Throughout this transformative period, Dalí was refining his “paranoiac-critical” method, a term that the artist used for the controlled employment of freely associated imagery and subjects derived from self-induced hallucinations. This approach diverged from the modes of automatism widely championed by his Surrealist contemporaries, which sought to avoid conscious intention through the use of mechanical techniques or subconscious association. Rather, the paranoiac-critical method depended upon a series of precise, intricate actions to fulfil premeditated conceptions. Anatomies exemplifies the nuanced marriage of both practices, as cite-specific areas of the composition are rendered through intentional manipulation, while others are left to automatic impulses. The present lot therefore offers an impressive symbiosis of technique through highly successful experimentation.
To achieve the unique texture apparent on the surface of the present composition, Dalí employed the decalcomania method, also known as transfer printing or counterproofing, which is a technique for transferring textures and images discovered in the late eighteenth century and used at the time predominantly for decorative purposes. A fellow Surrealist, Max Ernst began using the decalcomania method as early as 1933 and would continue to do so throughout his career (see fig. 1). Óscar Domínguez and Hans Bellmer were also among those Surrealists to employ this technique, yet Dalí was the first to break from the tradition of using only non-absorbent surfaces such as glass or metal during the decalcomania process. To achieve his singular manipulation of pigment, Dalí would instead apply a sponge material soaked in a solution of oil paint and turpentine oil to the surface of his work. The use of an absorbent object resulted in the blooming texture evident most clearly in the heads of his female figures, and its employment recalls Dalí’s explorations into psychic automatism. Once Dalí applied the paint to the sponge, the material’s absorbent nature would move the pigment across the surface of the composition, a distinctive part of the decalcomania process beyond the control of the artist, left simply to chance.
This highly technical method was familiar to Dalí from a young age, when he and his sister Ana Maria would play with pigments in a similar manner. She explained how “Decalcomania was one of our favorite amusements. From morning to night…we littered tables and chairs with little crumpled up bits of paper that looked like tanned leather, stained with patterns in their most captivating colors—the colors of childhood dreams” (Anna Maria Dalí, Salvador Dalí Vist per la Seva Germana, Barcelona, 2012, p. 14). Dalí was already experimenting with this method of paint application professionally in 1935, when he completed Woman with a Head of Roses (see fig. 2), from which the motif of the red floral-like heads present in Anatomies is taken. A number of works constitute the “anatomies” series, however the present lot illuminates the artist’s excelled development and mature handling of the decalcomania technique.
While Dalí’s methodology is essential to the comprehension of Anatomies, so too is his use of motif, here most clearly exemplified by the drawers that open out of the composition’s human figures. Within Dalí’s repertoire, the drawer is a motif that has become as instantly recognizable as his melting clocks, and one that also demonstrates the artist’s obsessive desire to understand human nature and the psychological complexities of the mind. As a Surrealist dream object, the drawer delivers a metaphor for the extreme recesses of the mind, or the subconscious. Yet Anatomies also reveals a significant play on words, as Dalí applies the literal meaning of the phrase “chest of drawers” to the female body through the replacement of the woman’s breasts with a set of drawers: “This poetic slippage amounted to making the human form into a piece of furniture, a poetic confusion worthy of Lautréamont”(Dalí (exhibition catalogue), Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2004, p. 258). Dalí first utilized the notion of the drawers in 1936, when he executed Venus de Milo aux tiroirs (see fig. 3), likely in collaboration with Marcel Duchamp. In this piece, the artist manipulated the form of the Louvre’s most celebrated statue, visually depicting Sigmund Freud’s conception that the human body is comprised of ambiguous drawers that can only be opened through methods of psychoanalysis. In Venus de Milo aux tiroirs and again in Anatomies, the drawers illuminate Dalí’s innate ability to give form to the intangible subconscious, and suggest the psychological complexities intrinsic to Dalí’s mercurial oeuvre.
Through the image transfer process of the decalcomania technique, Dalí was able to critically “print” his figures onto a given surface, regenerating the notion of printmaking in the avant-garde circles of Paris and New York. Anatomies thus exemplifies Dalí’s intricate and mechanical process while further exploring the artist’s preoccupation with seriality through the obsessive repetition of key motifs, notably his clocks and aforementioned drawers. This remarkable experimentation would leave a lasting impression upon the methodology of later aesthetic practices in the twentieth century, and a younger generation of artists including Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons would look to Dalí’s ingenuity in their conceptions of Pop Art. Twenty-four years younger than Dalí, Warhol in particular adapted the Spanish master’s dynamic engagements in printing and seriality, most notably in iconic works such as Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) (see fig. 4), which offers a primary example of Warhol’s endlessly repetitious silkscreens, and one that uses a reiteration of motifs in a manner akin to that of the present lot. Beyond technique, Warhol further emulated Dalí’s personal image of artist as celebrity, for Dalí was ultimately the first ”self-media” artist to widely endorse his own ethos and repertoire on a global stage. The intersection that the artist conceived between spheres of art, media, fashion and advertising, as well as his incomparable capacity to visually express his inner-psyche, as made explicit in Anatomies, establishes Dalí as an eternal—and controversial—subject of astonishment and admiration today.
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