Antoni Miró: images from images
Romà de la Calle
Each means of expression imposes its own limits on the artist, limits which are inherent to the utensils, materials or the very process he employs.
Edward Weston (1886-1958)
Often, reflecting upon Antoni Miró’s artistic trajectory, I have been struck by the recurrent idea that his parallel activity –perhaps less known– devoted to research on collage falls upon and encumbers, no doubt in an efficient and direct way, his pictorial practice.
It is true that, at least to date, his monographic exhibitions designed to show the results obtained from the strategies of collage have restrictively, been very few. Yet this should not lead us to think that his interest in such com positional procedures could have diminished. Rather the opposite, in fact. And this is the particular issue I would specifically like to depart from in these present reflections.
To my way of thinking, Antoni Miró’s disquiet glance structures the images –preferentially– in compositions clearly ruled by the procedures of collage. After all, he conceives and elaborates his works from the selection and combination of visual materials provided by other images. He sets off, therefore, from different series of images in order to generate new and diverse possibilities of structuring and synthesis. This leads us to think, especially, that it is not so much a matter now to speak particularly of the concrete strategies employed by Antoni Miró in each case, as of noting above all the forthright relevance that the very principle of collage assumes in the context of his poetics.
We could say that the discursive universe from which he departs in his venture is always potentially open. He observes his surrounding reality, he engagedly sounds out his environment, yet both –reality and environment – are always sifted through the plural network of images that constitutes the iconographic repertoire in habiting his visual memory.
It is certainly curious how the images of the media have become a true mediating resource of much of the activity of our imagery, both individual and collective. And Antoni Miró’s artistic practice has, in fact, been moving in this same direction. To this we should also add the personal museum of his iconographic preferences, in other words, those numerous images from the history of art itself that continually invade and form part of his compositions.
At certain moments this strategy –as is known– even became a fundamental theme in some of his most noteworthy pictorial periods. This occurs, as a paradigmatic example, in the series forming the extensive group of the cycle Pinteu pintura (Paint Paint), carried out between the years 1980 and 1990, converted in to a persistent invitation to the entwined play of the selective synthesis and of the combination of images, all extracted from the historical store of our shared glance.
Likewise, in the present decade of the nineties, Antoni Miró decidedly opens a new stage in his plastic activities, which –under the overall designation of Vivace– projects its special attention on human relationships with the environment. In this way, the generalised presence of nature assumes a fundamental role which previous stages in Antoni Miró’s artistic trajectory lacked.
Nevertheless in this specific juncture, the collage principle also imposes its efficient compositional normativeness on this lively and prolix iconographic ecosystem. The images, whether of nature or of industrial artefacts, structured and emphasised over such a composition al horizon, are in fact extracted from this common experience that the store of the mass media and the art-historical repertoire –in their intersection– make directly available to our routinised perception and memory.
In these circumstances and from this remark precisely, I would similarly like to raise a second issue I also find very relevant, regarding Antoni Miró’s trajectory as an artist. It concerns the unquestionable priority and determination that the exercise of drawing acquires in his pictorial compositions. This fact has been extensively underlined by numerous commentators among those who have widely interested themselves in the analysis of his artistic undertaking.
However, if we consider the coexistence of the collage principal and the importance of drawing, alongside the fundamental mark of the photographic image rescued from the media as determinant –almost inevitable– points of departure of Antoni Miró’s pictorial activity, we will soon realise how interesting it is to penetrate in the theme of the specific links between representation in drawing and representation in photography.
We may perhaps discover in this specific hinge some of the basic keys to help us deepen our study of the process and results of Antoni Miró’s artistic practice.
In fact, it has been suggested at times that Antoni Miró’s images are capable of both attaining the possible coolness, hardness, distance and cruelty of photography, and of emphasising, contrarily, the descriptively vital contact with the referent. In any event, the process of representation his artistic practice assumes has always tried to superimpose the strategy of drawing, taking the mediation of the photographic image as a starting point.
It is a matter of travelling in a programmed fashion between different spheres of representation, of approaching the construction of images from other images, decidedly codifying, in addition, the combinatorial of their possible chromatisms.
