Sergio Gaddi is a curator and consultant for cultural projects around the world from Rome to Paris, Seoul and Tel Aviv. From 2004 to 2012 he organized and curated major exhibitions at Villa Olmo in Como, Italy which featured Miro, Picasso, Magritte, The Impressionists, Symbolists and the avant-garde, Klimt and Schiele, Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich, Rubens and Flemish, Boldini and The Brueghel Dynasty. He is also responsible for the project "Tales of the Art" for Arthemisia Group, Rome.
He is a graduate of Bocconi University in Milan, where he has been Head of Culture of the town of Como for the past 10 years. He has curated exhibitions of contemporary art and has published many essays, articles and catalogues. As a freelance journalist he holds conferences and meetings and he is dealing with popularization of art and culture.
By Sergio Gaddi
The exhibition title evokes the key points to understand the perspectives, which involve the personalities, experiences, suggestions and mysteries of two of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century. The Dubai narrative path crosses figures and themes, which characterized the graphic experience of Pablo Picasso and Joan Mirò, linked with a fil rouge which intertwined their lives. The exhibition is not just a journey that tells a dialectic relationship between history and contemporaneity, but also a dialogue between the signs of tradition lived and interpreted by the artists, and the energies, which ignited their creativity.
“We must kill modern art. It means, too, that we must kill ourselves if we want to go on accomplishing anything”.
This sentence by Picasso, written at the peak of the success of Cubist painting, explains not only the apprehension which has always characterized his life, but also the meaning of the return to classical figurative modules when, with a sudden trend reversal which surprises the public and the critics of that period, he arrives at a new language through a scrupulous and almost sacred assimilation of the traditional rules of representation. Picasso’s life demonstrates that the artist can express himself in every way by mastering any technique, and had an unreachable virtuosity which let him do everything, be figurative and then monumental, cubist and then classical, delicate and primitive at the same time.
At the same time, he also proposed himself as a modern demiurgic divinity, pushed to the search of ever-innovative formal solutions to prevent the threat of repetition and stylistic stereotype. This characteristic, as we’ll see below, is identical, and in many ways overlaps, the experience of the years of Mirò’s full maturity.
To fully understand his skill of constantly inventing languages, we should start from his first creative experience, which begins with the academic study of those elements needed to create the figure, drawn and then painted, which is fundamental for the interpretation of what is visible. Indeed, since he was a very young man, Picasso had been gifted with an extraordinary talent which led him to say: “I’ve never created childish drawings: when I was 12 I drew like Raphael”.
Throughout his whole life, Picasso never stopped to draw, and it is interesting to see in Dubai the series of the 20 pochoirs, which collect many of his great masterpieces created between 1904 and 1953.
These are the years of the malaise of the blue period, the optimism of the pink one, the analytic and synthetic cubist revolution, until the surrealist havens. But the exhibition also witnesses the crucial moment of Le rappel à l’ordre, the return to order, namely the effect on his work of the definition used by Jean Cocteau to identify a recovery of tradition which only apparently refers to the patterns of the past. This period, between 1919 and 1925, involved many artists from all over Europe - from Picasso to Braque, Derain to Matisse, Mirò to Dalì, Carrà to de Chirico, and Campigli to Severini - and expresses a language which moves from a common prerequisite: the reference to the ancient and a classical notion of space and time, shape and drawing, craft and subject.
Actually, Picasso’s classical parenthesis was already anticipated in February 1917 when, accompanied by Jean Cocteau, he goes to Rome to reach the Djaghilev’s Ballets Russes company and designs the scenes for Parade, ballet on music by Erik Satie. Then, he overlaps with the cubist experience a new style linked to the discovery of the Mediterranean light, permeated of that elegance, lightness and largeness of shapes, which is nourished by the imitation, every time, of the ancient frescos and painting by Raphael and Titian, but also of the works by modern painters, such as Ingres and Degas. Picasso’s passion for ballet and the theatre world is fully expressed in the series exposed in Dubai dedicated to Le Tricorne, a ballet by Manuel de Falla for which he designs the drawings for costumes and scenes commissioned by Sergej Djagilev.
The same creative logic can be found in the series of engravings dedicated to Bizet’s Carmen in 1949, where Picasso expresses his burning passion through a memorable graph synthesis with a great visual impact; with an essential trait full of significance, the master creates faces of women and men, Andalusian costumes and bulls’ heads, faces one of the myths of the culture of the ninetieth and twentieth centuries and illustrates the tale of the fatal love of don Josè for the very beautiful gypsy, Carmen. The series exhibited in Dubai is signed by the artist, as a further demonstration of the fundamental importance of the engraving activity, which was certainly not secondary to the painting one. On the contrary, the basic principles of Picasso’s painting are transferred into an unusual figurative context, as in the series of engravings on the Natural History in 1942 - a sort of personal bestiary.
