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The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali [Hardcover]

Ian Gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Nov 1997
This biography argues that Salvador Dali lived a "shameful" life in every way: that underlying his exhibitionism was an intense feeling of shame, the individual hanging his head being one of the recurrent themes of his painting. Based on extensive original research and recently discovered sources, as well as an interview with Dali himself, the book presents a portrait of a disjointed character. Ian Gibson emphasizes the literary side of Dali's career and re-examines the two principal relationships of his life - with Federico Garcia Lorca, and with the libidinous Gala.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st ed. edition (3 Nov 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571167519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571167517
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.3 x 5.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 286,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Ian Gibson's fascinating portrait of Salvador Dali depicts an artist whose life is as fragmented as his paintings. Perhaps surprisingly, Gibson argues that an intense sense of shame was the driving force in the surrealist's life and art, steering him between leaps of creative invention and personal ruin. With access to previously unknown biographical details, Gibson concludes that Dali's shame centred around sexual conflict, particularly in his relationships with his muse Gala and his friend Garcia Lorca. In lieu of the sexual act, Dali cultivated a deeply exhibitionist persona and used his art as protection against the shame he associated with sex. As his fame grew so did his need to hide behind his extravagance; the sense of shame is directed outward rather than inward as a result. In the process, Dali betrayed his family, many of his artistic mentors, and in the end his own art.

Colour reproductions of Dali's work illustrate the conflicts playing out in the artist's history and mind, and while Gibson cannot fully explain the origins of Dali's genius and where the artist's true motivations originate, his argument is compelling and reveals a great deal about the tragic and brillant painter. --Aaron Abrams --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ian Gibson's celebrated biography Federico García Lorca: A Life won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His biography of Salvador Dalí was published in 1997 to much critical acclaim. He lives near Granada in southern Spain.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is the most entertaining and erudite biography I think I have ever read. Gibson fully explores the muti-faceted life of the painter, but his main achievement is in the art of the biography as a genre, which he seems to have perfected. This long and detailed book is never dull, and makes you want to follow on to Gibson's other biographical studies. Well structured and with a lively narrative, he shows us the inside and out of Dali's personal, public and artistic lives. Nicely prodcued book too, although with someone like Dali you will always want more pictures than they could possibly fit in! Well worth the money.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal book for any Dali fan 7 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bought this book for my husband as he is a big Dali fan.
Has books about his work etc but not about his life,very informative & interesting.
Great book for a great price.
If buying for a Dali fan they won`t be disappointed!!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, complete, compelling 14 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback
I love this book, I also recommend Lorca's biography by the same author.
It's a shame that this book is not available for the Kindle. I happen to have my hard cover copy in the US so I would really love to be able to have this on my Kindle. The button to request the book for Kindle version is not even available!

If you are a Dali fan -as I am, this book is it. Gibson is a renowned hispanist and add the british novel-like narrative and sensibility that I love. Plus he didn't even like Dali to begin with, so I guess that adds to his effort of being objective -if such a thing is possible.

I highly recommend it, if you can find it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've Never Read A More Vivid Biography 6 Jan 2000
By Allen Salyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most biographies I've read, the opening chapters are a bore of mundane details of the person's childhood that are uninterestnig and nearly always read the same. In contrast, Ian Gibson's writing style is so lush, that even the detailed history of the Dali family before Salvador was born are compelling. Gibson gives you the feel of the Spanish countryside and the era in which Dali and his forefathers lived. Gibson is a careful biographer as well. Instead of taking Dali's own autobiography, "The Secret Life Of Salvador Dali," at face value, Gibson researches Dali's life and points out discrepencies and exaggerations of Dali writings. It led me to reread Dali's own writings and gave me further insight into the mind of the artist. I enjoyed reading about Dali's relationships with other painters (Surreal and otherwise), writers and poets such as Lorca, and his love of jazz. Far from a dry outline of a famous person's life, this book makes Dali come alive.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unflatering Portrait of a Neurotic Genius 6 Dec 1999
By D.C.Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Well researched revisionist biography of one of the century's great artists. As the title implies, the author suggests that a key to understanding Dali is his feelings of shame. Dali suffered from almost paralizing bouts of shame as a child, and struggled (not always successfully) to work around or overcompensate for them. Those with a casual interest in Dali should start off with the artist's own "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali" for many insights and a more entertaining read. The "Shamefull Life" tries to find the story behind the story. My biggest objection to this book is Gibson's almost total dismissal of Dali's art after 1940, which I fear is a prejudice based more on politics than the Dali's art itself.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Dali's art, this bio takes effort but it's worth it 8 Dec 1999
By NobodyImportant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you want to be spoon fed Freudian explanations about what Dali's paintings mean, look for something else. But if you want a richly detailed, absolutely readable biography of Dali, this is it. I can't wait to read Gibson's biography of Lorca, but for now, I'm savoring this one and I only wish it were longer.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ALMOST PERFECT BIOGRAPHY 5 Mar 2003
By N Z. A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gibson has contributed a flawed book to Dali studies. 29 Sep 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
reprint from Isthmus (Madison, WI) Vol. 23, No. 31, July 31-August 6, 1998, p. 19.
Dead almost ten years now, Salvador Dali (1904-89) remains one of the most talked about artists of the 20th century; pause quietly and you may hear the cascade of all that talk still drift softly upon his coffin. Dali was and still is, a household name - a rare thing for artists in their own lifetime, let alone immediately after their death. But despite name recognition, only Dali seemed aware of Dali's genius. A literal outcast among the avant garde's own putrid outcasts, Dali seemed not prepared or capable of fitting anywhere, whether within the faux freedom of Andre Breton's Surrealism or in the realm of post-war America's not-joking-around art world.
Despite a career that lasted until 1983, Dali only produced good work between 1929 and 1933. At least, that's what most art historians, curators and critics would have you believe. Dali's autobiographical fiction, public antics and impeccable talent for self generating PR has tended to color the way many artwriters have looked at his art: commercial kitsch painted by a hack fraud. Dali is possibly the only major artist of the modern period who hasn't been thoroughly reassessed. Thanks to several recent contributions (like R. Radford, H. Finkelstein)it seems Mr. Dali's cultural contributions, rather than public charades and smoke screens, are at last being assessed. Ian Gibson's unbalanced new biography contributes perceptive analysis of Dali's early years, but is savagely prejudiced about nearly everything else.
Gibson's young (1904-1924) Dali is better understood than ever. Dali's formative years are conjured in a dreamlike, magic realist narrative contextualizing the artist's Catalan background. Gibson goes to fantastic lengths to credibly account for the Dali's childhood precocity, recurring obsessive themes and paranoias, attempting to sort the fictional from the actual - no simple task when dealing with the most deliberately elusive subject any biographer could select. Much good use was made of Dali's correspondence and other personal papers; he is approached with a clinical eye for biographical reality rather than myth. But Gibson falls apart and reveals his animosity for his subject over the rest of Dali's long life. This is a flawed book, written at times in a condescending tone and irresponsible in parts. Gibson announces that he will avoid the later work outright (he confesses to reader that he will do so as he launches into the post-war period) calls his practice as a biographer into doubt. How long will Dali remain a taboo for art historians? R. Cozzolino END
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