Antoni Miró. An intense trajectory
Joan Àngel Blasco Carrascosa
0. Between the why and the wherefore
Not all visual artists build their work from the foundations of consistently assumed postulates. Others, on the contrary, base the discourse to be derived from their creative work on the firmness of their convictions. This latter case would be applicable to Antoni Miró. Accepting art as an integral part of our society, this painter considers that artistic activity does not have to be, or appear to be, dissociated from the rest of human activity, for its implicit creative motive can under no circumstances be regarded as separate from its own cultural context. If, apart from aesthetic considerations, the object of artistic practice is also sociological, historical, psychological and linguistic, then artworks (precisely because they are complex and pluri-dimensional expressions of a historically determined cultural universe) are, above all, based on a dialectic between the individual dimension and the social dimensions whose ground base is constructed of ethical components. The work of Antoni Miró as a whole, which we will comment on in these brief lines, is the result of an intention to conceive new syntheses capable of providing spectators with the opportunity of an artistic experience. By means of all the resources, procedures and means of expression available to him, he has been able to take the values intrinsic to each one of his works, correlates to the formalism of his compositions, and use them to emanate those symbolic components (materials used to construct the sensibility) which, by definition, constitute what we know as culture.
I. By way of a synthetic account of an intense trajectory
For those still unfamiliar with the painting of Antoni Miró (Alcoi, 1944), these preliminary lines may be useful as a hurried revision of one of the most fertile trajectories in our artistic scene. That at least is the intention of this introductory profile conceived as a continuous line which will underscore with the necessary brevity the most significant milestones on a path drawn from Miró’s beginnings to the present moment in time, through an uninterrupted concatenation of series whose totality gives body to the map of his prolific contribution to the realm of visual arts.
This same intention remits us to the already distant times of Alcoiart (1965-1972), a period including no less than fifty-five exhibitions which constituted an exemplary demonstration of artistic expression. His group companions of the time, Sento Masià and Miquel Mataix -later joined by Alexandre and Vicent Vidal, and other occasional collaborators- did not dispute the leadership of that enterprise with Antoni Miró. That was a moment, in the mid 1960s, in which other groups and individuals put their art at the service of the social problems of times.
Du ring those years, Antoni Miró made paintings, sculptures, and ceramics, and also graphic works and mural paintings, works made without concessions to neutrality, whether emotional or ideological. Indeed, since his first solo exhibition in 1965, our artist has placed ethics at the very heart of his existential ambition, conceiving all his works in series, sometimes overlapping them: "Les nues" (1964-1966), "La Fam" (1967), "Els bojos" (1967), "Vietnam" (1968), "Experimentacions-Relleus visuals" (1968), "Escultura mural" (1968- 1970), "L’Home" (1968-1971), "Realitats" (1969), "Mort" (1969), "Biafra" (1970), "Amèrica negra" (1972)... We are indeed dealing with a long and dense artistic phase, in which Miró consistently set in motion a chain of links from figurative expressionism (through which he reflects human suffering) to socially orientated neo-figurativeness with a denunciatory and critical message, towards the end of the 1960s.
This is the period during which the artist’s non-conformist concerns for social questions emerged. His choice of figurative iconography which, given its critical nature, received the name of "social realism" is rooted directly in his engagement with strictly contemporary concerns and issues. The points of connection with other coeval Valencian artists, such as Genovés, Equipo Crónica, Equipo Realidad or Anzo, are more than evident. However, the concomitances, openly ideological in those closing years of Franco’s dictatorship, when signs of rupture with tradition within the art world were understood as an open defiance of the structure of the regime, should not lead us to conclude that all these visual artists subscribed to one single poetic. On the contrary, the idiosyncratic interpretations of reality of each one of them would materialise in their own personal styles.
From a radical non-conformist stance, looking inside himself with the same critical intent with which his analytical gaze condemned the calamities of the society of his time, Antoni Miró fights for social engagement and solidarity. That explains his connections with painters with whom he shared similar aesthetic approaches, and the emergence of Gruppo Denunzia, founded in 1972, with Rinaldi, Pacheco, Comencini and De Santi, in the Italian city of Brescia. That was a moment when his conception of life and history gradually threw light on an awareness of reality in order to arrive at a position of engagement with the world, defending and demanding eternal human rights.
Imbued with this vocation and determination, at that time he began his series "El dòlar" (1973-1980) which materialised in paintings, sculptures, objects and graphic works, including pieces such as "L’Home avui" (1973), "Xile" (1973-1977), "Les Llances" (1975-1980), "Senyera" (1976) and "Llibertat d’expressió" (1978). It was precisely during this period when the singular Mironian poetic was definitely outlined with unequivocal profiles, linking visual work and moral positions through a dialectic understanding of art. More than depicting beatific or idyllic, peaceful or serene motifs, Antoni Miró opted for a direct message transmitting a radical denunciation of current and historical irrationalities. This is a forceful, often harsh, body of work in such a way that it would be pointless to imagine that our eyes could remain passive when confronted by these plastic images.