A strong link between Picasso and Miró can be read in the dynamics of a tireless passion, which contaminates and infects like a wave in their variegated world and transports their lives in the spaces of mythology and legend.
Picasso discovers and draws new skills of expression, which upset the essence of modern art, and in the ceramic experiences, he invents pieces which have the beauty and arcane fascination of the unforeseen. The Côte d'Azur, Antibes, the house La Californie in Cannes, and the ancient Provencal farmhouse in Mougins, mark the geographical and mythical places of a new experience, of a new process of transcription of the vividness of those shapes emerging from the archetypical basin of the Mediterranean sea. The shape of painting is nourished by what is investigated by the hands in the ceramic matter, the colour is light of a horizon over which centauries, nymphs and figures of a mythological dictionary dance. If, in these years, the line becomes a construction of a further reading of the classical shape, in the light of a personal crossing of the painting’s body, the ceramic assumes the value of shape-surface of the painting itself, absorbing also the one related to decoration, cancelling the renaissance conception. It is a layout of images, of marks created through the simplicity of a colour suspended between painting and sculpture, which find a full correspondence in the shapes and colours of ceramics. A classical shape recreated within a narrative approach which prefers, firstly, a sharp line coming from cubist layouts, and then cedes to a mythological figuration permeated by a new brightness linked to the sea. A contributing factor is certainly his arrival, in 1946, at Vallauris, a small town near Cannes, where Picasso knows the Ramié spouses, ceramists and owners of the factory where he created a large part of the numerous ceramic objects, which have been included in the various collections all over the world.
The meeting with ceramics for the great interpreter of modernism is full of passion, and it is also the rediscovery of shape, namely of the significance it converts in the result of the object, obtained by including and following the peculiarities of the matter which is being used. But it is also a meeting which must take into account - and not be neglected for the technical aspect - of the laying and waiting time of the materials, which interact with the magic of fire, with the metamorphoses it carries out, until the enigma of its re-birth. Picasso has his sight on this practice, but feeds it with that creativity which means to him to draw also from the past, to its figurative models, always without worrying about their historical meanings and assuming them as creative projects, which preserve their vitality so that they can be repeated. On these premises, the energy of the sun permeates the marks, invades the colours, animates the matters which enliven the shapes, making Picasso’s wandering understandable, between the classical of the primitive, barbarian and decadent, reality and its overcoming in the abstraction, so that everything and its opposite can be said and accepted. The sea, with its double nature, bright and dark, calm and fierce, represents the large horizon in which the relentless creativity of the Spanish artist can fully express itself. Once again in a peculiar way with respect to Miró’s experience, the last decades of his life witness the moment of synthesis of an extraordinary sensitivity which had the skill over the years, through art, to transcend the boundaries of the world and personal experiences to directly reach the truth and universal rhythm of things.
And just in this way, Picasso’s passion intertwines with Miró’s poetical mark, which in its mature phase, overcomes the shape and boundaries of painting representation to reach the direct dialogue without filters to the public. Even if at first glance it may seem paradoxical, Miró’s graph elements and marks, although they do not correspond to a realistic character, come from the reality. The work surface circumscribes its simplicity to highlight its power; a power which comes from the artist’s skill to use the gesture, the trait, to knock at the door of emotions. For this reason, Miró’s work can be compared to poetry: indeed his marks go beyond the visual perception.
Therefore, Miró manages to materialize his desire to avoid any distinctions between panting and poetry. He is a master in speaking with the gesture, with the mark. He uses many techniques and, just like Picasso, dominates them all (drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, graphics). His major credit consists in his skill to be master of the mark, to speak a language which is known only by himself, but which everybody understands. And it is just the mark, intended as symbolic element and archetype factor loaded with tension and significance, which is the main element for a constant search of harmony inside the spaces of the imaginary as perceived in the painting backlight. His interest towards objects leads him to pick up from the ground anything that draws his attention, to convert it into artworks: a stone of surprising shape, a crystal rounded by waves and converted into a species of jewel, a splinter, a breach, a cactus, or a pitcher, work tools and objects of popular character to which the sea donates a bizarre shape: he picks them up and puts them on the floor of his studio for a short period, instead of the preparatory drawing.
“I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune. I work like a gardener, like a grape-picker. Things come slowly. For example, I’ve never discovered immediately my dictionary of shapes, it formed and I almost didn’t notice it. Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water, as it is with lettuce. Ripening goes on in my mind. So I’m always working at a great many things at the same time. Even in different fields: painting, engraving, lithograph, sculpture, ceramics”.
