31 October 2011

Have a Surreal Halloween

Halloween originally was a pagan holiday that likely linked to the a feast for the  Celtic God Samhain, which was Old Irish for “Summer’s End”.  Other historians associated it with Paternalia, the feast for the dead to commemorate Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruits and seeds. Either way, the festivals  recognized the fruits of the harvest and the unsettling change to the fallow fields of winter. Catholics tried to convert the pagan holiday into Halloween (Old Scottish for “All Hallows Eve”) in the 16th Century which evoked influences from purgatory.

Some traditions of celebrating Halloween readily spread through North America, like going door to door “guising”, but in the New World children did not beg for sustenance for All Saints Day or prayers for All Souls Day but “trick or treating” in costumes to get sweets.  As Erma Bombeck wryly put it “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween”.  Back in Scotland, it was a tradition to carve images in turnips.  Those celebrating Halloween in the New World continued this tradition but they used the more plentiful and larger pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns.

 In the last twenty years, Halloween has also transitioned to being a secular pagan festival for adults, as it is the third busiest night at bars behind New Years Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.  So many adults now delight in donning costumes and spending an evening posing in another guise.

Surrealism is a style that juxtaposes familiar subjects in unconventional settings, hence it lends itself to the fantasy and phantasmagoria of Halloween.  Those who are not Salvador Dalí devotees might conclude that much of his oeuvre was Halloween-esque.  As Dalí himself once mused:  “I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

Salvador Dali, Self-Portrait as Mona Lisa (1954) [photo Philippe Haltsman]
But in absorbing Dalí’s paranoid-critical masterpiece the Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), it is easy to understand Dalí’s proclamations “I don't do drugs. I am drugs” and “Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic”.

Salvador Dali, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937)

Narcissus, in his immobility,
absorbed by his reflection
with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
becomes invisible.
There remains of him only
the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,
his head again more tender,
his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,
his head held up by the tips of the water's fingers,
at the tips of the fingers
of the insensate hand,
of the terrible hand,
of the mortal hand
of his own reflection.
When that head slits
when that head splits
when that head bursts,
it will be the flower,
the new Narcissus,
Gala - my narcissus.
Other artists have done homages to Dalinian Halloween motifs.

Pumpkin Head- Dalí for Dinner draws its inspiration from Dalí’s “The Birth of Geopoliticus Child”  (1943) which Dali associated with the rise of New World dominance. This is apt as Halloween became a much bigger phenomenon in North America.

Crystal Vision, Dali Halloween (2010)

Another outstanding Dalinian inspired Halloween image is by Dali Halloween by “Crystal Vision”.  She chose to depict Dalí as an ant-eater from his cinematic collaboration with Luis Buñuel in the film “Un chien andalou” (1929).

This was a bit of a surreal association as Dalí always depicted ants as a symbol of death as well as a symbol for female genitalia.

So have a surreal Halloween (and a  Dalí  New Year).

H/T: The Painting Queen (Crystal Vision Art)
H/T Tate Gallery (London)

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