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Joan Miró and the Artistic Dreamscape

The highly symbolic and associative nature of Joan Miró’s art locates the painter, and subsequently the viewer, firmly in the surrealist dreamscape of the mind. As figures and even emotions are reduced to their core elements, an ideogrammatic, almost hieroglyphic, language emerges from his painting. Whether or not we are able to directly translate these pictorial words is unimportant; instead, our culturally defined perceptions of reality interact with the fluid imagery to prompt a re-examination of the world. Language and painting converge, offering us, through their confluence, a radically new way of interpreting the signs presented. The boundaries between idiosyncratic, subjective experience of one mind and another are briefly dissolved, their suspension permitting the fluid exchange of perceptive reality elicited by the dream-like nature of Miró’s art.

Our ability to truly understand another’s experience of the world occurs during the liminal states of existence: sex, death and dreaming. At these moments of mental receptability our mind becomes porous, allowing for the exchange of ideas and eliciting a true experience of sympathy. Miró’s art, like many others, exploits this through the formulation of a dream-like experience – a waking dream that breaks down the fixed states of quotidian perception. Art emerges, therefore, as a means by which subjective minds may share experiences with one another; it is the means by which human contact can be achieved in an emotional rather than simply physical way. However, this experience is not total but tonal; we perceive the mellifluous shades that indicate, as if through chiaroscuro, the transient experience, but not the hard-edged focus of the subjective eye.

In 1978, Miró experimented with a piece of theatre, La Claca, in which dreams became manifest in reality. In essence, he enacted explicitly the process that his paintings achieved implicitly: the hypnotic state of receptability engendered through performance. The characters emerge from the mind and translate, albeit symbolically, the political and social experiences of the artist. This ‘Theatre of Dreams’, as it was described by friend and artist Roland Penrose, allows us to bridge the normally impossible separation of subjective perception. It is in the dreamscape that we subconsciously reorder our preordered perceptions of reality. Art, broadly speaking and thus including literature, music, and dance as well as pictorial representation, becomes the mechanism of transmission by which ulterior perception becomes manifest; Joan Miró’s painting is simply a microcosm of that process.

Anecdotally, we are told that Miró’s poverty upon first arriving in Paris led him to subsist off so little food that he began to experience hallucinations brought on by his hunger. Whilst this may be simply a story designed to explain the peculiarity of his surrealist style that emerged during this period, it says something important about the method of his art. Indeed, the externalization of his own mental experience is one half of the process that culminates in our internalization of the artistic experience; projection and assimilation become two halves of the coin that buys us access to another’s mind. Painted when he was eighty and supposedly in reference to the imprisoned Spanish anarchist Salvador Puig Antich, Miró’s majestic triptych, ‘The Hope of a Condemned Man’, projects visually the mental experience not of the young man to be executed but the old man whose inability to escape death haunts him. The condemned man is not Puig Antich but Miró; the condemned man is not Miró but us.

W. J. Humphries

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