The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali’s 1931 painting named The Persistence of Memory is an intriguing work of modern art.  The artwork became an instant success with the public audience and continues to be Dali’s most recognized work.  At the core of the painting is Dali’s perception of physical objects as either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’.  The depiction of ‘soft’ pocket watches in the backdrop of the landscape of Port Lligat comprises its unique appeal.  In Dali’s own words, the artwork is a “hand painted dream photograph”, which projects a dream-like imagery.  The central theme of the painting is the melting watch, which is a recurrent object in many of Dali’s paintings. The painting is best known for its surrealistic elements and can appear to be irrational, unsettling, paradoxical or even nonsensical.  But beneath the veneer of this confusion lies its aesthetic merit and conceptual integrity.

In the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where it is currently displayed, it is placed alongside The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory, which was painted twenty years later and meant to be a ‘revision’ of the earlier work.  It is interesting to note that in the intervening period the Second World War happened, which significantly altered Dali’s understanding of reality.  Also, in the years between 1931 and 1954, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity would become highly acclaimed.  This had a profound effect on artists and intellectuals of the time, including Salvador Dali.  In this context, it is instructive to study Dali’s watches as a manifestation of such theoretical physics concepts as ‘the time-space continuum’, ‘time-warp’, etc.  This internal transformation in the artist’s understanding of physical reality would manifest itself in his later works.  Hence a comparative study of The Persistence of Memory and its revised version would not only give insights into the mind of the artist but also the evolving geo-political realities and scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

It is due to aforementioned special qualities of the work that I chose it for my 3D project.  Moreover, I took it up as a challenge to replicate disfigured pocket watches shown in the painting.  But this task is not easy due to certain reasons.  For example, creating ‘soft’ watches in 2D is relatively easier than in 3D, for it is easier for the 2D artist to suspend laws of physics in favor of the idea he projects.  Further, it is not always feasible to replicate in 3D what was depicted in 2D.  I took inspiration from the fact that Dali himself had overcome these challenges in creating sculptures of his ‘soft’ watches toward the end of his career.  By studying his sculptures carefully, I was able to infer the techniques he must have used in making them.

One of the highlights of The Persistence of Memory is the contrasting hues of blue and orange that the artist employs to color the watches.  While the three ‘melting’ watches are shown in blue, the single ‘rotting’ watch is shown in orange with ants eating it away.  In my 3D replicas, such thematic elements as color are not given focus.  Instead I have focussed on getting the shape and structure of the watches right, for these are the more challenging aspects of the project.  When the watches are illuminated by a lighting source, it is important that the shadows thrown by raised elements such as the clock-needle, clock numerals, etc add to the overall effect of the sculpture.  Hence, I’ve focussed on the surface indentation of the watches as well.