Dali’s The Smoker (1973)

This unusual painting is one-half of an optical illusion. There is a second painting, nearly identical but in different colors and with a slight shift in perspective to simulate looking through the artist's other eye. Together, side by side, you would see the two images in 3-dimensions if you could find a pair of stereoscopic glasses so large that each eye only saw its "own" painting. The illusion is impractical and thus theoretical but, as in almost all Dali's "illusions", there is meaning too. If each painting is precisely what each eye of the artist saw, then what you see must be through Dali's own eye from the inside out. I'm sorry but you, the observer, are inside his mind.

Yet there is an illusion more subtle still. Look at the hand with the cigarette-holder, the thumb resting against the mouthpiece. It appears that the hand belongs to the head behind it but the hand and cigarette look real; neither the head nor anything else does. Both are also lit from the right; nothing else is. Not even the head.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Dalí, The Smoker. Pierrot and Columbine, blue sky [La Fumeur. Pierre et Columbine, ciel bleu] (1973) Oil on canvas. 60.3 x 60.3 cm. Private Collection.

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Given those observations, the hand and cigarette  might actually be in front of an abstractly-drawn composition, as in Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863). The foreground is then the studio while the background is a "painting". This would explain the cigarette and closed eyes. Smoking in art conveys deep thought and since the hand in the studio must "paint" itself, the head behind dreams. The head and hand are indeed linked but through separate realities.

Now consider the picture from the other direction as though the highly foreshortened "cigarette and its holder" are aimed into the canvas, not out of it. In that case, the holder becomes the blade of a knife with the cigarette as its ivory or plastic handle.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Dali, The Smoker. Pierrot and Columbine, blue sky

Click image to enlarge.

Smoke is not the only misunderstood tradition in art; the knife as a paintbrush is another [See themes]. Dali has imagined his own brush as a knife "painting" his thumb. Pointing and touch also symbolize the act of painting which means that the brush in touching the thumb paints it or, more accurately, given the hand is the artist's, the painter paints himself. Dalí, it now seems, may have used an obvious optical illusion - the 2-painting stereoscopic construction - to disguise a subtler one and its hidden meaning.

 

Captions for image(s) above:

Dali, The Smoker. Pierrot and Columbine, blue sky

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Jul 2014. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.