A voyage to Xàbia
Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen. We will be leaving in a few minutes, and it is for this reason that we ask you to let yourselves be carried away by the strength of plastic arts. Please be comfortable and relaxed, because the voyage will be intense and full of emotions, feelings and experiences. Our itinerary has Xàbia as our point of departure and return; but don’t think for this reason that it will be a short journey: to the contrary, we will start from and return to Xàbia, but we will also complete an interesting and unrepeatable adventure through enchanting territories: a voyage through Antoni Miró’s country.
Xàbia emerges as the best point of departure and also as destination for our expedition; for good reasons the shores of the Mediterranean have always been on the itinerary of every culture and civilization; a crucible open to every influence that has flourished and developed through the ages on the shores of our sea, it opens for us like a cosmopolitan bridgehead that rises even today like a meeting point of nations and like a stage for exchange, reflection and dialogue. Let us take advantage, then, of the opportunity that this age-old cultural crossroads offers to aim our shuttle towards fabulous worlds, towards fantastic territories like the one we are getting ready to explore: Antoni Miró’s country.
Along this surprising itinerary you will be able to admire the whole world: abundantly rich countries and areas punished by poverty; virgin landscapes and territories devastated by self-proclaimed progress; the most remote latitudes and the nearest comers; everything, absolutely everything is about to happen before your very eyes. The Universe and its inhabitants are about to unfold all their greatness and all their misery for you to observe and analyze, for you to judge under your own criteria. But we must also warn you before you set out that you will have to be very alert because you will sometimes find the most abject destitution hidden where there is greatness; and you may be able to discover the enormity of human dignity where you seem to simply recognize a wretched person. In the course of this excursion you will have the opportunity to travel a vast and rich road; see then what an experienced traveller who has already travelled the itinerary that you are about to set upon, the writer Manuel Vicent, says: ”Antoni Miró’s observer, who travels the long road of his works with him goes through his successive stages, some of them settled in sarcasm, others in irony, others in the pleasure of the senses, others in the analysis of the morbid surfaces of tools, others in rebellion against injustices in the way of cries of protest and this whole collection forms a conscience towards the world that surrounds the artist”. We wish you, then, a good journey.
And so we lift off, finally. The first place we are going to visit is next door to our point of departure: Alcoi. Let us start in the Alcoi where, more than half a century ago, a youngster, almost a child, strives to become a painter and leave the family workshop that supports them all. The youngster has a strong willpower and does everything in his power and more to follow his first and fiercest vocation: painting. He possesses an artistic vocation in the midst of a working-class environment and in a family completely dedicated in body and soul to the workshop:
“You don’t know why you feel an inclination towards friends, places, ideas that you are mainly interested in. In my house there were no books, no pictures, nothing, mine was a very normal family of its time, even though I always felt an attraction toward books, even as objects. And towards pictures. It is something that you like, that is born within you, you have a tendency and you don’t even know how it happens. You probably hear something you like, in a conversation maybe, and it influences you; and you don’t even know how it has influenced you, but it leaves its mark on you”.
And in this way, stealing time from sleep and rest, this youngster began painting and began painting well. And at the same time started to become interested in his culture, in his language, in his country and in his people. With great effort a young Antoni Miró strives to become a painter, and is disposed to do anything to be able to do what he has set out to do. If you look at the background of the canvases that we are looking at you will see that, under everything, there is still a child that is turning little by little into Antoni Miró.
Let us continue, because we are still at the beginning of our itinerary. Let us follow this child who is starting to paint and we will see that he travels through all of Europe with his brushes; Paris first, then England, France later and Altea afterwards... these are quick and sudden movements, almost like turbulences, so frequent in the territory we are Crossing at this moment, called Youth, but also necessary in certain circumstances:
“There are many reasons that push you to leave your hometown, many circumstances that coincide. But I think it was the best thing I could have done, because it gave me a certain distance. It is not easy to break away from a family enterprise, it is very difficult and it would have been even more difficult for me to do what I really wanted to do if I hadn’t left. And even more because the atmosphere in Spain was almost unbreathable; everything was a sin and everything was persecuted and forbidden”.
The Spain of a half century ago, where everything was of a uniform and monotonous grey colour; outside of Spain, to the contrary, the world acquired different and surprising tones. In fact, if you look around you, you will discover this plural and marvellous, but also cruel and unjust, world; the same world that our main character was discovering little by little. It is important to pay attention to the dichotomy that impregnates each corner that we are going to explore during our journey, because it will appear frequently from this moment on, in the same way it was pointed out at the time and with the precision that characterized the writer and essayist Joan Fuster: “At the bottom of Antoni Miró’s sustained and proteic task there is, from the first day, a critical decision projected on man and on the society that western man has created. It is sometimes the cry of denunciation, others it is revulsive sarcasm, every once in awhile it is the incongruity of art trapped by its own hypothesis. This is where its deep suggestion derives from. And its lesson”.
