Barking up the wrong moon? It would be more exact to say that through surrealism, Joan Miro discovered himself. It was as if he suddenly had heard spoken aloud the thoughts he had not even dared to formulate in silence. Andre Breton’s “Manifesto of Surrealism” of 1924 proclaimed the legitimacy of the revolt against reason, extolled the inviolability of imagination, and asserted the superiority of unconscious over conscious activity. Against the sublime, surrealism set up the subliminal. Primitives, madmen- all those who had not cut themselves off from the pure source of irrationality- were vindicated. “There are fairy tales to be written for grownups,” Breton wrote.
Miro must have thought that Breton’s words were addressed especially to him. Be a dreamer , the surrealist doctrine preached, and it added: be a child. “The man who plunges into surrealism exaltedly re-experiences the best part of his childhood.” Miro’s later work, with its startling juxtapositions and continuous transformations, was to be a constant illustration of the psychoanalytic principle adopted by the surrealists: free association. Here was the way out of the prismic prison of cubism.”I shall break guitars,” Miro announced. Surrealism provided him with the tools. For less talented artists, surrealism was an end; for Miro, it constituted a means- a kind of calisthenics to reactivate spiritual muscles that had become atrophied through idleness.
But liberty did not come at once. In paintings like “The Tilled Field” ( 1923-24) the old elements are not replaced but simply rearranged- taken apart, shuffled, and recomposed. Gradually, however, the actors are set into motion by free association, a step forward that no naive painter has ever been able to take: the naive can only add things, and Miro had learned to multiply them. Strange creatures begin to appear, frightening even to their creator. To make them acceptable, Miro turned them into toys: a key is stuck into them to permit winding. Soon, however,Miro was seized altogether by the new forces that he had deliberately unleashed. Picture upon picture was now swiftly completed. In them, the fresh, unheard-of universe that had made Miro famous was born.
Yet surrealism does not imply, in Miro’s case, repudiating reality. Far from it. The first time he showed a painting to the poet Paul Eluard, the latter exclaimed : “Oh what a pretty sun!” “its a potato,” Miro replied, obviously vexed. Miro was not one of those timid visionaries who could dream only with their eyes closed. “Miro” in Spanish means “I look.” Miro absorbs the spectacle of the outside world with avidity, although he did not see it with quite the same eyes as the ordinary mortal. He was prompt to discern that wandering and always elusive point at which reality-any reality-turns into magic.
This aptitude for grasping the magic lurking within reality is the fundamental characteristic of Catalonia and its people. It is in Barcelona or Montroig that we encounter the spirit and the ingredients of Miro’s art at grass-roots level. Everywhere the ancient, ineradicable, popular spirit manifests itself with vivid immediacy and an almost expressionist violence. Fantasy and anarchy run wild in the Barcelona world of Miro in the raw with little distinction drawn between the real and the false.
In the realm of art, the fantasy of the metaphysical, there is a certain affinity between Miro and Chagall. Miro’s earliest and most lasting impression was provided by the frescoes of medieval Catalonia from when came the brutal straightforwardness of statement often bordering on the grotesque, the cartoonlike. Their content too, is typically Catalan with its jocose cruelty and the ability of its forms to interplay and transform indefinitely.Hell and the Apocalypse were, of course, favorite themes for the artists. We meet men sizzling in the cauldron and
st of other ingenious tortures. …
Chagall is paired with Joan Miró as one of the two great artists of the century whose work is personal, emotional, and, in the case of Miró, often highly abstracted; yet is still understood and appreciated by a large cross section of the public. Picasso is different. He dazzles by his virtuosity of composition and variety of styles. Ultimately, however, Picasso is cerebral. Chagall and Miró, instead appeal to our feelings through color and emotion. Lionello Venturi wrote: “Chagall wanted an art of the soil, and not of the intellect. That is, he refused to follow the intellectual process he did not understand, and remained faithful to the soil-to his own feelings, his own imagination, his memories of his village, of his beloved people and cows. He wanted to revolutionize not the physical but the psychic form of reality.”