Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Joan Miró Ferra was born on April 20, 1893 in Barcelona, into the family of a goldsmith and watchmaker. Miró started drawing classes at the age of seven, but later yielding to his parents’ insistence to receive a decent profession took business classes and became a book-keeper. Simultaneously, in 1907-10 Joan Miró studied art in the academy La Escuela de la Lonja in Barcelona in the class of the landscapist Modesto Urgell Inglada and professor of decorative and applied arts José Pasco Merisa.In 1912-15, he studied in the private academy of Francese D’A. Galí Fabra. In 1918, together with some like-minded friends Miró founded “Agrupació Courbet”, a group of young artists who opposed themselves to conservative traditions in Catalan art.
In his works of 1913-17 the most important are the influences of Cézanne and the Fauvists: objects are close to each other and shine with bright and broken colors; striped patterns make up a kind of decorative ornament: Still Life with Rose, Portrait of E. C. Ricart, Portrait of V. Nubiola, Prades, the Village, Ciurana, the Path. Approximately in 1918 Joan Miró enters the so-called “detailistic phase” (the term was introduced by Ràfols, a fellow member of the Courbet group). Jacques Dupin, Miró’s biographer, called this period “poetic realism”. Landscapes, painted in Montroig, where the artist spent the summer at his parents’ farm, have deep perspectives which are full of methodically painted details: The Vegetable Garden with Donkey, The Wagon Tracks.
In 1920, Joan Miró arrived in Paris and from now on shared his time between Spain and France. In 1921-22, he created The Farm – the highest achievement in his “poetic realism”. The canvas of 132x147 cm includes the whole universe; it is full of everyday objects, which have symbolic meanings and which make the picture “open to numerous interpretations”. The American author Ernest Hemingway bought the picture because “he saw his impressions of the Catalan landscape and mentality reflected in it”. (p.30 in Joan Miró. By Janic Mink. Benedikt Taschen Verlag. 1993) Two pictures that followed, The Tilled Field and Catalan Landscape (Hunter), testify to the artist's quick evolution from observation and imitation of the real life to unconventional and symbolic realization of mental images. Realistic forms are forced out by distorted shapes – stretched, swollen, twisted; by abstract geometric shapes - cones, circles, triangles, and lines… Remembered dreams, especially those seen when he had to go to bed hungry, become a source of inspiration. He confessed later that hungry hallucinations were his muse. “Compared to the use of ether, cocaine, alcohol, morphine, or sex, Miró’s hunger-hallucinations look almost like a monkish fasting.” (p.44 in Joan Miró. By Janic Mink. Benedikt Taschen Verlag. 1993) In 1924, Miró met André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon and other participants of the Surrealistic group. The same year the first Surrealist Manifesto is published. Miró executed several more paintings in the surrealistic vein.
A relatively small Harlequin's Carnival (1924-25, Buffalo) brought the surrealistic phase of his work to a climax. His intellect, subconscious mind and hands created the world of boneless, flowing, amorphous creatures, which freely change their shapes and position in the space and universe. Figures and objects, a fish, an insect, a ladder, flames, stars, cones, circles and spheres, all have real prototypes, but on the canvas are swinging colored shadows, celebrating a holiday. As time progresses, Miró’s pictures become increasingly abstract, and his forms more organic. By the end of the 1920s Miró’s vocabulary of pictorial idioms is formed. There are signs, which mark the space (a line of horizon, sun and stars in the upper part of a picture; waves or bunches of plants in the lower part), and service signs, or messengers, which communicate and unite the different parts of space: a flying bird, a running rabbit, a ladder going into the sky, organs of sensual perception – an eye and ear, a human figure with enormous feet: Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird. 1926; Dog Barking at the Moon. 1926; Landscape (The Hare). 1927, etc.)
In the 1930s the artist experimented with different materials. He made assemblages from materials and objects that he found; he painted, drew and collaged on paper, masonite, sandpaper, copper. In 1932-36 he created a series of pictures after his sketches-collages. Cut out of catalogues and magazines, machines and everyday objects, he arranged and glued them onto the paper, those collages were used for future paintings; in his artistic compositions all those technical parts and blocks turned into organic mildly shaped forms, which remind of animal organs, human limbs, and embryos. Fulfilled in bright colors, these works represent some of Miró’s most abstract works: Painting. 1933, Composition. 1933, Painting, 1933. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, Miró returned to Paris and stayed in France until 1940.
In 1937, Miró painted a large panel The Reaper for the Spanish Republican pavilion at the Paris World Fair. The panel, which presented a Catalan peasant, disappeared or was destroyed after the pavilion was disassembled. One of the most important works of the period is Still Life with Old Shoe. Everyday things – a bottle, a loaf of bread, an apple pierced by a fox, and an old shoe – irradiate unreal light, making a simple still life of everyday objects look like a scene from the Apocalypse. In 1940, in Varengeville (Normandy), Miró starts a series of gouaches Constellations, the work on which he continued in Montroig and Barcelona. These 23 works became one of the highest points in his creativity. Stars, moon scythes, discs, eyes, birds and animals, human figures, some indefinite forms either come close together or leave the free space. These gouaches were created, as Miro admits, under the influence of night, stars, music of Bach and Mozart, which stirred up in him multiple poetic associations reflected in titles: The Nightingale's Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain. 1940. Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman; Constellation: Awakening at Dawn. 1941. etc. In the 1940-70s the artist could realize his dream about monumental art, which was a way of “reaching people”.
In 1947 in the USA, he executed mural for Cincinnati Terrace Hilton Hotel. In 1956, he settled in Palma de Majorca in a villa with a large studio designed by friend, the architect Josep Lluis Sert. Here, in collaboration with his old friend and a master ceramist Josep Llorens Artigas he fulfilled the commission of two walls for UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1956-58). The walls are 3 meters high and 15 and 7.5 meters long. The dominant Sun Wall and the more intimate Moon Wall with their bright colors make a sharp contrast to the gray cement of the buildings. For this work Miró was awarded the Guggenheim International Award, which President Eisenhower handed over to him in 1959.
The following years Miró created a series of monumental ceramic murals, which decorate the dining room in Harvard Harkness Center (1960-61), building of the Ecole Supérieure de Sciences économiques in St. Gall, Switzerland (1964), fence of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the airport in Barcelona (1970), the Glass pavilion for the World Fair in Osaka (1970) and others. In the 1950-70s Miró also got interested in sculpture. Miró made models for sculpture out of materials he found, man-made or natural; sometimes those models were later cast in bronze. The paintings of this period became “emptier” again: Woman in Front of the Sun. 1950; Catalan Peasant in the Moonlight, 1968; triptych Blue: Blue II, Blue III. 1961; The Lark’s Wing. 1967. These works can be characterized by the use of a few pure colors, big simple forms, exceptional laconism in combination with the energy of poetic expression.
Miró produced a massive output. He left at least 2,000 oil paintings, 500 sculptures, 400 ceramic objects, and 5,000 drawings and collages. He had an immense influence on post-war art in the United States. In 1975 the Fundació Joan Miró was opened in Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona. In 1992 the artist's studio in Palma de Majorca was turned into his museum.