20 April 1893
25 December 1983
Joan Miró was born in Spain in 1893 to a
family of craftsmen. His father, Miguel,
was a watchmaker and goldsmith, while his
grandfathers were cabinetmakers and blacksmiths.
Perhaps in keeping with his family's artistic
trade, Miró exhibited a strong love of drawing
at an early age; according to biographers,
he was not particularly inclined toward academics.
Rather, Miró pursued art-making and studied
landscape and decorative art at the School
of Industrial and Fine Arts (the Llotja)
Despite his professed desire to forge a career
in the arts, at the behest of his parents,
Miró attended the School of Commerce from
1907-10. His relatively brief foray into
the business world, characterized by constant
study, instilled a strong sense of order
and a robust work ethic in Miró but at a
very high cost. Following what has been characterized
as a nervous breakdown, Miró abandoned his
business career and subsequently devoted
himself fully to making art.
In 1912, Miró enrolled in an art academy
in Barcelona. The school taught Miró about
modern art movements in Western Europe and
introduced him to contemporary Catalan poets.
Miró was also encouraged to go out into the
countryside in the midst of the landscapes
he wished to paint and to study the artistic
practices of his contemporaries. Between
1912 and 1920, Miró painted still-lifes,
nudes, and landscapes. His style during this
period in his early career has been referred
to as "poetic realism." It was
during this phase of his career that Miró
developed an interest in the bold, bright
colors of the French Fauve painters and the
fractured compositions of the Cubists.
In 1919, Miró moved to Paris to continue
his artistic development. Due to considerable
financial hardship, his life in Paris was
difficult at first. When discussing his life
during those first lean, early years in Paris,
the artist quipped, "How did I think
up my drawings and my ideas for painting?
Well, I'd come home to my Paris studio in
Rue Blomet at night, I'd go to bed, and sometimes
I hadn't had any supper." It seems that
physical deprivation enlivened the young
Miró's imagination. "I saw things,"
he explained, "and I jotted them down
in a notebook. I saw shapes on the ceiling..."
Miró was drawn to the Dada and Surrealist
movements. He became friends with the Surrealist
writer André Breton, forming a relationship
that lasted for many years. The Surrealists
were most active in Paris during the 1920s,
having formally joined forces in 1924 with
the publication of their Surrealist Manifesto.
Their members, led by Breton, promoted "pure
psychic automatism," which heavily informed
Miró's work. While the Surrealists experimented
with the irrational in art and writing, Miró's
art manifested these dream-like qualities,
becoming increasingly biomorphic, enigmatic,
To his utter disappointment, Miró's first
solo show in Paris in 1921 was a complete
disaster; he did not sell a single work.
However, a determined Miró went on to participate
in the first Surrealist exhibition in 1925.
He collaborated with the group's members
in the creation of larger commissions, working
with Max Ernst in 1926 on the creation of
Sergei Diaghilev's ballet set designs. In
his own work at the time, Miró painted fantastic
and bizarre interpretations of his dreams.
Miró married Pilar Juncosa in 1929, and their
only child, Dolores, was born in 1931. His
career flourished during this time. In 1934,
Miró's art began to be exhibited in both
France and the United States. He was still
residing in Paris when war broke out in Europe,
and by 1941 Miró was forced to flee to Mallorca
with his family. Perhaps not surprisingly,
warfare and political tension were prominent
themes in his art during this period; his
canvases became increasingly grotesque and
brutal. Concurrently, Miró's first retrospective
was held at the MoMA in New York City to
great acclaim. His renown continued to grow
both in America and Europe, culminating in
a large-scale mural commission in Cincinnati
in 1947. Miró's simplified forms and his
life-long impulse toward experimentation
inspired a generation of American artists,
the Abstract Expressionists, whose emphasis
on non-representational art signaled a major
shift in artistic production in the U.S.
In the 1950s, Miró began dividing his time
between Spain and France. A large exhibition
of 60 of Miró's works was held at the Gallerie
Maeght in Paris and subsequently at the Pierre
Matisse Gallery in New York in 1953. By the
mid-1950s, Miró had begun working on a much
larger scale, both on canvas and in ceramics.
