A different look about the artistic work of Antoni Miró
Joan Àngel Blasco Carrascosa
Once again, I am now going to examine the now prolific production of this creator of images called Antoni Miró. Closely, with that depth of detail which is recreated when we "re-read" an iconography about which I have meditated before, I shall now draw, in the clearest and most didactic way -for such, and no other is my purpose- a discursive thread linking the succesive series by our painter, from his early stages to his present work.
This review by stages of a consistent career, full of a devout longing to communicate, supported by a calculated web searching for a secret dialogue with the spectator, must start at the now distant times of Alcoiart (1965-1972). Fiftyfive exhibitions during this period are a real feat of artistic promotion. His group companions, Sentó Masià and Miquel Mataix -who would be joined later by Alexandre and Vicent Vidal, amongst other sporadic components- do not compete with Antoni Miró for the leadership of this shared adventure, which will take them from Alcoi towards lands and people in France, England and Italy. At this stage in the mid sixties, other groups -in addition to strictly individual adventures, also stemming from a view of art closely linked to social issues- entered the Valencian sphere of plastic arts. Alcoiart did not have a common aesthetic purpose, for there was a creative independence among its members. With its search for artistic integration -and not only a pictorial one-, it has left a trace in our recent history as an account of a strenuous effort with a touch of utopia, as a reminder of a passionate vocation.
During these years, Antoni Miró creates paintings, sculptures and ceramic, also cultivating graphic art and wall paintings. It is vain to attempt to remain passive before the visualization of these plastic inventions. It is impossible to try to remain inert before these provocations to our gaze. There is no room for emotional neutrality; the artist's intention is just the opposite.
Since he held his first individual exhibition in 1965, he has made ethics the foundation of his life purpose. Antoni Miró organizes all his work in series which, at times, overlap: "Les Nues" (The Naked, 1964-1966), "La Fam" (Hunger, 1967), "Els Bojos" (The Insane, 1967), "Vietnam" (1968), "Experimentacions-Relleus Visuals” (Experimentations-Visual Reliefs, 1968), "Escultura Mural" (Wall Sculpture, 1968-1970), "L'Home" (Man, 1968-1971), "Realitats" (Realities, 1969), "Mort" (Death, 1969), "Biafra" (1970), "Amèrica Negra" (Black America, 1972)... This is a long, intense artistic stage, during which the artist links, in a consistent evolution, the move from a figurative expressionism through which he reflects human suffering, towards a social neofigurativism, with a denouncing and critical message, at the end of the sixties.
In this period the artist is openly concerned about social issues. So many latent problems, from injustice to oppression and insolidarity, will be central to his artistic message. The author of this work said so himself: "I reflect today's problems", and this statement simultaneously expresses inconformism and a prometeic longing for a free, just world.
Hence his choice of a figurative iconography, which given its critical character, has been clichéd as "social realism". In this respect, his plastic work can be included within the realist trends of international painting, where we may find, amongst other highly qualified Valencian artists, Genovés, the Crónica Group, the Reality Group and Anzo. However, such coincidences, doubtlessly arising from the rupturist desire, within the strong ideological background of the sixties in Franco's Spain, do not allow us to create a uniform group with all these artists sharing the same poetics. Rather the opposite: each of them, due to their own personal interpretation of reality, develops his own personal style.
Following this trend, with his firm convictions and sure of the artistic path he had started on, he would contact painters with similar aesthetic ideas. This would lead him to create the Gruppo Denunzia, founded in 1972, alongside with Rinaldi, Pacheco, Comencini and De Santi, in Brescia, Italy. Antoni Miró had cast a look upon himself, with the same self-conscience he had used in his critical look when he denounced the inconsistencies of the society of his time, and his non-conformist, radical attitude leads him to commitment and solidarity. This is a time when his interpretation of life and history was illuminating his perception of reality, leading to a commitment into the world, defending and praising eternal human rights.
In agreement with these notions, he would start at this stage his series "El Dòlar" (The Dollar, 1973-1980), consisting of painting, scupture, objects and graphics, which also includes "L'Home avui" (Man Today, 1973), "Xile" (Chile, 1973-1977), "Les Llances" (The Spears, 1975-1980), "Senyera" (Flag, 1976) and "Llibertat d'expressió" (Freedom of Expression, 1978). This is the stage where the peculiar Mironian poetics is at its peak, combining ethics and aesthetics through a dialectic understanding of art. Rather than representing beatific or idyllic, peaceful and quiet models, Miró chose a direct, powerful message, crude at times, which became a radical cry against historical and present irrationality.
Thus, his sharp view would focus on unavoidable issues for an artist like him: the disasters of wars; the unleashed passions leading to violence; the scourge of both individual and collective poverty; the aberrations of racism; the disquieting alienation; the urgency of social emancipation; the unbalance born from dehumanization; the machiavellism of those who manipulate; the paranoia or schizophrenia of dictators; the longing for cultural and national independence; the barbarousness of aggressive capitalism; the immorality of imperialist colonization... This is why his has been termed a political art, aimed at creating discomfort among so much comfortable relaxation; an art meant to disturb, full of critical force, of revolutionary meanings. To sum up, an art of denunciation served through what has been called "awareness-raising painting".
