Illinois State University
Despite André Breton's efforts to safeguard the movement's purity, the forces unleashed by Surrealism--like the unconscious impulses it sought to liberate--proved to be impossible to contain. For one thing, although various individuals were expelled from the group when they deviated from the official line, they continued to write or to paint in a Surrealist manner. For another thing, Surrealism elicited widespread interest outside France as artists and writers in other countries began to explore its possibilities. Nor were the original Surrealists dismayed by this development since it was accompanied by increased recognition and prestige. Indeed, they took advantage of every opportunity to attract new adherents to their cause. As early as 1922, for instance, Breton delivered a lecture to an avid audience in Barcelona in which he expounded Surrealist doctrine. And three years later, Aragon extolled the virtues of Surrealism in a lecture in Madrid, which was equally influential. (1) From its inception, it seems, Surrealism was conceived as an international movement that would revolutionize literature, art, and life in general.
A prominent member of the Barcelona avant-garde, which included such luminaries as Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, J. V. Foix was an exceptionally fine poet. In this capacity, he helped to forge not only the modern Catalan idiom but the Catalan response to French Surrealism. Unfortunately, the fact that he wrote almost exclusively in Catalan has prevented his work from receiving the recognition it deserves. And yet, Josep Miquel Sobrer observes, Foix "produced a poetry that is the verbal equivalent of the great visual innovations of his contemporaries." (2) While this describes his oeuvre in general, it is especially true of three compositions that were later incorporated into KRTU (1932) devoted to Dalí, Miró, and Artur Carbonell respectively. (3) "Foix's work on painting goes beyond critical evaluation and interpretation," Sobrer adds, "for it is at once a poetic creation and a document of the creative act itself." (4) Among other things, as I have shown elsewhere, it is characterized by multiplication, metamorphosis, and obsessive motifs that reflect the poet's persistent quest for the marvelous. (5)
Entitled "Presentació de Salvador Dalí," the first composition was published in L'Amic de les Arts on January 31, 1927. Since Dalí had illustrated his "Conte de Nadal" ("A Christmas Story") the previous month, Foix was undoubtedly eager to reciprocate. The fact that the Galeries Dalmau had invited the artist to exhibit a number of his latest works provided the perfect occasion. Although Foix may have hoped to generate a little publicity for the show, which ran from December 31, 1926, to January 14, 1927, the exhibition ended before the text appeared in print. Accompanied by several reproductions, it did not seek to describe Dalí's works so much as to convey some of the impressions they engendered in the viewer. The best way to celebrate the artist's compelling vision, Foix decided, was to translate his achievements into poetry. Utilizing a technique he had perfected previously, he devised a fantastic narrative and embroidered it with a series of bizarre details.
(Not many days ago, at an intersection near my home, a clever adolescent carrying a bag full of books offered me, lowering his voice, some beautiful original editions: herbariums with colored lithographs, introductory texts in biology, collections of formulas describing natural phenomena as well as celestial charts and atlases of historical geography describing the mysterious processes of the Atlantic continent's formation and disappearance. He also possessed reproductions of the most peculiar images gathered on the sidewalks or the subterranean avenues of pre-sleep. About to reject his offer, I was surprised by his sudden disappearance, after leaving an invitation in my hands to the opening of the Dalí exhibition at the Galeries Dalmau and a blank catalogue.)
Before the poet can reply, however, the young man thrusts a catalogue and an invitation to the Dalí show into his hands and immediately disappears. Even more puzzling than the pedlar's sudden dematerialization is the fact that the catalogue is blank. Intrigued by the strange encounter, Foix decides to visit the Dalmau Gallery himself the following evening.
(From six to seven in the evening these winter days, on the city streets and by the mansions' elegant gates, the witches spread their large, gaudy scarves and, before abandoning themselves to the lively dancing in the suburban squares, flow invisibly among the crowd with the low sound of bells, heavy sighs, and furtive kisses, leaving behind the unmistakable odor of baked apples. Heading up the Passeig de Gràcia at that hour last Friday, on my way to Dalmau's, I did not realize the adolescent from the day before bore an amazing likeness to the painter Dalí, whom he undoubtedly had been only with his necktie camouflaged and his eyebrows cleverly lengthened.)