In 1959, Miró along with Salvador Dalí, Enrique
Tabara, and Eugenio Granell participated
in Homage to Surrealism, an exhibition in
Spain organized by André Breton. The 1960s
were a prolific and adventurous time for
Miró as he continued to break away from his
own patterns, in some instances revisiting
and reinterpreting some of his older works.
While he never altered the essence of his
style, his later work is recognized as more
mature, distilled, and refined in terms of
As Miró aged, he continued to receive many
accolades and public commissions. In 1974,
he was commissioned to create a tapestry
for New York's World Trade Center, demonstrating
his achievements as an internationally renowned
artist as well as his place in popular culture.
He received an honorary degree from the University
of Barcelona in 1979. Miró died at his home
in 1983, a year after completing Woman and
Bird, a grand public sculpture for the city
of Barcelona; the work was, in a sense, the
culmination of a prolific career so profoundly
integral to the development of Modern art.
Along with other Dada and Surrealist artists
like Jean Arp and Yves Tanguy, Miró explored
the possibility of creating an entirely new
visual vocabulary for art that, while not
divorced from the objective world, could
exist outside of it. Rather than transitioning
to complete abstraction, Miró's biomorphic
forms remained within the bounds of objectivity.
However, they were forms of pure invention
and were made expressive and imbued with
meaning through their juxtaposition with
other forms and the artist's use of color.
Much has been made of his influence on the
Color Field painters - Robert Motherwell,
Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and Mark
Rothko, among others; on Alexander Calder,
who was a close friend of Miró; and, more
recently, on designers Paul Rand, Lucienne
Day, and Julian Hatton.
The Surrealist movement began as a literary
group strongly allied to Dada, emerging in
the wake of the collapse of Dada in Paris,
when André Breton's eagerness to bring purpose
to Dada clashed with Tristan Tzara's anti-authoritarianism.
Breton, who is occasionally described as
the 'Pope' of Surrealism, officially founded
the movement in 1924 when he wrote "The
Surrealist Manifesto." However, the
term "surrealism," was first coined
in 1917 by Guillaume Apollinaire when he
used it in program notes for the ballet Parade,
written by Pablo Picasso, Leonide Massine,
Jean Cocteau, and Erik Satie.
Around the same time that Breton published
his inaugural manifesto, the group began
publishing the journal La Révolution surréaliste,
which was largely focused on writing, but
also included art reproductions by artists
such as de Chirico, Ernst, Arnold Böcklin,
André Masson, and Man Ray. Publication continued
The Bureau for Surrealist Research or Centrale
Surréaliste was also established in Paris
in 1924. This was a loosely affiliated group
of writers and artists who met and conducted
interviews to "gather all the information
possible related to forms that might express
the unconscious activity of the mind."
Headed by Breton, the Bureau created a dual
archive: one that collected dream imagery
and one that collected material related to
social life. At least two people manned the
office each day - one to greet visitors and
the other to write down the observations
and comments of the visitors that then became
part of the archive. In January of 1925,
the Bureau officially published its revolutionary
intent that was signed by 27 people, including
Breton, Ernst, and Masson.
There were two styles or methods that distinguished
Surrealist painting. Artists such as Dalí,
Tanguy, and Magritte painted in a hyper-realistic
style in which objects were depicted in crisp
detail and with the illusion of three-dimensionality,
emphasizing their dream-like quality. The
color in these works was often either saturated
(Dalí) or monochromatic (Tanguy), both choices
conveying a dream state.
Several Surrealists also relied heavily on
automatism or automatic writing as a way
to tap into the unconscious mind. Artists
such as Miró and Ernst used various techniques
to create unlikely and often outlandish imagery
including collage, doodling, frottage, decalcomania,
and grattage. Artists such as Arp also created
collages as stand-alone works.
Hyperrealism and automatism were not mutually
exclusive. Miro, for example, often used
both methods in one work. In either case,
however the subject matter was arrived at
or depicted, it was always bizarre - meant
to disturb and baffle.
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