The Wicked Witch of the West's parting words--"I'm melting, I'm melting!"--could well describe most of the objects in Salvador Dali's best-known paintings. Pianos, clocks, women's bodies--nothing was safe from the heat of his brush. As a member of the surrealist movement, the Spanish artist specialized in disjointed scenes in which trees grow from heads, the earth gives birth to a muscular man and a skeletal horse rears out of a cannon.
In a group show at Georgetown's Fraser Gallery, "Salvador Dali: A Modern Homage to a Modern Icon," many works feature the artist himself, black eyes ablaze, famous waxed mustache in fine form. In synergy with his explosive, colorful works, Dali had a showman's personality and theatrical looks.
The works in the crowded exhibit include the bizarre and the fanciful. In "Nosotros Somos Uno" ("We Are One"), "Bip" Frederick Diggs melds half of his face with half of Dali's. The arresting result resembles a poster from a freak show, with mismatched lips and mustaches, half the chin covered with a beard and half the head sprouting a Mohawk. Only the wide, trancelike eyes seem in sync as they challenge the viewer to a stare-down.
Tiny portraits of Dali as a young man lie at the center of Gerard de la Cruz's "Dali's Dream." The black-and-white painting comes together in a series of small squares, which when looked at as a whole offer a picture of Dali as an adult. The one work that has sold so far, "Homage to Dali" by Anton Brzezinski, uses a blue image of the artist's face as the center of a melting clock, with references to images in Dali's other works swirling around the disintegrating visage.
Some of the art in the show only tangentially relates to the surrealist's style and instead focuses on his life. Many of the 30 or so pieces displayed don't "have an obvious link" to the artist, says Catriona Fraser, the gallery's owner, who curated the show along with her husband, F. Lennox Campello.
Dali isn't among Julie Buckley's favorite artists but she decided to submit a mixed-media work, "Hardball," and it was plucked from 300 submissions for a slot in the show. The piece features a traditional-looking Adam and Eve overlaid with dark drawings of a bra and girdle. An image of a man touching a woman's breast refers to a Dali film, "Un Chien Andalou," that often makes the rounds in art school. "I use a lot of old imagery and I assimilate it into my work," says Buckley, a recent graduate of George Washington University's art program.
Artist Katie Dell Kaufman, on the other hand, has two Dali lithographs hanging in her living room as well as some train posters he did for a British company in the late '60s. Kaufman says Dali's work is all about "taking the beautiful and putting it in juxtaposition with what is scary and humble." She pursued this idea in her own complex work, "The Promise." At the center of the piece sits Gala: Dali's muse, wife and--some scholars now argue--controlling manager, with her nude back to the viewer. Peeling wood, a rusted fox trap and a dirty tourniquet surround this idealized image.
The Fraser gallery has offered two similar shows in its four-year existence, paying homage to Frida Kahlo and Picasso. "It has to be someone that the public knows. It's a fun show," Fraser says of their choices. "Dali is kind of weird so he attracted a lot of weird people, too." Maybe this explains her choice of Norman Rockwell as muse for next summer's exhibit.
"Salvador Dali: A Modern Homage to a Modern Icon" at the Fraser Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW. 202-298-6450. To Sept. 18.
Writer-performance artist Deb Randall will perform her new one-woman show, " 'Til It Hurts," this week at Gunston Arts Center. Randall plays seven different characters, including a thirty-something body builder, an 8-year-old orphan and a TV news reporter. Tonight and Friday at 8 at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. For information, call 703-228-6960 . . . The Corcoran Gallery's "Art on a Shoestring" lecture series begins Sunday with an introduction to the local arts scene by artists and collectors. The three-part series is designed to teach the basics of building a collection on a limited budget. At the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The series costs $32, individual tickets are $12. For information, call 202-639-1753.
The Galleries column will return.
CAPTION: Depends on how you look at it: "Dali's Dream," by Gerard de la Cruz.
CAPTION: Half Salvador Dali, half "Bip" Frederick Diggs make "Nosotros Somos Uno."