Salvador Dalí, The Face of War, 1940

“The two most energetic motors that make the artistic and superfine brain of Salvador Dali function are, first, libido, or the sexual instinct, and, second, the anguish of death,…not a single minute of my life passes without the sublime Catholic, apostolic, and Roman specter of death accompanying me even in the least important of my most subtle and capricious fantasies.”

— Salvador Dalí

The Face of War, though one of Dalí’s lesser-known works, is, nevertheless, one of his most emotive and disturbing paintings.

Completed in 1940 between the end of the Spanish Civil War and beginning of the World War II the work features a disembodied head, floating withered and frightened, against the backdrop of a vast desert. In the rotted eye sockets and in the gaping mouth can be seen other disembodied, withered, and frightened heads, and inside those, more heads, and on and on in an infinite regression of misery and death. And all around, as if that weren’t frightening enough, there are snakes biting and slithering around the face and in and out of its open mouth and eye holes In the bottom right corner is, according to Dalí, a print of his own hand, the only one in all his work.

This painting, like all depictions of horror and macabre, tells the story of humanity. We inflict pain and cruelty on another, who suffers grief and loss, and he turns and inflicts pain and cruelty and every killer will know death at the hands of another killer who will eventually know death too in a never ending prison of suffering man makes for himself. The Face of War is a mirror that shows the worst of who we all are, and, most terrifyingly, what we may always be.

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