It is usual to compare, albeit methodologically, the representative strategies of drawing with the strategies characterising the photographic image, as if in this way we facing two necessarily distant and unyielding aspects of the procedures of representation. Yet it may also be suitable to take into account the effective possibility of their interrelation.
Such is the case we are now dealing with. To what degree can drawing, as an immediate structuring of the pictorial image, also be directly dependent on the compositional keys governing photographic representation? The decisive and pregnant moment of the event to be fixed which in each case is clearly sought and propitiated by the strategies of the drawing in their precise auscultation of the real. In the photographic image however, the pose of reality is presented to us in a parallel way. Therefore drawing’s possible action –superimposed– should consequently yield to this specific situational position. In other words, the propitiated pregnant moment and the very result of posing –being definitely two different things– somehow coincide in the action of the drawing when this is carried out on and from the photographic image, thus taken as a strategic referent.
Does the configurative capacity of the artistic action perchance restrict, by definition, the departure from a repertoire of previous images? This question should be answered by pointing out that in principal everything susceptible of being represented is also susceptible of being established as photogenic by the action of the photographic medium itself. Therefore, the aforementioned configurative capacity, as such, would not be affected insofar as the possible repertoire of images –in its virtual availability– is numerically indeterminate.
However, although not every photographic discourse is logically artistic in itself, the fact that certain photographic images selected from the media should become immediate referents of pictorial action –via the radicalised intervention of drawing or collage– not only adds a new aesthetical dimension to the resulting image but also somehow maintains, alongside its originally photographic nature, a certain instrumental connotation that bears close relation with the technology of the medium and its conditioning as specific device to representation, through which wide information regarding the existential surroundings can be obtained.
The pictorial treatment super induced on the photographic image, extrapolated to a specific medium and language, undoubtedly affords the finish a certain play of tensions and motivations peculiar to pictorial representation, especially through drawing and the respective chromatic options. These tensions and intentions are not, as such, characteristic of the photographic image, assumed as a referential source. And this aural increment the image receives through the practice of overpainting –as we understanding it– is directly linked to the nature of its uniqueness and to the presence of its new graphic/plastic values.
Yet this very image, explicitly photographic in origin, transformed by the pictorial action can also –with the assistance of time and its outcrop as an informatively remembered– introduce an aura of a truly photographic type, in other words, perhaps with an immaterial characterisation, strictly linked to memory and to the certainty of the recorded events. In this way the work transcends the initial image taken as a point of departure, yet it also maintains and safeguards certain of its traits and attributes. This results in its ambiguity and accumulation of potentialities, catalysed around it, as we observe in Antoni Miró’s artistic proposals of the Vivace series, that prompt the present remarks.
The relative ease of drawing, from the photographs, without the need to directly recognising the depicted objects, is usually accepted as an instrumental condition of the photographic medium as regards other representations. In fact, drawing arranges and selects with very precise reconciliatory ends, in which the elements are grouped into more general structures of relationships which, on their part, favour the balance of the composition. In its turn, the selective system of the photographic image is based on the frame, through which the photographer previously projects, balances and arranges, adjusting the real image to the limitations characterising the technical mechanism.
Actually, Antoni Miró –as we have already noted– accumulates plural strategies in his procedures of representation. The fact is that doesn’t merely depart from previous images –primarily based of a photographic basis– in his immediate correlation with the worlds of the mass media and the imaginary art-historical museum, but such a starting point implies the introduction of the double resource of drawing (over painting: paint an image) and of collage (drawing a collage). The question is not that of his works should previously and necessarily stem from a collage-sketch (although this occasionally happens), but that the initial drawings of the compositions should be conformed and structured according to the guidelines of the collage principle. In other words, the artist articulates and composes his paintings as if in fact he were planning the structural execution of a true collage.
In this way an imaginary universe is simulated and constructed, in the double sense of a universe created from images and a universe shaped by games of the imagination. This trait can be generally to entirely cover the broad typology of his artistic task, since his engravings and drawings, as well as his paintings and collages; both obey and respond to such processes of conception and plastic development.
