The Persistence of Memory
1931 by Salvador Dalí
Not many titles completely summon the essence of their painting, but The Persistence of Memory is one of them. Perhaps it is the slight grating of feeling that the word persistence evokes, a nagging of relentlessness, reflected in the creeping clocks that slide surreptitiously across the canvas, mirroring the literal creeping of time. These clocks have a malleability that is obviously surreal, but it allows them to accurately portray the odd sense we so often get from recalling memories. This sense is neither concrete nor literal, meaning Dali’s evocative surrealism is particularly and pertinently expressive. Memories, either sliding away or creeping up on their owners, are reflected in the slowly sliding clocks; warped, they are like faces tainted and changed with the wearing of years. The clock draped across the barren tree wonderfully captures the sense of hanging memories out to dry, perhaps to forget or to make peace, though the difficultly in such a task is shown here in the little life still left, as the struggling clock curls its end with an upward twinge. Difficultly and dry heat are evoked in the surrounding landscape — the flat floor, the sun on the rocks in the distance, and the stretching brilliance of the sky. As blank and simple as this landscape is, it is not quite calm and we cannot escape the niggling feeling of trying to remember. This is expressed in the relentless nature and the overbearing number of ants, as they crowd and attack the downward facing pocket watch in a determinedly regimented pattern. The Persistence of Memory is a masterpiece in both its style and execution, but particularly in its pinpointing of feeling, which is as timely as the remembering of memory itself.