I remember when, a few years ago, I visited the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona. There were two large, wall-sized paintings that each consisted just of one single curved line painted in black on white paper. I remember looking at these simple paintings and being overcome by a very strong emotional sense. For me they were the most powerful paintings in the whole museum. To this day, I have no idea why two curved lines could have such a strong impact.
Joan Miro never called himself a surrealist. He experimented with surrealist techniques and had an interest in Dada but never aligned himself with any particular movement. Here I am interested in his landscapes. This blog has reviewed many different landscape styles – David Hockney, Eyvind Earle, Mary Mattingly and others. Miro provides yet another style. Inspired by his Catalan roots, Miro’s landscapes make us feel the harsh contrasts of the Spanish landscapes. The painting reproduced above makes us feel the dry, almost desert-like land against the blue sky. A solitary rooster and a few scattered objects – cartwheel, stones, ladder taking our eyes up into infinity, floating clouds – all evoke the hot dry summer in an agricultural landscape. They remind me that working the land and earning a living from it is not necessarily a romanticized, pastoral idyll but more likely hard work in a difficult environment.
The above painting presents three elements of any landscape – land, sky and a living form – and reduces them to their essence giving them a drama that may be more powerful than any landscape image that is truly representational. The floating object on the right seems to connect earth and sky. One could look at this painting for a long time, its strong colors and shapes create all sorts of emotions and lead us to reflect on questions such as ‘what is a landscape and how do we relate to it?’
In Landscape (The Hunter) – below – we see a softer and more active landscape. A hunter stands on the left (his beret and pipe easily visible). Along the bottom an animal of some sort – some have interpreted this as the spine of a sardine because of the word ‘sard’ on the right. The rest is an active landscape. We do not know exactly what is what and what is going on – only that there seems to be much going on. Here we have activity, life and work and a different feel of landscape from the stark, harsh landscapes featured above. The human is here part of a working landscape.
And finally a landscape of serenity. The sun is the only recognizable element in the landscape below yet the image with its white background and its few, scattered elements conveys a feeling of calm and serenity. This is a landscape where we can relax and a far cry from the harshness of the Catalan landscape with which we started.
Miro barely places any recognizable elements in his landscape paintings. Yet he takes us on a journey from one type of landscape to the next. He makes us realize that what is maybe most important when we encounter nature and the landscape is not what we see but rather what we feel.