Today I attended a lecture by Dr. Nancy Heller at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about Joan Miro. Dr. Heller was a great speaker - she shared alot of knowledge, slides of Miro's works and her wonderful sense of humor with us. Here is a recap of my notes plus some images I found on the internet:
First, Joan Miro is a man, not a woman named "Joan." Miro is from the Catalan region of Spain and his first name is a variation of Juan or John. It is pronounced zhu (long u)-on (just like the word). The accent is on the second syllable. It almost sounds like saying "shoe on."
Miro grew in in Barcelona which was one of the art centers of the world, Paris and New York being the others. Although he took business classes to please his practical parents, he took art classes at night for himself. He did have a job in the business field but he was miserable, took some time off, and never went back. His mind was made up and no one was going to change it. He was going to be an artist!
Those who knew him described him as quiet and genial. This was quite the contrast to his works of art which are "wild and crazy." Miro once said he was better at emotionally reacting to his subject matter, than at depicting it realistically. He enjoyed avant garde art and experimental poetry. Going against convention appealed to him.
Miro was a "modernist" artist ahead of his time. His works were surreal and cubist before these styles became "movements." He was a painter, sculptor and illustrator. He also worked with bronze, ceramics and tapestries as well as designed sets and costumes for theater and ballet with Max Ernst. He literally has thousands of works to his credit. Miro's Spanish contemporaries were Salvadore Dali and Pablo Picasso. He was befriended by Ernest Hemingway.
Some people refer to his work as being "abstract" but he argued otherwise, stating every single subject and detail is derived from nature. That being said, "surrealism" is a better word for his works. It might be hard to figure out what something is sometimes, but everything exists in our world - it's just very distorted in form and color.
Most of Miro's works can be described as surreal or cubist. Sometimes he combined both styles in one picture. Sometimes he even threw in a little realism. Miro was consistently inconsistent. He loved to mix things up. He also loved to fill pictures with lots of detail and sometimes letters or words.
Miro's works were mostly fun and playful but during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's his works are a little bit scary, even monsterous looking. When this war broke out, Miro was visiting Paris. He was unable to return home for several years. During the 1960's he went through a "minimalist" phase and, in the late 1970's, he worked with the theater designing sets, costumes, brochures and posters.
Because Miro owned cats, they appear quite often as subjects or details within a picture. There are also alot of dogs and birds in his works. His Catalan heritage also shows up in his pictures - the landscape, the barretina, a droopy-topped hat popular in Catalan, shows up sometimes as a hat, sometimes as a design. Miro also liked to depict the Sardana dance - just look for a circle of people holding hands somewhere in a painting. The bright yellow painting (above) has the letters "Sard."
Here is a nice video of Miro's works plus some wonderful music. Sit back and enjoy!
Here's a video of the Sardana dance, a popular folk dance: