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One of the most influential Catalan-born artists of the 20th century, Joan Miró (1893-1983) came from a long line of hardworking craftsmen before eventually becoming one himself. Born in Barcelona, his father was a silversmith and watchmaker and his mother the daughter of a cabinet maker from Palma the Mallorca. Even at the age of 82, he could still be found finger painting in his atelier. The following are nine facts about one of Spain’s most treasured artists.
When Joan Miró was only seven years old, his career as an artist was already taking off. He generally did quite poorly in primary school, although not during the drawing classes he attended, where he already showed the signs of his ability – his earliest surviving drawings date from 1901! A few years later, it would be his teacher who would encourage him to join Lonja School of Fine Arts in Barcelona.
Miró’s parents gave him the same advice many parents still give to their children these days: being an artist does not guarantee an easy living. Averse to the risks involved, his parents did not want him to become an artist. His father, Miquel Miró Adzerias, had been a craftsman himself and knew of the difficulties. Following his parents’ advice, Miró started studying at a local business school and got a job as an accounting clerk at a drugstore, but soon fell ill and suffered from a nervous breakdowns. Realizing that he was not cut out for this type of work, he decided to follow his heart and dedicate his life to art – in 1912 he joined the Gali Art Academy in Barcelona.
Like so many artists of the time, Miró was drawn to Paris in the 1920s, mainly by fascination with the emerging worlds of cubism and surrealism. He became part of the Lost Generation, a group of young men and women who felt disillusioned with the curious post-war world they lived in. But Miró had another and maybe even more important reason for his move. Two years before his trip to Paris, Miró displayed his work at his first solo exhibition at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona, where the Catalan critics and public ridiculed his work. Maybe this was just the push that Miró needed to pursue his dreams elsewhere. Paris was where he began focusing on the imaginary, and the time between the 1920s and 1950s would become a fertile period of innovation for him.
During his period in Paris, Miró befriended a variety of influential writers. Among them were Michel Leiris, Max Jacob, Armand Salacrou, Roland Tual, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. In 1923 Miró sold one of his most famous pieces of art to Ernest Hemingway (Mrs. Hemingway received La Masía, or The Farm, as a present for her birthday). La Masía is a view of his parents’ farm in Mont-riog del Camp, a village near Tarragona in Catalonia. Ernest wasn’t the only one captivated by Miró’s masterpiece. The story goes that Hemingway had to win the right to purchase the piece by rolling dice with one of his friends.
Even great artists have their heroes! Miró admired an artist with a similar Spanish background, but he did not reach out to him until he moved to Paris in 1920. Before his trip, he visited one of his mother’s friends and asked her if he could bring something for her son, who was stealing the show as an artist in Paris. The son in question happened to be Pablo Picasso, and the mother’s reply was for him to bring Picasso cake. Picasso, the extroverted salesman, mentored Miró in Paris and they went on to become life-long friends.
The unmistakable style Miró had obtained by the 1960s might have lead some to believe that his art could have been created in minutes. His famous series of paintings called Blue I, II and III are a great example of this kind of work. When asked about the time if took him to produce the works, he replied sharply: ‘Yes, it took me just a moment to draw this line with the brush. But it took me months, perhaps even years, of reflection to form the idea.’
Joan Miró was a man of his word. He said that he worked like a gardener on his art, and at age 82 he could still be found in his atelier, ploughing, digging, perforating, watering and even scorching. He used anything he could find to apply paint to his surface. He rubbed his fists or stamped on the canvas with his hands and feet and even laid the canvas on the floor, so that he could easily walk over it. This explains how the footprints got on his painting Toile Brûlee from 1973. Miró kept untiringly creating new styles and new pieces of art. He needed art to show his rebelliousness and to express the way he felt about political and social events.
Never before had Joan Miró created a tapestry when he was first asked to design one for the World Trade Center in New York. He politely declined, feeling he lacked the necessary skills to do so and would need to practice first. After making a tapestry for the hospital that took care of his daughter after an accident she was involved in, he finally found the courage and inspiration to team up with Josep Royo and create the World Trade Center Tapestry. The tapestry was one of the most expensive pieces of art, but was sadly lost during the tragedy of 9/11. Luckily, this was not the only tapestry Miró made, and some of his other tapestries are on show at The Fundació.