Miro

A Life in Retrospective

Joan Miro came to Paris for the first time in 1918 and found himself at the fountainhead of the greats of modern painting. His first lithograph was produced in 1930, but the full potential of this medium did not reveal itself to him until after the Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation in 1945 by Allied troops.

In 1947 Miro travelled to the United States where he executed a series of lithographs with Curt Valentin, the famous New York publisher. Upon his return to France, he divided his time between Paris, montroig and Barcelona, dedicating the greater part of his Parisian visits to lithography.

From this period dates an important series of print impressions, almost all of which were published by Maeght, thanks to whom the Parisian public and eventually the rest of the Western world could become better acquainted with his works.

It was in 1948 that Maeght opened the first of the great exhibitions that the gallery was to give Miro over the decades of his association with the famous art publisher. This exhibit reflects some of the remarkable work that Miro would produce through this publisher and gallery, including many original stone-printed lithographic posters which have become extreme collector items in the present day, like the original serigraphs produced by Bill Graham for the Fillmore in San Francisco during the 1960s. It is unthinkable that these original works of art were once put up like ordinary posters on fences and lighting posts.

It has sometimes been said that Miro's "funny" figures and tiny beasts are the expression of an antic temperament and the essential weapon of an artist who is not afraid to make people laugh but, as we will see in this exhibit, nothing could be further from the truth.

Very early on in his artistic career Miro made it very clear that he never intended to be a comic artist, comedian, clown, entertainer or buffoon -- exactly the opposite of Calder in this sense.

Miro is most famous for his often-quoted remark, "One must be prepared to work amidst the most absolute indifference and obscurity". He said that an artist who does not embrace this concept is doomed from the start.

In his most famous written treatise, "I Work Like a Gardener", Miro expresses the essence of nature in relation to his art.

"By nature I am tragic and taciturn...if there is anything humorous about my painting, it has not been consciously sought...the thing I consciously seek is tension of spirit...the atmosphere propitious to this tension I find in poetry, music, architecture...in my daily walks, in certain sounds, horses in the country, creaking of wooden cartwheels, footsteps, cries in the night, crickets...the spectacle of the sky overwhelms me..for me an object is alive. I see a tree, I get a shock, as if if were something breathing, talking to me.

"What I am seeking in fact is motionless movement, something equivalent to what is called the eloquence of silence."

Born to the families of a goldsmith and watchmaker, the young Miró was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse and in 1920 moved to Paris. There, under the influence of the poets and writers, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line. Generally thought of as a Surrealist because of his interest in automatism and the use of sexual symbols (for example, ovoids with wavy lines emanating from them), Miró’s style was influenced in varying degrees by Surrealism and Dada,[2] yet he rejected membership to any artistic movement in the interwar European years. André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, described him as "the most Surrealist of us all." Miró confessed to creating one of his most famous works, Harlequin's Carnival, under similar circumstances:

"How did I think up my drawings and my ideas for painting? Well I'd come home to my Paris studio in Rue Blomet at night, I'd go to bed, and sometimes I hadn't any supper. I saw things, and I jotted them down in a notebook. I saw shapes on the ceiling..."

Joan Miró was originally part of the Generation of '27, a collective made up of Spanish poets, writers, painters and film makers that included Luis Buñuel, Miguel Hernández, José María Hinojosa and García Lorca. The latter three were murdered by Franco during Spain's fascist reign. Buñuel and a few other artists were able to flee for France and the US. Miró was among these exiles. It is also important to note that Miró's surrealist origins evolved out of "repression" much like all Spanish surrealist and majic realist work. Also, Joan Miró was well aware of Haitian Voodoo art and Cuban Santería religion through his travels before going into exile. This led to his signature style of art making.

In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst on designs for Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró's help, Ernst pioneered the technique of grattage, in which he troweled pigment onto his canvases. Miró married Pilar Juncosa in Palma de Mallorca on October 12, 1929; their daughter Dolores was born July 17, 1931. Shuzo Takiguchi published the first monograph on Miró in 1940. In 1948–49, although living in Barcelona, Miró made frequent visits to Paris to work on printing his techniques at the Mourlot Studios (lithographs) and at the Atelier Lacourière (engravings). A close relationship lasting forty years developed with the printer Fernand Mourlot and resulted in the production of over one thousand different lithographic editions.

