Joan Miró, Spain
24.5 × 28.5625 × 11 inches
Gift of Sylvia and Joseph Slifka in honor of Frederick R. and Jan Perry Mayer, 2004.71
© 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 once said, “The simplest things inspire me.” For his sculptures, he would use natural materials and discarded objects that he found on his walks in the countryside or along the beach. He would then cast them in bronze. About his inspiration, Miró stated, “Immobility strikes me. This bottle, this glass, a large pebble on a deserted beach, these are motionless things, but they set off great movements in my mind.”
The smallest parts of nature inspired Miró: a blade of grass, a gleam of light, a small pebble on the beach. He explained, “Everyone searches for and paints just the great masses of trees of mountains without hearing the music of little grasses and flowers and without noticing the small stones of a ravine—gracefully.” In Head and Bird, Miró incorporated a twig, tree-trunk, and clay— all things found in nature.
The round, squat head sits atop a tree stump base. Its eyebrows merge together with the nose, and its mouth is composed of a simple cylindrical shape. While the head has human features, Miró’s creation is more imaginative than realistic.
For Miró, birds symbolized the freedom of imagination and were often included in his work. In Head and Bird, a figural representation of a bird is absent. Instead, Miró has placed a plant clipping precariously on the head as if the bird left it there while gathering materials for its nest. The bird has since flown away.
To form his sculptures, Miró used a technique called assemblage (joining together found or unrelated objects). He incorporated materials that he found combing the beach or during walks in the countryside. Miró joined these objects together once a “poetic shock” had occurred between them. After joining the objects, they were cast in bronze, fused forever into an integrated sculptural whole. Miró described his artistic process, stating it was very important to “make a cast of these objects and work on it until the object as such no longer exists but becomes a sculpture.”
Miró used the lost wax process to create his bronze sculptures. This multiple-step process involves making a clay sculpture, covering it in wax to make a mold, making a ceramic shell over the wax mold, and then melting the wax away. What is left is a ceramic shell that Miró could fill with molten bronze. Once the bronze cooled and hardened, Miró was left with a bronze sculpture that was identical to his original clay model.