(But as I was about to enter the Gallery, I was dismayed to discover that the doorman was the same one as at the Equestrian Association. Discouraged, I turned to leave, when the schoolgirls' automobile halted right before me, the one that disappears down the Carrer de la Diputació every evening amid clouds of glossy silk fabric and incense, leaving a luminous crimson trail. They got out of the car two by two, carefully folded their large artificial wings, and tied their bowties' broad bow tightly over their lips. Finally the smallest girl began dropping mothballs so as to find her way back. As if they were entering a virgin forest, they cautiously disappeared into the doorway's darkness.)
"By contradicting himself so often in his prose poems," Morris declares, "Foix sought to record his anxious search for exactitude by choosing at random from what he called the 'beautiful concrete' one object to supersede another." As he is about to retrace his steps, the poet suddenly perceives that the sinister doorman has vanished and that he is free to enter the gallery after all.
(Then I noticed that the doorman from the Equestrian Association had
been replaced by a long-bearded gnome who was making friendly gestures
in my direction, and I followed him. We heard our footsteps echoing down
the long corridor as if they were lost in the vast rooms above us. On both
sides of the hallway, there were long glass cases containing more and more
books and displaying stuffed specimens of extremely rare birds.
--And so, Mr. Dalmau, are you still renovating, your Gallery?
At the entrance to the exhibition hall, Dalí was stroking a large multicolored bird perched on his left shoulder.
-- No, no.
-- Not that either: painting, painting, if you please.)
Entering the exhibition room, Foix encounters Dalí himself who, like Long John Silver, has a large, flashy parrot on his shoulder. Translated into metaphorical terms, this seems to indicate that he is standing before a large painting. In response to the poet's questions, he insists that he belongs to no particular school, that he is simply interested in painting. At this stage of his career, as this dialogue reveals, Dalí was still undecided. Not until six months later, encouraged by Miró and García Lorca, did he begin to paint in a Surrealist mode. Foix's remarks refer not to Dalí's mature works, therefore, with their melting watches and flaming giraffes, but to his earlier, less spectacular efforts. By this time he had experimented with some half dozen styles, none of which turned out to be entirely satisfactory. A rapid survey reveals that these included pointillism, Purism, primitivism, Marc Chagall's visionary cubism, and Giorgio de Chirico's metaphysical art.
However, the artists to whom Dalí responded the most intensely were the 19th century realist painters and, paradoxically, Cubist painters such as Picasso and Braque. Reflecting his interest in Cubist aesthetics, the catalogue contained a second epilogue by the latter artist: "Le peintre pense en formes et cadences" ("The painter thinks by means of shapes and rhythms"). Balancing this statement, the list of works concluded with a quotation by Ingres: "Si l'on consulte l'expérience, on trouvera que c'est en se rendant familières les inventions des autres qu'on apprend, dans l'art, à inventer soi-même, comme on s'habitue à penser en lisant les idées d'autrui" ("Expérience teaches us, in Art, that we learn to be creative by familiarizing ourselves with other creations, just as one learns to think by reading other people's ideas"). Interestingly, half the works at the Dalmau Gallery adhered to the realistic model, while the remaining half illustrated various Cubist principles. (10) The former included a hauntingly beautiful painting entitled Panera del pa (Basket of Bread) which, as Dawn Ades points out, seems to have been inspired by the 17th century artist Francisco de Zurbarán. (11)
The following section describes the exhibition in more detail. Or rather, since Foix makes no attempt to be objective, it evokes the vivid impressions that Dalí's paintings made on him. Taking his visitor by the arm, the artist accompanies him as he examines each one of the thirty works in turn.
