MIRÓ AND THE EARTH
‘I have always been inspired by nature. As early as 1922 in my Mont-Roig farm, I had been making sculptures from natural shapes such as stones, plants…… These shapes were later covered in plaster and used as models for my first ceramics. The powerful Catalan countryside constituted as essential element of my aesthetic and poetic conception.’ (Joan Miró)
A. In the painting
The quotation allows us to imagine the very first sculptures that Miró created – during the period when he was painting ‘La Ferme’ (the farm) – a major work, which was followed by ‘Le Paysage Catalan’ (Catalan countryside). He always attaches an almost religious respect to natural objects; as much as to man-made objects.
‘La Ferme’ appears as in inventory of everything occupying the artist’s visual field. Every object, animal and figure stands in equal and shadow free light. The central theme of the painting appears to be fertility, but also maternity – the painter pretended he has been working in this painting during nine months, ‘the time to carry a child’. Is it the child, hairless and naked, crouching like an idol statue near a woman leaning over the drinking trough?
‘I must think about this story of the farm. This direct contact with the ground and the people who cultivate it, with the elements attached to it, would be of a great human value to me, it would enrich me as a man and as an artist.’Could it be compared with the numerous ploughing scenes engraved on the rocks of the ‘Vallée des Merveilles’? It seems an obvious comparison.
La ferme, 1921/22
In the Paysage Catalan, Miró develops a new pictorial language, reduced to a few rudimentary signs; geometric shapes and small ‘abbreviations’ of abstract objects, listed by Raymond Queneau as Chinese ideograms. Queneau went as far as to imagine a ‘Miróglyphic’ lexicon on order to learn how to interpret Miró, a pure poetic language. (see footnote)
Thus, only the Catalan farmer’s pipe can be recognised, the rest being reduced to some undulating, dotted or angled lines.
This painting is a great hymn to Miró’s native city and its myths. At the bottom right the letters SARD, forming the beginning of a word, refer on one hand to the Sardane, a Catalan dance, and on the other hand to the sardine, which represents both an important branch of activity and to a symbol of fertility.
Many sexual symbols correspond to the myth of woman, which is deep-rooted in Mediterranean culture – a big round shape on the right, and on the left, above an almond-shaped sign topped by streaming hair – found constantly in Miró’s works.
Almost all the anthropomorphic and human figures, as well as the schematic representations in prehistoric art have sexual organs, which are exaggerated in scale and prominence.
Fecundity cults do not focus narrowly on sexuality as such; rather they have a broad view of procreation and a concern for the transfer and retention of an essential life-energy.Similarly, Miró’s concern was not so much with sexuality or eroticism, but with the continuity of life. Miró states: ‘When I am making a large female sex image, it is for me a goddess, as the birth of humanity.
Paysage Catalan (Le chasseur) – 1923/24
Finally, both inferior and superior halves are so similar in terms of intensity and colour that the painting seems almost not to be divided into sky and earth.
Ubiquity of space implies that there is no fundamental difference between space and solid matter. Nothingness is not inanimate emptiness, but rather becomes an environment in which the formation of substances and the creation of life are natural consequences. Nevertheless space is conceived in a quite ambiguous way, as an external thing, as science teaches that it is present in the smallest particle. This significant paradox for both scientists and poets was marvellously explored by Joan Miró, as it had been in fact so spontaneously by the Bronze Age men in their worship of the Bull God.
Miró expresses the results of his forays in this vast domain through two distinct languages: painting and sculpture.
As a painter he knows how to recognise the details in nature revealing the fundamental unity between great and small, and thus how to achieve a deeper knowledge of these mysteries. Therefore, the apparent size of the objects becomes just an illusion. Imbued by this spirit, he got ahead of spacemen when visiting the Moon – his painting makes us familiar with the movements and tensions that occur in these natural spaces, whose infinity exceeds our understanding. Miró populated the spaces of his own constellations with the snail’s luminous trail. When looking at his painting, we discover that the artist’s concern for detail is but a way to reflect the notion of infinite space.
B.In the sculpture
Because of their three dimensions, Miró tries to bring out the space in the sculptures as if we were in them, and to connect us with the imaginary life which quivers within them.
While the pictorial illusions evoke a sensation of transcendence which goes beyond the materiality of canvasses, sculpture – more earth linked and less ethereal, becomes the tabernacle of life. Thus to the question ‘how do we come to sculpture?’ Miró answered:
‘Through a very close contact with the ground, with stones, with a tree…. a sculpture must hold in open air, in open nature. Once brought closer, these elements must make a whole. If you fly over this sculpture by aeroplane, it must totally merge with its surroundings.’
The Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-De-Vence offered Miró the opportunity to create works within a specifically Mediterranean space scale. ‘Le Labyrinthe’ (The Labyrinth) is a garden made of sculptures and ceramics. It constitutes a topographic plotting of apparently disparate elements gathered together by the artist, which complement or fit with each other like a huge jigsaw. He tames marble in ‘L’oiseau solaire’ (The Solar Bird), naturally comparing the latter to ‘L’oiseau lunaire’ (The Lunar Bird), just as both these stars are inseparable and also so far away. Above, ‘La déesse’ (The Goddess) – made of terracotta of the first period, with a large breast and a strange sex made of a turtle shell – reigns as the mistress of fertility, of soils and of harvests.
The sculptures nestle in a space which they do not seem appropriate for, and this is because of Miró’s choice of a surprising place which allows a comparison between Miró’s ‘Labyrinthe’ and the site of the ‘Vallée des Merveilles’.
Miró’s bronze sculpture is made almost completely of salvaged material. Scrap is an incredibly rich mine of insignificant objects to choose from - Miró’s choice is mostly anthropomorphic.
Bronze unifies the most heterogeneous objects which come mainly from the natural and man-made world. The artist gave them a completely new existence by metamorphosing them through reassembly.
Le Labyrinthe : The great arch, 1963
Pastorale (1923 – 24) gathers a regular repetition of signs and shapes in an apparently simple drawing, which here also led the painter to penetrate the very essence of things. Notable elements:
· The woman with a tulip-shaped dress with one foot emerging. The diviner’s instinct leads Miró where the primordial energy abounds and quivers. There, in the bowels of the earth, he guesses it and makes it sacred. He wrote ‘Power comes through feet’. And this energy answers to the stamp of a bare foot and rises from the earth. It irrigates the whole body, it excites senses and sex and it ignites the painter’s mind.The bull (or cow) dotted with ochre, in the manner of animals painted in prehistoric caves.
La pastorale, 1923/24
La Caresse d’un oiseau (The caress of a bird) gives an impressive demonstration of Miró’s assembling technique – shown below. These pieces, often found by chance, emanated for Miró a primal attraction, a creative instant. Structure and shape launch a chain of combinations, recalling the Surrealist process with which he had got in touch.
‘I need a starting point, even if only a speck or a sparkle. This shape procreates a series of things, each thing creating another one. Thus, a piece of thread can initiate a whole world to me. (….) The matter, the instruments dictate a technique to me, a way of bringing life to a thing. The meeting of matter and instrument produces a shock that is something alive. ’ (Joan Miró)A fabulous being was born this way, whose origin in scraps can hardly be recognised. The tortoise’s shell is transformed into a woman’s knee, the table top into a feminine body, the hat into an indiscreet face, and on the very top a small blue bull sits imposingly, the horns forming the matriarchal crescent of the moon.
Composition (1925) painted during the same period as ‘La couleur des rêves’ (The colour of the dreams) attests his proverbial precision and meticulousness. His apparent minimalism hides an extreme complexity, imposing images as evidence that one could hardly consider as not having always existed.
Here I concentrate on this curious T-shaped figure on a white cloud background, piercing a black point and put on a red shape. The black point with its horned shape could encapsulate by itself through its totally purified style of drawing; all the metaphors about The Bull, from bullfighting to the principal Earth-female, perfectly balancing its opposite sky/male, black whirl shading off to blue.
The whole creation is revealed in this painting when one discovers the perfect harmony of the two original rectangles in the background.
MIRÓ AND THE SKY
‘I am deeply distressed by the spectacle of the sky. I am distressed when I see the crescent of the moon or the sun in the immense sky. In my paintings there are very little shapes in large empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains, I was always impressed by all that is bare. ’ (Joan Miró)
In his large series of Constellations (1940 – 1941), Miró invests in the entirety of space, as if he wants to capture a portion of the vault of heaven without favouring the least point. He creates a cosmos punctuated by stars, moons, suns and various signs that reveal a new poetic richness that influences his ulterior works.
The carefully prepared backgrounds, with restless structures covered with marks, carry a multitude of signs and figures which are all subordinate to a cosmic flow which drags them along and inculcates in them its order. To explain their genesis Miró wrote:I was feeling an ardent desire to escape. I was withdrawing into myself, voluntarily. Night, music and stars begun to play an essential role, they were suggesting paintings to me ’ .
Miró understood the importance of the night, above all because if the freedom it allows, and because of the ambiguities and contrasts it implies. It is the means to escape everyday life, and the artist gave substance to visions coming from the subconscious. His attraction for the inaccessible, his mystic unions with the stars are passionate and lasting emotions, but the way he chooses to express them is visual, well-defined and remarkably efficient.