It is precisely Fuster who has been one of the men to leave a deeper mark on Antoni Miró’s country. You will easily recognize his passage, like the passage of other intellectuals who have influenced the education and the trajectory of the artist, in certain corners of the places we will travel through. He is not the only one to have left his mark, of course, but his is very important:
“When we were young we used to go to Sueca to visit Fuster, and it was a real pleasure to listen to him talk. He was capable of saying what you felt; you could not put it into words but he, to the contrary, could do it in a clear and sharp way. I have always felt enormous gratitude towards Fuster, because I went to talk to him and couldn’t add anything; I only went there to learn”.
We will climb presently so as to have a larger perspective of the landscape we are travelling through. You will progressively realize that the territory that surrounds us is always universal: over there we have the profile of the economic hegemony of the United States of America and over here the shadows of Pinochet’s Chile are outlined even as behind us we are able to see the reality of the Cuban Revoluti on. There is New York and Paris and London and Greece and Afghanistan and Palestine and Korea and the Mediterranean. One doesn’t need to make a big cognitive effort to realize that, in reality, what stands in front of us is nothing but reality, humanity’s landscape with its happiness and its sorrows, with the victories and the defeats that have characterized the behaviour of the human species especially in the last decades:
“What we need to accept is that we are all political, and the sooner we accept this the better. Human beings are political, and when two human beings are together they begin making politics. There is always a moral or ethical or aesthetic posture that is part of politics. It is completely impossible to think of a human being that is not that way. And the painter who says that he does not paint politics is either insincere or hasn’t realized this yet. Someone who paints a small house or a river or things like that is much more political, because in the long run this is the painting that follows the dominant ideology”.
So don’t look for virgin territories or for any “beatus ille” full of forced sweetness or affected quiet as the journey continues, because this is not a science-fiction voyage. A reputable voice who has completed this same circuit before us explains these same images that won’t stop beating in front of our surprised eyes; these are the words of the critic Daniel Giralt-Miracle: “The different series or stages of his work (Black America, The Dollar, etc.) are a cry for freedom, for human solidarity, a fight against any kind of oppression... Soldiers, policemen, fighters, arms, crumpled dollars, battered and oppressed beings, flagellated female torsos... are the thematic basis of an analysis of our world done with audacity and great expression”.
We are in Antoni Miró’s country, and once inside its borders you will have seen that everywhere there is an enormous spectacle made of images that are at the same time precise and intensely vivid and every day. The images of humanity, of what most disturbs human beings: power, death, sex, violence, fear... It is very likely that you will have the feeling of travelling through a place you have been in before; but it is one of the charms of the territory we are entering. As you enjoy the view you will discover everyday objects, icons that are part of your closest and most immediate reality, images that are part of the regular traffic of your retinas:
“There are many subjects that I paint and they are very varied, I think that it is in a way inescapable. In a profession like this you are always vigilant to trap the things that interest you so as to be able to put them on canvas. In the media, in magazines... or even in conversations with friends. You talk about life itself, about everything... If there is a subject you are interested in you start to investigate and gather documentation to go a bit further, to squeeze out every drop. I always say that I don’t know about something until I paint it, until I start to feel the subject with my hands and to make inquiries and to investigate. But in truth what most captivates me are the images. It is logical, as a plastic artist, that the strength of images calls out to me more and that I enjoy working with them”.
Nevertheless, if you pay attention, you will discover that in the country where we are now these figures adopt a new character. Can you see it? Is that museum the same museum we visited once? Doesn’t it seem different now? And what about that excavator? Even the works of art that we find tell us more than they have always told us! A dollar... is it a normal bill? There are few voices that can synthesize this reality, but maybe one of the most appropriate ones would be the voice of Rafael Alberti, who wrote about “The Dollar” series:
Paper of crime ready to be covered and buried
By the freest most luminous fecal matter of man
¡The Dollar! ¡The Dollar! ¡The Dollar!
Of course, we are already in Antoni Miró’s country, as we have said, and within its boundaries some things change. Objects and shapes talk to us, seduce us with messages that adopt new semantic shapes that they have maybe always owned but that we had never perceived until now. Every element that appears before us as we look is there for a reason, to show us something, to cry out or weep or smile or make fun and help us in this way to understand the mechanisms that move life and death, the gears that make the society that we know function in a certain way and not in another. None of the objects, none of the human figures that stand in front of us are there for futile or random reasons, but to make us understand that art, through sight and the mobilization of conscience, has the power to shift the foundations of even the most solid beliefs. On this peculiarity of Antoni Miró’s country the archaeologist and critic Enric Llobregat said: “There is something more that we are unable to ascertain that strengthens the latent violence existing in the paintings and gives them their vigour and strength, their lesson of eternity captured in an instant, reflected in many small details, often almost imperceptible, that one after another add nuances to end up exploding like a firecracker loaded with strange intentions”.
