SARAGOSSA. Agustín Sánchez Vidal and Ian Gibson have demonstrated the unrestricted genius of Salvador Dalí: as a painter and engraver, as a writer and as an ambiguous character (he fell madly in love with García Lorca), modern and visionary who anticipated aspects of advertising, money and science. . Javier Sierra from Teruel, winner of the 2017 Planeta Prize, is also an admirer of his and knew, of course, that the artist of ‘The Great Masturbator’ was a great reader of occult themes. A few days ago, in ‘La Razón’, the author of ‘The Secret Supper’ recalled that in his library he had books such as ‘The Mystery of the Cathedrals’, ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ or ‘The Return of the Witches’. ‘.
On the occasion of the exhibition of the painting ‘The Christ of San Juan de la Cruz’ at the Dalí Museum in Figueras, Javier Sierra was commissioned to participate in a special choral volume (Montse Aguer interviews the painter Antonio López) about Dalí.
“… I was dazzled that his personal library was so full of works on occult sciences. It was a passion that he shared with Gala, who boasted of being a witch in private, and I understood that, without certain ‘occult’ keys, it is almost impossible to understand the work of the genius of Figueras”
«I stumbled upon Dalí preparing materials for a new book on mysteries of art and as soon as I discovered that he was a personal friend of Louis Pawels, co-author of the mythical book ‘The Return of the Sorcerers’, I began to investigate his esoteric whims. I discovered many, encrypted in paintings from different periods, but above all I was dazzled that his personal library was so full of works on occult sciences. It was a passion that he shared with Gala, who boasted of being a witch in private, and I understood that, without certain ‘hidden’ keys, it is almost impossible to understand the work of the genius from Figueras,” explains Javier Sierra (Teruel, 1971).
The drawing and the nun
Once it became clear, from Planeta, that Sierra was going to sign a key text in the volume (he is an expert in El Prado and Leonardo da Vinci, as seen in ‘The Secret Dinner’ and ‘The Master of the Prado’), The author from Teruel recalled that Sánchez Dragó sent a letter to Dalí in 1974, which never received a response. He decided to do the same almost 50 years later and his letter to the kingdom of shadows contains a history of the painting, an adventure, a slip of chance and a story where spirituality, the secrets of the convent, the mystics Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa, witchcraft and madness. And at the same time it is a story of how the painting was painted and also an interpretation. The work is dated 1951 and has a curious anecdote: three years earlier, Dalí, who had been away from Spain for eight years, moved to Ávila in search of the traces of Teresa de Ahumada and visited the convent of La Encarnación.
There one of the Carmelite nuns showed him a silver reliquary that contained a drawing, which was “the sketch of a crucifixion seen from above”, with echoes of Zurbarán, and which Saint John of the Cross himself would have sketched. In his epistle, Sierra tells the painter from Portlligat: «’The Christ of Saint John of the Cross’ is not only a tribute to a mystical vision of the 16th century. It is a trance in itself. ‘Your particular trance’.
“Dalí falls headlong into Christian mysticism after stumbling upon the drawing that Saint John of the Cross made of one of his ecstasies, and that will undermine his surrealist period”
In her text, Sierra explains: “But perhaps what is most disturbing about the composition is the perspective you chose to compose it. That muscular crucified figure that you took from the poses of a burly Hollywood stuntman, Russ Saunders, floats on a beach, gravitating between fishermen that immediately evoke those disciples that the Rabbi of Galilee recruited during his lifetime”.
A genius in trance
When selling that work in 1952, the artist said that he had heard voices telling him “Dalí, you have to paint that Christ” and revealed that “all my work has been influenced by my dreams.”
Does Javier Sierra believe that this work is the painting of a ‘new convert’ so to speak? “Exact. Dalí falls headlong into Christian mysticism after stumbling upon the drawing that Saint John of the Cross made of one of his ecstasies, and that will undermine his surrealist period, in which trances and visionary experiences were understood as mere automatisms of the human brain and not as ‘bridges’ with a spiritual and transcendent world. Dalí’s encounter with the Iberian mystic will torpedo his relations with André Breton and the French surrealists, pushing him on his own path that would make him one of the great pictorial singularities of the 20th century: an artist with Renaissance pretensions, a surrealist mind and Christian reason. , Sierra declares.
In studying the painting, Javier Sierra remembers other peculiarities: the existence of a previous brother, Salvador; the friendship with the writer Carles Fages de Climent, author of the collection of poems ‘Les bruixes de Llers’, and “the first witch of your life”, Lídia Noguer de Costa (1886-1946), who frequented and inspired Pla, Pablo Picasso or Eugeni d’Ors, and Dalí, of course. “With Eugeni, by the way, he fell in love to the core, turning it into his obsession,” recalls the narrator from Teruel.
Innocence, surrealism and Luis Buñuel
‘Why Dali?’ (Planeta, 2023), in addition to the extensive text by Javier Sierra, includes texts by other specialists and a dialogue between Montse Aguer, director of the Dalí Museums and the Center for Dalinian Studies of the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, and the painter Antonio López . López says about ‘El Cristo’: «Here the language is surreal, although it could be even more so. (…) Surrealism helped Dalí a lot, because it gave him the direction he needed, which was already in his sensitivity, as well as in Buñuel’s. Montse Aguer replies: “Yes, what magnificent films they made. It’s a shame they fell out, because they still had a lot to say.” Antonio López adds: «The most innocent is Dalí. Because Lorca is looking for something. And Buñuel, well I don’t know what he’s looking for, but he’s also looking, although he’s never going to tell you. One for one reason and the other for another. And Dalí is the purest. He does not join a person through flesh or sensuality, nor through criticism. He unites because of intelligence, because of aesthetic beauty, because of the admiration that he feels towards a person. Because the other person says things that he thinks open his eyes to the world and is cleaner in that sense. For me, he is completely transparent ».
‘Why Dalí? The enigma as a provocation in art’. Javier Sierra, Antonio López, Montse Aguer. Duncan M. Dornan, Pippa Stephenson, Carmen Ruiz, Rosa Maria Maurell, Irena Civil and Laura Feliz also write. Planeta and Fundació Gala and Salvador Dalí. With illustrations. Barcelona, 2023. 192 pages.