In 1959, André Breton asked Miró to represent Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition together with works by Enrique Tábara, Salvador Dalí, and Eugenio Granell. Miró created a series of sculptures and ceramics for the garden of the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, which was completed in 1964.

Miró was among the first artists to develop automatic drawing as a way to undo previous established techniques in painting, and thus, with André Masson, represented the beginning of Surrealism as an art movement. However, Miró chose not to become an official member of the Surrealists in order to be free to experiment with other artistic styles without compromising his position within the group. He pursued his own interests in the art world, ranging from automatic drawing and surrealism, to expressionism and Color Field painting.

In an interview with biographer Walter Erben, Miró expressed his dislike for art critics, saying, they "are more concerned with being philosophers than anything else. They form a preconceived opinion, then they look at the work of art. Painting merely serves as a cloak in which to wrap their emaciated philosophical systems."

Four-dimensional painting is a theoretical type of painting Miró proposed in which painting would transcend its two-dimensionality and even the three-dimensionality of sculpture.

In the final decades of his life Miró accelerated his work in different media, producing hundreds of ceramics, including the Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun at the UNESCO building in Paris. He also made temporary window paintings (on glass) for an exhibit. In the last years of his life Miró wrote his most radical and least known ideas, exploring the possibilities of gas sculpture and four-dimensional painting.

In 1974, Miró created a tapestry for the World Trade Center in New York City. He had initially refused to do a tapestry, then he learned the craft and produced several ones. His World Trade Center Tapestry was displayed for many years at World Trade Center building. It was one of the rarest, most important and most expensive works of art lost during the attack of the twin towers.

JOAN MIRO: LITHOGRAPHER

Joan Miro came to Paris for the first time in 1918 and found himself at the fountainhead of the greats of modern painting. His first lithograph was produced in 1930, but the full potential of this medium did not reveal itself till after the Liberation.

In 1947 Miro traveled to the United States where he executed a large mural painting in Cincinnati and published a series of lithographs with Curt Valentin, the famous New York publisher. Upon his return to France he divided his time between Paris, Montroig and Barcelona, dedicating the greater part of his Parisian visits to lithography.

From this period dates an important series of impressions, almost all published by Maeght. Thanks to Maeght, the Parisian public and eventually the rest of the world could finally become better acquainted with the work of Miro. It was in 1948 that he opened the first of the great exhibitions that the Maeght Gallery was to give him over the years. This exhibit reflects some of the remarkable work that Miro produced through this gallery.

THE HUMOR SNARE

It has sometimes been said that Miro's funny figures and tiny beasts are the expression of an antic temperament, the essential weapon of an artist who is not afraid to make people laugh. But as we have seen, nothing could be further from the truth.

Very early on he made it clear that he never intended to be a comedian, clown, entertainer or buffoon. Everything in his work must therefore be taken seriously. In fact, Raymond Queneau proposes that the word, "humor" be eliminated from the vocabulary of critics and art lovers when speaking of Miro.

"One must be prepared to work amidst the most absolute indifference and obscurity."

Joan Miro

MIRO'S PHILOSOPHY

In the most famous of all of his writings, "I Work Like a Gardener", Miro expresses the essence of his nature and his art.

"By nature I am tragic and taciturn . . . If there's anything humorous about my painting, it has not been consciously sought . . . The thing I consciously seek is tension of spirit . . . The atmosphere propitious to this tension, I find in poetry, music, architecture . . . in my daily walks, in certain noises -- the noise of horses in the country, the creaking of wooden cartwheels, footsteps, cries in the night, crickets.

"The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me . . .

"For me, an object is alive . . . I see a tree, I get a shock, as if it were something breathing, talking. A tree too is something human . . .

"What I am seeking, in fact, is motionless movement, something equivalent to what is called the eloquence of silence, or what St. John of the Cross meant by the words, I believe, of dumb music . . ."

