Dylan Jones: ' As a teenager, I adored Dali and thought the moustachioed Surrealist dude was the coolest painter of all'

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I thought I was all done with Dali. As a young teenager, I adored him, and, like many impressionable boys of my age, thought the moustachioed Surrealist dude was the coolest painter of them all. You could keep your Picassos, your Matisses and your Rembrandts; it was Dali all the way with me, baby.

At that age, when corny juxtaposition seems so sophisticated, Salvador Dali tends to be as much of a student pinboard mainstay as Che Guevara or Bob Marley. "You have to systematically create confusion, it sets creativity free," he once said. "Everything that is contradictory creates life."

But then you grow up and never want to have anything to do with him again. Well, not until you see one of his clouds. A few weeks ago I was driving through the hills around Banyuls-sur-Mer, one of the beautiful French coastal towns near Perpignan, and the sky was suddenly full of long, pale grey clouds, a vista that looked as though it had been painted by the famous Spanish Surrealist. Those clouds in The Persistence of Memory? Yup, I saw those. The clouds in Landscape with Butterflies, in Reminescence Archeologique de l'Angelus de Millet, yes I saw those too; huge explosions of white across the sky.

Dali used to live nearby – just down the road, in fact, in Figueres – and, seeing these clouds, you can see why he chose the place. The Catalan sky is a beautiful, big, blank, blue canvas, while the clouds are pillowy, and often oblong, like gunmetal baguettes. Dali loved his wide, expanding landscapes, the sort that were copied endlessly by record sleeve designers in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the sort that begged to be filled with cod Surrealist imagery (clocks, animals, naked women, etc). In a way you could say that Dali painted skies as often as Hockney painted swimming pools: often.

And seeing them in "true life", as my daughters used to say when they were young, you begin to understand why Dali used these vast panoramas as the backdrop to so many of his paintings: they were simply extraordinary, and they were right there in front of him.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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