A ‘real’ Miró work

Antonio Gamoneda

Character and Bird

Joan Miró
Personnage et oiseaux [Character and Bird], 1969
© Successió Miró 2016

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This does not mean, obviously, that other works by Miró are unreal; all of them are true. ‘Real’ refers to another value here. I do not mean greater or lesser, but I do mean essential and differentiated. I look at this painting and I feel it. I do not understand it, but its understanding is unnecessary: I feel pleasure and, at the same time, I have a vision of violence. I have not comprehended it notionally: I have  felt it, experienced it.

Understanding and its intellectual filters may not be the best way to receive the ‘message’ of this image. This message is essentially sensitive; it is not a ‘text’ that conveys a concept to be read and/or understood; it is a reality: colors added in tumultuous lines that are simply there, that are a fact. Like a stranger who passes by and suddenly stumbles into us. We know nothing about him, yet we have felt him. It is no small thing: he has knocked us down and hurt us, and this entails a brief – and painful – ‘coexistence’. This Miró also ‘takes place’ and moves us (with its violence). It is a fact, it happens.

All of Miró’s works, even if on a different level or direction, embody a reality, yet in this one it is particularly important that it is a reality that can be experienced and shared. The what and the how of this coexistence also matter.

It is a popular belief that Miró’s creations represent a visual feast, an affirmation of joy. Although I do not dispute this interpretation, I feel constrained to ask: is that really the case in this particular work?

No, it is not. The colors are the same as in the ‘happy’ Mirós, but here they have been made violent and violated, capsizing into catastrophe. This is about shattered joy; it is the activity – and the witness – of something that involves defeat. An existential defeat: similar, to a lesser degree, than one that affects thousands of potentially happy human beings struck down by a pandemic, as they might be by any other natural or historical ‘injustice’.

It would be disproportionate to assume that I consider Miró and his works to be prototypes of a joyful vitalism with just this one exception. The painter experienced defeats, and some of his paintings convey this fact. But in this painting, it is not the story that works, as it does for example in Guernica). It is the very physical reality of the painting, its intrinsic dramatic gestures, that make you feel it. It is not the same. Perhaps it is important to take this difference into account when appraising the painting. And for coexistence too.

Antonio Gamoneda. Poet. Winner of the Cervantes Award, the European Prize for Literature, the Reina Sofía Award for Ibero-American Poetry, the Quijote Award for Spanish Literature, among others. He has just published the second volume of his memoirs, Poverty.