THE MAN

Miro was quickly recognized as a talented artist, but never satisfied himself with easy success. He was methodical and worked with high standards of craftsmanship. He studied everything as profoundly as any professional philosophy. Discipline, work, contemplation and meditation all harmoniously converged in him.

Miro loved words and was a poet. He wrote texts in his canvasses and his titles have infinite charm. Throughout his career he felt more affinity for poets with whom he had many longstanding friendships than for other artists. He found a constant stimulus in their delicate works and often created lithographs as illustrations for books by them.

A whole constellation of names glitters around the artist's magnificent colors and sensitive lines -- Tristan Tzara, Rene Char, Andre Breton, Benjamin Peret, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prevert, Ivan Goll, Joan Perucho, Joan Brossa, Salvador Espriu, and Jacques Dupin. This was Mir's way of expressing his gratitude to all those who provided him with food for his soul.

LOOSE ENDS

The lithographs of Miro occupy a special place in the study of this great contemporary master, for they provide us with insight into the "loose ends" of Miro's temperament; they give us a clue to the great wealth of inventiveness that would otherwise be left in semi-darkness. What cannot be expressed in any other way, and yet must be said, is said through lithography.

THE SPARK OF LIFE

"In a picture, it should be possible to discover new things every time you see it. But you can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life. For me, a picture should be like sparks. It must dazzle like the beauty of a woman or a poem. It must have radiance, it must be like those stones which Pyrenean shepherds use to light their pipes.

"More than the picture itself, what counts is what it throws off, what it exhales. It doesn't matter if the picture is destroyed. Art can die; what matters is that it should have sown seeds on the earth . . . from which other things will spring.

"A picture must be fertile. It must give birth to a world. Whether you see it in flowers, people, horses, it matters little, so long as it reveals a world, something alive . . ."

THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JOAN MIRO

In 1956, when Miro moved back permanently to Majorca, he at last had the "big studio" he had always dreamed of. Near the studio stands the white-washed house that he shared with Pilar, who still lives there. The large painting studio is surrounded by terraces on which almond and green-olive trees are silhouetted against the distant view of a bright-blue ocean. The walls of the studio are hung with objects Miro picked up on the beach -- a starfish, fishing hooks, a sea horse -- and the primitive toys, whistles and natural forms he scavenged and saved. In his other studio, a three-hundred-year-old stone villa called Son Boter, Miro had a printmaking workshop which he called his "magic place".

His schedule was always as regular as clockwork: up at six arm; at work by seven; a half-hour of exercise at noon, then lunch, a siesta, and a walk. Then back to work again by three. Every day included physical exercise, something which obsessed him, probably because of his size. "All my life", he said, "I have worked to be physically strong."

Joan Miro was born in Barcelona on April 20, 1893. By the time he was seventeen he had experienced a somewhat traumatic failure in his life: he was unsuccessful at becoming a clerk as his father wanted him to be. And so, by the age of nineteen he had enrolled in Francesco Gali's School of Art. Here, he carried out drawing exercises based on touch, which became the source of his vocation as a sculptor. In this year, 1912, he met the ceramist Artigas and he executed his first oil paintings.

From 1915 to 1918 he attended an independent drawing academy of the San Luch Circle, where he worked. This marked the beginning of his "fauve" period. He painted portraits and landscapes of the Montroig region (near Tarragona), the location of his father's farm, where he spent nearly half his life. He returned there every summer from sophisticated Paris.

His first one-man exhibition in 1918 at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona was a total failure. Bit it inspired him to alter his style to that of making his first "detailist" landscapes.

In 1919 he made his first trip to Paris, where he met Picasso and began a friendship with him. He spent many long mornings at the Louvre. An experience of which he stated, "This journey has overwhelmed me, totally and beneficially. Like living flesh, I feel the embrace of all the gentleness of this place penetrate me."

At the end of 1920 he took a studio in Paris next door to Andre Masson. In 1921 he had his first one-man exhibition in Paris. In the summer he returned to Montroig where in that year he painted "The Farm", the masterpiece of the "detailist" period.

The "groupe de la Rue Blomet" gathered around Miro and Masson. From this period on he participated actively in "surrealist" exhibitions.

