19 May 2018

How Salvador Dali came
to see Perpignan as the
‘centre of the universe’

‘Dalí en Levitation’ on the place de Catalogne and facing towards the train station in Perpignan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my visits to Perpignan this week, I enjoyed the statue of the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, Dalí en Levitation, outside FNAC on the place de Catalogne and facing towards the city’s train station, la Gare de Perpignan.

The statue, which was put in place last year [2017], was originally created in 2000 by the two artists, Sabine et Eric, known as ‘Les Pritchards.’ It was inspired by Dali’s 1965 painting, Le mystique de la gare de Perpignan, and was originally placed on the roof of the station.

Dalí en Levitation shows the artist sitting on a high red chair at the entrance to Perpignan, 3.6 metres wide and 2.3 metres high. He is facing towards train station, which he proclaimed the centre of the universe, his arms open wide, welcoming visitors to the Catalan capital.

Sooner or later, everyone changes trains at Perpignan. But the railway station in Perpignan held special significance for Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), who had proclaimed it to be the ‘Centre of the Universe’ after he experienced a vision of cosmogonic ecstasy there in 1963: ‘On 19 September 1963, standing in the railway station at Perpignan ... I had a precise vision of the constitution of the universe.’

For Dalí, the station in Perpignan became a place of genuine sanctity, a pivot of the cosmos that offered a unique perspective on the entire universe.

Two years later, Dalí completed his celebrated Le mystique de la gare de Perpignan in 1965. It is a huge oil painting on canvas, measuring 296 cm x 406 cm, and now hangs in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

Dalí's 1965 homage to Perpignan is a surrealist adventure, and before and after working on the painting he paced the platforms of the station, taking photographs and measurements, concluding in 1966 that the measurements of the earth – and indeed the weight of God – are mirrored in the structure of Perpignan station.

Perpignan is just 22 minutes by fast train from Figueres, the Catalan town where Salvador Dalí was born and died. And just as Shakespeare has promoted Verona, so Dalí has become a great commercial asset in promoting Perpignan. In appreciation, the city council renamed the square in front of the station, Place Salvador Dalí.

Salvador Dalí faces the Gare de Perpignan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The building, which opened in 1858, is a handsome but typical example of the style of stations built at that time throughout southern France. The sign inside the station welcomes travellers to the ‘Gare de Perpignan: Centre du Monde’ – which is a modest claim compared to Dalí’s proclamation that this is the centre cosmique de l’univers.

The painting shows the railway station of Perpignan, but with various additions that are examples of surrealism. La Gare de Perpignan encompasses several artistic techniques. There are several axes of symmetry, and a lot of emphasis is placed on the use of colours to depict light in various effective ways. Earthly colours such as dark brown and yellow are used, and different gradients of these two colours are used throughout the painting.

The sacrifice of the son is imaged in the form of Christ on the Cross, with his crown of thorns, floating in the centre of the composition. The bleeding wound of Christ is associated with the farmer’s fork on the right, thrust into the ground.

Dalí is represented twice in the vertical axis: he appears in the light at the centre of the image, seen from below, floating with arms spread, and again at the top of the painting.

At the bottom of the painting lies a calm sea with a boat, an ancient symbol of the passage from life to death and of the Church, reinforcing the theme of Christ’s sacrifice. Above the sea, a woman seen from the back watches these scenes, immobile, and recalling the helplessness of man facing death, symbolised not only by the bloody wounds of Christ, but also by Dalí, who is spread-eagled and seems to fall into nothingness.

At the top centre of the painting, a train emerges from nowhere and is a reminder of the railway station in Perpignan.

The left side of the painting shows the embodiment of positive values: the couple on the bags of wheat represent labour, and the man in a meditative pose embodies respect. The right of the image shows the embodiment sins and suffering: the man and woman represent lust and the woman represents mourning.

The two figures flanking the far left and right sides are inspired by The Angelus, a well-known religious painting by the French artist Jean-François Millet.

‘Le mystique de la gare de Perpignan’ (1965) by Salvador Dalí

‘Thy Kingdom Come’ (9):
Celebrate, Psalm 130: 5-6

Patrick Comerford

‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is an invitation to pray with Christians around the world during the nine days between Ascension Day [10 May 2018] and the Day of Pentecost tomorrow [20 May 2018], using art and scripture.

‘Changed Lives → Changing Lives’ is the guiding theme this year as people are invited to pray afresh for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In doing so, people are joining thousands of others around the world as part of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – an initiative encouraging people to explore through prayer how they might courageously witness to God’s life-changing work.

As the Apostles prayed together following Christ’s Ascension, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost, we too are invited to wait and pray today. They prayed in obedience, trusting that the way ahead would be revealed. May we, like the disciples, pray anticipating that the Spirit will show us new ways of living and loving. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ asks that we may we be open to where God leads us, to be the change God wants to see in the world – whatever that might require.

As God is at work in us, he is also at work through us changing the lives of others. Please join with us as we pray together: ‘Come Holy Spirit: thy kingdom come’ and may our waiting and praying this Novena open our hearts afresh to God’s possibilities.

The ‘Pocket Prayers’ for 2018 for these nine days have been inviting readers each day to:

LOOK at images and meet the characters caught up in life-changing moments, where the future is shaped by their encounter with God. They suggest letting those images reveal new possibilities for God’s Word to transform us and others.

WAIT prayerfully for the Holy Spirit. Pause, creating a space into which God can speak.

READ the Bible text, allow it to enliven your heart, stir your soul and spark your imagination.

LISTEN for insight through idea or image, through recollection or curiosity. Let that Word dwell within you, as you listen for yourself and your community.

RESPOND to the prompting of the Word, with an action that leads to life-giving change. Let the words of the collect gather up and bless these moments of prayerful waiting upon God, so his Kingdom might be seen more fully in you.

Saturday 19 May: Silence

LOOK … and be curious.

WAIT … with prayerful expectation.

Come Holy Spirit: Thy Kingdom Come

READ … the text with an open mind.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. (Psalm 130: 5-6)

LISTEN … for a word with a willing heart.

RESPOND … with prayer and action. Oh God of the new day, Your Son Jesus knew what it meant to watch and wait through the dark silence of the longest night. Teach us how to wait with heaven’s indrawn breath on tiptoe with anticipation, until all of our being reaches towards you, all our desire is for you, and all our onward movement is for your Kingdom coming.