(And he showed me the windows of the marvelous palace he had constructed in Dalmau's gallery. I was conscious of witnessing the precise moments of the birth of a painter. The vivisection classroom displayed bare, limitless physiological landscapes: beautiful bleeding woods cast their shade upon the brief ponds whose fish struggle from dawn to dusk to rid themselves of their shadows. And in the depths of the painter's, the harlequin's and the mannequin's pupils, black shooting stars appeared against a silver sky. I was contemplating remaining there when, from the depths of each canvas as the clock struck seven, the famous phantoms emerged).
Abandoning his obstetrical metaphor in the next line, Foix compares the gallery not to a delivery room, or even a hospital, but to a physiology classroom. In keeping with this new metaphor, he compares Dalí's paintings to posters depicting various biological features in abundant--and gory--detail. The choice of this particular setting, which emphasizes Cubism's analytical bias, may have been suggested by Apollinaire's observation in Les Peintres cubistes: "Un Picasso étudie un objet comme un chirurgien dissèque un cadavre" ("Picasso analyzes an object like a surgeon dissecting a cadaver"). (13) That the posters illustrate the dissection of living animals (vivisection) makes them all the more shocking. At the same time, they provide glimpses of an eerie landscape surrounding the palace whose sanguinary shapes are cloaked in menacing shadows. Although the trees are drenched in blood and the fish leap frantically into the air, Foix confides, the scene possesses a certain beauty. In addition, the classroom contains a harlequin and a mannequin whose pupils, like those of the artist, mirror the night sky. Rather than "windows of the soul," as eyes have traditionally been considered, these serve as cosmic windows, suggesting that they are privy to the secrets of the universe. Unexpectedly, since black and white (or silver) are reversed, the latter appears to be captured by a photographic negative. As Ades notes, the passage echoes Breton's preface to the catalogue of the first exhibition of Surrealist painting, held in Paris in 1925, in which the titles of various works are woven together to form a fantastic narrative. (14) Foix, she explains, "incorporates into his text the 'harlequin' and the 'tailor's dummy,' both titles of works exhibited." While the second painting was not listed in the catalogue, a reproduction appeared in L'Amic de les Arts the following month in a review of the exhibition by Sebastià Gasch. (15) Besides the mannequin and the harlequin, moreover, the show included several Paisatges (Landscapes) and a color drawing entitled Peixos (Fish).
Foix's visit to Dalí's exhibition concludes with a second supernatural occurrence which, like the witches evoked at the beginning, establishes a parallel between the Surrealist vision and various forms of occult experience. Precisely at the stroke of seven, phantoms emerge from each of the paintings and drape the scene in diaphanous veils. Why this miraculous apparition occurs at seven o'clock instead of, say, midnight, is as puzzling as the apparition itself. Perhaps Dalmau used to close the gallery at this hour, leaving the paintings free to commune among themselves. Or perhaps he used to turn on the lights, bathing the gallery in a luminous glow. Whatever the explanation, one suspects the ghostly visitors were inspired by Giorgio de Chirico's paintings, in which phantoms play a significant role. (16) We know in any case that Foix greatly admired the Italian painter, who influenced him on numerous occasions. Interestingly, the last line seems to echo a similar line from an article Breton had published about de Chirico six months earlier: "Quand il fut de l'autre côté du pont les fantômes vinrent à sa rencontre" ("When he reached the other side of the bridge the phantoms came to meet him"). (17) As Foix remarks in the next paragraph, Dalmau's phantoms cloak the gallery in an otherworldly splendor.
(It is a beautiful spectacle: they cover you with their subtle veils and bestow their immateriality upon you. If many Barcelona residents knew of it, the spectacle of the phantoms invading Dalmau's rooms every evening would provide them with an opening into the "other" world.)
(Upon leaving the gallery, I discovered the Passeig de Gràcia was deserted, with no trees, with no streetlights, an immense avenue lined with hundreds of Shell gasoline pumps, their luminous heads softly reflected by the asphalt. A will superior to my own forced me, instead of returning home along the Carrer de Provença, to take refuge in the Service Station in the Carrer d'Aragó.)