However, Miro repeatedly insisted that he was not a Surrealist, but he was much affected by the Surrealist idea that painting should be as involved with images as poetry, and poets were among his closest friends on Rue Blomet, his studio address in Paris. The Surrealists invented new forms, permitting the unconscious to express itself in "automatic" writing, drawing and painting, but Miro had no patience with their official pronouncements.

He insisted that his hallucinations were nothing he tried to provoke, but the unavoidable result of almost starving to death during his early days in Paris. "Those were pretty hard times: the panes of the window were broken, my heater that cost me forty-five francs in the flea market would not work . . . Since I was very poor I could not afford more than one lunch a week: the other days I had to be contented with dried figs and I chewed gum."

Whether the result of hunger-induced hallucinations or not, the amazing series of weird doodles combining animal, vegetable, and mineral forms in grotesque "personnages" that poured forth from his studio were a radical departure from the rational dissections of Cubism as well as the detailed academic monsters the orthodox Surrealists like Max Ernst were conjuring.

In 1929 he married Pilar Juncosa and moved to Rue Francois-Mouthon in Paris. In 1931 their only child was born, a daughter, Dolores.

His first exhibition in the U.S. Took place in 1931 at the Valentine Gallery in New York. And in 1932 he created the sets, costumes, curtain and "toys" for Massine's ballet "Jeux d'enfants", performed to the music of Bizet. In the same year Pierre Matisse became his official U.S. Agent. In 1937, he designed the "Aidez l'Espagne" poster as well as executed "The Reaper" -- a large mural painting for the pavillion of the Spanish Republic at the Universal Exposition in Paris.

In 1940, Miro began the "Constellations" series. The following year the first major retrospective of his work was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1944, he produced his first ceramics in collaboration with Josep Llorens Artigas. He completed about 10 small bronzes between 1944 and 1950.

His first visit to the U.S. Took place in 1947. The following year, he had an exhibition at the Galerie Maeght, important because it marked the beginning of the time after which Maeght became the agent for all his work.

In 1949, there was a retrospective of his work in Berne and Basle. In 1950, Harvard University Graduate Center commissioned him to do a major mural painting. The geographical span of Miro's work had expanded.

From 1953 to 1956 Miro began a series of ceramics with Josep Llorens Artigas and his son Joan Gardy-Artigas.

The '50s were marked with major showings of the work of Joan Miro. In 1956 alone, there was an important retrospective of his work in Brussels, in Amsterdam, and in Basle. In the same year, the ceramics exhibition called "Terres de Grand Feu" took place at the Galerie Maeght. Miro traveled to the United States in 1959 for a second time to attend a major retrospective of his work shown at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Museum of Los Angeles.

The early '60s were marked with exhibits in New York and Paris and interestingly an exhibition of prints in Tokyo.

The inauguration of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul took place in 1964 along with Miro's "labyrinth" -- a garden decorated with sculptures and ceramics. One of the galleries was devoted to his paintings.

"The Moon Bird" and "The Sun Bird", his first monumental bronze sculptures were done in 1966. A major retrospective of his work in Tokyo and Kyoto prompted him to visit Japan for the occasion in this same year.

1968 was the year of Miro's 75th birthday and to celebrate the Fondation Maeght held a major retrospective exhibition. The exhibition also traveled to Barcelona.

In 1969, an exhibition was organized by young architects of Barcelona -- Exhibition "Miro-otro."

1970 saw Miro execute a large ceramic mural for Barcelona's airport, as well as ceramic and painted murals for the International Exposition in Osaka. Then again in 1976 he completed a ceramic wall for IBM Barcelona. In 1978, he produced a sculptural group in synthetic resin for Esplanade de la Defense in Paris, and a wall for the Vitoria Museum in Spain. In 1979, he created his first stained glass, produced for the Fondation Maeght. In 1980, at the age of 87, he created a monumental ceramic piece for the new exhibition and conference center in Madrid as well as a large wall tapestry for the Fondation Maeght. In 1981, he built a monumental sculpture for the city of Chicago.

Miro's 85th birthday occurred in 1978 with a retrospective exhibition at the Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporaneo in Madrid and exhibition of graphic works at the Salas de la Direccion General del Partrimonio Artistico de Madrid.

