by Stefano Cecchetto
In Paris, where Joan Miró arrived for the first time in March 1919, he met another outstanding Spaniard: Pablo Picasso. Picasso was also fascinated by theatre – and in particular by dance – in 1917 he was in Rome together with Jean Cocteau, Massine and Diaghilev to design the curtain, scenery, costumes and cubist structures of the Ballets Russes.
The Ballets Russes, reduced in number and without the presence of Nijnsky, were in Rome for the première at the Teatro Costanzi on April 9th 1917 with a repertory which includes some choreographic novelties by Massine.
The theatre experience became for Picasso a kind of therapy; in this way the artist, with his extroverted nature, is always on the scene as a protagonist, he is ready to the game and also to the drama, he has no hidden zones because he brings out all of them, in the vitality of an unmistakable mark. Picasso always display an expressive tension which appears in the line cuts and syncopated surfaces, with an absolutely musical rhythm which stops on the canvas in the dynamical fixity of disconnected motion.
So Miró met Picasso in Paris, saw and appreciated him, but he didn’t let himself be involved in the Cubism, whose influence can still be noted in some of his first Parisian works, in particular: the Self-portrait and the Seated Woman, both in 1920. But already in the next paintings of the same year the marks of a new season can be noted which plays on the assembly of the elements of the representation and composition schemes which may seem enigmatical in their literary and poetical contents. And just in those years Miró’s work headed towards a direction destined, as the Picasso’s one, to revolution the art practices.
But while Picasso – as stated by Cesare Brandi – "will have the courage to never be contemporaneous" Miró, on the contrary, will have the determination to travel across his time, especially to precede it. And it is just in their theatre experiences that the marks of an avant-garde of ideas can be discovered; and it is in that freedom – a freedom which goes beyond the canvas dimension – that the signals of a renewed vitality of art can be perceived.
It is by now ascertained that the Commedia dell'Arte inspired Picasso significantly in that stay in Italy in '17, his visit to Naples together with Massine, the paths across the city’s alleys and the meeting with the masks of the Neapolitan tradition, were the basis of the work the artist would create for the scenery and costumes of the ballet Pulcinella.
Picasso worked on Pulcinella in the summer of 1919, but as early as two years before his acute visual sense had picked, in the Neapolitan atmospheres, the colours, spirit and rhythm of that spontaneous theatricality.
To be free is an elusive pirouette, Picasso and Miró are able to let the marks of their poetical expressionism dance like a music written in an abstract score, in their happiest moments there is something like a throw, a jump forward with which they put the bases for the feverish excitation of a new discovery which goes beyond their contemporaneity itself.
The gestures of this painting, when inspected in depth, disclose the marks of a surprising expressive vivacity, the internal motion of the soul, the careful curiosity and melancholic sweetness of the Spanish character. That’s why poetry has a precise reference with their art, because it is the expression of the myth and describes the symbols of power, the sublimation of sensuality, the metaphor of the occult and the tenderness of the character. However, as instinctive painters, faithful to the roles of freedom of action and the rights of the expressive poetics, Miró and Picasso refuse any ideological implications of the art movements which cross over the years their aesthetical path, remaining faithful to their beloved masters.
For Miró the figure of Van Gogh is crucial, about whom he appreciates the expressive energy and the Fauves from which he extracts a flaming palette with the most diverse colours, perhaps also Matisse who has a fluid mark, essential and always inspired like his one. On the other hand Picasso, especially in his formation period, looks at other French models: some references to Renoir, the libertine atmospheres of Toulouse-Lautrec who also hanged out at a literary côtè, but also the Pre-Raphaelites and Whistler.
However, Spain remains the supporting axis of his personality, Picasso never cuts the bonds with his country of origin and always continues to see the reality with the passionate and sensual eye of a Spaniard.
Thet’s why theatre and cabaret, flamenco dancers, bullfighters and women of his immense visual universe fill the carnets, of the first Parisian years, of marks and drawings traced in an obsessive vortex of images which can stop the memory and fill the empty space of a nostalgic distance.
And that’s why the squaring of the Spanish villages became the origin of cubism, as always stated by Gertrude Stein: «In this way in 1908 Picasso came back from Spain with the landscapes which were the beginning of cubism. He had still a lot of road to travel to actually create cubism, but the first step was made».
For Picasso everything originates in the African art and Spain’s colours, this double matrix can be certainly seen in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, even if just in this particular painting the mark of black sculpture takes second place as the figures don’t have any appearance of fetishes or archaic marks. Rather, they have the symmetrical and solemn severity of the Iberian sculptures, as the face of Gertrude Stein in the famous portrait of the American writer.
And Les Demoiselles d'Avignon traced the boundary between what painting had been until then and what it would become afterwards. By himself, and with an intellectual courage which has no precedents in the history of painting, Picasso performs a gesture which would become determinant for the new truth of art, as much as it can be classified as the next Renaissance.
On the other hand, the cruel years of the second world war marked the turning point in Miró’s art, and determined the stylistic figure of an aware expressive autonomy. Perhaps because in those years he isolated himself, questioned himself and questioned the surrounding world with an anxious spirit to get an answer. At the outbreak of the war he lived and worked in Varangeville-sur-Mer, but at the fall of France, he went back to Barcelona and then to Palma de Maiorca where he established his official residence. Then, the season began in which the night became the great protagonist of his paintings, the night with its ineffable fascination, mediated by the listening of Bach’s and Mozart’s music. This was also the season of the long titles as, beautiful as verses which seem the beginning of a visual poem: Women Beside a Lake whose Surface has been made Iridescent by a Passing Swan, in 1941 or Hope comes back to us as the Constellations Flee in 1954. Titles which evoke a genuine and deep poetical inspiration on rhythms that are as light as music scores, shooting starts which cross his visual field, figures and flights, free to go to the infinite space of memory.
Therefore, two main conceptions alternate, with different appearances, in the events of these two great figures of the Twentieth Century, the most rational one which brings to measurement, proportion, rigour – Cubism, Constructivism and Abstract – and the other, more irrational, which brings to the surprise, the fantasy of the absurd and the discovery of a different expressive poetics. These two conceptions respond, on one hand, to the need of a spontaneous rationality, on the other, to the primitive life of the unconscious, the unexplored forest which proliferates inside ourselves, and whose different paths and influences have been revealed, at least partially, by the psychanalysis.
It’s natural that Picasso and Miró, with their different natures – but also breathing and reacting against a specific environment to which they belonged – were able to remain in balance between these two conceptions of life and confirm the poetics of their artistic language.
In their whole work you can still rediscover the visible and invisible things of their imagination, you can settle among the sweetest appearances and in the more disquieting ones of their past, and get lost in that indistinct and gloomy music which goes beyond their painting itself and penetrates, more and more deeply, in the most hidden layers of the soul.