Continuing with this gradual revision, towards the late 1970s Antoni Miró embarked on a rewarding about-turn in his creative work, resulting from a reflection on the society in which he lived and in which the symbolically charged image was all pervasive. His is a humanizing re-elaboration of this collection of visual representations impressing it on our retinas day after day but which, far from putting man at centre stage, shunts him to a periphery removed from any non-material principle. There is absolutely no room here for frivolity or lack of transcendence.
These foundational premises contained within themselves the seeds of an evocative pictorial series, aimed at establishing a dialogue connecting with the beholder: "Pinteu Pintura" (1980-1990). Cleverly manipulating the propagandistic images of industrial-technological society, he then filters them through the formal filter of a non-American form of Pop Art, or also of Optical or even Kinetic art, resulting from an elaborated synthesis and economy of expression. In this way he will inject into his work a new modality of realism, from which his Mironian "style" will emerge. A style whose defining keystones may be detected, not only in his paintings, drawings and engravings, but also in other genres or working methods, like sculpture, metalgraphics, ceramics, mural painting, mobiles, etc., which provide irrefutable testimony of the iconic condensation which is the end result of his way of seeing.
A superficial approach to the iconographic repertoire of these pictorial series clearly demonstrates that the artists selected are seminal painters, all of them with indisputable universal stature, dotted along the long legacy of art history, in particular the Spanish one: Hieronymus Bosch, Dürer, Velázquez, Titian, Goya, Gaudí, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, De Chirico, Mondrian, Miró, Dali, Magritte, Adami, etc. Here are works by these paradigmatic artists taken from the collective museum and made famous thanks to their continuous dissemination: "Las Meninas", "The Drunkards", "Vulcan’s Forge", "Innocent X", "The Count-Duke of Olivares", "Carlos V in Mühlberg", "The Milkmaid of Bordeaux", "The Demoiselles d’Avignon", "Guernica", etc. There is no doubt that the simultaneous combination of diverse artists and style will produce a stimulating contrast in the eyes of the spectator who find themselves in front of the works. The interplay of opposites, highlighting differences and disagreements, induces a set of perceptive and cognitive patterns different from the habitual. A new beauty emerges from these unusual mixtures, from those carefully thought out hybridisations, seeking to capture the attention of anonymous "watchers", who, on the other hand, are forced to sharpen their sights when faced by a proposal where sophisticated irony is filtered through concealed metaphors and metonymic plays. All direct resources are definitively left to one side, replaced by complicity, and the same applies to the given message, substituted by a re-enactment of itself.
A new period opened in the 1990s with a series entitled Vivace. Again, a new thematic twist induces a rereading of Antoni Miró’s work. Human creations and technology or, in short, civilisation and its relationship with the environment, move to the centre of his work. The artist questions the whole notion of progress. In this series, without renouncing his fierce uncompromising criticism, a more elevated poetic and lyric stance may be detected through mechanical and articulated objects -bicycles- which have been metamorphosed into an illogical world, moving between reality and fantasy. And placed within a stage setting of natural spaces, now explicitly referenced, they have been turned into a surreal organicist figuration through the relational interplay of truth and falsehood.
It is also worth pointing out that, although the mark of eroticism is a constant in the artistic production of Antoni Miró, it is in a specific section of the "Vivace" period, one he entitled "Suite erotica" (1994), where the issue is dealt with monographically. Based on ceramic paintings from ancient classical Greece, and free from any moralistic concerns, he has re-enacted scenes of erotic interplay consubstantial to daily life. Behind the etchings making up this portfolio of graphic works, there is an anthropological vision emanating a natural and playful understanding. There is no hint of guilt or feeling of sin in these bodies, dances and hedonistic poses evocating the vitality inherent in any rejoicing of the senses. The reflected gaze confronts us with a reencounter with the mirrors of the Mediterranean culture.
II. Looking at (and painting) painting
I have said on other occasions that rather than "seeing", what Antoni Miró actually does is "looking at". A permanent questioning underpins all his activity. Another of the artist’s constants, who on the other hand has never reneged on his allegiance to a number of axiological principles, has been a permanent enriching of those values of significance in the ongoing development of his production though time. In other words, his ascetic daily dedication has been gradually orientated, in parallel with reinforcement and redoubling of the iconic polyvalence, to open up the possibility of different readings.
