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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Locating the centre of the cosmos

With a relish, worthy of Salvador himself, I produced my passport. On Tuesday I had already queued for some 80 minutes for a ticket for the remarkable Dalí Theatre and Museum in his Catalan hometown of Figueres. Once at the ticket window, I naturally checked if there was a pensioner discount. “ Yes,” said the senyoreta (that’s Catalan), “but you have to be over 60!” Wonderfully, she simply refused to believe I had a decade to spare – and insisted on seeing my ID. Any reservations I may have had regarding Salvador Dalí’s idiosyncratic imagination were immediately dismissed as she allowed me a five euro discount.. This converted theatre, essentially Dalí’s mausoleum, displays the single largest and most diverse collection of his works. All altogether wacky. As it happens, only the previous day over the border in France, I visited one of the places most associated with this popular proponent of Surrealism: Perpignan railway station. (I was catching a train). Here Dalí typically claimed to have had a vision of cosmogonic ecstasy. “At 4.21pm on 19 September 1963, standing in the railway station at Perpignan, I had a precise vision of the constitution of the universe." It was revealed to him that this rather unassuming regional railway station was the "centre cosmique de l'univers," no less. A painting followed two years. Clearly up-the-wall, as he knows all too well. Dalí is having us on. We all know that the centre of the universe is St Pancras International on Euston Road. By all accounts Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989), famous for his waxed moustache was hugely influential and also highly egocentric. "Every morning upon awakening,” he once reflected, “I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí". You may be familiar with Dalí’s best-known work from 1931, The Persistence of Memory, which features melting clocks draped in a landscape from the Catalan coast. Strange and disturbing, Dalí’ seeks to undermine our understanding of reality through this Surrealist meditation on Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity, no less. Dalí did everything, not just painting and sculpture: fashion and architecture, photography and films, even shop window displays. To say the least he was highly imaginative as well as a big show-off. He would do anything to gain attention, however outrageous or embarrassing. Much of his work was highly sexualised: no surprise there. But what did he actually believe? Dalí simply refused to be pinned down; he was elusive. Born to a Catholic mother and an atheist father, he initially rejected the Catholicism of his childhood but returned to the Catholic church in 1949, even having an audience with the Pope. His “Nuclear Mysticism” sought to blendreligion, classicism and science: strange, as he himself realised. “Not a single philosophic, moral, aesthetic or biological discovery allows the denial of God.” His painting of Christ of Saint John of the Cross in 1950 depicts the crucifixion of Jesus from a perspective above the cross. (Amazingly it is owned by Glasgow Corporation). A powerful depiction, according to the Guardian’s art critic: “It is, for better or worse, probably the most enduring vision of the crucifixion painted in the 20th century”

However (and as however’s go, this is a big one), there are no nails, no crown of thorns, no blood. Looking at the painting we are not sure what holds Jesus to the wood. This is not the gruesome crucifixion of the Gospels but a stylised representation of a religious symbol. Dalí lived during a time of tumult. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), he fled the conflict and refused to align himself with any group nor condemn any of the terrible atrocities. He opted out. Amazingly for a Catalan he supported the Spanish dictator, General Franco, even congratulating him for "clearing Spain of destructive forces. Similarly during WW2 he moved to the safety of the United States George Orwell accused him of "scuttling off like a rat as soon as France is in danger." His surrealist friends had already disowned him for his 1939 painting The Enigma of Hitler. He later wrote that Hitler "turned me on" as if the fate of millions was an irrelevance. For Dalí was detached from the real world: consequently he was wholly amoral. As Orwell concluded: "One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being." All his in complete contrast to God’s action in Christ. The nails are real and excoriatingly painful but at its very basic, it was love, not nails that kept Jesus on the cross. For such is his love that God entered our world with its pain and suffering, head-on. So the risen Jesus summons us to follow him, to encounter evil and injustice as we take up our cross each day. We proclaim a crucified Saviour who shed real blood and wept real tears, such is his love. For the pivot of the universe is just outside Jerusalem, at Golgotha, on the 14th Nisan 30 AD between 12.00 and 15.00 hours.

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