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Being painting

Isabel Clara Simó

How many paintings have existed from cave art until the present? Including oil paintings, gouaches, watercolours, pencil or ink drawings, pastels... and adding the artistic reproductions from all times, disregarding their artistic value. The number would be overwhelming. Let us think of ourselves, illiterate in pictorial art: our formless children’s drawings, that flower or fish which we doodle while talking on the phone, the heart we engraved in a tree in the company of our loved one... The amount is so astronomical that it escapes our comprehension. The fact is the very moment our species had hands, and opposable thumbs, there were two things that humans did not waste time in creating: weapons and recreational drawings or casts, even before clothes and food containers. We have, therefore, the right to propound that humankind is the species which produces art. That would be the reason why the most progressive and accomplished educators defend the need for art in the school curricula for all children, including those with mental disabilities, for whom it is a source of pleasure which may only be understood after the acceptance of the premise that our species is an innate art manufacturer.

From that never-ending mountain of paintings and drawings there is a much, much smaller portion making up the category we know as "works of art". However, we have also to consider the huge number of works of art. We just have to take a look at the museums we ourselves have visited, not to mention the vast quantity existing in the world, and all the paintings we have seen. Just trying to imagine it is dizzying. Subsequently, besides the above definition stating that ours is the art-producing species, we could also add that our species has provided many talents in this field, and that each one of those talents has suffered from productive incontinence. One example: how many impressionist paintings, to name the preferred movement of visitors to museums, exist? For instance, how many did Renoir paint? And how many Monet? No matter how much I travel, I always bump into them everywhere. The next question is the one which inevitably follows- why? I mean, why did those painters paint? What do they want to say or express? And why do they paint so much? Is what they want to say inexhaustible? Is their discourse never-ending, always unfinished?

Painting scholars have always attempted to provide answers to these questions in thousands of ways, yet none of the answers seems complete, let alone definitive: neither art consists merely in the creation of beauty, the exploration of the inner self cannot be said to be its only purpose, nor is a denunciation of an alienating and oppressive society its only end.

Let us focus on one painter, on an excellent painter: Antoni Miró. If somebody asked me how many of his paintings I have seen, I would shrug my shoulders in a gesture of helplessness. In the meantime, he might have painted three or four more series comprising several dozen works each. Not forgetting his print works -Miró is a master of all techniques- and the abundant books on his work which he tirelessly and carefully publishes. Why does Antoni Miró paint? What is he after? What does he want to prove? What does he want to show? And I say it without the embarrassment of the highbrow terms chosen by the history of painting to name the different periods and movements. In fact, it is about classifications, such as that made by Linnaeus with the animal species, comfortable to include a wide variety of concepts, in the understanding that no specific animal is exactly like the model established by Linnaeus; what we call the "paradigm", the model with respect to which the specific individuals have common features. And that is all. No painter is a cubist painter in a pure state, or abstract, or figurative, or surrealist, or expressionist.

What I am suggesting is that we must try to avoid falling back on simplifications, no matter how comfortable they may be. If we say that Miró paints to rebel against the boot of the oppressors, we are only saying part of the truth; if we say that Miró paints as a way of explaining himself and, en passant, others and the surrounding world, we are telling just one part of the truth, but not the whole truth; if we say that Miró paints motivated by an emotional necessity, we are also saying a part of the truth. But not all the truth.

I think that Antoni Miró is his own painting. They are inseparable. It is like when we hear an athlete that is about to retire from competition saying that "Athletics is my life"; or like the musician suffering from deafness -the great Beethoven!- looking on in astonishment at others pitying him because he is no longer a man who suffers, but a man emotionally dead. This is what happens sometimes. And it has nothing to do with marketing or with celebrity, nothing to do with the prices of the paintings or the greed of collectors, nothing to do with critics or friends. Sometimes, a painter - for instance, Antoni Miró- is a painter because he was born a painter; because he carries with him the hidden and complex folds of the soul, of the spirit of painting. A spirit more powerful even than the people he loves, even than himself. All in all, the question "why does Antoni Miró paints?", followed by the other question "why does he paint so much?", lose all sense because the answers are the same: he cannot help it. He paints because he is a painter -an indestructible self explanatory tautology.

