Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"expressing all the golden flashes of the mind..." Joan Miró

Yes, when I was young I thought Miró was female, perhaps a descendant of one of those other girls, St. Augustine. Even as I got older, I didn't really understand his work, so I'm trying to grasp it now. Shown here, Blue II (1961)

The more I read about him, the longer this post got, so I'm a day behind as I try to cut it down. Was it Mark Twain who said something along the lines of, "if you want it shorter, I'm going to need more time?"

Like so many others, Miró began with a more or less conventional, representational style, but as a young man he was certainly aware of what was happening in the art world (and even attended the same Spanish art school as Picasso, ten years after Picasso knocked everyone's socks off there). The son of a clockmaker, a shy boy driven to a nervous breakdown trying to follow his father's plans for him to work in commerce, he stuffed his early pictures with the things of the real world: animals, objects, places in the countryside of Catalan.

Author Mario Bucci (Miró, Hamlyn Publishing, 1970) traces the evolution of his style, pointing out influences in Portrait of Ricart. "In the background, an immensely intricate Japanese engraving shows Miro's love for the infinitely small and refined. . .; on the left, an area of pure yellow, on which the shape of a palette is. . .anticipates the ciphers and abbreviations" of Miro's later work.

The head is broken down into its fundamental masses, as are the disjointed hands, suddenly calling to mind the carved hands and faces of the Romanesque saints found in the ancient churches of Catalonia, which his friend, Jose Pasco, had shown him. (p.17)" This portrait dates from 1917.

According to Bucci, this next painting marks the last painting in which he strove to represent actual things and places in excruciatingly minute detail. Hemi
ngway loved it so much he bought it, taking up a collection among his friends to cover the cost. (Miró didn't really want to sell it, and so had put a high price on it.) It's called Farmhouse (1921-2).

Now, with The Farmer's Wife, he breaks with the realism
and heads toward pure symbolism. "He took for his model a figurine from a set depicting the birth of Christ in the manger, and the Farmer's Wife retains some of the plaster-cast immobility of this figurine, her enormous Picassoesque feet symbolizing her attachment to the earth, for she is the very incarnation of firmness and solidity.".

And by the time he painted Ploughed Earth, he'd completely abandoned any objective of rendering objects realistically. By the time he painted this, 1923-4, he was ready to join the newly formed group of Surrealists, but he remained always a bit on the fringes, following his own ideas of rendering the thoughts of the subconscious.

Miró said, "If I think of a a beetle or a snail, it can be as big as a hou
se, and my imagination can amplify a toy so that it symbolises the entire human race. Thus, if I want to depict these things as I imagine them and feel them inside me, I will allow my instinct to guide my hand on the canvas." Here's Catalonian Landscape (1923-4)

One must have a very strong personality and will to work to feels that the "golden flashes" in your mind are worth putting on canvas, especially when you are hungry and exhausted, don't you think? (Who knows what his work might have looked like with a Trader Joe's nearby.)

I wonder how aware Miró was of the work of Paul Klee. Do you know?


  1. We have a large print of the first image in our dining room. When Adam was in elementary school, he tried to hum the dots.

  2. Catalonian Landscape always makes me smile. I especially love the hunter with the pipe.

    From Paul Klee, Poet/Painter, by Kathryn Porter Aichele:

    "Although the two never actually met, Miro frankly admitted that he was profoundly influenced by Klee's work. Klee's influence on Miro's formal vocabulary has been well documented."

    Of course, this doesn't answer the question of whether Klee (who died in 1940) knew of Miro.

  3. Julie, you can tell Adam that Giacometti felt that those dots were placed just right: "Miro could not paint a spot without it falling in the right place. He was such an extraordinary painter that he could put three blots of colour on a canvas and it would be a picture."

    Thanks, Bill, for the info on Klee.