An Unlikely Marriage of Forms
THE Catalan artist Joan Miro (1893-1983) arrived at the symbolic as if by surprise. He was alert to unexpected promptings and unplanned connections. The smallest thing might ignite what he called "the magic spark" of art.Skip to next paragraph
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"The cause... ," he once said "may be a tiny thread ... a drop of water falling, this print made by my finger on the shiny surface of this table. In any case, I need a point of departure, even if it is only a speck of dust or a flash of light."
Similar attitudes were shared by many artists who were called, or called themselves, Surrealists. Miro was certainly a participant in that European movement. Like the other Surrealists - but more genial and popularist than many of them - Miro was never an abstractionist, and he was more interested in what might lie below the surface of his work than in mere appearance. He went out of his way to discover the significant in the familiar, the universal in the local.
Players of games involving the subconscious or dreams, the Surrealists could nevertheless be quite theatrically self-conscious. An element of performance is frequently present, and this means awareness of an effect on a viewer. They were not always quite as unknowing as they made out.
They might deliberately undermine convention or mischievously activate the instinctual imagination of their audience. Less inclined to overtly shock than the Dadaists, many Surrealists had contributed to that earlier movement and then continued to exploit some of its subversiveness, absurdism, and anti-art stance. Miro himself described his move into sculpture as a way of "murdering" painting. In fact his sculpture, which was mostly produced in the last few decades of his long career as a painter, printm aker, and ceramicist, is a kind of exuberant development of his two dimensional work. Collage is at the back of it. Like other painters who made sculpture late in their careers - Renoir, for example, or Degas - Mirs sculpture really does not destroy his paintings, it fulfills them.
He described his sculptures - so often symbolic personages of one kind or another - as "monsters." If so, they seem to distinctly lack real ferocity. Like bull-terriers they may be ugly, but they are essentially domesticated: good with the kids. Mirs art is almost always touched with wit and humor, and seems to spring from the child in him. Primeval it may be, but unlike many of his Surrealist confreres, Miro really did bring into his work an element of uncalculated subconsciousness; a sense of basic inn ocence is rarely contravened. His work marvellously lacks cynicism, that most deadly enemy to the art.
More than anything it is the way Miro continually links his idea of art with his idea of nature, which saves his work from some of the more obvious and pervasive cliches of Surrealism. For example - although "woman" is very often his preoccupation, and he doesn't shy away from the anatomical, his forms are still metaphors. The female, to him, is "like a goddess, like the birth of humanity." Possibly threatening - like the spider eating her mate - Mirs "woman" is almost always closer to grotesque comedy t han to the sensual. There is little reason to discredit his statement that "... there's nothing erotic in [his] work." The female has to do with fertility no less than the fruit on a tree or the stars in the night sky; they are all part of universal nature to Miro.