Joan Miró i Ferrà—better known as Joan Miró—was a Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramicist who used simple shapes and symbols to form a complex and novel visual grammar. Miró's inventive style was extremely influential in the development of avantgarde art throughout his lifetime, and he remains one of the best-known artists of the 20th century.
Miró initially attended both business school and the Escola Superior d'Arts Industrials i Belles Arts in Barcelona. However, after his studies and while working as a clerk, he contracted typhoid fever, and after a period of convalescence, decided to focus on art-making. From 1915 to 1919 he painted landscapes, portraits and nudes, largely at his family's home on Majorca. During this period, he experimented with a range of influences including fauvism and cubism, and the works of Vincent van Gogh and Cézanne. In The Waggon Tracks (1918), for example, Miró depicted a verdant desert landscape; the sense of motion in the greenery is reminiscent of movement Van Gogh's landscapes convey, while he also utilises the bright palette common to fauvism. In Portrait of Juanita Obrador (1918), on the other hand, Miró presents the budding angularity of cubism and maintains a visibility of brushstrokes akin to Cézanne. While sampling from various sources, the paintings remain something uniquely Miró's own, though with only a hint of the artist's distinct visual style to come.
During the early stages of his career, Miró was attracted to the inclinations of subterfuge found in the Dada movement. In 1923, he began to transition to a visual language more explicitly composed of signs and increasingly separated from representation or reality. He joined the Surrealists in 1924 and would later be described by lead surrealist André Breton as 'the most surrealist of us all'. Miró was also a leader among the associated artists in explorations of the subconscious, particularly with automatic drawing. Most of his paintings began as automatic drawings in an attempt to escape the conventions of representation and the painting medium itself. Describing his 1925 painting The Birth of the World, Miró said 'Rather than setting out to paint something I began painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush... The first stage is free, unconscious.'
In each of his works, Miró is highly selective of which formal features of the landscape to accentuate, and which to discard. A prime example of Miró's poetic rendering of everyday scenes, The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) (1923–4) shows the Catalan landscape reduced into flattened planes. Minimal symbols represent the animals and vegetation; the titular hunter has been pared down to a bare few set of lines against a flat pink that represents the ground and a flat yellow that represents the sky.
In 1928, Miró visited the Netherlands and became interested in the Dutch masters. He brought home a set of postcards from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and began a series of three paintings that combined the Dutch regional style with his own unique visual vocabulary. In Dutch Interior (I), a painting by Hendrick Martensz Sorgh is transitioned from an atmospheric image of a lute player performing for a woman to an energetic gathering of symbols across a flattened picture plane. Some aspects—such as the man's collar—have been accentuated, while others—such as the woman at the table—have been diminished or replaced. In this series, Miró's direct references to other images allow the audience to follow his path of inventive abstraction.
In the late 1920s, Miró became interested in the idea of the 'assassination of painting', within which he sought to escape or even destroy the traditions of bourgeois art and instead pursue more experimental forms. A work exemplary of this period, Painting (1936) was made with a mixture of gravel, sand and oil paint. The artist assured his dealer that rather than the work being ruined if some of the materials came loose when it was sent to an exhibition, the loss would 'make the surface . . . look like an old crumbling wall, which will give great force to the formal expression.' In this period, he also experimented in collage and sculptural assemblage, as well as making costumes for ballet and over 250 artist books.
Throughout his entire career, Miró's Spanish and Catalan nationalism remained a key influence to his work. His 1921 pastoral painting The Farm lovingly depicts a rural scene. Ernest Hemingway, who purchased the piece, spoke highly of its level of accomplishment: 'It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.' At the time of the Spanish Civil War, Miró was living in Paris. Even at a distance the artist was very affected by the tragedy and tumult going on in his home country, and was inspired to employ social criticism in his art. Works of this period also became more representational, such as in T__he Reaper—a mural for the Spanish Republic's pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition of 1937 that showed a peasant revolt.
Miró was also known for his Surrealist sculptures. His earliest pieces were formed out of collections of found objects, such as Object (1936), whose media list is lengthy: 'stuffed parrot on wood perch, stuffed silk stocking with velvet garter and doll's paper shoe suspended in hollow wood frame, derby hat, hanging cork ball, celluloid fish and engraved map.' In the mid-1940s he turned towards ceramic work, for which he embraced the full materiality of clay, often making intentionally imperfect pieces. The height of Miró's ceramics success was perhaps his two murals for Paris' UNESCO building, Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun (1958), which were given a Guggenheim International Award. These murals are composed of brick-like tiles that together bring shape to a colourful set of symbols, including the titular moon. Indeed, throughout his life Miró produced many large-scale public sculptures throughout the world, and as well as Paris his works can be found in the public spaces of cities such as Chicago, Madrid and Barcelona (where the Fundació Joan Miró is also located).
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