The Symbolism of a Dalí-Inspired Tattoo

Updated 04/12/19

 Paul Almasy/Getty Images

Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí dreamed up some seriously stunning images. It's no surprise that some art lovers, Dalí fans, and even those less familiar with his work draw inspiration from his paintings and objects for tattoos. 

Using symbolism to connect the dream world to waking life, many of Dalí's paintings convey some dark and twisted ideas, which art critics today attribute to a possible undiagnosed mental illness. At five years old, Dalí's parents told him that he was the reincarnation of his brother who had died just nine months before his own birth. He took this knowledge very seriously and became convinced it was true.

He went on to live an eccentric life with many ups and downs prior to his death in 1989. His most distinctive pieces of art captured a maddening cycle of thoughts and processes, perhaps inspired by his interest in studying Sigmund Freud.

While all of Dalí's works are celebrated, his most iconic piece is "The Persistence of Memory," which features melting pocket watches and ants. The artist relied on the use of object symbolism to portray thoughts, emotions, fears, and subconscious desires. If you want to express through your own tattoo body art some of the same concepts behind Dalí's symbolism, take a look at these six popular objects the artist was known for.

01 of 06

Melting Clocks

The Persistence of Memory
Courtney Collison/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Depicted first in his famed piece "The Persistence of Memory," clocks were a recurring object in Dalí's work. The melting clocks were an expression of time passing in waking life even as one sleeps.

02 of 06


Also featured in "The Persistence of Memory" and "The Ants," these little crawlers symbolize mortality, death, and decay. This doesn't necessarily have to be dark—another perspective could be acknowledging life's natural cycle.

03 of 06


Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man - Salvador Dali
oddsock/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Dalí used eggs to represent love and hope in his works. Whether gilded, painted in a Russian motif, or drawn cracking open, eggs are fragile, and so is life. Embrace this symbolism and place your egg wherever you don't want it to break. The space on the chest above the heart might be a meaningful spot.

04 of 06


Not just a painter, Dalí also created bizarre objects. Depicting sexuality, he first used a lobster in his creation titled "Lobster Telephone." Featuring a plaster lobster as the phone's earpiece, the work symbolizes erotic pain and pleasure. The imagery of a lobster might also be appealing to anyone interested in the Western astrological water signs.

05 of 06


In Dalí's work, drawers represented women's concealed sexual desires. Once the drawers become slightly opened, as painted in "The Anthropomorphic Cabinet," the secrets of their sexuality are revealed.

06 of 06


Seen in Dalí paintings such as "The Elephants" and "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening," the artist's iconic lanky elephants with their spindly legs carry obelisks (symbolizing burdens) atop their backs. These glorious creatures represent strength and perseverance.

Inspired by Dalí

Salvador Dalí's Surrealist work is extremely beautiful and thought-provoking. To have symbols inspired by his art tattooed on your body is a tribute to his brilliance, but it can also be your own way of expressing your feelings, dreams, and desires. Or, it could just be pure art appreciation.

Related Stories