White-blonde hair, argent teeth and orange-sprayed flesh, plucked and stuffed, is the ideal of feminine beauty offered by the Playboy magazine of today. It seems hard to imagine that Playboy was once the chosen reading material of the debonair man of the 50s and 60s, and a publication that attracted the contribution of respected writers and artists – and the naked bodies of women of natural, individual beauty.
In 1974 Salvador Dalí set up photos based on preliminary sketches for photographer Pompeo Posar for Playboy, titled ‘The Erotic World of Salvador Dalí’. As sexuality became increasingly unsheathed from the 1920s onwards Salvador Dalí was committed to exposing the undercurrents of sexual desire – he could even be considered the predecessor of Hugh Hefner himself. A Spanish artist of the surrealist movement Dalí resided in Paris only to relocate to America to escape the imminent threat of Hitler’s armies and pursue the promise of America’s money-making potential.
Not unlike Hugh Hefner, Dalí was a avid fan of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, so much so that many believe his outrageous art and musings to be an enactment of Freud’s theories of sex as the motivator of the course and personality of the individual.
As an artist Dalí was obsessed with nudity, sexual repression and the manifestation of sexuality in the human subconscious, his art constituted symbols and signs of these fascinations and fantasies. He loved to shock, stupefy and confuse his followers, which resulted in bizarre, repellent and ultimately engrossing imagery. Above all he strove for monetary gain, at the cost of his professional reputation – his peers believed him to be prostituting art.
As he became more recognised as an artist he began to collaborate on more commercial (and high-earning) projects. He designed shop windows for department stores; painted subliminally perverted portraits of high-society ladies; designed the sets and costumes for ballet (‘Labyrinth 1941’); illustrated specialty books (‘Macbeth’ and ‘Don Quixote’ in 1946); designed movie sets (‘Spellbound’ 1945 dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock); and did artworks for advertising campaigns (De Beer’s, Gunther’s furs, Ford cars, Wrigley’s gum). For his contribution to Playboy he assured readers that the “meaning” of his work was driven by the “purest” of motivations… “money”.
Like Hefner, the business of Salvador Dalí was reliant upon the sexual transgression of society. He brought surreal erotica to the table of all his projects and for Playboy the results were a wild and weird mythic fantasy of beauteous ladies. If only his aesthetic of lush, unique erotica had stuck…