The world of Antoni Miró is, in itself, permeable to multiple referential approaches within the artistic universe. The artist wants these references to act by accumulation, an interchangeable amassing for each of the spectators who, with their own visual backgrounds, qualify and extend that protean world, saturating it even further with connotations. Subsequently, it is precisely this sense of saturation what he permanently re-enacts though focusing on politics, sex, nature, voyage or violence -to name only a few of the subject matters dearest to the artist- and using for it that special gallery of images he himself has selected. Kaleidoscopic creations which, when faced by the slightest twist or hint, send us hack to the principle of play, gaze, and reflection vis-à-vis the work of art. A tautological factor on themes, references, and gazes prevails in his production.
But far from exhausting the references used by the painter in an artistic meta-language, the iconic universe of Antoni Miró is direct, powerful, taken from a daily struggle with reality; a repertoire of images with return tickets, for through an artistic and ideological contextualisation -and in this sense we must emphasise the consistency of the artist throughout the whole of his trajectory- he returns to us all that monographic ensemble reinforced in its power, reach, and significance; works reinforcing reaction, achieving their goal of bringing an edge of discomfort to the conscious.
Antoni Miró’s production, imbued with a determined drive to communicate, leaves no room for neutrality neither from the side of the artist or from the spectator. Indifference is made impossible by the explicit messages conveyed in the vital images which, far from exhausting in themselves or acting as mere quotations of other previous ones, ironically lead us back to an uncomfortable critical position in a world, our present world, which mixes up what is given with what is real and possible. Utopia is transfigured in criticism, and criticism is offered to us as a means to achieve or reach the possible. Irony is the system used in this approach, an intelligent rebelliousness demanding the receiver’s complicity and, subsequently, identical levels of lucidity.
The notion of contrast is crucial in Miró’s artistic conception. That carefully planned contrast or clash, reawakening us from a widespread visual somnolence if not from a certain generally accepted visualising apathy, is at the heart of the artist’s conceptual background, from Pinteu-Pintura to his most recent production. Antoni Miró has faced us directly with monographic assemblages based on a process of selecting images, many of which inhabit the collective retina, in harmony with a given concept and purpose. These images, which will be taken out of context and later rearranged, while acting as a stimulus for visual effect reveal the cathartic action experienced by the artist. For in my opinion, the quest for contrast expressed by his works is based on a subconscious sublimation of yearnings and projections.
His is, in other words, a deconstruction-reconstruction process aimed at the configuration of a new anthology of pictorial images, which will increase their polysemous charge as they are extracted -through ingenuity and a skilful use of combinatory resources- from their original context to be placed in an entirely different one. A work of iconic intertextuality with which Miró has managed to raise the level of metaphorical or metonymical sagacity. A task of reformulation or, better still, of decoding/recoding, which brings to the fore a marked feature of Miró’s versatility, extrapolating, altering, reusing, metamorphosing, dislodging... to immediately begin to recompose, to resignify... through the new linguistic codes he has drawn up.
The body of work we are analysing here, exudes a fine irony in some cases -resulting from hidden metaphor or from metonymy- and an unrestricted humour in others, sometimes dwelling on open criticism, caustic sarcasm, or even satire, as the upshot of the stark comparative contrast. Perhaps the creator of this visual work has contemplated this idea, "haunted by the irony of the object, it would be stupid not to use that postmodern weapon to filter my thought which, steeped in images, will also set into play, assisted by the intelligent use of other gazes, new thoughts and images".
III. Iconography, Engagement and Method
A member of that long saga of artists throughout history who have shown a firm commitment with their time, Antoni Miró has successfully focused his acute gaze on subject matters impossible to overlook by an artist of his kind: the disasters of war, the primeval passions of violence, the blights of individual and collective misery, the aberrations of racism, the confusion of alienation, the urgency of social emancipation, the unbalances derived from dehumanisation, the Machiavellianism of those who manipulate, the paranoia or schizophrenia of dictators, the yearning for cultural or national independence, the brutality of aggressive capitalism, the immortality of imperialistic colonisation... Hence his art has been labelled as political, conceived to gnaw away at widely accepted positions of self-complacency. An art made to disturb, imbued with a critical spirit and revulsive meanings. In short, a denunciatory art filtered through what has been called "awareness raising painting".
Antoni Miró is a radical non-conformist who, from a finely-tuned stance of engagement with human rights, presents us with a critical body of work inextricably bound up with denunciation and solidarity. He takes great risks in favour of an ethical synaesthesia, inasmuch as he overturns and rejects anaesthetised moral stances.
The iconic appropriation of a substantial part of the history of painting in Miró’s production, carries with it a reflection on the very limits of the artwork in itself, which may be extended ad infinitum in a reflected interplay of facing mirrors. A pretext acting as a meta-language to establish a reflection on work itself, transfigured through previous artistic proposals. It is, at the same time, a point of inflection in his personal and communitarian history through a series of images fixed in the collective imaginary, icons of ourselves in the passing of time, whether in the long or short term.
