Some works by Joan Miró may provoke certain on-lookers to remark, “A child could have done that.” To which, I do not believe Miro would have been completely insulted. In fact, years of process brought Miró to the simplicity and the innocence of the art he sought. Keep in mind that the words simple and innocent do not mean childish, even if child-like.
To begin, Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893. In 1919, a transitional year for Dadaism and Surrealism, Miró moved to Paris to be with his favorite artists and poets. He read Mallarmé and Baudelaire. He titled his works in French because that was the language of his favorite poets.
Poetry became a support of Miró's artistic exploration. He studied words so that those words could transmute themselves onto his canvases as letters or as symbolic shapes. As with poetry, a good poet must know the rules to be able to break them effectively. Likewise, a true artist is trained classically to be able to explode that education effectively. Miró's cubist work certainly does not resemble his later work, but he needed that stage to evolve. Looking at the full picture of his artistic journey, the eye witnesses the progression of straight-edges into the dreaminess of his curved line.
The start of this exhibition unveils how some of his forms literally took shape - by taking on the contour of print images he cut and pasted into collages. He would eventually paint the placement and form of the cutouts onto a canvas. Beyond black lines on a white background, his primary colors bleed behind the dark outbursts in his subsequent series.
As with many exhibitions, the viewer starts to recognize patterns, colors and lines unique to each artist. We, as spectators, can experience the personal journey of the artist. Miró had been studying art in Paris. The formality of that education gave him the yearning to reach out, stretch out, find a freedom. During the fearsome years of fascism and war, Miró went to the Normandy coast. He would peer out to the black sky above the sea. His anger and frustration during this period created Constellations. The vibrant colors would always be present in Miró's work. However, the war years splashed more black - his personal explosions against the fascist regime. As the enemy entered France, Miró moved back to Barcelona.
Advancing in his personal quest for freedom, Miró reached a point where he had had enough of painting. Still by every means an artist, he experimented with different materials like a poet explores different sounds and rhythms. He used cardboard, metal, fabric, rope, among others. He burned, molded, disfigured, manipulated the materials as if he were searching for their essence, and at the same time, his own. Half-way through the exhibition, the patron can see the evolution from painting to tapestry. A collage of fabrics and materials replace his canvases and acrylics.
Down the next hall, color starts to seep back into the foreground. Miró's colors provide meaning. For example, blue represents the spiritual while green represents the material.The artist enters his last years of life fully aware of them. He strives then to master the art of simplicity. To paraphrase, he once said that the line on the canvas may seem simple, may not have taken long to produce, but the idea behind the movement had taken him years to master. This statement is evident after his trips to Japan. In that far away land, he comes closer to home, to his inner freedom to produce a precise stroke of the brush or of the bamboo pen.
This tightness and sparseness of line and form could have only arose from his life's journey. From collage, through poetry and text, into forms atop which splotches a black scream, Miró stretches and tightens and controls the end product. He returns to a humble canvas and paints with respect the final strokes of his life. Helas, when someone looks at a work by Miró, he might say it looks like a child would have or could have done the same. And as far as the artist's reaction to that, Miró might be all too content to hear it.
In the end, art is never above a child's grasp. The organization, Art Basics for Children (ABC), has masterly set up artistic stations on the bottom floor of ING to grab onto young creativity and encourage the exploration of different techniques and styles unique to Miró. In this sense, a visit to the Miró exhibition at ING is a worthwhile outing – either as a quick run-through during your lunch hour or as an afternoon destination for the whole family.
Hopefully, this taste of Miró entices an interest to see the collection of Miró at the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. I had first visited the foundation in 2004 after having already an appreciation for the artist. I was in absolute amazement of so many of his masterpieces in one place. I was thrilled yet again to pop into the Espace Culturel ING and bask in a small part of Miró's world.
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