He died on December 25th, 1983 in Palma, Majorca. The final decade and three years of his life was marked with exhibitions from Dusseldorf and Denmark to Mexico City and Minneapolis.

Unlike Picasso, Miro determined the destiny of his legacy long before he died. He commissioned the building of the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona as a space for exhibitions and performances by living artists. His will bequeathed works to the foundation, but his intention was that they be sold to support the art of the next generation. The foundation also houses the artist's extensive archives -- records of the thinking process of an artist who was far more critical of himself than of others.

Another newly created foundation named for Pilar and Joan Miro, will preserve the Majorcan compound -- the painting studio, the house, Son Boter -- as well as the objects and art left by Miro now belonging to Pilar.

"I am a colorist, but hopeless at form. I can't tell a curve from a straight line. I only achieve a real sense of form by drawing from the sensation of touching something with my eyes shut."

Joan Miro

The couple's fifty-six year old daughter, Dolores, lives nearby, as does David, Miro's oldest grandchild.

In December of 1986, Pilar Miro auctioned off forty-two of her husband's paintings at Sotheby's, Madrid, to raise money for the new foundation. The sale grossed over $4 million. To the surprise of many, all the work stayed in Spain, proof that the great Spanish master was no longer an unrecognized prophet in his own country.

THE IDEA OF ANONYMITY

Miro believed that when a spectator recognized himself in one of his characters, he felt what connected him to others; he also believed in the value of anonymity for providing freedom from false identifications.

Queneau explains that because lithography requires aides, assistants, executants, Miro saw in it a means of approaching anonymity, not the ordinary anonymity of "someone", but rather that of the creative artisan.

Miro wrote that "a profoundly individual gesture is anonymous" and that "the more local something is, the more it is universal." According to Queneau, this phrase completely expresses the spirit of Miro's lithographs.

" . . . Certain spots, spatters and even daubs are deliberately willed . . . because they are anonymous par excellence, so that people who 'know nothing about' artistic matters are led to say, 'I could do as much.' Of course they couldn't, but they think they understand the process just as they think they understand the result when they see the resemblance of a portrait of the exactitude of a landscape," concludes Queneau.

Miro intentionally worked with a very reduced palette of colors and forms. He himself pointed out that the magnificent frescoes of the Xth Century were also quite limited in color range.

His people underwent the same simplification which his colors and forms did. By simplifying, he made them more human and more alive. Details, he felt, killed the imaginary life which amplifies everything.

Women, birds and stars, common elements in many of his works, were viewed as manifestations of individual anonymity. They are represented by signs that are anonymous in the sense that a circle surrounded by rays will always "be" the sun, and a crescent will always "be" the moon, and so forth, for other representation.

Miro observed that it takes only a small something, a slight deviation of a line, the tiny addition of a black point or unexpected color, of an angle that is a little more open or a little more closed, for the most anonymous and decipherable of signs to become a mystery for the bewildered viewer.

THE USE OF BLACK

Miro's plastic development can be characterized by its movement towards the elemental. The role of the color black is very significant in this regard.

Dramatic black surfaces often create a strange and startling void. Their density and silence dominate entire images. Their strict contours are like counterpoints to rioting corpuscules of color exploding in all directions.

NEVER-ENDING POSSIBILITIES

Joan Teixidor expressed the idea that Miro's lithographic work is like a portfolio stuffed with never-ending possibilities and should never be considered as a mere supplement to his work on canvas or his sculptural work.

Because a lithograph allows for rapid annotation, many of them can be regarded as a form of notes on paper, and like notepaper, they can be conveniently kept in folders.

According to Teixidor, Miro used lithography in order to express the variety of forms and suggestions that it would have been impossible for him to manifest with the canvas and the easel.

It is also possible that Miro used lithography as a means of reaching an inner balance or counterpoint to the insistence of a canvas, a piece of clay or a bronze. Many of his lithos were produced amidst intensely productive periods of artistic creativity in all of these media.

MOBILITY AND IMMOBILITY

"Forms are at the same time immobile and mobile in my pictures. They are immobile because the canvas is an immobile support. They are immobile because of the clarity of their outlines and because of the kind of frame in which they are sometimes placed. But precisely because they are immobile, they suggest movements.