His working methodology, as well as the ensemble of images, allow for a serialised production, with his work in series configuring another of the central axis of his production. Far from being finally exhausted, each series opens up new ones, transmuted into a vanishing variation line where the characters reencounter themselves in that time tunnel which is memory. Labyrinths or mazes of plastic echoes where each corner opens up a way out, and each new twist closes it off again. A permanent self-nourishing revision of what is most cherished by our artist: painting. Antoni Miró as a producer of images, elaborated and re-elaborated from a particular coding directly derived from Pop. He is a synthetic and direct publicist communicating through messages of clear-cut, neatly drawn renditions, where colours, lines and composition are all put to work at the service of the final result: communication in the broadest meaning of the term. This communicational power, assisted by immediate allegories, is what returns us to the very centre of contemporaneousness in a heartfelt denunciation of all aspects of oppression, pain, aggression, misery or manipulation.
This look at the past, to clarify the present and give birth to the future, should have to be materialised not in an ambiguous or non-determined way, but with informative clarity. By sometimes juxtaposing characters; on other occasions superimposing objects; or by isolating fragments, the author of these visual inventions triggers off in the spectator an optional game thanks to its combinatory nature. The compositional strategies devised by Antoni Miró, affecting both the morphology and the syntax of the image, are varied: sometimes, when reflecting parts of an image on itself, he is applying the "mirror principle"; yet other times, the enlargement, reduction or lengthening of objects or characters through deformations provides a set of new "readings". Finally, by resorting to superimposition, parallelism, severing, or inclusion, he goes beyond those changing contrasts of the assumed images which initially seemed to constitute the central leitmotiv of the composition.
Always with the primary intention of stimulating aesthetic perception, using the procedural systems of collage and photomontage, Antoni Miró has increased his repertoire of communicational resources. Using these techniques, he has polished his plays of contrasts, deformations or synecdoches. And through subtlety or a clashing contrast of connections, he has raked through allusive and comparative strategies by combining quotes or references. And always taking into account that the goal is none other than a catharsis, a liberation of the visualising effect of these works which have bound image and idea together. Furthermore, it must be pointed out, that his painting contains the principle of collage, the importance o f drawing, and the fundamental imprint of the photographic image as key starting points.
IV. Art and Nature
The thread connecting our discourse should not be considered conclusive without first dealing with the recent artistic production of this forger of images. With the title Sota l’asfalt està la platja [the beach is under the tarmac], he tackles the conflictive relationship between nature, culture, and civilisation, these realities which should be brought closer together, especially when a deviant conception of what is understood as "civilization" is gradually eroding the "green" foundation underpinning nature.
At a time of collective acceptance of the serious problem of environmental deterioration, and the less than implausible notion of planetary suicide, some visual artists (as in the case of Antoni Miró) reflect, through a number of different procedures, on how to unite "art" and "ecology". It is a healthy attitude which demonstrates exactly to what extent landscape has been, and continues to be, one of the main battlegrounds of our times. Many formulations have been proposed to confront the persistent violation of nature which is under so many threats. In this context, the questioning of the most correct attitude vis-à-vis the "true" and critical problem of consciousness of contemporary culture seems out of place. Every artwork that makes reference to landscape, underlines the essential bonds between nature and culture, allowing us at the same time to reinvent the modalities of that relationship. And this is all the more true when we accept that the possible solution will not come from artists, but from the powers that be, for "they" (and, to a limited extent, "we" too) have control of the resources to tackle pollution, destruction, and impending apocalypse. However, that does not mean that we are exempted from an introjected shared responsibility, or at the same time free from an always exculpatory self-victimisation. Artists never have solutions at hand. The most they can do, and perhaps what they must do, is to visually pinpoint the problem, to question and to raise their voices.
When Antoni Miró claims that "the beach is under the tarmac" he is not falling back on Rousseaunian nostalgia. Neither does he appropriate the environmentalist ideology in his attempt to relate the "artificiality" of his constructive forms with the external "natural" space. For falling into that redeeming temptation would ultimately amount to a usurpation of the moral responsibility of the defenders of "envirocracy". Our artist does not have any therapeutic prescriptions suitable for the diagnosis. The crux of the matter may perhaps lie in the -artistic- reinvention of the world in which we have to live, through articulated visual discourses which, from the subjectivity of their respective poetics, bring us closer to the essence of life. The opening up of ways for a creative, metaphorical "reconstruction" of nature from the autonomous field of research which gives rise to what we call "art".
The idea we are expounding does not presuppose a return to the recovery of Arcadia, let alone a search for Paradise Lost. Nor the in pectore assumption of a Cousteau-like activist identification. And in no way does it involve the paradox of yearning for the artificial preservation of the naturalness of nature. For today’s artist -an issue upon which we shall continue reflecting- must embark on a search for a new experience of landscape, thus re-establishing the dialogue between culture and place.