by Joan Miro, Spanish Surrealist, 1938
Imagine yourself at the beach on a hot summer’s day. You are walking barefoot on scorching red-hot sand. The bright sun fills the sky and seems so intense that it feels like fire on your skin. The deep blue water is broken up only with the stark white tips of the waves as they hit the shore, inviting you to jump in and cool off. Spanish artist Juan Miro portrayed such a day in his painting, “Summer.”
With temperatures across the United States topping 100 degrees, people are flocking to the water to stay cool amidst the heat. As I considered famous art that relates to the heat of summer, Miro’s “Summer” immediately came to mind.
Art that tantalizes the senses is a topic I discuss with my students. Paintings such as Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow” (covered in a previous blog) evoke a feeling of COLD in the viewer. Likewise, the feeling of intense HEAT is evoked by Miro’s painting of “Summer.”
Surrealism & Miro
Surrealism was one of the many artistic movements of the early 20th century. Surrealists used methods to “free the creative process from reliance on the kind of conscious control they believed society had shaped too much.” (Think of the art of Surrealist artist Salvador Dali whose “melting clock” painting is highlighted in my blog.)
Fantasy and hallucinations are elements contained in much of the work of Juan Miro (mi-ROH). Considered by some critics and fellow artists as “the most Surrealist of the Surrealists,” he resisted being associated with any movement or group. Miro described his creative process as “a switching back and forth between unconscious and consciousness image-making: ‘Rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush…. The first stage is free, unconscious…. The second stage is carefully calculated.‘” (Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Global History, 14th edition. 879).
Joan Miro (1893-1983), Spanish painter, sculpture and ceramicist was born in Barcelona, Spain but lived also in France and the USA where he worked on tapestries, ceramics, sculptures and abstract paintings.
Miro in his studio (photo by Hans Namuth)
Miro’s Legacy & Influence
Miro’s work is, in many ways, childlike. It is the style of art that people may scoff at and comment that “any child could do that.” And maybe they could. But Miro also did it, became famous, and his artwork is in museums and permanent collections around the world. Two museums are dedicated solely to his work: Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona, Spain (1975) and Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro in Palma, Mallorca (1981). His influence was significant on late 20th century art, especially American abstract expressionist artists such as Calder, Pollock and Rothko as well as lyrical abstractions and color field painters.
Miro at the Mia
“Head of a Woman” by Miro (1938) at the Mia.
This colorful, bazaar painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) always catches the eyes of my art history students when we study this period of art. It is typically one of those artworks voted as a “least favorite” of the tour when asked to rank their preferences. Why? It evokes emotions that may be unpleasant. I agree that it is not the most flattering portrait of a woman, and wonder what the model thought of his rendition of her!
The Artist & Mental Health
The relation between creativity and metal illness is very well studied. Many creative individuals experience bouts of depression and this is reflected in their art; Miro is no exception. A clear connection is seen between his paintings and his mental health. His writings share that he experienced episodes of extreme, often debilitating, depression throughout his life. In an interview with Francis Lee (Possibilities. New York, August 1947), Miro admitted that he became ‘‘very depressed, gloomy… I get ‘black ideas’, and I do not know what to do with myself.” He used painting as a way of dealing with it; the process made him more calm, and his thoughts less dark. Painting was definitely Miro’s way of dealing with his mental health.
“Persistence of Memory” by fellow Surrealist painter Salvador Dali is discussed in this blog.
Feelings of cold as seen in “Hunters in the Snow” by Northern Renaissance painter Bruegel are discussed in this blog.