Towards the end of the sixties, Antoni Miró is plotting a twist in his creative conception. He is aware that the times he has had to live are dominated by the worship of images, so many times turned into myths. It is necessary, therefore, to put forward plastic ideas that, based on powerful images, offer a humanizing alternative. This necessarily implies not yielding to any temptation to base art on frivolity or intranscendence. On the contrary, through unnerving, uncomfortable images, full of meaning, he aims at a positive, highly informational art, with a real communicative power.
This the origin of a suggestive pictorial series: "Pinteu-Pintura" (Paint Painting, 1980-1990). By cleverly manipulating -in an open transposition- the propaganda images from industrial and technological society, he puts them through the formal filter of a non-american Pop-art, or also of an Optical art -or even a Cinetical art-, featuring an elaborate synthesis and expressive economy. He will thus introduce into his work a new kind of realism, from which that "Mironian" style will arise. The foundations of these style may be found not only in his paintings, drawings and engravings, but even in other genres or techniques - sculpture, metal-graphics, pottery, wall painting, mobile sculptures, etc.- such foundations offer an unquestionable account of the iconic condensation created by his gaze.
This gaze focuses its aim on today's life, and on the causes underlying our present reality, so as to propose a new reading of the history of painting, choosing significant authors and themes linked to his artistic intentionality. Such is the basis of his "Pinteu-Pintura": revisiting symbolic landmarks of the artistic past under the eye of the use of new expressive devices, always trying to stimulate the viewer's perception, to provoke a visual shock, in order to create a "different reality".
Such look at the past, aimed at clarifying the present and enlightening the future, should not acquire an ambiguous or indeterminate form, but seek for informative clarity. Sometimes, by juxtaposing characters; other times, by superimposing objects, or by isolating fragments, the author of these plastic inventions is facilitating a combinatory game with the viewer, and therefore, an optional one. The composition strategies created by Antoni Miró, which affect both the morphology and the syntax of the image, are of a diverse nature: sometimes, by reflecting parts of an image upon itself, he is applying the "mirror principle"; on other occasions, by enlarging, reducing or elongating, through deformations, the objects or the characters, he is proposing new "readings"; finally, by resorting to superimposition, parallelism, sectioning or inclusion, he is after those contrasts altering accepted images, which initially constituted the central motive of the composition.
A brief overlook of the iconographic repertoire of this series shows clearly that the artists chosen are basic names, of a doubtless world reputation, from the heritage of universal history, and more specifically from the Spanish past: El Bosco, Dürer, Velázquez, Titian, Goya, Gaudí, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, De Chirico, Mondrian, Miró, Dalí, Magritte, Adami, etc. Also, the works chosen from those paradigmatic artists, drawn from the collective museum, are famous due to their world fame: "The Meninas", "The Drunkards", "Vulcan's Forge", "Innocentius X", "The Count-Duke of Olivares", "Charles V at Mülberg", "Charles III", "Self-portrait of Goya", "The Duchess of Alba", "The Wounded Mason", "The Milkmaid of Bordeaux", "The ladies of Avinyó", "Guernica", etc. Unquestionably, the simultaneous appearance of different authors and styles will create the expected contrast, stimulating the retina of those viewing the picture. This game of contrasts, which underlines differences and disagreements, leads to patterns of perception and knowledge which are away from the ordinary. A new beauty emerges from such combinations, from such careful hybridations, which will attempt to catch the attention of the anonymous onlooker.
Antoni Miró "builds" pictorial images from other images, either drawn from the history of painting, or received through the mass media filters, and especially -on many occasions- those proposed by advertising.
The idea of contrast is central to his conception of art. Such an intentional clash, drawing us from the visual languor, or even from a certain accepted visual apathy, constitutes the conceptual basis of "Pinteu-Pintura". Antoni Miró has placed us before iconographic assemblies arising from a process of selection of images -many of them from the collective subconscious-, following a given concept and purpose. These images, which will be dislocated and then rearranged, while they stimulate the visual effect, show the cathartic action suffered by their author. For, in my opinion, the search for contrast in his work is based on a subconscious sublimation of desires and projections.
His is, after all, a process of deconstruction / reconstruction, aimed at creating a new array of pictorial images, which will acquire a higher load of meaning, through the wit and skill of his combinatory devices, as they are extracted from their original context and become a part of another. This is a work of iconic intertextuality with which he has succeeded in complicating metaphorical or metonymic perception; a task of reformulating -or should we say decoding / recoding?- which has been successfully carried out, bringing up his sharp versatility, by extrapolating, altering, re-using, metamorphosing, dislocating... and then recomposing, resignifying... through the new linguistic codes he has created.