In the Vivace series, Antoni Miró also follows a double guideline of comparison between nature, taken as a theatrical medium, an omni-comprehensive horizon often tainted by an idyllic presentation, and the always outstanding introduction of a certain artefact, that in its his own contexture assumes a peculiar prominence of a metonymic nature. The presence of industrial culture is thus entrusted to such an artefact, as an eloquent part of a whole. This is where the prominence of its bicycles acquires its full meaning.
Such a duality in the depiction is not restricted to the mere game established between background and figure. Both elements –nature and artefact– converse among themselves, opening up to multiple contrasts and ironies, thanks precisely to the compositional basis afforded by the presence of the collage principle and to the clear photographic delimitation assumed by the development of the forever meticulous drawing, ideal for use as an objective reference, in the shaping of the image’s respective universe.
In fact it is unlikely that any artistic attempt of a representational nature not be based on a certain photographic reference. If something is susceptible of being photographed, it is also susceptible of being used, at any given moment, as a timely and irreplaceable referent. Has Antoni Miró renounced facing reality directly and establishing first-generation images in his works?
If each object –and its image– is defined by its radical difference from other objects –and images-, the repertoire of entities can easily be transferred from the original context of the real to the sphere of the specifically imaginary. So much in this the case that images from the mass media decidedly appear as the true creators of the repertoire of nameable things. Only that which forms part of the iconosphere: the sphere of images.
Drawing’s attraction to photography’s qualities is based on its special reception, for it represents an efficient two-dimensional abstraction, so that it may offer an ideal schematization for drawing. The tonal aspect, either contrasted or continual, of the photographic image is more easy to perceive and translate on to an analogous tonal scale in drawing, like the linear aspects immediately rendered in compositional distributions, at times even of a highly abstract nature, yet which are able to assume and shape the set rules of perspective, gradient or composition, that is to say, of an image appearing as objectively valid from the parameters of the real.
Consequently, the talent for tonal and formal abstraction presented by the photographic image, its condensation of details, as well as the easy visual comprehension provided by the adaptation of the image to the pictorial support, unquestionably make of it an efficient versatile working instrument. And Antoni Miró knows and commands such constructive and representational strategies perfectly well. No doubt thanks to this, the comprehension of the distribution of light through tonal continuity is also favoured, together with possible speculation on structural and spatial shapes. For this reason, photography is an irreplaceable basis for the study and manipulation of images, from which procedures of analysis and synthesis, combination and comparison can be applied, collating the results –if the case may be– with the direct natural model.
No doubt, as Edward Weston reminds us in the motto heading our text, each expressive medium imposes its own specific demands, as well as its possibilities and limits. Not in vain all systems of representation have their own adaptations, both regarding the very network of the medium and its respective applications. For this reason surely, as regards representations, the codes that shape drawing and photography are of a diverse nature, just as the ways in which their respective processes of configuration also differ.
As so the technique of representation, drawing appears in an action bounded to a structuring of its own instrumental and mental processes. Let us say that there is a clear interpretation of reality, verifiable in its intrinsic development, while generally claiming a sort of graphological and not merely graphical manufacture.
The process of drawing therefore, evinces its capacity for conforming from the real, by means of the instruments of representation, yet to the same degree the mark of the subject itself appears, that is to say, the mark of its special gestural calligraphy –as calligraphic signs– which makes its own material style (besides its ideological style) generally recognisable. It is of course true that in this encounter between drawing and photographic image propitiated by Antoni Miró, the personal calligraphic signs are extremely diluted, as if it were a matter of emphasising only the signs of the technique and not the traces of individual expression.
Traditionally, photography and drawing have not been watertight compartments inasmuch as producers of artistic images. In any event, even each medium has precisely availed itself of the specificities of the other in order to inquire to a greater measure into its own field of research. Not in vain both partake in a parallel way of the experience of representation. And whoever wising to approach Antoni Miró’s artistic work should depart precisely from these possibilities of interrelation between the two procedures.