(1). André Breton, "Caractères de l'évolution moderne et ce qui en participe," presented at the Ateneu de Barcelona on November 17, 1922. Louis Aragon, "Fragments d'une conférence" delivered at the Residencia de Estudiantes, Madrid, on April 18, 1925. Together with subsequent lectures by members of the Paris group in Spain, these are reprinted in C. B. Morris, Surrealism and Spain, 1920-1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 214-27 and 228-31 respectively.
(2). Josep Miquel Sobrer, Catalonia, A Self-Portrait (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 203.
(3). J. V. Foix, Obra poètica, ed. J. VallcorbaPlana (Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 1983), pp. 83-93.
(4). Sobrer, Catalonia, A Self-Portrait, p. 203
(5). Willard Bohn, "Mirroring Miró: J. V. Foix and the Surrealist Adventure" in The Surrealist Adventure in Spain, ed. C. Brian Morris (Ottawa: Dovehouse, 1990), pp. 40-61.
(6). André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Maguerite Bonnet et al. (Paris: Gallimard/Pléiade, 1988), Vol. I, pp. 324-25.
(7). In "Presentació de Joan Miró" Foix takes the train in the opposite direction. See Note no. 5.
(8). Morris, Surrealism and Spain, 1920-1936, p. 54.
(9). Dalmau's activities are chronicled in Las vanguardias en Cataluña 1906-1939 (Barcelona: Fundació Caixa de Catalunya, 1992), pp. 150-175 and in Miró-Dalmau-Gasch: l'aventura per l'art modern, 1918-1937, ed. Pilar Parcerisas and Montse Badia (Barcelona: Centre d'Art Santa Mònica, 1993), pp. 49-75. See Also Enric Jardí, Els moviments d'avantguarda a Barcelona (Barcelona: Cotal, 1983).
(10). Many of the paintings and drawings are reproduced in Dalí joven (1918-1930) (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 1994). See also Daniel Abadie et al., eds Salvador Dalí retrospective 1920-1980 (Paris: Musée National d'Art Moderne, 1980), 2nd ed., pp. 40-47.
(11). Dawn Ades, Dalí (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982),,pp. 32-33.
(12). André Breton, "Le Surréalisme et la peinture," La Révolution Surréaliste, Vol. I, No. 4 (July 15, 1925), p. 27. Repr. in André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la peinture, 2nd rev. ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 217.
(13). Guillaume Apollinaire, Oeuvres en prose complètes, ed. Pierre Caizergues and Michel Décaudin (Paris: Gallimard/Pléiade, 1991), Vol. II, p. 10.
(14). Ades, Dalí, p. 34. The preface itself, which Breton co-authored with Robert Desnos, is reprinted in his Oeuvres complètes, Vol. I, pp. 915-16.
(15). Sebastià Gasch, "Salvador Dalí," L'Amic de les Arts, No. 11 (February 28, 1927), p. 16.
(16). See Willard Bohn, "Giorgio de Chirico and the Paradigmatic Method," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Vol. CVI, Nos. 1398-99 (July-August 1985), pp. 35-41 and "Giorgio de Chirico and the Solitude of the Sign," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Vol. CXVII, No. 1467 (April 1991), pp. 169-87.
(17). André Breton, "Le Surréalisme et la peinture (suite)," La Révolution Surréaliste, Vol. II, No. 7 (June 15, 1926), p. 4. Repr. in Le Surréalisme et la peinture, p. 17. This phrase, which was taken from the F. W. Murnau film Nosferatu, seems to have haunted Breton for a number of years. See Les Vases communicants (1932) (Paris: Gallimard, 1955), P. 50, where he describes the mixture of joy and terror that it evoked in him.
(18). Breton, Oeuvres complètes, Vol.
I, p. 727. See the photograph on p. 734.