The accountant-type in the dark suit at art exhibitions certainly did not appear to be a “painting assassin,” but that is what Spanish painter Joan Miro considered himself. About midpoint in his career, he publicly defied the use of conventional painting techniques because of their use as propaganda for the bourgeoisie in favor of his own individual modern style, which his contemporaries called Surrealism. In fact, the founder of Surrealism, Andre Breton, believed him to be “the most Surrealist of us all.”
His works were surreal in that he painted playful and lively, yet simplistic — almost childlike — images in brilliant colors and geometric shapes. However, Miro resisted “Surrealist,” “Dadaist” and any other label.
Miro was born in Barcelona in 1893 and died at the age of 90 in Mallorca (Majorca), Spain’s largest island. He dabbled in painting from the age of 14, and studied art formally for more than six years. In 1918 he put on his first one-man exhibition with works that betrayed elements of Fauvism, Cubism and Catalan folk art.
Two years later, he met Picasso during a visit to Paris, a turning point in his artistic life. Afterwards, he split his time between Spain and Paris, where he mingled with other painters, poets and writers and shifted his style more towards the surreal. His first Paris exhibit was in 1921, where Ernest Hemingway was enthralled by — and purchased — his cubist-surreal “The Farm.”
Miro was a prolific painter with about 2,000 paintings to his credit. Among the most well-known are “The Tilled Field,” 1923, “The Carnival of Harlequin,” 1924, and “Dog Barking at the Moon,”1926. Miro claimed he was literally a starving artist when he painted “The Carnival of Harlequin,” after he went to bed hungry and “saw shapes on the ceiling.”
He continually experimented with media and technique, working in lithography, collage, engraving, sculpture and ceramic. One of his best-kept secrets is a customized glass mosaic installation, “Personnage Oiseaux (Bird Characters)” at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art on the campus of Wichita State University in Kansas. He began this 28-by-52-foot project, comprising a million pieces of Venetian glass and marble, when he was 79 years old and completed it six years later.
While his Ulrich Museum project was underway, he created a bold wool-and-hemp tapestry for the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the 2001 terrorist attack.
In May 2008, Miro’s politically charged “La Caresse des Etoiles” sold at auction in New York for more than $17 million. Interestingly, the painting had been kept from public view since it was completed in Paris in 1938, originally amid fears it would fall into the hands of the German occupiers. Christie’s purchased the painting at the estate sale of a very private New Yorker in 2004.