By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Salvador Dali had one of the greatest one-liners ever in justifying his undeniable commercialism that developed on the heels of his worldwide artistic fame. Said Dali: “Most people work so they can make money; I make money so I can work!”
What the Surrealist master meant, of course, was that the large sums of money he was paid to execute commercial commissions allowed him the time and the freedom to pursue his real job: creating great art.
The irony of it all, though, was that some of Salvador Dali’s truly remarkable art – highly creative and flawlessly executed – was done with a paint brush in one hand and a fat paycheck in the other! That a work of art may have been inspired by money rather than muse really didn’t matter; some of Dali’s best work happened to have been done for commercial purposes.
And while his fellow Surrealists charged that he was interested more in profit and less in art, Dali jumped undaunted into an arena that would help make him wealthy – and, in my view, not compromise his creativity one bit.
Dali’s genius at both creating mind-blowing art and at scandalizing (note that “dali” is right in the middle of the word “scandalize”!), ensured a steady stream of merchants waiting in line to hire him to promote their wares. A short list of companies would include De Beers Diamonds, S.C. Johnson and Sons, Hallmark, Sringbok Editions (American puzzle manufacturer), Desert Flower Perfume, Alka-Seltzer, Lanvin Chocolates (Paris), Toyota, Branif Airlines – and, of course, Bryan Hosiery (EW Bryan, Leicester, Great Britain).
Dali’s mid-1940s print magazine advertisements for Bryan Hosiery are simply some of the most intricate and inventive works to ever spring from the man’s wickedly wonderful mind.
The stunning series of Bryan Hosiery ads Dali designed drew upon some familiar elements seen in his paintings, from soft watches to unicorns, crawling ants to towering crutches, equestrian scenes to butterflies, sky-tall cypress trees to crumbling clock towers.
All of it, of course, was aimed at showcasing women’s hosiery, and it’s safe to say that this feminine apparel has never before or since been promoted in so remarkable a fashion. I have no idea how well Dali’s reputation and imagination helped capture the imagination of consumers; I cannot speak for the effectiveness of the ad series in selling nylons.
But I can say with certainty that Dali’s Bryan Hosiery ads remain some of his most interesting work. I recall seeing one of them – which employed mixed-media, including collage – at the big Dali retrospective in Montreal in, I think, 1990. It was something of a show-stopper, what with its minute detail and imaginative tableau artfully designed to present hosiery in a dreamlike setting that doubtlessly spoke to its target audience.
And that was the point, wasn’t it. To help sell a product. But I wonder if Bryan Hosiery had any idea at the time that this remarkable series would go on to become an iconic representation of some of Dali’s most masterfully done works. Most are pictured here – sheer delight, to be sure!