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The Burning Giraffe
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Arty Fact

More about The Burning Giraffe

mhampton's picture

Contributor

The Burning Giraffe is a name that sounds like an episode of "Twin Peaks," and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Lynch was inspired by this painting.

There is so much you’re looking at that you don’t even recognize. It’s wild. You probably know Salvador Dalí from his work The Persistence of Memory, which features those creepy looking melted clocks in the dessert. But my guy was about that Surreal life for real, and those themes were sprinkled into many of his works, including the one you’re looking at now.

To start, we have to talk about the times. When this painting was made, it was the mid 1930s, and Spanish native Salvador Dalí was living in exile in the United States due to the Spanish Civil War. This was also the dawn of World War II, so global conflict was clearly on Dalí’s mind at the time. He was also inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories. If you know about Freud, you know that he was all about them thoughts, all about looking inward. And in a way, that’s what Surrealism is. It’s an outward expression of one’s deepest worries and desires—skewed as they may be. Dalí found Freud’s psychoanalytic method—one that reflects instead of projects—as something that would be hugely beneficial for the world moving forward.

For so long up until Freud dropped his psychoanalysis bars, the world was Neoplatonical. Neoplatonists were influenced by OG Greek Zaddy Plato, and his foundational thought processes. But unlike Plato, these Neoplatonists believed there was a singular, central power in the universe that was responsible for what’s good, bad, and ugly. Sound familiar? This way of thinking influenced a lot of religious figures of the time, and in turn shaped the way the world worked over the next few centuries. But unlike Freud, this way of thinking took agency and culpability away from the individual. Freud was like nah, it ain’t really like that, and argued that we hold the powers within ourselves to solve our problems. I’m paraphrasing, but you get it.

I know you’re probably thinking about how you didn’t ask for a Philosophy 101 recap when you clicked on this article, but it’s the foundation of what this painting is about so get over it.

I’m sorry that was mean.

The drawers on the creepy blue woman’s thigh and chest are supposed to represent our filed away subconscious, only obtainable by looking within oneself. They’re open because this woman has done the necessary work to unlock her true power within. The muscle tissue aspect can be looked at as representing someone who is bare & without protection. The crutches—those things sticking out of her back and into the ground—are a repeating theme from Dalí ’s work that represent our shaky and often brittle hold on reality.

So when you look at it with that light, the woman in the front has her drawers open, symbolizing an open-mind, and maybe a progressive look toward the future. She also only has three crutches, meaning that she is not as bound to the rules that govern reality as maybe some others are. The woman in the mid-ground has a whole bunch of crutches, and no open drawers, symbolizing someone who is perpetuating the rigid rules of society and is in turn lost in the cycle, or as modern day philosopher Gucci Mane would put it “Lost in the Sauce.”

Now let’s talk about the burning giraffe. It is the name of the painting after all. Dalí described the giraffe as the “masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster”, and he also believed it was a vision of the impending World War. As I mentioned before, Spain was in the middle of an internal conflict, and WWII was brewing. If you look at the placement of the giraffe, everything starts to make sense from Dalí ’s perspective. It’s clearly the farthest thing from our point of view, but war always seems far-- until it isn’t. The woman in the middle, with a closed mind and unstable hold on reality, is marching toward the giraffe in what could be perceived as a battle stance. The woman with the drawers—the most enlightened—is in the foreground walking away from conflict.

Dalí’s mind is a puzzle. But I think we just put some pieces together. I look forward to the 10 minute scene in "Twin Peaks" Season 4 where unnamed characters decipher the themes of this painting at a bus stop.

Sources

Sources

  1. Beyer, Catherine. “Understanding Neoplatonism, the Mystical Interpretation of Plato”. Learn Religions. March 6, 2019. https://www.learnreligions.com/neoplatonism-95836
  2. Kordic, Angie.”Time and Change in 10 Dali Paintings”. Widewalls. October 23, 2016. https://www.widewalls.ch/salvador-dali-paintings/the-burning-giraffe-1937/
  3. Stanska, Zuzanna. “Salvador Dali, The Burning Giraffe.” Daily Art Magazine. April 7, 2018. https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/salvador-dali-the-burning-giraffe/

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Burning Giraffe

The Burning Giraffe (1937) is a painting by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. It is an oil painting on panel and is in the Kunstmuseum Basel.

Dalí painted Burning Giraffe before his exile in the United States, which was from 1940 to 1948. Although Dalí declared himself apolitical—"I am Dalí, and only that"—this painting shows his personal struggle with the battle in his home country. Characteristic are the opened drawers in the blue female figure, which Dalí on a later date described as "Femme-coccyx" (tail bone woman). This phenomenon can be traced back to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical method, much admired by Dalí. He regarded him as an enormous step forward for civilization, as shown in the following quote: "The only difference between immortal Greece and our era is Sigmund Freud who discovered that the human body, which in Greek times was merely neoplatonical, is now filled with secret drawers only to be opened through psychoanalysis".

The opened drawers in this expressive, propped up female figure thus refer to the inner subconscious within man. In Dalí's own words his paintings form "a kind of allegory which serves to illustrate a certain insight, to follow the numerous narcissistic smells which ascend from each of our drawers."

The image is set in a twilight atmosphere with deep blue sky. There are two female figures in the foreground, one with drawers opening from her side like a chest. They both have undefined phallic shapes (perhaps melted clocks, as a recurring image from Dalí's previous works) protruding from their backs which are supported by crutch-like objects. The hands, forearms, and face of the nearest figure are stripped down to the muscular tissue beneath the skin. One figure is holding a strip of meat. Both human figures that double as a chest of drawers as well as the crutch-like shapes are common archetypes in Dalí's work.

In the distance is a giraffe with its back on fire. Dalí first used the burning giraffe image in his 1930 film L'Âge d'Or (The Golden Age). It appears again in 1937 in the painting The Invention of Monsters. Dalí described this image as "the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster". He believed it to be a premonition of war.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Burning Giraffe.