Ceramist, sculptor, painter – Words commonly associated with Joan Miró, these are familiar descriptions of one of the most imaginative and influential artists of the 20th century. An artist who encapsulated almost every art movement conceivable, conquering surrealism and realism, commandeering primitivism to fauvism, the world recognized and loved Miró for his passion, whimsy and dedication, and most certainly for the undeniable influence he had on the art world, in the past, present and future.
Servant, fighter, pacifist – How do these roles also fit within the world of Joan Miró? Born to a family of craftsmen in 1893 in Barcelona during a period of social and civil unrest, Miró was thrust into an environment facing rapid industrialization and vast political changes., and these turbulent circumstances became familiar themes throughout the course of his life.
It was a chaotic world Miró lived in, during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, all bristling within the angst of two World Wars. At home, he faced protests in the form of his watchmaker father, who encouraged him to be a businessman, a proposition and lifestyle Miró whole-heartedly protested against.
A brief respite came in 1911, when Miró’s father bought a small farm in the coastal Catalan village of Montroig on the outskirts of Barcelona, where the young artist spent his formative years cocooned in nature. Leaving Barcelona behind for summers in retreat, the juxtaposition between the city and countryside proved to have a fundamental effect on the life and later choices of the young artist.
The years in Montroig allowed Miró to develop an ability to internalize, churn and process his inner conflicts, expressing them through the creation of organic shapes and rich landscapes filled with bright, uninhibited forms. As whimsical as they might have appeared, Miró’s creations carried the weight of metaphor and meaning, brimming with intent and passion. He never allowed content or context to be left behind and there was always a deeper message to his seemingly simple compositions, as a tangible response to the chaotic world around him.
Miró’s works from these precious summers spent in the oasis of Montroig were not only rich in powerful and emotive details, they formed the foundation for his life-long love of colours and organic forms. Retreating to the safe-haven of his imagination, Miró was able to escape from the battles around him, thus creating a personal language, a distinct way of communicating with the world through his art, evident in the tension between his poetic impulses and his insight of the true harshness of life around him.
As Miró continued to spend his life experimenting with forms of art and expression, his style continued to evolve in response to the world around him, but he never veered from his profound concern for humanity and a sense of personal identity.
A beautiful example of a work inspired by this period is “The Farm”, painted in 1922 – The work unfailingly embraced cubism, abstraction and primitivism, and most importantly, it was a detailed reflection of Miró’s memories. The eminent owner of the painting, author Ernest Hemingway describes the painting perfectly: “It has in it all you feel about Spain, when you are there, and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there.”
Throughout all the unrest, Miró’s undiluted passion for his home country was the force majeure which kept him afloat. Indeed, he was able to incorporate elements of joy, curiosity and innocence on his canvases while navigating emotional landscapes, all the while embracing his Spanish soul and keeping his humanism alive.
“The artist is a man who must go beyond the individualistic stage and struggle to reach the collective stage, he must go further than the self – strip himself of his individuality, leave it behind, reject it – and plunge into anonymity.” – Joan Miró