Echoing the famous Salvador Dalí painting of 1931 “The Persistence of Memory”, in which the famous melting watch appears for the first time, the sculpture “Profile of Time” is an ingenious creation, full of symbolic references and hidden meanings. Dalí developed an obsession for the passing of time and portrayed the watch as being soft.
The melting watch lies on a leafless olive tree with its branches cut. The image of the olive tree, like the cypress tree, is recurrent in Dalí’s work. Both come from memories experienced by the artist in his beloved homeland and during his stay at the Pichot family farmstead in the lowlands, just a few hours away from Figueras, in Spain. The olive tree is the main subject of many of Dalí’s paintings, including “Landscape” (1921), “Cadaqués” (1921) and “Olive Trees. Landscape of Cadaqués” (1921).
In his autobiography “The secret life of Salvador Dalí” , he compares the image of the olive tree to Gala’s face and writes: “I call my wife: Gala, Galuchka, Gradiva (because she has been my Gradiva), Olive (because of the oval of her face and the color of her skin), Olivette, the Catalonian diminutive of olive; and its delirious derivatives, Olihuette, Orihuette, Oliburibuleta”.
Also in his autobiography, Dalí declares his passion for olive oil: “I would put it into everything. I would begin early in the morning by dipping my toast in oil with anchovies swimming in it. The considerable amount that remained in the dish I drank directly as though it were a precious liquid. Finally I poured the last drops on my head and my chest. I rubbed my hair and my body with it”.
In creating this sculpture, Salvador Dalí used the paranoiac-critical method that he developed in 1929 and defined as: “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative-critical association of delirium phenomena”. For Dalí this method: “functions only on condition that it possesses a soft motor on divine origin, a living nucleus, a Gala”.
By using paranoiac phenomena, the watch image of the sculpture “Profile of Time” illustrates a “double image”, a new image that for Dalí may be multiplied and triplicated and so on: “everything hinges on the paranoid capacity of the author […] Different spectators see different images in the same painting […]”.
At the basis of the mechanism, there is renewal of the obsessive ideas, which allow the observer to discover simultaneously several images in the same sculptural work. It is the same phenomenon that we can observe for instance in the works “Face of the Great Masturbator” (1929), “Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion” (1930), “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach” (1938), a few of the paintings that Dalí painted by applying the concept of the double image.
In the sculpture “Profile of Time”, the watch undergoes a figurative transformation and shows the artist’s self-portrait. By melting on the olive tree, the clock shows the spectator its double image. Looking at it, bending the head left, a second hidden image appears; the face of the watch turns into the artist’s profile: an eye, a pointed nose and the 9, alluding to Dalí’s moustache.
This sculpture also illustrates Salvador Dalí’s obsession for food and cannibalism. "All my experiences are visceral,” said Dalí "everything begins in the mouth and then goes elsewhere in the body, with the nerves. Man’s first philosophical instrument par excellence is his awareness of the real by his jaws”.
The bronze “Profile of Time” also shows the observer another hidden image, that of a cheese that would have completely lost its shape if it had not been held up by the branches of the olive tree. The Catalan genius illustrated time as a Camembert cheese melting and represented his deep concern for the concept of time.
Dalí told how the image of the Camembert clock came about in his autobiography “It was on an evening when I felt tired, and had a slight head-ache, […]. We were to go to a moving picture with some friends, and at the last moment I decided not to go. Gala would go with them, and I would stay home and go to bed early. We had topped off our meal with a very strong Camembert, and after everyone had gone I remained for a long time seated at the table meditating on the philosophic problems of the «super-soft» which the cheese presented to my mind. I got up and went into my studio, where I lit the light in order to cast a final glance, as is my habit, at the picture I was in the midst of painting. This picture represented a landscape near Port Lligat, whose rocks were lighted by a trasparent and melancholy twilight, in the foreground an olive tree with its branches cut, and without leaves. […] I was about to turn out the light, when instantaneously I «saw» the solution. I saw two soft watches, one of them hanging lamentably on the branch of the olive tree. In spite of the fact that my head-ache had increased to the point of becoming very painful, I avidly prepared my palette and set to work. When Gala returned from the theatre two hours later the picture, which was to be one of my most famous, was completed”.
The idea of the soft watch arose in a period when Dalí recognised Gala as the “Angel of Equilibrium”, the fundamental figure for constructing his new identity. Salvador Dalí declared: “She was the Angel of Equilibrium, the precursor of my classicism. Far from becoming depersonalized, I got rid of the cumbersome, sterile and dusty tyranny of symptoms and of tics,tics,tics. […] Instead of hardening me, as life had planned, Gala, with the petrifying saliva of her fanatical devotion, succeeded in building for me a shell to protect the tender nakedness of the Bernard the Hermit that I was, so that while in relation to the outside world I assumed more and more the appearance of a fortress, within myself I could continue to grow old in the soft, and in the supersoft. And the day I decided to paint watches, I painted them soft”.
In this regard, the sculpture “Profile of Time” is an elegy to Gala and, we can certainly state that this sculpture would not exist, as we can admire it today, if Dalí had not met Gala, and if he had not been born in his beloved Catalonia.
In this bronze work, the soft clock also takes on the shape of a tongue, not lacking a visible amount of saliva. Salvador Dalí declared his desire to want to consume “theoretical meal […] with the headier and deliquescent imponderable of Camembert” and, in creating the sculpture “Profile of Time”, the artist decided to serve a theoretical and irrational meal on the branches of an olive tree. The visible amount of saliva that runs down the chin of the Dalí-soft watch profile is a dalinian symbol connected to the pleasure drawn from painting and sleeping, that of drooling and salivating. Dalí asserted: “Sleeping and painting make me slaver with pleasure. Of course, with a rapid or lazy movement of the back of my hand, I could wipe my face during one of my paradisiacal awakenings or one of the no less paradisiacal pauses during my work, but I am so completely addicted to my vital and intellectual ecstasies that I do not do so!”.
Steeped in hidden meanings and symbols, the sculpture “Profile of Time” illustrates Dalí’s numerous obsessions along with his profound preoccupation for the concept of time. For Dalí time is not rigid, solid, precise, but soft and imprecise. The shape that time assumes is connected to individual thought. Observing the sculpture “Profile of Time” each one of us can see a different image because the interpretation of the work is never even and absolute. Salvador Dalí loved to surprise the observers and to invite them to participate actively in his art.
Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dalí, 1963.
The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dalí, 1942.
Conversation with Dalí, Alain Bosquet, 1969.
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org)
Images: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Salvador Dalí © Fundació Gala - Salvador Dalí.