Within this reflection on painting created by "Pinteu-Pintura", myths are forced through the filter of relativization. It must be considered that the profile of these new times has been "drawn" through intimate looks at the self, hedonisms and individualisms, and that our culture of eclecticism includes other aesthetics. Antoni Miró is aware of this sociological and aesthetic toeing and froing, which indicates clear aesthetic differentiating patterns. With no suddenness, rather with an outburst of delicacy, his work shows a growing presence of ironic wit. The painter's gaze -now more sophisticated- is offered to us during this stage through the filter of the conspiratorial wink of the characters in the picture.
The work we are dealing with contains delicate irony at times -resulting from covert metaphors or metonymic devices-, and on other occasion’s plain humour; and at times there is even open criticism, sour sarcasm and even satire, as the final product of the crude comparative clash. The author of this plastic work may have wondered: since the irony of the object is looming upon us, it would be stupid not to use this postmodern weapon to filter my thought; such thought, turned into images, will in turn create, through the intelligent interplay with other gazes, new thoughts and new images.
In the awareness that any ironic device needs to be shared and requires an intimate accomplice, Antoni Miró underlined more clearly, in the "Pinteu-Pintura" series, his ironic devices, for in other preceding series the urgency of the message —always committed to the present context- appealed rather to the immediate reaction in an even more patent way, especially given the directly persuasive character of his plastic purposes at the time.
Always attempting to stimulate our aesthetic perception through the procedural devices taken from collage and photo collage, Antoni Miró has expanded his communicative resources. By using these techniques, he has recreated his games with contrasts, recreations or synecdoches. Through subtlety or a clash or connections, he has researched into allusive and comparative strategies, resorting to quotations or references which are then combined. It must be remembered that the aim is no other than a catharsis, the deliverance of those viewing of these works linking images and ideas. Furthermore, it must be mentioned here that his pictorial activity is mainly based on the principle of collage, on the importance of drawing, and on the central influence of the photographic picture.
In the early nineties, he starts a new stage entitled Vivace, where he deals with the environmental and social problems deriving from the lack of understanding of human relationships with the environment. By painting machine artefacts, industrial rubble, urban garbage... Antoni Miró has focused on a present issue, thus changing the subject of his painting; through his art, he questions the notion of progress from a careful, reflective distance. This is a time in which he restructures his artistic work, although his life concerns -which have now shifted towards these issues- remain as enthusiastic as before.
The paintings of this stage go beyond a mere yearning for a lost Arcadia or the fair and necessary denunciation of the devastation of the planet. In such paintings, nature and industrial culture are opposed. By subverting reality, Antoni Miró has enriched and expanded his personal repertoire of iconic elements, while updating other codes of elaboration, more sophisticated in their results and growing polisemy.
In "Vivace", those mechanical, articulate objects -bicycles- have metamorphosed in an illogical world, astride reality and fantasy; within the stage of natural spaces, now explicitly mentioned, the objects have become, through the relational games between truth and falsehood, a surreal organicist figment of the mind.
With apparent coldness, resulting from technical perfectionism, Antoni Miró creates in us -within a toeing and froing of semantic interactions- an awareness of the aggression against the environment, demanding solidarity in the face of this serious problem. Ultimately, those "bicycles" of his, which have surprised us so much, are shown to us outside their original pictorial framework, rusted, purely objectual ones, just taken from those heterogeneous heaps of rubble and garbage.
In this pictorial series, the environment and the technological world are intermingled in a paradoxical discourse full of irony -life cannot be understood without a certain dose of irony and this is the way Antoni Miró reflects it in his paintings- and contrasts resulting from a contradictory contextualization.
Finally, let us mention that, although erotism is always present in Antoni Miró's artistic production, it is in the last stage of the "Vivace" series -entitled "Suite eròtica" (Erotic Suite, 1994)- where it becomes the monographic subject. Building on the ceramic painting of archaic and Greek times, he has recreated daily scenes of erotic interplay with no moralistic concern. At the background of the etchings which make up this graphics folder there lies an anthropologic approach. From them, there arises a natural and playful understanding of pleasure. There is no feeling of guilt or awareness of sin in these hedonist bodies, dances and gestures evoking the vitality of sensual enjoyment. This is recuperation, through the reflected gaze, of the mirror of Mediterranean culture.
Such is our personal overview of an elaborate work, created so that the viewer can share it both aesthetically and individually; such has been our journey through the extremely personal artistic world (encoded as a denouncing report) of a defender of many just causes, a prisoner of order and method, an obsessive voyeur, an experienced researcher into different expressive media.
I have said elsewhere than, rather than "see", what Antoni Miró does is "look". Therefore, under his action there lies a will and a search, a constant questioning. And after this gaze of mine at such a wide array of works, the result of a silent and disciplined effort, it must be pointed out that our author, while keeping loyal to his axiological principles, has persuasively and fruitfully strived for other shares of meaning. In other words, his ascetic daily work has turned, as he strengthened and redoubled his ironic polyvalence, towards the possibility of different readings.
Come to this last bow, where I can still see the cultural horizon of these images and their diminishingly synthetic power, and considering the visual dialogues, the entwined gazes, which take place in the internal maze of his works, I still think that Antoni Miró, once again, will forge "another" gaze, that he will demand, again, that we should become viewers...