Óscar Domínguez
Year, Birthplace 1906, Spain
Year, Place of death 1957, France
The son of a wealthy farmer from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, Óscar Dominguez travelled to Paris in 1927 at the behest of his father in order to oversee the delivery of produce from the family estate. Having been brought up by his father, an amateur painter, to appreciate art, Dominguez became greatly interested in everything he saw in the galleries, museums and salons of the French capital. He was particularly drawn to the works of Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí. The following year he returned to Tenerife in order to carry out his military service, and only returned to Paris in 1929. When his father died, in 1931, he needed to find a way of making a living, so he worked as an illustrator for advertisements. His first surrealist canvases, influenced by Dalí, date from 1932. These were featured in the Tenerife journal Gaceta de Arte, to which he would later make regular contributions as a writer. In 1933 he had his first solo exhibition at the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Tenerife. In late 1933 Domínguez finally got to know the surrealists, and his paintings, with their disparate poetic themes echoing Dalí and Max Ernst, attracted André Breton and Paul Éluard. He was soon taking part in the activities of their circle. In 1933 he took part in the Exhibition of Surrealist Objects at the Galerie Pierre Colle in Paris (he was evidently a creator of amazing objects, most of which have since been lost); and, in 1934, he visited Copenhagen for the International Exhibition of Surrealism. From then on, many of his paintings featured the motif of an opened can of sardines (as in Los Porrones [The Jugs], 1935). Paintings like La Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle [The electro-sexual sewing machine], from 1935, had great success within the group. In 1935 he organised a surrealist exhibition at the Santa Cruz Athenaeum on Tenerife, sponsored by the Gaceta da Arte. In 1936, Domínguez began to use the process of ‘decalcomania’ in his works. This involved painting a sheet of paper with black gouache, then placing another blank sheet of paper on top, before finally separating the two pages before the gouache had time to dry. The results of this technique, described as ‘decalcomania with no preconceived object’, were of great interest to all of the surrealists, even those who never used brushwork. These ‘decalcomanias’ were reproduced in the June 1936 issue of the Minotaure journal, accompanied by a text by Benjamin Péret entitled ‘Entre chien et loup’ [Between dog and wolf], and another by Breton, entitled ‘Décalcomanie sans objet préconçu, decalcomania du désir’ [Decalcomania with no preconceived object, decalcomania of desire]. These were reproduced in Le Surréalisme et la Peinture. Breton saw this process as a resurgence of automatic technique, along with the fumage of Wolfgang Paalen, the grattage of Esteban Francés, and the distorted compositions of Roberto Matta. Domínguez , now one of the central figures of the group, enchanted his friends with his pieces, yet his extreme violence also disturbed them. He would go down in the history of surrealism as the person who wounded Victor Brauner in 1938, causing him to lose an eye. He participated in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at the MoMA in New York in 1936, and international exhibitions of surrealism in London (Burlington Galleries, 1936) and Paris (Galerie Beaux-Arts, 1938, for which Breton lent Le Tireur [The Shooter], from 1934, from his collection). At the outbreak of war, he tried to leave France, spending a little time in Perpignan and later in Marseille, visiting Breton and others, and taking part in the famous Jeu de Marseille deck of tarot cards, for which he created the designs Freud mage de rêve – Étoile and As de rêve – Étoile’. Unable to leave France, he returned to Paris and participated in the activities of the La Main à plume group as one of their main illustrators. At this time, Dominguez visited Picasso very frequently. His first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Louis Carré in 1943, with a foreword by Paul Éluard. Changes in the artist’s work can clearly be seen at this stage, showing the influence of Picasso and Giorgio de Chirico. This evolution so disappointed his surrealist friends that he was excluded from the International Exhibition of Surrealism held at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1947. His very last surrealist work was the inscription ‘I wish death upon 30,000 priests every three minutes’ in the Surrealist Exhibition held in Brussels in 1945. A major retrospective at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1955 demonstrated the originality of the artist whom Breton dubbed ‘the dragon tree of the Canaries’. Domínguez committed suicide in 1957 by slitting his wrists, just as, on the other side of Paris, his best friend Jacques Hérold fell down dead, a palette in his hand, after drinking what was purported to be blood while improvising a scene in a group surrealist game. AC