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Apparatus and Hand, 1927 by Salvador Dali
The Surrealists founded their work on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. For Dali, Freud's influence began prior to joining the group in 1929. As students in Madrid, Dali and his friends read Freud's 'The Interpretation of Dreams'. He says he was "seized with a real vice of self-interpretation, not only of my dreams but of everything that happened to me, however accidental it might seem..."
With its dreamlike symbols, Apparatus and Hand is the first work in the museum's collection in which Dali began applying Freud's ideas about dream analysis to his work. In a vivid blue landscape, a machine-like apparatus rises over a scene of disconnected images. Crowned by a red-skinned hand, its unbalanced arrangement appears ready to topple, evoking the unsettling feeling of a dream. The shadow cast by the apparatus suggests a person standing with a cane. Swarming around the apparatus are delirious images of desire and fear. These include floating female anatomy, an angular female bather, a red fish and fish bones, and a donkey filled with flies. Dali's symbols in his early work are not always clearly defined. If the apparatus symbolizes a person, perhaps the female images are symbols of desire, and the dead donkey and fish skeleton are warnings of the consequences of acting on that desire. This painting's use of symbols foretells the style that would make Dali an international success in the 1930s.
Masterpieces of Salvador Dali
This dream happened a few times when I was very young, if I recall correctly. It would begin with me standing in the front yard of our house, and I would hear pounding footsteps. (I would later discover the footsteps were from me hearing my own heartbeat as I slept.) My chest would compound and fear would rise as I would turn to gaze up Franklin Ave. I somehow knew something was coming from that direction and so its pace quickened. Sure enough, cresting the hill and streaming down the street was a creature about 4 feet tall. The best way for me to describe this creature would be to say it looked like a small Snuffleupagus draped in a white bed sheet, and covered with old, antique plastic play telephones. Dozens of telephones. This thing would zoom to the front of our house, and for some strange reason, I'd get on its back and go for a ride around the corner. That's pretty much when the nightmarish feelings would awaken me.
I can't say what spawned this dream so many times. Even now, some 40 or so years later, I can still picture it, but am at a loss as to why I had it. The only odd revelation was that it seemed to be directly linked to my heartbeat. And as enigmatic as it was, I now find myself wanting to examine it's meaning. Bear with me as this is completely spontaneous and purposefully not thought out.
My suspicion is that this dream was manifest from a combination of deep seeded desires. A) I loved adventure as a kid and getting on something as strange as the telephone monster seems fitting. Bear in mind, this was during a time when mothers and school teachers would iterate how important it was not to get into (or onto, in this case) a strange vehicle. B) My mother used to tell friends that when I was about 3 years old, I'd point to the TV screen as we watched I Love Lucy and say that that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. So, perhaps my desire for immediate and constant attention is represented by the phones covering the telephone monster's body.
Enter Apparatus and Hand . . .
Apparatus and Hand, by Salvador Dalí, is a pre-Surrealism painting which was completed in 1927. It's oil on panel, and it was Dalí's first work after returning from military service when he was 23 years old. According to experts, it was during this period that Freud's publications about psychopathology and dream interpretation were popular with Dalí, and so this piece was inspired by Freud's writings. Seemingly, the "apparatus" figure is representative of Dalí, while the grotesque hand is representative of his mind. Around him are visions of what truly beleaguers his thoughts, and thus implies what influences him to some degree.
This artwork was one of the first paintings to strike me when I was much younger and in college. At the time, I was busy being an actor when I wasn't bogged down by being a student. Art in this form wasn't really a passion for me then, but I suspect this piece is what triggered it for me. Since then, I've spent quite a lot of time studying the details, contemplating their meaning, and almost finding something unseen in previous viewings each time I looked at it. I knew the history of this piece was available online, but I never really wanted to know about it. Art, for me, is something I allow to speak to me as is and without context. If I don't know the historical context, then I don't want to know it because I'd rather art have its own uninfluenced voice. (You can see this effect quite well in my previous post, L'Ange du Foyer.)
I strategically used the term "enigmatic" above because that's what this painting has been for me for a very long time. It wasn't until about a month ago that I discussed it with a co-worker. You see, I had received a very heart-warming comment in my L'Ange du Foyer post which started the conversation. When we dove into picking this piece apart and analyzed its details, we both came pretty close to what experts have since determined with regard to its meaning. Yet, for over 20 years, it's been an enigma and a source of incredible imagination. Apparatus and Hand has been a very slow metronome where each beat reminded me to stop thinking about the here and now, to stop thinking about tomorrow and the next day, and to take a moment to contemplate the surreal. To stop and let my imagination run around and have some fun.
And so, I've returned to writing. Not just because this piece has been an intimate part of my life for two decades, but also because of that comment. If what I type here can make someone see their life in a new, encouraging light, then why should I deprive them of that? I have a gift, and so I've chosen to continue to use it.