Sunday, May 29, 2011

Animated Landscapes

After the aesthetic pleasures of Barcelona's victory against Manchester United last night it seemed fitting to head down this morning to Tate Modern for the Joan Miró exhibition.  The first room is particularly interesting from a landscape perspective, was the artist's signature style can be seen developing through a series of increasingly abstract and surreal views of the Catalan countryside.  Before moving to Paris Miró had painted in a cubist-naive style scenes around his family home in the Tarragona mountains.  Vegetable Garden and Donkey (1918), for example, has a strange sky that looks like a set of painted walls and a vegetable patch patterned like a carpet.  After arriving in Paris in 1920, he spent nine months painting The Farm from memory, a work later bought by Ernest Hemingway, who said ‘it has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.’  According to the Tate blog, Miró 'boxed with Hemingway as well as having him to stay at Mont-roig, the place outside Tarragona depicted in astonishing detail in The Farm. Miró told a journalist in 1928, ‘The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country.’'  

By 1923-4 Miró's forms were becoming freely floating signs and in The Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) the land is reduced to an undulating orange plane.  Sea and sky are delineated by no more than a thin line ruled over the yellow background.  Wave forms and gull shapes are among the most recognisable symbols; elsewhere, according to the artist, there are such details as "the Toulouse-Rabat airplane on the left; it used to fly past our house once a week. In the painting I showed it by a propellor, a ladder and the French and Catalan flags. You can see the Paris-Barcelona axis again, and the ladder, which fascinated me. A sea and one boat in the distance, and in the very foreground, a sardine with tail and whiskers gobbling up a fly. A broiler waiting for the rabbit, flames and a pimento on the right..."

After a couple more years of accelerated artistic development Miró painted a sequence of 'Animated Landscapes'.  In Dog Barking at the Moon (1926), the ladder that had been propped against the wall of The Farm and drifting in the sky in The Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), can now be seen dominating the left had side of the picture, climbing up into the night sky.  The Tate's exhibition is actually called 'The Ladder of Escape', after a 1940 painting, one of his celebrated Constellations, which were begun during the blackouts in Normandy and completed after his flight from occupied France to Spain.  By this stage Miró was painting a purely inner landscape. The Constellations are probably the exhibition's highlight, although I was pleased to see again the 1968 triptych Painting on White Background for the Cell of a Recluse (usually hung in Barcelona at the Joan Miró Foundation).  As Adrian Searle says in his review, 'there's nothing much to the three white canvases. No colour, no forms. Each enormous canvas is painted with a single black line over an unevenly primed white ground. You can tell where the slender brush has run out of paint, is recharged, then continues on its way with the same unknowable purpose, like the passage of an ant or a bird in flight, or the journey the eye makes along a horizon.'

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