Le Triptyque Bleu I, II, III, 1961 (The Blue Triptych I, II, III)
‘It took me a long time to make them. Not to paint them but to meditate them. I made a huge effort, a very strong inner effort to reach the required lack of ornamentation…. It was like a celebration of a religious rite, like taking holy orders. This fight exhausted me. These paintings represented the result of all I had tried to do. ’ (Joan Miró)
The big triptych summarises the whole essence of the blue, the deep colour of dreams. This blue endows the universe with a spiritual and soothing dimension, vibrated by some signs – black marks, halos, lines, red shape.
This mystic space refers to a calligrapher, a Zen disciple. The enchantment of the signs was replaced by poetry of space and pure colour, like a haiku (a tree-verse Japanese poem).Miró realises his ideal: ‘a painter setting a poem to music.’
BETWEEN THE SKY AND EARTH: THE SCALE OF EVASION
The notion of a primordial contact between sky and earth – which was later broken – is almost universal.
The different aspects of the symbolism of the scale come down to the unique problem of the relationship between sky and earth. It reveals the symbol of the ascension, and also that of the exchanges between the two worlds. It stands as a unity whereby top and bottom can meet. It indicates a hierarchy, a movement.The scale appears several times as a long vertical column in the iconographic list of Mont Bégo’s engravings. The scale is a recurring motif in Miró’s paintings and even is his sculptures.
In Le chien aboyant à la lune (1926) (Dog barking at the moon), a scale rests on the border of the stretcher set against the curtain of the night. From its summit, a shape is stretching towards a satellite – as if to attain reaching it. Aesthetically speaking the four represented elements allow the eye to turn tirelessly inside the painting, going through this moon which has long represented seduction and the anguish caused by everything we desire that eludes us.
Une étoile caresse le sein d’une négresse (1938) (A star caresses the breast of a Negress.) Not an immediately apparent star track, apart from the red undulation. On the right, the scale remains the only indication of a lost horizon.
Les échelles de l’évasion (1939 – 1940) (The scales of evasion) could be a metaphor for escaping the oppressive political circumstances of that time.
He chose to cope by dreaming of escape and turned to sources of quiet and positive reinforcement. In his art he adopted the ladder as a sign of escape.
Les échelles en roue de feu traversant l’azur (The fire wheel shaped scales crossing the azure) They are signs of the relationship between the artist and the creative forces, and they evoke a very happy, pictorial world.
Miro self Portrait, 1937 and 1940
Miró’s signs come not only from Miró’s time, from his relationships with people, from his childish curiosity for strange beauties of the world, but also from the deep strata of human consciousness in which the archaic structure of these signs originate.
His works, as original as they are familiar, as worrying as they are happy, whose elementary mythology restores a kind of mental pre-history, achieve the wonder of talking possibly the strangest and certainly the most universal language.
‘It is inside man’s behaviour that any work of art is rooted I’d like to refer to my conception of the artist as a person with a particular civil responsibility. In this sense we conceive of the artist as somebody who, in the others’ silence, uses his own voice to tell things that should not be useless, but on the contrary that should be useful to the others… May this voice be prophetic to a certain extent. May this voice be that of the community it belongs to. ’ (Joan Miró, 2nd October, 1979)
In this mission of using an universal language, Miró defended his will of anonymity, that of childhood and of graffiti, and a desire for an immediate and deep communication.
The hypothesis of a correspondence between Miró’s signs and the prehistoric pictures or engravings is of particular interest here, though we must not think about it as a naïve copy, rather as a tie of similarity, like the birth of an antique language still engraved in the body’s memory that could be revived by hallucinatory or meditative states.
Miró is a painter of the beginnings, of the birth and of the metamorphosis of the sign.
‘Miró discovered again the secret of the rupestrian painting hidden in men’s consciousness. Bringing it back to the surface of the most acute actuality, he found the childhood of the art at the level of the contemporary man….. It’s the happiness of the earth – the blood of our flesh – bathed with a unanimous sun, which meets our eyes in its victorious innocence……. Miró does not look at what he leaves behind him. It is rather from the point of view of the action than from that of the contemplation that he intends to use the warbling of things….. ’ (Tristan Tazara, 1948)
Thus, the primitive magic of his art can fit with the dynamism of modern societies. Miró wanted to give back to the aesthetic language its primitive power, to give to the gesture a primordial importance and to draw in one shot only shapes with thick and aggressive lines (his Self-portrait redrawn 1960, Painting 1953, Woman III 1965, Woman in the night 1970….)
‘As for my means of expression, I endeavour to reach more and more clarity to reach power and aesthetic aggressiveness, i.e. to induce first a physical sensation to get thereafter to the soul.’ (Joan Miró)
Could this physical sensation, this famous ‘shock’ recurring in his words, be linked to the physical sensations felt by the Bronze Age men living at the bottom of Mont Bégo which they would have expressed and sublimated in their engravings?
In the same way, were these aesthetic powers and aggressiveness not necessary to the engravers, armed with a quartz tool, in order that three thousand years later one still perceives their spiritual echo in the ‘Vallée des Merveilles’?
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