The names Gaudí, Dalí and Picasso are known to many as the forefront of Spanish art and architecture in the 20th century. Their work is displayed far are wide around the country as being the very best in Spain . However one painter has been has had just as much influence on modern artists, his name is Juan Miró. Art lovers will of course know this name, he was a driving force in the surrealist movement, arguably the most important period of art in the 20th century. Indeed his influences can still be seen in prominent works around Barcelona. There is a huge colour face sculpture on Passeig De Colon designed by the legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein for the 1992 Olympic Games who sites Miró is one of his driving influences in the making of the piece.
Joan Miró was born in Spain in 1893 to a family of craftsmen. His father, Miguel, was a watchmaker and goldsmith, while his grandfathers were cabinetmakers and blacksmiths. Perhaps in keeping with his family’s artistic trade, Miró exhibited a strong love of drawing at an early age; according to biographers, he was not particularly inclined toward academics. Rather, Miró pursued art-making and studied landscape and decorative art at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts (the Llotja) in Barcelona.
Early in his career, Miró primarily painted still-lifes, landscapes, and genre scenes. Influences ranging from the folk art and Romanesque church frescoes of his native Catalan region in Spain to 17th-century Dutch realism were eventually superseded by more contemporary ones: Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism captivated the young artist, who had relocated to Paris in 1921. His exposure to the ideas of André Breton and Breton’s Surrealist circle prompted Miró to make radical changes to his style, although the artist cannot be said to have identified consistently with a single school. Rather, his artistic career may be characterized as one of persistent experimentation and a lifelong flirtation with non-objectivity. Miró’s signature biomorphic forms, geometric shapes, and semi-abstracted objects are expressed in multiple media, from ceramics and engravings to large bronze installations.
Conducting his own Surrealism-inspired exploration, Miró invented a new kind of pictorial space in which carefully rendered objects issuing strictly from the artist’s imagination are juxtaposed with basic, recognizable forms – a sickle moon, a simplified dog, a ladder. There is the sense that they have always coexisted both in the material realm and in the shallow pictorial space of Miró’s art. Miró’s art never became fully non-objective. Rather than resorting to complete abstraction, the artist devoted his career to exploring various means by which to dismantle traditional precepts of representation. Miró’s radical, inventive style was a critical contributor in the early-20th-century avant-garde journey toward increasing and then complete abstraction.
Miró balanced the kind of spontaneity and automatism encouraged by the Surrealists with meticulous planning and rendering to achieve finished works that, because of their precision, seemed plausibly representational despite their considerable level of abstraction. He often worked with a limited palette, yet the colors he used were bold and expressive. His chromatic explorations, which emphasized the potential of fields of unblended color to respond to one another, provided inspiration for a generation of Color Field painters.
Artists have traditionally confined themselves to visual expression in a single medium with occasional forays into other materials. However, Miró was, in a sense, a modern renegade who refused to limit himself in this regard. While he explored certain themes such as that of Mother and Child repeatedly throughout his long career, Miró did so in a variety of media from painting and printmaking to sculpture and ceramics, often achieving surprising and disparate results.
Despite his professed desire to forge a career in the arts, at the behest of his parents, Miró attended the School of Commerce from 1907-10. His relatively brief foray into the business world, characterized by constant study, instilled a strong sense of order and a robust work ethic in Miró but at a very high cost. Following what has been characterized as a nervous breakdown, Miró abandoned his business career and subsequently devoted himself fully to making art.
In 1912, Miró enrolled in an art academy in Barcelona. The school taught Miró about modern art movements in Western Europe and introduced him to contemporary Catalan poets. Miró was also encouraged to go out into the countryside in the midst of the landscapes he wished to paint and to study the artistic practices of his contemporaries. Between 1912 and 1920, Miró painted still-lifes, nudes, and landscapes. His style during this period in his early career has been referred to as “poetic realism.” It was during this phase of his career that Miró developed an interest in the bold, bright colors of the French Fauve painters and the fractured compositions of the Cubists.
In 1919, Miró moved to Paris to continue his artistic development. Due to considerable financial hardship, his life in Paris was difficult at first. When discussing his life during those first lean, early years in Paris, the artist quipped, “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 had any supper.” It seems that physical deprivation enlivened the young Miró’s imagination. “I saw things,” he explained, “and I jotted them down in a notebook. I saw shapes on the ceiling…”
Along with other Surrealist artists like Jean Arp and Yves Tanguy, Miró explored the possibility of creating an entirely new visual vocabulary for art that, while not divorced from the objective world, could exist outside of it. Rather than transitioning to complete abstraction, Miró’s biomorphic forms remained within the bounds of objectivity. However, they were forms of pure invention and were made expressive and imbued with meaning through their juxtaposition with other forms and the artist’s use of color. Much has been made of his influence on the Color Field painters – Robert Motherwell, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, among others; on Alexander Calder, who was a close friend of Miró; and, more recently, on designers Paul Rand, Lucienne Day, and Julian Hatton.
Miró has his own museum in Barcelona located on Montjuic. Do take the time to visit it, most of the collection therein has been donated personally by the artist. It is well worth an hour of your time while in the city!