide range of figures like geometric bodies, plants, dissected animals, organs, etc. could hardly be considered a sign of a purely compositive or simply polysemic reasoning or ratio: These figure are synchronized. As in the bones that a soothsayer throws on the ground, or a flight of birds at the moment a question is asked, or the interpretation of a sacrificed animal’s entrails, or the three coins disbursed with a consultation of I Ching, the essence is in the coincidence, not in cause. Reading and interpreting Arturo Rivera’s pictures cannot, then, be based on artist’s intentions so much as on the speculation the paintings inspire. As if before an oracle, one is looking at a conveyance of truth rather than a strict revelation of truth.

Three pictures bear me out on this: The Island of the Dead, an extraordinary conveyance of what Arturo Rivera saw in Arnold Böcklin‘s homonymous work, a vision. In North, bipartition again mates animals of different species, not to produce a monster but to depict a re-orientation, expressed here by the archetypical change of skin, and the image of mature man overcoming death and ascending to a higher plane of existence. Legatee, conveys androgyny offering milk from the breast. Arturo Rivera’s paintings revive one of art’s ancient functions: making the viewer experience something that surpasses him in space and time, keeping the myth alive.

Text by Jaime Moreno Villareal

 
 

Fall, 1997

Gesso colors on canvas

 
 

The Island of the Dead (Homage to Böcklin), 1997

Oil on paper/linen

 
 

North, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Legatee, 1996

Water-colored pencil and water color on paper

 
 

Capricorn, 1996

Sanguine on paper

 
 

Saturn, 1997

Water color and oil on linen

 
 

The Empty Room, 1997

Gesso colors on paper

 
 

July 17, 1975, 1 p.m. : On the Docks of New York, 1996

Cold encaustic on canvas

 
 

Medusa, 1996

Oil on canvas/ wood

 
 

The Temptations of Saint Anthony, 1997

Egg tempera and oil with metal inlay on paper/wood

 
 

Epilogue, 1997

Gesso colors and oil on canvas

 
 

The Shaman’s Collection, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, 1997

Oil on canvas

 
 

Arturo Rivera (Mexico City, 1945). Assiduous visitor as a child to the Chopo Natural History Museum, from an early age he coupled his taste for drawing with a passion for dissecting animals and studying bones. He studied painting at the Mexican National School of Plastic Arts, the San Carlos Academy (1963-68), and serigraphy and photoserigraphy at the City Lit Art School of London (1973-74).

Rivera traveled through South America and the Galapagos Islands. He lived four years in New York (1976-79), where he exhibited in the Francis Gallery and the Jack Gallery in Soho, as well as in the Walton Gallery in Chicago. In 1979 he met the Surrealist painter Max Zimmermann who invited him to be his assistant for the courses he was giving in the Kunstakademie of Munich. There he increased his knowledge on traditional painting techniques and how to handle them. During his stay in this city (1980-81), he exhibited in the Haus der Kunst. Rivera returned to Mexico in 1981 at the invitation of Fernando Gamboa to exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art (1982). Since then he has had a number of one-man exhibitions in Mexico and cities abroad.

The Artistic Side of Death

View of a Skull, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1489

 
 

Saint Francis in Meditation, Caravaggio, 1605

 
 

Skull, Albrecht Dürer, 1521

 
 

La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull), José Guadalupe Posada, 1910-1913.

Much memento mori art is associated with the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, including skull-shaped candies and bread loaves adorned with bread “bones.”

 
 

Self-portrait With Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872

 
 

Engraving by M.C. Escher, 1919

 
 

Untitled-Death Outside the Head-Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, 1933

 
 

Head with Broken Pot, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1942

 
 

Sin esperanza (Without Hope), Frida Kahlo, 1945

 
 

Detail of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Diego Rivera, 1946-1947

 
 

Three Study Portraits of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon

 
 

Artwork by Sergio Toppi

 
 

Drawings by Edward Gorey

 
 

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott, 1986

 
 

Riding with Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

 
 

Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997

 
 

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, 1997

 
 

The Orientalist, Walton Ford, 1999

 
 

Painting by Pascal Vilcollet

 
 

Confetti Death, Typoe, 2010