Joan Miró, Spain
14.5 x 12 inches
Gift of Charles Francis Hendrie Memorial, 1966.183
© Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2015
Reproduction, including downloading of Joan Miro works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
About the Artist
Born in Barcelona in 1893, Joan Miró was destined to be a painter. He enrolled in his first art class at the age of 10 or 11 and was immediately inspired. “That class was like a religious ceremony to me,” he recalled. “I would wash my hands carefully before touching paper or pencils. The instruments of work were sacred objects to me.'' He later studied at La Llotja’s Escola Superior d’Artes i Indústries i Belles Arts (School of Creative Arts and Industries and Fine Arts), and Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc (Artistic Circle of Saint Luke), both in Barcelona, before moving to Paris in the early 1920s.
In Paris, Miró, like some other writers and painters, was inspired by the dreams and free-flowing thoughts of the subconscious mind. Artists within surrealist circles often combined identifiable subject matter with dreamlike settings or morphed recognizable figures into unusual configurations. In Miró’s words, “Surrealism freed the unconscious, exalted desire, endowed art with additional powers. Hallucinations replaced the external model. I painted as if in a dream, with the most total freedom.”
Miró’s life was punctuated by political turmoil across Europe. As a man in his early thirties, he left Spain for Paris during the onset of the Spanish Civil War. Later, he returned to Spain as the Nazis were marching into Paris during World War II. He also saw the rise and fall of Fascism in his beloved home country. Miró’s works are divided in inspiration, from his surroundings in Palma, Mallorca, where his studio was, to a silent, but aggressive, protest against Spain’s oppressive government. ''I have always worked for liberty,'' he said to a friend just before his death at age 90 in 1983. ''Liberty of expression in art is the same as liberty of expression in ideas.”
What Inspired It
Miró’s paintings often started when something set off his imagination. He said, “I begin my paintings because something jolts me away from reality. This shock can be caused by a little thread that comes loose from the canvas, a drop of water that falls, the fingerprint my thumb leaves on the shiny surface of this table.” From there he painted until the work began to “assert itself.” He explained, “A form gives me an idea, this idea evokes another form, and everything culminates in figures, animals, and things I had no way of foreseeing in advance.”
The head of a man floats in the upper left corner of the painting. Miró used thin black lines to outline his elongated face and facial features. Splashes of red, white, and blue punctuate the eyes, nose, mouth, chin, and ears. This representation of a man is more imaginative than realistic. Of this Miró explained, “My figures underwent the same simplification as my colors. Simplified as they are, they are more human and more alive than they would be if represented in all their detail. Represented in detail, they would lose their imaginary quality, which enhances everything.”
Head of Man and Object is composed of several amorphic objects (objects that lack a particular shape or definite form). While they may seem completely abstract, Miró once stated that everything in his paintings stands for something. “For me a form is never something abstract; it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form’s sake.” Since he often did not explain what these shapes stand for, we are left to use our imagination as to what they might be.
Miró’s forms are often seen floating in space. In his words, “The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. I am overwhelmed when I see a crescent moon or the sun in an immense sky. In my paintings there are often tiny forms in vast empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains—everything that has been stripped bare has always made a strong impression on me.”
Miró disregards the horizon line and a distinguishable fore-, middle-, and background in his painting in favor of emphasizing the flat surface of the paper.
Miró described his education by explaining he “learned to draw without seeing, to draw solely from touch. You had to hold an object behind your back and then you had to reproduce it—without having seen it.” With this notion in mind, can you imagine Miró creating his painting this way? The shapes could be drawings of things Miró felt instead of touched. What kind of objects do you think Miró was trying draw?