His testimonial interest leads him not only to create images from images, but to meticulously highlight –through the finish of the drawings– even the results of the processes of photographic formation of the images and their reception. From this point of view, to create an image from other images appears to be considered as a series of interventions carried out manually, something which moves away from strict automatism of the formation of the photochemical image, forever hidden from sight. If we suggest the example of the image we are able to see in the camera obscura, which is the same one we are able to see in the viewfinder of any camera, we realize that it is an image in real time that still lacks a base. Only when it is conformed on a support it is transformed and fixed, acquiring certain qualities. That is when we can analyze it from its own reception.
For Antoni Miró, this image, taken and fixed during the process of reception, becomes both object and reference. We should not forget the fact the automatism that generated it has afforded the photographic image a key part in the inquiry into the nature of visible things. In other words, it is not only imposed as an image closely linked to the real but as a method of representation that constantly exposes the facts. And to expose facts has always been the explicit desire which, in one way or other, has been present in Antoni Miró’s pictorial venture.
The photographic image, understood as a reference of the visible, has somehow replaced sketches and notes, taking possession of the field of that which is susceptible of representation. In its turn, drawing’s veer towards expressive and interpretive marks has led it to develop certain plastic qualities, as well as to study compositional, structural and gestural values. In compensation, perhaps specialties in different fields have been generated.
For example, if we approach the type of representation provided by the sketches, we will be unable to ignore the documentary, personal and subjective nature implied by this previous activity as preparatory steps to the idea of a final work. Somehow or other, the shadow of the subject always throbs directly behind the mark of the drawing.
Well, in the case of Antoni Miró precisely –as a sort of tour de force– the issue is to emphasize the fact that departing from the photographic image, the action of drawing is used to lay down a pattern and achieve some of the noteworthy perceptive effects characterising the other (photographic) register. In addition, this is the way of moving from the visual game of photomontage to the pictorial montage.
The collage principle, of which we previously spoke, appears again to its full extent and clear activity, even alongside the strategies of drawing, a drawing with presents an unyielding photographic vocation. To vouch for this encounter the pregnant suggestive images of these bicycles, subjected to the most plural of metamorphoses. Impossible bicycles, dreamed bicycles, bicycles carrying the burden of their artistic isms, forever the idyllic scene of a nature which is not less imaginary. And before such images we cannot help remembering –by contrast– the real situations experienced by our ecosystems.
To employ the reality of images in order to move to the images of reality has always been the tempting ambition of Antoni Miró's artistic interventions. For this reason perhaps, to paint paint, to draw images, to generalise the rhetorical strategies of collage, to reread the history of painting and to give shape to a repertoire of visual documents, forever available, have always been his most usual and effective resources, both during the conception of his works and in their unhurried attentive execution.
Certainly, his devotion of the image has been so intense and boundless, the interest of his linked references to the real so great, that he has not hesitated in considering even normal expressive inclinations, that is to say his personal traces, otherwise so basic in pictorial action and drawing, incidentally. And to a certain degree, such a conscious programmed asceticism has ended up shaping the keys of his personal style.
Not in vain does drawing, in its most elementary essence, appear in the realm of signs as a succinct first impression, while the activity of the hand connects this trace to the referential motif that generated it. Therefore the set of marks and signs left on the surface stem from the need of taking the minutes of a physical presence, yet it does not strictly finished there. This could be the reason why drawing becomes, on an almost equal basis, an unexpected trace of the personal and a formative intention, besides being, as mentioned, a reflection of the physical presence inherent in the game of representation.
In spite of the personal asceticism consciously cultivated by Antoni Miró, it is possible that the issue at hand is to discover as well, marks and signs of the pictorial action itself, beyond the representation of structures from the visual world –images of images-. Will we be able forget that, whether we like it or not, in its lines and stains the process of drawing picks up certain echoes of a vital stance, revealed by the hand movements themselves, which become the signs of a specific state of mind and a personality?
Consequently, the (erased) traces of drawing, even if this drawing stems from and is inscribed in the sphere of the photographic image, relate the basic sense of the transference performed, the presence of the mark as a gesture and even the underhand appearance of the self through representation. Like a complex process of diverse interventions, all the actions acquire definite form and the various stages of their creation are punctually registered. Only in this way are we able to accept that drawing may even define the ideas of the things that it reproduces and represents. That is to say, shaping and defining the network, the meaning and pragmatic reach of the images.
