Mathematician reveals Dali used to paint by numbers

US professor speaks about the artist’s interests as part of Maths Week

To celebrate  maths week 2014,  pupils from the Dunboyne Junior and Senior Primary Schools join together to make 1120, the total number of pupils attending the schools, in Co Meath. Photograph: Alan Betson

To celebrate maths week 2014, pupils from the Dunboyne Junior and Senior Primary Schools join together to make 1120, the total number of pupils attending the schools, in Co Meath. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Surrealist painter Salvador Dali wasn’t just handy with a paint brush. He was also keen on maths and science and liked to find ways of incorporating these into his works.

A US mathematician who found himself in the unlikely role as mathematical adviser to Dali is in Dublin today to talk about their 10-year friendship. Emeritus professor Thomas Banchoff of Brown University, Rhode Island, got a call from the artist after he read about new ways of looking at art being developed by Prof Banchoff.

Holographic art

Dali would rent two suites, one as a residence for himself and his wife Gala and a second as his summer studio. “He held court,” said Prof Banchoff. “He would sit there and people would come in and if he knew them he would speak to them in one of his three or four languages and then would motion where to sit down. By the afternoon we would have formed a broad circle in front of him. We had been invited as ambassadors from mathematical land.”

Dali wanted real information, however, and the mathematician spent the next decade going to meet the artist and discussing maths related to four-dimensional images, playing with perspective and other issues.

Geometrical

geometrical themes

Ironically, a Dali painting with a maths link actually inspired Prof Banchoff as a boy. Crucifixion or Corpus Hypercubus (1954) is a surrealist image of a crucified Christ pinioned to a “hypercube”, a four-dimensional shape of interest to mathematicians.

Prof Banchoff saw it in 1955, writing a note to himself, “Dali’s Crucifixion was impressive”. Twenty years later he became part of the artist’s coterie, one of only a few who continued to meet Dali when he moved to France.

Prof Banchoff’s talk is at 3pm today in the National Gallery, Dublin, and at 1.30pm tomorrow at Queen’s University Belfast. Admission is free but book a place on 051-302 037.