To Infinity and Beyond: a journey with Joan Miró 01 May 2018

‘The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. I’m overwhelmed when I see, in an immense sky, the crescent of the moon, or the sun. There, in my pictures, tiny forms in huge empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains – everything which is bare has always greatly impressed me.’
- Joan Miró

I imagine Joan Miró, as a passenger on a plane, would not peel his eyes away from the small porthole-like window. He would try to catch a glimpse of the ‘crescent of the moon,’ the amber yolk of the setting sun; or perhaps he’d simply allow himself to wander in the star-pitted sky, reflected in the white crests of the sea beneath, and in the faltering lights where human life could be. He would look at them and marvel at how distant and detached they were, at how small they appeared to be, in boundless space, utterly free.

Currently on show at the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta, is an exhibition that aims to present the twentieth-century dilemma of creation – that aesthetic expression which allows us to encounter and question those most profound reasons of seeing, of feeling, of being, even – through a suite of hundred etchings by Pablo Picasso and some forty paintings by Joan Miró, eleven years his junior. But the two Spaniards’ work could not be visually and emotively any more different from each other’s. Indeed, they seem to approach this struggle from two ends of the spectrum.

Whereas Picasso, in The Vollard Suite, etches his way through a volatile, carnal affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, as if in a heated fit to both fix and liberate her elusive image while affirming his creative prowess; Miró abandons the metaphorical ship, and heads for the stars in a trance-like dream. The marks and signs, which he applies with naïve-like wonder, float about in empty space, akin to the primitive markings on the inner walls of prehistoric caves, as if responding to some other kind of natural order, some other kind of consciousness. In other words, and as portrayed in this exhibition, Picasso obsesses over his emotional and psychological ties experienced in this world, whereas Miró seeks to liberate himself from them in order to reach some form of universal truth about them.

In a way, both Picasso and Miró had to die many deaths in order to free those images which haunted them the most; to let their creative spirit roam freely. For Miró, the latter was perhaps of greater importance; Picasso was not about to completely relinquish control. ‘Picasso spoke about this openly with Jacqueline [Roque/Picasso], who told me [Miró]: “He’s very worried. Death is a phantom he cannot shake.” But this had nothing to do with religion. It was the idea of dying that worried him in a very Spanish way. Not Catalan, Spanish! Personally, I don’t give a darn about it! It doesn’t worry me in the slightest! I don’t even think about it! It’s just too bad, you know!’

Miró so far as claimed that he ‘had to stop being Miró, that is, a Spanish painter belonging to a society limited by national boundaries and social and bureaucratic conventions. In other words, one must move towards anonymity.’ He had to stop being Miró. Such is the irony of things. For the more the artist tried to move towards ‘anonymity’ the more iconic of “Miró” his works became. ‘To become fully human, a person must free himself from his false self,’ he insisted. But how was all this translated into paint?

Following the Second World War, Miró focused his efforts entirely on severing any form of link with traditional subject matter, symbols, ideas and conventions on beauty and on what art should or should not be. He literally, and in his own words, wanted ‘to destroy, destroy everything that exists in painting.’ He wanted ‘to break the guitar,’ in an obvious reference to Picasso’s increasing popular works, commercial demand and fame. The majority of Miró’s works on display in the exhibition coincide precisely with this rebellion. They are works characterized by impulsive and destructive gestures, conscious accidents, indifferent dribbles of paint, and unorthodox supports and materials. In other words, painting as it had come to be, disgusted him profoundly and he would do anything in his power to cleanse it, to restore it to its primitiveness when none of the theories and aesthetics of picture-making applied. His signs refer to nothing, if not themselves.

For Miró - as a twentieth-century Spanish artist reacting and freeing himself from a rotting political and economic system, from a grounded and stagnant way of thinking and seeing, from all that he knew or was brought up to know – this was a bold plunge into the unknown. ‘Personally I do not know where we are heading,’ and yet Miró’s works read like some astronomical map, certain of the adventure it promises but not of the destination. That is freedom, and most of it, like the cosmos, is indeed just full of empty space.

So, should you allow it dear traveller, may Miró’s art - as a fellow traveller and pilgrim - accompany you on your own journey and search for freedom.

‘Picasso and Miró: The Flesh and The Spirit is an exhibition organized by Fundación MAPFRE in collaboration with the Office of the President of Malta and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti. The exhibition forms part of an international initiative by the Musée Picasso in Paris, Picasso-Méditerranée. The exhibition is open to the public until 30th June 2018 at The Grandmasters' Palace, Valletta.

This entry was published in the Air Malta in-flight magazine, Il-Bizzilla, for the month of May 2018.

Written by Giulia Privitelli