Having previously worked for magazines such as Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar, as well as Vogue, the 1940s was a prolific time for the artist as Dalí worked with the titans of the fashion industry to influence American mass culture through his designs of fabrics for Wesley Simpson (1944), ties for McCurrach (1944), and later the ‘Roi Soleil’ perfume (1946) commemorating the liberation of France.
As such, executed at a time when surrealism had passed from a radical and revolutionary movement into a final state of modishness, Composition à la jambe subverts cultural and aesthetic hierarchies by blurring the boundaries between high and applied art, producing a cacophony of organic forms in a Dalinian bouillabaisse of symbolism. Writing about the present work, Felix Fanès remarks that the luscious legs are 'set against a baroque background of drawn and watercolour arabesques, curves, soft shapes and undulations resembling organic forms. Such shapes matched the evolution of Dalí's painting at the time, an evolution based on a certain iconographic exuberance and a notable organicism in the form, which [Dalí] termed, and not without a touch of humour, a ‘return to the classic canon’ (Félix Fanés, Dalí, Mass Culture (exhibition catalogue), CaixaForum, Barcelona, 2004-05, p. 142)
Amidst the artist’s foray into the sphere of commercial art, Dalí skilfully flaunts his authentic brand of inauthenticity before a consumerist society hungry for metaphysical symbolism, whilst refusing to succumb to its recuperative mechanisms. He consequently holds a distorting mirror to the aesthetic and political ideals of his generation, parodying his own aesthetic pronouncements to invent a paranoiac-critical composition that manipulates symbols of popular and mass culture into Dalinian representations that force what André Breton calls a “fundamental crisis of the object”. Consequently, Dalí expands the materiality of popular culture as an extension of our subjective self, thereby deconstructing the psychological notion of identity. His advertisements thus float in a space beyond the laws of economic gravity, presenting objects with some degree of mechanical function, whilst also revealing the repressed social conventions and desires in the way that dreams do.
Composition à la jambe thus typifies the artist’s desire to transform mass-cultural materials through his art, awakening the subconscious of the public through accessible commercial illustrations coated with Dalinian radicalism that exemplifies the artist’s ingenuity and technical brilliance in the face of the cultural establishment.
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