Austin is home to many artists, including extremely talented ones, so it only makes sense that Austin should house the largest collection of copper etchings created by one of contemporary art’s greatest artists, Salvador Dali.
The collection, which is currently being exhibited at West Sixth Street’s Russell Collection, features more than 200 of Dali’s works, including copper etchings.
The current works are from the collection of Dali’s former publisher and longtime friend, Frenchman Pierre Argillet. The collection is now owned and curated by his daughter Christine Argillet.
“This collection is the reflection of their friendship,” Christine Argillet said. The works were commissioned by Pierre Argillet and are representative of many of his tastes and preferences. The medium the art is created on exemplifies that.
“My father did not think that the print-based lithographs Dali wanted to do were original,” Christine Argillet said.
Dali was initially opposed to etching on copper plates because of the brightness they produce, which he perceived to hurt the eyes.
Nonetheless, Dali created scores of copper-plated etchings for Pierre Argillet until their professional relationship ended in 1979, when Dali’s will to create print-based lithographs triumphed over his desire to work with Argillet. The two remained good friends.
The collection itself features all sorts of works ranging from simple yet caustic sketch-ups to elaborate etches of chaotic vibrance.
The works’ themes run the gamut of possibilities, with Dali taking inspiration from everything from hippies and the middle-aged to Spanish bullfights to Mao Zedong’s poetry.
One particular piece from the Mao series is an etching of Mao that has his head extending out of the view of picture. Christine Argillet explained Dali’s rationale in the creation of the etching. Upon inquiry of the detail, Dali merely replied, “Mao is so big, he doesn’t fit on one page.”
Argillet also noted Dali’s affinity for placing his own head on bulls’ bodies. “[He] hated bullfights,” Argillet said. “He always saw himself as the bull, misunderstood by others.”
She also shed light on an etching symbolizing peace. The three mountains on copper plating all sit next to one another but never touch, just as peace is never achieved.
The most interesting story of all is the explanation behind his piece entitled “Medusa.” According to Argillet, Dali found an octopus on the shore of his home in Spain. He immediately went inside, put the octopus in acid and then placed it on a copper plate and drew an etching around the imprint it made.
Even to Christine Argillet, someone very close to Dali, the man was perplexing and enigmatic. Often painted by the media to be eccentric and flamboyant, she described a man who was jolly, kind-hearted and possessed a strong desire to simply please others in the most benevolent manner.
In this regard, Argillet is the same as Dali. As she noted that the collection was among the most important and impressive of Dali’s work, she said, “To have art known, you must share it.”
Printed on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 as: Salvador Dali collection on display in Austin