Friday, April 20, 2007

Barking at the Moon

Joan Miro, one of the most playful and entertaining modernist painters, was born on this date in 1893. His Dog Barking at the Moon, owned by the PMA, appears above. (In the one art elective that I took as an undergraduate, I remember this as one of the instructor’s favorite slides.)

Miro gave Surrealism a Spanish flair different from that of his fellow Surrealist Spaniard, Salvador Dali. Whereas Dali’s Surrealism was more photographically exact, recognizable images in improbable contexts, Miro’s Surrealism is cartoonish, recognizable shapes playfully robbed of all obvious menace. If Dali is the nightmare, Miro is the daydream. But even that daydream can hide darker possibilities once you start to let your mind enter the work and ask why the dog is barking, where the ladder is headed, and other questions. The accessibility of Miro’s art spans all ages, appealing to inquisitive children and adults, speaking to each age's innocence and anxiety.

Whenever I listen to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, his final album before his tragic suicide in 1974, I think of the Miro-esque cover art (above) and this dark underside to Miro’s work. Although Drake’s gentle guitar and singing voice sound pleasant and often even hopeful, you can still hear the same ominous undertones also present in Miro’s imagery.

My favorite part of the Miro entry on Wikipedia is the reference to his gas sculpture. Could there be any more ephemeral and yet potentially beautiful physical medium for sculpture than fog or mist? Could there be any wackier idea than trying to sculpt thin air?

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