This is an author who decides to look at the life of Salvador Dali by concentrating in his faults and dark side. The story is written based on looking at the empty half of the glass, as Gibson's thesis proclaims that this was not a great painter with a negative side, but that the painter's negative side was primordial to his artistic evolution. Still, for anyone in search of understanding the brilliance of Dali, this is the ultimate book. The genius of this Spanish painter deserves such a comprehensive work, and Ian Gibson masterfully and in detail shows the reader the artist, in the context of his time and troubled life. In all books on Dali I have encountered, I have seldom seen such thorough research; the author is to be praised twofold, because the master himself did all in his power to publicly, and in writing, come across as someone he was not. In his biography, Mr. Gibson does a phenomenal job in clarifying the artist's strange life by uncovering his mysteries, and by intellectually undoing much of his exhibitionist behavior. Dali's thought process, as well as the distortions about himself and others are analyzed and criticized, at times subliminally (as if Gibson would become surreal himself), but most of the time quite openly, and it is refreshing that such a meticulous biography can provide such reading pleasure. Gibson, who had the opportunity to briefly meet the master, interviewed dozens of people (many of them knew the painter first hand), and the scholarship found in this magnificent 800 page treatise is well documented with in depth notes and proof sources, dozens of black and white photographs of people, places and art works, and 16 pages of color art.
We must however ask what was the author's true intention when using the word "Shameful" in the book's title? If the reader is attracted by such word in order to find shocking or censurable stories, he/she will be disappointed, as there are not many of those; the shameful life meant by Gibson was the one Dali had, full of painful emotions caused by consciousness of guilt. Shameful, as in pitiful could also be an appropriate meaning of the heading. Of the shameful statements and behaviors by the master, some, unfortunately, are not well scrutinized. How interesting would have been if Gibson, for example, had better researched if Salvador's sporadic fascist views where actually a product of the subconscious he could not control, as he claimed, or very much his real feelings. Those paradox moments of early fascination with Hitler and later on with racism, that prompted Breton and the Surrealists to cut with the painter are difficult to understand, even in such a confused and manipulative individual. Gibson only simplifies such complex enigmas by saying that Dali was a renegade, who continuously changed sides in order to attract attention, or guarantee his personal survival. We find however, that this is not always the case: The Maestro, in an entry in his diary in 1952, lauds Freud and Einstein and the entire "genius of the Jewish people"; if true that he behaved according to convenience, why Salvador was so strongly anti-Semitic later in the 1960s remains a puzzle, since it only pushed the Jewish art dealers away.
Pertaining the book's content, other criticism is in order: The author attempts to cover every single aspect of Dali's life by providing amazing details which could at times even seem to be irrelevant, but then he inexplicably forgets to reveal many well known facts. A case in point, there is no reference of Dali's feelings towards the creation of the State of Israel, which he viewed as a historical development with surrealistic overtones (was he being opportunistic once again?); as to why this is significant, is because he created images in 1968 and 1972, respectively for the 20th and 25th anniversaries of the State of Israel, -works that are not even mentioned in the book. The author also neglects to mention other (albeit not so well known) data: that in 1944 the Maestro was commissioned to do 7 paintings to illustrate " The Seven Lively Arts" for the lobby of the Ziegfield Theater, that in 1965 the painter donated a work to the Rikers Island Prison in New York. Many other examples can be cited. In addition, most of the works mentioned in the book are not shown, some of them pivotal to the narrative. The novice art reader would have benefited from such graphics even if in black and white, achieving a better understanding of the items created by the painter, or by others that influenced him.
Some of the Surreal Objects mentioned should have also been portrayed; the only one represented in the book, is not Dali's. It is utmost frustrating to read the reference or even the description of paintings, objects or sculptures without having the opportunity to look at them, and this occurs repeatedly in the script. Granted, the effort in obtaining and publishing such materials would have been a great one, but it seems that Gibson's style had the purpose of thoroughness which is not achieved by the omission of these elements. Furthermore, some works mentioned in the text are depicted, but only elsewhere in the book without any indication by the author of their presence; then a picture of 1974 is placed in the narrative of Dali's life in the late eighties; it seems that the editing could have been improved. Lastly, Gibson brings up complex references regarding art styles (Dadaism, Pre-Raphaelitism), political parties, philosophical movements and art expert opinions without any clarification of what they mean. Why the author chooses to describe some personalities and not others is also perplexing; again, it is evident that the novice reader is not taken into account in this otherwise magnificent and enjoyable book. Gibson's conclusion is that Salvador Dali was not a "total" genius but only a virtuoso painter; I think his immeasurable creativity is greatly downplayed by the author.