A mesh of elongated flesh fills Femmes aux boîtes de sardines, painted in 1937. Faintly recalling the appearance of some of de Chirico's paintings, this picture is filled with enigmatic sensuality and with a deep and surreal strangeness that is wholly Domínguez'. The elegant, statuesque, stretched bodies of the women, which seem in parts to blend into each other, are punctured and adorned by the coiled-back metal of sardine-can lids. This incongruous feature is a recurring motif within Domínguez' work, sometimes appearing in objets surréalistes, in landscapes or, as here, on human bodies. Domínguez' unique vision relied on a combination of association, dreams, his own strange and mysterious lexicon of images and automatism (he was the inventor of the decalcomania process that so fascinated his fellow Surrealists, as well as the 'painting-object' ('peinture-objet')). These have all combined in this painting to create a haunting yet fascinating image that is profoundly carnal.
In one sense, Femmes aux boîtes de sardines is a metaphor for the Surreal vision, as Domínguez peels back the veil that obscures a true understanding of the world. He is revealing a hidden, fundamental dimension that lurks beneath our own, calling for the scales to fall from our eyes. The hidden properties and forces of the universe are being exposed while the artifice, all that we take for granted, is being rent asunder. At the same time, the peeling image in this picture is disturbing, a result of Domínguez' idiosyncratic imagery, which manages to blend desire, eroticism, appetite, sex and violence all at once. The flesh of the women, which appears to have been formed organically through a process of automatic creation and then associative honing of the given image, has been depicted with a sweeping sensuality. These imposing women appear timeless, like striding Amazons, yet are clearly presented in a sexualised context, their breasts exposed. Are the Femmes aux boîtes de sardines delicacies prone to our enjoyment and indulgence? Are they objectified, demeaned, commercialised? Or are they celebrated, idolised? In the right-hand figure, the flash of red appears to resemble the material of a flowing dress, yet in its blood-like hue also hints at the exposure of her flesh. The ambiguity of the construction and composition of these figures, and of the process of unpeeling combines to create a striking image, that reflects both Domínguez' personality and his notion that violence is one of the raw elements underpinning our existence.
Violence was a constant theme in Domínguez works and in his life. He was fascinated by it, and it punctuated his entire life, sometimes willed and sometimes unwilled. He was notorious for fighting, his hulking body intimidating people. His occasional and unpredictable burst of violence made him all the more Surreal: he was living the life that others professed to celebrate. It was this, combined with the freshness and sheer expressiveness of his unique vision, that made him one of the most important of the second generation of Surrealists, reinvigorating a movement that had briefly lost some of its momentum. Domínguez would sometimes abandon himself entirely to the world of the senses, of ecstasy and eroticism, as is indicated by the twisted sensuality of Femmes aux boîtes de sardines; he would sometimes pick fights or provoke strangers; and yet he was a charming character, as was reflected by the intense loyalty and devotion of many of his friends, defenders and advocates. Domínguez was fascinated by weapons, by guns and knives, and was even known to fire a pistol in his studio; likewise, it was Domínguez, to his intense mortification, who famously (though accidentally) damaged the eye of fellow artist Victor Brauner, a strange and seminal moment in Surrealism made all the stranger by the fact that, some years earlier, the Romanian artist had prophetically painted a self-portrait in which he was shown with an eye missing. The fascination that Domínguez' fellow Surrealists had for the violence that appeared to orbit around him was intensified in 1937, the year that Femmes aux boîtes de sardines was painted, when he made an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide: under the weight of his body, the ropes did not hold. The ubiquity of this backdrop of raw violence in Domínguez' life is evident in Femmes aux boîtes de sardines in the peeling, in which the 'skin' of the woman appears to be rolled from the bodies of the figures, who nonetheless appear oblivious, perhaps accustomed to such practises in their surreal universe.