The works exposed in Dubai represent the most authentic spirit of the artist, his will that his work is popular. Miró concentrates on graphics like Japanese archers. Before impressing the initial trait on the copper sheet, he takes time to think about it. He looks for a spiritual tension, an empty space, an internal preparation and everything leads him to act as concentrated, almost without speaking one word. But once the graver, the screwdriver or the knife start work, they become unstoppable.
Together with Picasso and Matisse, Miró is an absolute protagonist in the history of the artist book, one of the major interpreters of this singular tradition born in France in the ninetieth century and spread all over the world in the past century. In 1966, the first of three volumes is published dedicated to Ubu roi, a mythical character of surrealists and the avant-garde artists, created by Alfred Jarry in the late ninetieth century. The volumes are published by Tériade, a publisher of Greek origin, who made the history of the artist book in the second half of the twentieth century. As you can see in the exhibition, the characters are completely transfigured and lose almost completely any human appearance, becoming monstrous and grotesque creatures.
In the extraordinary graph series, Les Pénalités de l’Enfer ou les Nouvelles Hébrides of 1974, Miró’s trait is an escape forward, combining freedom with shock, with the pulse of his arm, stretched to provoke colour explosions on the paper.
Miró works as if pushed by an unstoppable pulse, in an almost violent way, with power, with great intensity, almost without any preparation: he acts like a trapeze artist with no safety net. He entrusts destiny to chance. He wants that unforeseen, the fortuitous, the stain, to play a part in bringing his degree of irrationality to the purity of the gesture.
The colours are applied in full freedom and give an extraordinary dynamism to the chromatic storm, which evokes the shapes.
It is a process which can already be seen in 1971, when the Le lézard aux plumes d’or are published by Tériade, a dubious follow-up of Ubu roi. Both volumes are fully created, text and images, by Miró, who, after illustrating works by Tristan Tzara, Paul Eluard, Jacques Prévert and other great contemporary poets, becomes the author of texts in his own artist books.
In Le lézard aux plumes d’or, the unity between text and images is total, and can be defined as a perfect example of dialogue book. The fonts disappear and Miró’s poems, with a purely surrealist taste, are written by hand and printed with the lithograph technique.
The seventies of the artist’s life are well documented in this exhibition, and correspond to a period of full maturity and total domination of the expressive means, reached through a long and patient process of elaboration of a personal language. His work marks a new beginning, a new starting point, which coincides, not coincidentally, with some significant facts in his life. His definitive residence in Majorca, where his wife Pilar comes from, is a spacious studio designed specifically for him by his friend architect José Lluís Sert. The commitment that art brings to large sectors of society, what he calls anonymity, is the ability to distance the art work from the art circuits so that it can be within everyone’s reach.
And just like Picasso a few years before, his interest turns toward ceramics, sculpture, but especially toward graphics. Therefore, the Dubai exhibition assumes a particular importance, because it focuses on this particular expressive means. When Miró says: “the necessity to destroy my own dreams corresponds to my desire to ‘break the guitar’ of Cubism,” he approaches conceptually that “destruction of modern art” theorized by Picasso.
“I always work in a state of passion and fury, as if I obey to a physical pulse, a discharge. It’s like a fight between me and the canvas, between me and my own malaise. I work so that this malaise of mine passes”.
In the seventies, although it may seem incredible for an artist in the full virtuous domination of technique and expressive means, Miró keeps on experimenting, trying new experiences without ever falling in routine, or in the formula, or repetition of successful models. It can be clearly seen in the exhibited series, both in Le Marteau sans maître, collection of poems of French poet René Chair, as well as in the Maravillas con variaciones acrósticas en el jardín de Miró, which express the tension of a heightened expressionism with the predominance of wide, black-coloured fields, which alternate with stains of pure coloured, red, yellow or blue.
Joan Miró’s poetry, as well as Picasso’s passion, are eternal languages which have no time or space limits. They become song and tension of the soul which filtrates the real to become a pure idea. Their tireless experience through a long art path lead them to the simplicity of being. It is the alchemy of life, play of light, trait and colour which intertwines with the thread of existence, which surprises and amazes, which feeds the power of imagination to arrive at a perfect meeting point between painting and poetry.
“The starting point of a work is always a tension, which I can find in poetry, architecture (Gaudí’s one is formidable), in music, in a specific sound or noise, such as galloping horses in the countryside, cart’s wheels, steps, a shout in the night, crickets. The spectacle of the sky what Kant called ‘the irruption of the infinite into the finite”.
Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, with their similarities and differences, are pure and genial artists, with a passionate and poetical life, moved by a single purpose: simply, making art.