The Invisible Visible 21 January 2018

This article, written by Giulia Privitelli, is the second in a series of essays on Picasso and Miró that will be published periodically, leading up to the exhibition, Picasso & Miró: The Flesh & The Spirit, in April 2018.

'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

The Spanish 20th century artist, Joan Miró (1929-1983), had a great love for the natural world, for the objects that populate it and the essence of the earth, 'for the calligraphy of a tree, leaf by leaf, branch by branch, blade of grass by blade of grass, tile by tile.' In other words, Miró was intrigued by the easily overlooked mundane details which pepper the external world, and instead drew them up as microcosmic constellations in a field of paint. This is Miró’s universe which, in a deeply human and spiritual way extends into our own. And this same universe is described in a collection of painted works which shall be brought over to Malta between April and June 2018 for an exhibition celebrating Picasso & Miró: The Flesh and the Spirit, organized by Fundación MAPFRE, in collaboration with the Office of the President of Malta and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti.

This exhibition, which is a satellite of a major international project Picasso-Méditerranée, aims to present the 20th century dilemma of creation – that aesthetic expression which allows us to encounter and question those most profound reasons of "seeing" – through a suite of hundred etchings by Pablo Picasso and some forty paintings by Joan Miró, eleven years his junior. Here, art may be seen as a practice which is, ironically, not quite a matter of creating images, as much as it is a reflection of the manner in which human, subjective eyes perceive reality. It thus, allows for an infinite number of perspectives with which our consciousness may interact, leading us to ask questions on what it means to look, to see, and to engage with the visible details of our world, with the most profound "hidden" secrets of their origin, and the reasons of why they exist. In this way, the works largely refer to a symbolic dimension, and yet, are wholly a celebration of the visible world, even though we might not recognize anything of what is depicted.

Therefore, the contemplation of such art work cannot be reduced to mere aesthetic beauty, to the pleasure of recognizing beautiful and harmonious forms. Each art work, in its own way, becomes a journey of discovery into the profound nature of things. 'Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible,' would maintain German expressionist Paul Klee. Wassily Kandinsky too, like Miró, explicitly delved into the relationship between the spirit and art, wherein the spirit is taken to manifest itself in the dynamic harmony of colour and forms, at the cost of mimetic representation.

If in the 20th century the concept of representation was put into question in order to affirm that art ought no longer limit itself to the depiction of human events, it allowed instead for the emergence of an archaic, somewhat "mythic" image – an independent image which does not belong to any particular belief, religion or movement. As Miró himself puts it: '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 form becomes a sign for a woman or a bird as I work.'

But for Miró, the image was never quite about the visual result. Rather, this method of searching for an image reveals an affinity to a special kind of symbolic order, that is, the representation bears similarity to something which is born from those silent, dark and deep recesses of human origin, and the human mind. It is there where Miró finds his best expression: 'in the noise hidden in silence, the movement in immovability, life in inanimate things, the infinite in the finite, forms in a void, and myself in anonymity.' In this way, such images refer to a common primitive ancestry which are able, even, to transport us back to that enigmatic way of seeing and experiencing the imagined, yet heightened real world within the cave.

Much like Picasso’s minotaur, or Miró’s monsters, the idol, the beast and the unrecognizable motif are primordial images whose expressive power intensely emanates outwards. It is they who have a hold over the viewer. It is they who are in control. They are works which have the strength to draw us back in to our humanity, to the flesh of our limited selves. Like Miró who gazes upon the immense sky and allows it to overwhelm him by its spectacle, we too - the viewers - can only but observe, contemplate and wonder at what we do not have the tools to understand.

Picasso and Miró: The Flesh and the Spirit is being organised by Fundación MAPFRE in collaboration with the Office of the President of Malta and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, and shall be open to the public on 7th April till 30th June 2018 at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, Malta.

Written by Giulia Privitelli
This article was published on the 21 January 2018 on The Sunday Times of Malta.