Unreal Nature

February 9, 2015

To Warrant Patience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… He could afford to renounce many things and let the current pass him by for the time being because he was sure that that which belonged only to himself was important enough to warrant patience …

This is from Joan Miró by Clement Greenberg (1948; 1950):

In proportion to her total contribution to the art of Europe, the number of very great painters Spain has produced exceeds that of any other country. One of the interesting questions of contemporary cultural history is why, after the lapse of a hundred years since Goya, she has now been able to resume this contribution.

… They [the Spanish and the Irish (in literature); both rural, provincial and Catholic countries] have appreciated the “modern” with a sharpness equalled only by the French — who while establishing the very notion of that modernity, have themselves inhabited what is relatively a backward country since the latter 19th century. Apparently, this modified backwardness sometimes gives distance and perspective to the artist faced with the novel phenomena of contemporary urban life. Combined with Latin or Catholic cosmopolitanism, it prevents him from taking the urban and industrial world too much for granted and at the same time helps him relate the experience of it to the rest of experience, insuring that continuity with the past without which, as T.S. Eliot has pointed out, superior art is almost impossible. (However, the native distance of the artist or writer who comes from the provinces to measure himself on the international scene is also a source of temptation. He can use his detached understanding and its concomitant facility merely to exploit the fashions of the metropolitan centers and he can become a Hungarian or Russian painter, a Sorolla, a Zuloaga, or a Dali, instead of a Picasso).

… Shaped on a principle antithetical to that of the more exclusive canons of Renaissance art, which refused to sanction anything that did not conform immediately to a rational naturalism, the new canons of the School of Paris permitted much that in the 19th century still seemed backward folklore and provincialism to color the high art of the 20th.

The high art of the 20th century is intensely urban, but it is also cosmopolitan; and its respect for the physical nature and the immediacy of its art forms is anticipated by barbaric and provincial art, not to mention that of our own remotest past. This respect for the physically immediate seems to answer something profound in contemporary experience.

The physical directness that both Picasso and Miró brought in their different ways to the School of Paris, and the naiveté Gris brought on his part, would seem to have had no outlet in Spanish painting proper since late medieval times. In the interim these qualities made themselves felt elsewhere — especially in sculpture — but in painting itself (except perhaps, in certain pictures of El Greco) they were forced underground, and it is only the impact of French art in the 20th century that brought them into the open again, from underneath the tumulus in which they had been buried by the agents of the Italian Renaissance in Spain.

[ … ]

… For all his elegance and finish, Miró was never to become a facile draughtsman; some difficulty, some clumsiness has always remained, and for this one is grateful; otherwise he might have become dissolved in his own polish.

Miró’s first student efforts were apparently not too encouraging, for after three years he left art school to take a job as a clerk in a store. He did no painting for two years and then in 1912 again entered art school, this time the Academy Gali, also in Barcelona. There he took the first steps of his mature development and was attracted to the modern movement, which was then riding that first great wave of excitement that was carrying it around the Western world between 1910 and 1914.

Miró states that he was very much impressed by Cubism but not thrown off his balance (“pas derouté“). He was just as profoundly moved by a large exhibition of post-Impressionist French art, up to and including Matisse, that Vollard sent to Barcelona in 1918. All in all, 1918 was a big year for him, and it was in this same year that Dalmau gave him his first show. By that time he had a good deal of work on hand.

Three years before, in 1915, he had given up his job and since then had done nothing but paint. Now that the war was over in Europe he decided to make his first visit to Paris. He went there early in 1919 and arriving on March 3rd, immediately called on Picasso, whom he had not yet met but whose mother and family he had known in Barcelona since childhood. He brought with him a self-portrait that he had just finished, a picture that shows the influence of Rousseau le Douanier as well as that of Cubism. Picasso was impressed enough to buy it, and in those first days he acted as a sort of protector toward Miró, who has remained grateful to him ever since, above and beyond his admiration for the older man’s art. He now saw Picasso’s painting for the first time in quantity, and although he was dazzled, he was not thrown off his balance this time either. No matter how much his painting was to have in common with Picasso’s, the influence would be a general rather than specific one and it would never threaten his own independence.

But Miró admits that he was disoriented by Paris itself and hardly painted at all during the three months of this first visit. He spent most of his mornings at the Louvre and began to draw from the model at the Grande Chaumiére. Never quick to assimilate new experience or adjust himself to new states of mind, however rapidly he did move once he had done so, he found work a slow and painful process; …

… As always, Miró had to realize thoroughly everything he learned, digest it completely and exploit it. Paris had shown him much and the process of digestion was strenuous. During this period he used a little of almost everything he saw — Picasso, Braque, Gris, Derain, Léger, Rousseau, Matisse, and even Kandinsky, who was then relatively little known in Paris — but the result was harmonious and unified painting even if it was not yet very original.

Miró must have recognized when he was painting these still lifes [“Still Live with Rabbit,” “Horse, Pipe, and Red Flower,” and “The Spanish Playing Cards”; all 1920] how much further Picasso, Braque and Gris had already gone in the direction of flatness and simplification of pattern, yet his habitual honesty prevented him from making any forced marches in the same direction. He still had to stay closer to the weight and texture of the object in order to satisfy the needs of his temperament; …

… [In, for example, “The Farmer’s Wife” of 1923] Sentiment still sticks out in the wrong places, or is the wrong kind of sentiment, but more and more of it is being absorbed by the form, and the point is foreseeable where form will be feeling.

Miro_the-farmers-wife-1923
The Farmer’s Wife, 1923 [image from WikiArt]

… “The Tilled Field,” with its counterpoint of majuscule and miniscule, straight and curved, black and white, bodies forth with the first real vividness the Miró we have become most familiar with since, the painter’s personality that places him in the history of art. It is settled now that the main substance of his painting is to be the silhouette; that shape, line and flat color will take precedence over texture, plane and mass. This art will have little to do with atmosphere, broken-touch painting of any kind; and while it may have some affinities with the Florentines and the Sienese, it will seem to go back for its main sources to a time and place that knew nothing of either Gothic or Byzantine: to the crystal-clear Mediterranean morning of the Odyssey and the murals at Knossos.

Miro_the-tilled-field-1924
The Tilled Field, 1924 [image from WikiArt]

… the sincerity that prevented Miró from venturing into [the more abstract area of Cubism] speaks at the same time for a self-confidence that is not usually associated with his personality. He could afford to renounce many things and let the current pass him by for the time being because he was sure that that which belonged only to himself was important enough to warrant patience and to reward him sufficiently for his insistence on realizing it in his own way and time.

To be continued.

-Julie

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