Comedy Divine

Dali’s Divine Comedy. At UCSB’s University Art Museum. Shows
through December 3.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

Salvador Dali gives me hives. Really. If I see another one of
those posters with the melting clock on it, I am not going to be
responsible for my actions, which is why I made a point of avoiding
the Dali show when I was recently at the UAM. What with all those
side hallways out there and so forth, though, I did end up
stumbling into a delightful exhibition of wood engraved
illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy by an unfamiliar
artist.

This particular artist is infinitely more versatile than Dali
ever was. Oh sure, if you know Dali’s work you will recognize how
this artist has borrowed some of Dali’s themes, almost exclusively
in the depictions of hell. But the crutched figures, the melting
biomorphs, and the limbs emerging from rock seem appropriate to the
infernal subject (as opposed to being the subject of an entire
career). And those themes are taken up with a light hand, woven
seamlessly with heroic (think Blake) and grotesque (think Bosch)
figures engaged in their eternal struggles.

Dali’s slickness is often annoying. This artist, on the other
hand, is so raw as to be endearing, his colors spilling and pooling
across the paper. And unlike Dali, with his dreary monochromes,
this artist is capable at times of an ecstatic use of color — kind
of like John Singer Sargent watercolors on mild hallucinogens. He
even has room in his oeuvre for charm, as “The Delightful Mount”
evinces, with its tiny red figure on a faraway plane, neatly
defined with one-point perspective, a tree covered hillock in
contemplation. Here the surreal has gone underground, and
re-emerged as whimsy.

When it comes to portraying purgatory, and particularly
paradise, this artist shines, evincing a talent for beauty that
you’d never associate with Dali. “The Joy of the Blessed,” for
example, a print from the Paradiso series, is a vision of lavender
and magenta seraphim with teal wings against the mauve, indigo, and
cerulean corona given off by a central, coral figure that they are
all venerating. The forms are both backlit and pale,
other-worldly.

The Dali I know is a one-trick boor who only impresses college
freshmen. This artist — as evinced by the large selection of prints
from a series of 100 — is endlessly inventive. At times his ability
to pick a narrative moment makes the cantos he is illustrating seem
biblical, and he matches Dante in terms of visual metaphor. He
certainly isn’t the Dali I know.

Login

Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.