In his famous À la recherche du temps perdu, Proust said something very cruel about writing - I am not talking, as I have done with painters, about those writers who write as a profession, yearning to finish the work and start the promotional campaign, but rather about those writers who are alive only when they write, who breathe words. The French author said that those surrounding an author throughout his life, are for him what models are to a painter: working tools. The sentence is terrible, but true -writers use others, even those they love most passionately. That is terrible, but also extraordinary, for the author takes these models and places them inside his work just as a sculpture sculpts from stone and clay. The Franciscan humbleness with which it is politically correct to talk about writing today makes those discourses modest and phoney, and that is how we come to hear that a writer claims to be like a beggar of life, or like an angler, patiently and motionless fishing in the waters of reality. Nonsense: every writer feels like God. Is God. And, what about the painter? God, naturally! God and woman, because women give birth. For millennia, God was a woman -and that is why only statues of goddesses were found in the long period of the Prehistory- until Patriarchalism drew a beard on God and gave him a bad temper. Every artist is God and woman, yes sir!

Antoni Miró, who is an atheist and a misogynist, will have to use all his irony to stop himself from laughing out loud. But I insist: Antoni Miró is God and woman. Even if God does not exist, and even if he likes women with that joyful voracity with which Valencian heterosexual men like women. He therefore paints because he is emotionally configured to paint.

A very different thing is how Antoni Miró paints.

And another different thing altogether is why he paints.

How does he paint? He usually paints with plastic paint. He has a certain predilection for large canvases and formats -often huge- and is a figurative painter. Those are his most external, more epidermal, features. But, let us try to go a bit further: Miró has never painted a pompier work (those slightly affected paintings, unable to free themselves from the burden of academicism and classicist contributions), nor has he ever made a pastiche (in which the painter imitates the tendencies from other time), but he could very w ell add some pompier element, or experiment with a demystifying pastiche if he feels like that. Neither is he an artist of sentimental effervescence, but on the contrary, as the cubists defended, he believes that sentimentality was good for 19th century artists, and is better off remaining in that time. Georges Braque used to say that pictorial emotion is a restrained emotion - it is not a teardrop, but a lump in the throat. That is precisely the reason why I believe that Miró is closer to the cubists, even if formally he has nothing to do with them. Like cubist artists, he cultivates pictorial architecture to perfection. But his would be a specific cubism instead of an abstract cubism: geometric lines, flat colours. Besides, Miró has also something of the fauves, which is nothing more than expressionism based on the exaltation of colour. His would however be a Pop fauvisme, impregnated with irony. Let us further add that Miró makes a markedly Mediterranean and Latin painting -to Apollinaire, nationalism in art is not what was attributed to the Romantics, but the defence of a concept of culture: North or South, Germanic or Latin spirit, inland or the sea. And yet another feature: the wide range of media used by Miró in his immaculate studio in Sopalmo. For he as easily makes a poster as a collage; an installation as a book cover, without ever renouncing extraordinary and large paintings, which breathe easily.

Why Antonio Miró paints, only he knows. We look at his paintings and let them pierce our skins and reach inside us. His intentions remain inside himself, perhaps clear and smooth, perhaps confused and wrinkled. He paints, I think, sometimes to make politics. Others to capture erotic desire. Other times to make a mockery of ourselves, of life, and probably of himself. Most of the time, in my view, to freeze his own extremely original vision of the world: to show us an interpreted world. In all these cases, we may or may not share the same goals with the artist. Looking at a painting is not a passive act -the beholder’s gaze contributes his/her own universe, taking possession of the painting and interpreting it from personal parameters. We do not need to agree with the painter. The only thing we must avoid is to disturb the painting, to suffocate it, to impose "our" inner painting upon it. Everything else is acceptable: looking at a painting is also an act of freedom.

In the case of Antoni Miró there is often a complicity between creator and spectator which, notwithstanding the political load of some of his paintings, can be understood anywhere in the world. Indeed, it is well-known that he has exhibited in the furthest flung places and that his works can be found in the most prestigious, or more exotic museums. Complicity is an important feature of his painting, especially in his famous series "Pinteu pintura" [Paint Painting]. What they want to tell us -allow me to end up by risking a hypothesis- is that things are not what they seem. As Magritte said in his extremely famous painting, frequently used as a symbol by Antoni Miró, Ceci n'est pas une pipe, a sentence that, as we all know, is written below a pipe.

Apollinaire also used to say that we must do away with anecdotal elements, both in painting and in writing, applying in the case of literature the term trompe l'oreille. In painting, Antoni Miró, accomplice of our sensations as beholders, makes an extraordinary and intelligent trompe l'oeil. Let’s surrender ourselves to it.