"As there is no horizon line nor indication of depth, they are displaced in depth. They are displaced also in plane, because a color or a line leads inevitably to a displacement of the angle of vision.

"I begin my pictures under the effect of a shock which makes me escape from reality. The cause of this shock may be a tiny thread sticking out of the canvas, a drop of water falling, this print made by my finger on the shining surface of this table.

"In any case I need a point of departure, even if it's only a speck of dust or a flash of light. This form begets a series of things, one thing giving birth to another thing . . ."

PRODUCTS OF MATURITY

Of all the modern masters, Joan Miro remains to this day one of the most elusive. His lithographic work. At first glance, appears to be easier and more charming than his work in other techniques because he exhibits a freedom regarding this process which implies a deep penetration of its possibilities.

This can perhaps be explained by the fact that many of his lithos were produced when he had already reached maturity as an artist, a decisiveness of expression and a deep personal assurance. He was also more inclined toward synthesis than analysis -- perhaps the single greatest development in his art -- and had begun to work with this in mind, arriving ultimately at a condensation of reality.

His lithos are filled with forceful and explosive signs, symbols, metaphors, calligraphy and ideograms. The vast number of insinuations in them increase their complexity. Because of this, Miro's lithographs demand just as much respect as we show for those great canvasses which are now regarded as classics.

THE CONVERGENCE OF INFLUENCES

Almost every significant impulse in modern painting as established during its "heroic" phase by Fauvism, Cubism, abstract art and Expressionism converges in Miro's work and touches it at one point or another.

No one else has succeeded so well in combining the initiatives of Picasso, Leger and Matisse with those of Klee and Kandinsky, in joining solid pictorial structure to free-floating fantasy and explicit emotion.

Miro reached maturity at a time when it was more and more difficult to practice a grand style. The original impulses of the School of Paris -- its optimistic positivism, its trusting and self-confident indifference to politics and ideology, and its faith in the powers of reason were becoming exhausted by the mid-thirties.

Just when he mentors began to weaken Miro reached the fullness of his powers. He decided to produce art in a grand style and demonstrated to painters coming after him the possibility of maintaining the legacy of the School of Paris under far less favorable circumstances and in obedience to a different kind of inspiration.

AN AUDACIOUS INVENTOR

Engraving and lithography proved to be areas in which the spontaneity and poetic emotion of Miro could express themselves with ease and boldness. Over and over again he renewed his style and invented techniques which astounded and amazed by their diversity and imagination.

The moon of his artistic production varied from one medium to another, yet he was never led astray by his virtuosity. As a lithographer he shined by the certainty of his lines and the precision with which he drew the apparently most spontaneous figures.

As an engraver he became deeper and more mysterious. The white backgrounds of his lithographs were replaced with darker backgrounds full of scratches, chemical effects and physical surprises which created relief and presence.

His engravings and lithographs are so fresh and full of life that it's almost as if copper plates and lithographic stones had never been worked on before being touched by his hands and adorned with his unique pictorial language.

JOURNEY INTO THE FANTASTIC

Miro grew up a Catalan, but he was soon drawn to the Parisian avant-garde. As a young man, the French Impressionists, the Cubists, Picasso and Matisse were his idols.

Throughout his entire life he went back and forth between Montroig and Paris absorbing the influences that emanated from these opposing environments and translating them into art, attempting to integrate the pastoral tradition of Catalonia and the revolutionary excitement of Paris into a single, harmonious, aesthetic expression.

His career was long and remarkable. In the 1920s he went from realistic art to a painting of signs, from object to sign, from figurative space to imaginary space, from descriptive realism to visionary, fantastic art. It took only three landscapes painted between 1923-24 for this stylistic revolution which amounted to the birth of his art to take place. The letters he wrote during this period express what a joyful moment of discovery this passage to abstract art was for him.

"It is not the work that is done in one's life that counts, but the path one's spirit has taken throughout that life; not, then, what has been done with a life, but what it lets one glimpse, and what will lighten the task of others in some more or less distant future."

Joan Miro