PAINTED: OLD ART, NEW SKIN – SALVADOR DALI “HERCULES LIFTS THE SKIN OF THE SEA AND STOPS VENUS FOR AN INSTANT FROM WAKING LOVE”
This week I’d like to take a look at “Hercules Lifts the Skin of the Sea and Stops Venus for an Instant from Waking Love” … The title is quite a mouthful, and perhaps unnecessarily so, because all the drama and to an extent humor (or comedy) are in the painting. The painting has several features that work together to make this painting particularly memorable.
1) The “material” surface of the water.
2) Hercules’s wagging finger.
3) Venus’s reaching hand.
In terms of the making the surface of the water act like a blanket but still retain its properties as water, notice how the vanishing point of the water is quite far off, complete with reflections and ripples. Even where the water meets “the edge of the canvas” where Hercules lifts it up — Dali puts Hercules’s knees through the water evoking its more liquid property. Where the water is “pinched” up like a blanket is also where all the action is.
Enter the wagging finger and reaching hand. Cupid/Love who lies sleeping in a seemingly dry world beneath the surface serves as the object of the drama, but the fun of this painting is the hand gestures painted with great attention to detail including perfect detail and the sharpest shadows in the work.
While Dali, like Magritte, and other surrealists, often “mask” their characters, it’s interesting to consider if the gesticulating hands of both Hercules and Venus would convey the current drama as well if expressions on the characters’ faces were visible. In other words, had the faces of Hercules and Venus been visible — the eye of the viewer would like be drawn to them. It’s only natural that the human eye goes to a human face. But, here, in the absence of the human face, we are drawn uninterrupted to the drama of the hands.
In developing our own works of art, it may be worth considering not only the features we’re looking to highlight, but the features we diminish.