In some way, the bicycles of Antoni Miró represent himself in the act of conceiving and shaping them. They clarify, in their finish, the itineraries of their expectations, the fixation of his desires and the objectives of his interventions. By drawing –as by speaking– that which is evoked is intensely modified from the reference itself. This is how Antoni Miró reformulates and constructs models of reality, using a theatrical structuring of the surrounding space, transformed into an idealised or sorrowful nature, and a unique constructive talent with curious analogies, specifically referred to certain objects of the world.
In this particular pictorial action, an entire game of simulations is continually established, even sustained and encouraged by the very difficulty –or radical impossibility– of registering with complete fidelity and detail that which is photographically or truly presented to us. In fact, there is a kind of adaptation to the limitations of each medium, which in the end are those which shape each structuring syntax. And this approach to the sensations of realism persistently cultivated by Antoni Miró in his painting by means of configurations that come closer and closer to drawing, marks his representational limit and possibilities of combination, that is to say, the feasible item of the representation, transformed in a parallel way into the axis of the interpretation of the constructed images.
For, let us not forget that it is a question of constructing images from other images yet while continuing to simultaneously call on a complete mental file of gestures, formal and symbolic memories; transformed and maintained as a personal store of knowledge. Here nothing is strictly mechanical, for –as Nelson Goodman clearly reminds us– all depictions or efficient descriptions of reality demand, above all, invention. They form, differentiate and link multiple elements, which in their turn, mutually inform one another.
Antoni Miró’s pictorial activity continues to move within this wide plural circle of relationships, in which images are forever reminding us of other images. The experience of representation does not merely obey procedural parameters integrated in the nature of the different media, but also obeys factors assumed both at the time of execution as that of reception. In both instances, personal conscience is established as a fundamental element in the development of the facets of interpretation and expression. The process of execution –as is well known– alternates in a continual game of action-reception-action that in each case presides over the versatility of the respective media involved.
In an obvious way, the encounter between drawing, print, collage, painting and photography, each with its own functional devices, also determines the author’s intervention, making the artistic results greatly dependent on the intrinsic experience afforded by each medium according to their mutual influences and intersections. This is where Antoni Miró’s creative struggle takes place.
The traditional dramatic power of pictorial representation is reused, in this case, as a revulsive element of artistic action. It is a question of bringing up the testimonial power of images as a strategy of communication, in order to ironise and parody through them the problematic facts of surrounding reality. In these approaches, the images elaborated from the combination of other images are even able to unlink themselves from concrete personal experiences and function independently, presenting themselves directly before the spectator as programmed constructs stemming from the artistic system itself, as normalised products of its history.
In fact, values established in the context of art have been continually affected, altered and even diluted by the constant advance of the means of diffusion of the images. In the first place by photomechanical means, later by the influence of the mass media and last but not least, by the new media of synthesis widely and unrestrictedly divulged by information networks. It is in this framework of post-painting o r post-photography (to limit ourselves to the spheres under discussion) where the new arguments relating to interactive or virtual images, for instance, are elaborated, where these become detached from their possible physical supports and act under equal conditions, independently from the media from which they proceed.
In its turn, this tendency towards new concepts of reality is giving rise to an eloquent reopening of its own essences, sources and possibilities, both in pictorial representation and in photography, thus rescuing perhaps ancestral links with the referent and its symbolic capacity.
In this sense, both the photographic image and that of drawing can be re-established as organic, drawing even closer to each other despite their material differences, by means of the intro version in other models –besides their own – including perhaps a reference to conscience, to the author’s creation through the process, o r to new m odes of engagement with reality.
Installed between autonomy and functionality, Antoni Miró’s artistic undertaking is all the same fully aware of the risks and demands of the new situations the surprising world of images is experiencing, which –in its partiality– is also his own.
When all is said and done, images from images of images... An entire chained game of constructions, half-way between the endless hermeneutic circle and the theory of the flood.