College hosts Salvador Dalí art exhibition

Special to the Log

Over 100 rare woodblock prints by Salvador Dalí will be on display in the McIlroy Gallery at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center at Northwest Florida State College May 23 to July 23.

This exhibition includes a display of a complete suite of woodblock prints by Dali, which depict Dante’s Divine Comedy and are part of the college’s permanent art collection. The free public exhibition also includes the debut of a new addition to the college’s permanent collection, which will be announced at the exhibition.

The McIlroy and Holzhauer Galleries are in the Art Wing of the Mattie Kelly Fine & Performing Arts Center on the college’s Niceville campus at 100 College Boulevard. The galleries are open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to all performances in the center’s Mainstage Theater. Call 729-6044 for information or to request a guided tour.

Dalí probed the human unconscious and rendered even the most banal and common of subjects strange and new; his Surrealism changed the course of 20th century art.

The college’s Salvador Dalí Wood-Block Print Collection has a varied and intriguing history. In 1951, the Italian government commissioned Dalí, a Spanish surrealist artist, to create a series of illustrations for a new, septuacentennial edition of Dante Alighieri’s early 14th century masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy.” Though the government later canceled the commission (public outcry was strong over the choice of a Spanish rather than an Italian artist), Dalí continued work on the project, creating 100 watercolor illustrations.

The original Dali suite, comprised of 100 watercolors, contains incredible imagery ranging from the grotesque to the sublime as Dali followed Dante from the deepest circles of Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory and into heavenly Paradise. Working with the publisher Sr. Estrade of Italy, and with the assistance of J. Foret and two master wood engravers, Dali then created 100 woodblock prints of the illustrations. It took four years (1959-1963) for the 3,600 wood blocks to be hand carved, with each block representing either a particular color or a line drawing of an illustration.

The original watercolors were then reproduced by the technique of wood engraving, using approximately 35 separate hand carved blocks per print with the Dali signature on the blocks. Dalí’s original watercolors are now lost to history, but the work lives on in the print suite published by Joseph Foret and Jean Estrade.

In 1999, collector Dotty Blacker, a former Valparaiso resident, donated her complete suite of 100 Dalí woodblock prints to then Okaloosa-Walton Community College. The Northwest Florida State College Art Galleries at the college’s Mattie Kelly Fine & Performing Arts Center now count the Dali woodblock print collection among the most important holdings in its extensive permanent art collection.

The Mattie Kelly Arts Center Galleries have 100 of The Divine Comedy woodblock prints: Inferno (34 pieces), Purgatory (33 pieces) and Paradise (33 pieces). “The Divine Comedy” is an epic poem describing Dante’s fictional travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. The work was recognized even in its own time as masterpiece of literature, telling an engaging story in the Tuscan vernacular that on a deeper level presented a broad allegory of Christianity. In the centuries since its first publication, The Divine Comedy has come to be understood as an important theological and philosophical text as well as a window into political and religious life at the dawn of the Italian Renaissance.