Joan Prats, one of Miró’s dearest friends, once said, “When I pick up a stone it’s a stone. When Miró picks up a stone it’s a Miró.” To a great extent this show at the Hong Kong Museum of Art is about the inevitable process of the objective world becoming transformed by the artist, who then shares this new world with us and encourages us to transform our own worlds for the sake of deriving greater meaning and understanding. In Miró’s work, it is as if images have broken free from nature to enter the world of our consciousness. The images break free from nature and transform themselves to become a language that we understand more deeply. Miró makes us believe that there is something about objects in the world that make them want to break free and change for us. The world and our minds naturally collaborate in a process whereby we better see and document our inner lives and the changes necessary in them.
The show at the Hong Kong Museum of Art reveals more clearly what Miró was doing from his very first paintings, which were inspired by the farm where he spent much time. Miró always relished using the ordinary in unexpected ways which transformed the ordinary into poetry. He liked using many of the same common images over and over again, and if you look closely, much of his work is not completely abstract, but abstracted versions of real things. Miró seemed to especially like depicting ladders, birds, animals, stars and women. Miró also typically uses colors to balance each other. Red balances black, green balances red. Miró said the initial “mark” or impulse to put paint on a canvas was instinctive for him. From the initial mark-making a sequence would naturally follow.
When we enter the exhibit there is a dark room in which you can lie down on a beanbag chair and stare up at a domed ceiling showing various Miró -inspired constellations. Of course, constellations are prime examples of how we take the “objective” world and make it subjective. Each constellation is an interpretation based on a collection of stars which evokes myth or folklore or the natural world. Stories can be imputed to constellations. When I am in a strange city but look up at the sky and see Orion the hunter pulling back on his bow, I actually feel comforted. I believe this room is primarily meant for children who come to this exhibit, and I think children are the ones who might appreciate Miró the most. I think children can get Miró faster, without analysis. They can involuntarily laugh at what he is doing, recognize what he is saying about the world and ourselves. This is, in fact, a very child-friendly show and I was happy to see groups of school children wandering around the museum enjoying themselves.
The point of the show is that the most ordinary objects can become astonishing through the process of introspection, re-interpretation and artistic creation. We are invited to see the ordinary in new and richer ways after seeing the show. We are invited to make the ordinary meaningful to our own journeys, to invite the ordinary to become, symbolically, something lavish for us. The bizarre images and relationships between images are what happens when creative energy engages with an outside world possessing a humility and magical quality that allows itself to change to meet our spiritual needs to record our development as beings capable of wondrous things such as kindness, concern and mercy.
The show illustrates what Miró called the “magical qualities of the mark.” The images in Miró’s paintings are intermediaries between objective reality and dead ideograms. They stop short of a formal language, because they are alive through our engagement with them, like a biological symbiosis. The images are felt as presences are felt, thus they inspire hope, desire and fear. Indeed, every artist is affected by the world around him and if one is living in a “monstrous” age, engagement with art will elicit the appropriate response to monsters.
Yet, even though Miró lived in Franco’s Spain, a monstrous and threatening world to him, his form of expression was a type that freed his spirit and encouraged others to feel a sense of hope for an inevitable and humane change of circumstances. Miró’s work sustained the human spirit in very dark periods of time, from the Spanish Civil War, through World War II, through Franco’s tyranny. This wonderful show of his wonderful work at the Hong Kong Museum of Art shows that Miró’s visual sources may have been simple, but he had a sorcerer’s ability to turn the little recognized or uninteresting in our lives into a golden source of magical engagement.