Miró, black as synthesis

Joan Miró, Portrait of Enric Cristofol Ricart, 1917.


Miró's art is characterized by the rigor of plastic reasoning; for the dialogue with cubism and the graphic arts; by the critical strategy of imploding the pictorial system

The myth of unreflected art, related to Miró, is endorsed by Breton, who sees in her “total spontaneity of expression (…) incomparable innocence and freedom”. The sentence was born in the clash between official surrealism and rivals.[I] But the contradiction was entrenched.

Miró escapes this definition due to the rigor of plastic reasoning; for the dialogue with cubism and the graphic arts; by the critical strategy of imploding the pictorial system. Thus, in 1923-24, he took a stand in the modern debate with a strategy that was both analytical and romantic (and thus, like Kandinsky, without neglecting the issue of the subject), translated into the aim of reducing the lexicon of painting to basic data: line, color and plane (the latter soon materialized as a support), purged of the illusive-metaphysical effects of depth, volume, etc. Miró's reductive action, based on Cubism (and, in a greater sense, on materialism), gives a new analytical degree to the achievements of two-dimensionality and the primacy of the plane as qualities of painting (ignored by the Surrealists). It sets a new historical threshold.

New discoveries by Miró, alien to surrealism, such as the painting with a monochrome background (1925), deny the value of a scene that transcends the painting, putting painting on a par with graphic techniques and the premise of the latter, that of the background as a surface for concrete operations, of functional nature; Miró's endorsement of the Cubist act of incorporating letters and numbers goes in this direction, giving the canvas the shallow content of a page.

This materialist analysis of the painting has more items: the anti-auratic effect of the crossbeams of the wooden chassis, underneath the canvas – deliberately stamped on by the brush –; and the emphasis on the deformation of bodies, delineated from swellings.

This sign, in tune with the group of Documents,[ii] and the roughness of the caricature also reveal the systematic extension of Miró's research: the simplified and two-dimensional figures – whose concreteness the subtitles and the author's public repudiation of abstraction attest – serve as pre-images or schematics, therefore, as an exposition of genetic structures imagination, explaining factors of visibility.

the design opposition versus color operates in the history of art since the Italian sixteenth century, and was the source of several disputes (Poussin versus Rubens in the XNUMXth century, classicism versus romanticism in the XNUMXth century XVIII). Miró's intervention in this matter is also strategic. He adds to the reflective approach of the primacy of drawing, and builds an analytical chromatic regime restricted to primary colors, which lose symbolic weight for the line and only guide its vision.

But what is the synthesis posed by the triumph of lines? It is not that of forms that classical reason contemplates, but that of an unfinished synthesis that bears the trace of an atomized spirit, orphan of forms, based on conflicting immanence, opposed to the ideal of full forms.

Therefore, such an intellect is split and leads to antinomies. As a drawing, the new synthesis has a negative or anti-formal meaning, in short, it opposes the image as representation. And, in the semantic plane of words, understanding embraces the real. Thus, insoluble tensions arise: on the one hand, the basis of visual fantasy, the synthetic act of subjective internal intuition; on the other hand, in written information, the subject's cognitive link to the world, the objective designation of themes. What does the reflexive invitation imply, at the reception, to an analysis urging the public, in the face of the distance between figure and word, to capture its own internal productivity: that is, to notice the subjective gap between imagination and understanding, the feeling and form, and to objectify such a contrast in the painting.

The title, therefore, does not determine. But, in fact, it poses a problem, a pole of tension. The core of Miró's poetics resides in this insurmountable tension of the unfinished journey from the subjective to the objective, which perpetuates an exposed oscillation in the materiality of the aesthetic fact (the radical line-line relation versus color and the background as a support) according to a reflective and universalizing design. It is what propitiates and unifies the use of so many means, new techniques and non-noble materials, enhancing the expressive bias, including waste.

The same universalizing democratic purpose leads Miró to seek new tactics against the value of form and virtuosity (which Miró rejected in Picasso): the semi-childish act, the dialogical stimulus to the reaction of the support,[iii] the random fact.

Thus, such anarchic practices, with no end in sight, are not one-sided; they do not express a pre-social instinct, prior to all legality. They want the maxim of the act of producing meaning to be universalized as a general power. There is, in this report, an implicit instituting power, a legislative aspiration opposed to the social division of labor, as it was then posed. Thus, Miró asks: “a permanent revolution, that we never remain fixed in one point (...) a revision of everything. Every day, I question everything.”[iv]

*Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of the graduate programs in economic history (FFLCH-USP) and visual arts (ECA-USP). He is the author, among other books, of The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil (Haymarket/ HMBS).

Proofreading: Gustavo Motta.

Commentary on exhibition catalogs (MAM-SP, 1996) and book of interviews with the painter Joan Miró (São Paulo, Estação Liberdade, 1990). Edited from the original published under the title “The black as synthesis”, in Journal of Reviews / Folha de São Paulo, no. 11, on 05.02.1996.


Arestizabal, P. Rico, P. Grinberg, Miró: Paths of Expression, catalog of shows:

Rio de Janeiro, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, 11.10 – 17.12.1995;

São Paulo, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, 09.01 – 25.02.1996.

P. Rico, F. Miró and Ma. José Lapena, Inedits Dibuixos by Joan Miró, exhibition catalogue: Mallorca, Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, 19.12.1994 – 26.02.1995).

Georges Raillard, Joan Miró – The Color of My Dreams/ Interviews, translation by Neide Luzia de Rezende, São Paulo, Estação Liberdade.


[I] Breton's statement was made in a text originally dated 1941, republished in André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, Paris, Gallimard, 1965. For an opposite opinion, emphasizing the negativity and violence of this art with traces of “disaster”, see Georges Bataille: “Joan Miró: Peintures Récentes”, in Documents, no. 7, Paris, 1930; rep. in ditto, Complete Oeuvres I, Paris, Gallimard, 1970.

[ii] The dissidence of surrealism, after the schism that occurred with Breton's second manifesto (1930), and its alignment, in the same year, with the PCF, grouped into Documents, and from 1931 onwards criticize social (Trotskyist orientation publication). The group fought, in the name of materialism, the surrealist ideals. Criticism of lofty ideas referred to the idea of ​​“formless”, forged by Bataille, and proposed deformation as a discursive practice in literature and the visual arts (Masson, Miró, Giacometti, “primitive art” were given as examples). In 1935, both factions were momentarily allied in the anti-fascist “Contre-Attaque” front.

[iii] The desublimation of the background is increasing. In 1940-41, the base (the sky) of the works in the series Constellations it is made with the solvent used to clean paint from dirty brushes. In the same sense, in 1974, Miró set the screens on fire; and, in 1975, defecate on a new support, sandpaper, to compose a triptych. In the current show, the idea of ​​the background as a support, analogous to the floor of a workshop, stands out. Miró favors several discarded elements, such as the corrugated wrapping paper, which perforates his design. Denying the hierarchy of the creator over passive matter, he levels himself to a camera operator, for whom the relationship with the film takes place in reciprocal determination. In sculpture, the rescue of remains is also central.

[iv] See Georges Raillard, Joan Miró – The Color of My Dreams/ Interviews [1990], translation by Neide Luzia de Rezende, São Paulo, Estação Liberdade, 1992 (4th. ed.), pgs. 25-6.

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