You must have noticed, lady and gentlemen travellers, that what you have in front of you is reality. Welcome to Antoni Miró’s reality that is the reality of the world, now unfortunate, now hopeful. It is not the same everyday reality, the reality we are used to, because it is the reality that the most brilliant and impressive images show us after being forced through the sieve of mironian brushes. Where journalists see news Miró sees a bite of tangibility that opens a window on the human universe to show us all, citizens of today, who we are, how we are and why we are. While television shows us images Miró shows us evidence that hits us every time we look through its truthfulness and its transcendence. If all advertising impulses make us believe that everything is all right the way it is, Miró’s universe reminds us that if someone is doing very well it is because others are not doing so well:
“We are so accustomed to processing so much information that this has become the best way to misinform: giving too much information of all kinds, often very well manipulated, that finally ends up desensitizing the individual. The human body has enormous capacity, and when faced with great pain it desensitizes, it chooses to lose consciousness. Well, something similar happens with images and information; you end up by not seeing things. If you stop to think of it the fact that we permit so many things to happen is so disgusting that we shouldn’t be allowed to call ourselves a free, rich, educated, democratic society... It is terribly disgusting”.
If you look out your windows you will see a landscape that takes sides; what is more, if you look out your windows, if you look carefully and don’t look away to miss seeing what appears in front of you, you yourselves will take sides. And if you look away because you don’t want to know you will also have taken sides. The poet Joan Valls i Jordà said about this issue: “Antoni Miró, artistic, realistic and sharp interpreter of today’s world vibrates at the same time and with a messianic cry, for better justice for the meek”.
As we continue the visit to Antoni Miró’s country we must pay an obligatory visit to the Mas del Sopalmo farmhouse. Very near the oak forests of the Carrascar de la Font Roja it has turned into the neuralgic centre of the mironian universe. It is a real shrine where the art that later propagates out all over the world is born, the sacred place where Antoni Miró gives himself to creation, of which the great philologist Joan Coromines talks about in his Onomasticon Calaoniae describing it as an “important artistic center”.,.”organized by painter friend Miró”. The Sopalmo is a place far from everything and open to the world from which the images that Miró uses to hit reality with the precision of a surgeon are projected, the nest where the ideas of his art are hatched, the headquarters of Miró’s multicolour army, the centre of his world. This is where Antoni Miró lives; he could have lived in many other places, but El Sopalmo is his place, in his country, in his family’s country. The poet Salvador Espriu talked in some way about this important strategic post in the verses he dedicated to Miró:
Far to the south of this strange country
a solitary lighthouse watches over the night.
The gasps of suffering lie in wait of it,
far inside the waves, at nightfall.
He follows me in the harsh despair
of vainly fighting against death.
This is why you have such a view at your feet; the best thing you could do is to let yourself go with delectation and enjoy what you have become witnesses to, because as citizens of the century you are participants in these present and universal stories. In Antoni Miró’s country you must learn to live also with cruelty and suffering, because we ourselves are not foreign to feelings that are abundant and common all over the world. A reality without injustice and without oppression would be a mutilated reality; and a look at injustices without accusing those who promote them would be a manipulated reality. The great poet Miquel Martí i Pol asked himself something similar in a section of the poem he dedicated to Miró:
From which secret well of silence do you draw
the luminous and perennial sense
of each gesture, of each movement?
Clever and grave, do you leave the noise
to change any stroke into fire
and turn more tender and challenging,
or do you trace windy parabolas
so as to incite rain and worry
to correctly define the course?
By this time you will have noticed that not all the landscape we are visiting is composed of painting. One must start by saying that, even though it is technique that dominates in Antoni Miró’s country, that does not mean that his creativity should be limited to brushes. Far from it, the mironian works of art are multiplied in many plastic formats, with any kind of material that is susceptible of receiving the Creative impulse that is necessary for them to be transformed into magic objects. Art does not know physical borders; Miró’s art is also free in the shape it is going to adopt at a certain moment, when it searches for the ideal in the transmission of its message and stays true at all times to its creator’s principles:
“I do a bit of everything, but mostly I paint. I like to do things with my hands and that is why I have always tried to learn to treat the materials that may later be useful for artistic creation. When I show I sometimes include an installation, but it is always framed in an artwork that I consider innovative and modern. I think that in my painting you can see that it is not necessary to give up on innovation or on communication without losing a sense of modernity. It is not necessary to start painting strange things or commit excesses to call attention to oneself to be considered modern. One can continue painting the way it has always been done and one can still be modern. Being modern depends on many things, but mainly on one’s attitude”.
And we cannot finish the visit without calling attention to the strong cultural roots of Antoni Miró’s country. His country is his own and is universal, but it belongs to his cultural and geographic country, the country that still belongs to Valencians in spite of anti-Valencians. The country that sticks its head out into the Mediterranean and shouts so everybody can listen to it in spite of interferences. The country that has its own language and likes its own culture and likes it a lot, and has its own landscape that, despite the storm of destruction, is still its own landscape. And in Antoni Miró’s country there is a country open to the world but with deep roots, that multiplies and spreads and grows thanks to Antoni Miró’s impulse and to others like him. Because, if you look beside him, you will see that at the same time that there are oppressed people, there are also oppressed countries, and that is part of human reality as much as sex and love and stupidity and greed. And so, a country that has thrown all its energy into denouncing injustice and into promoting truth couldn’t leave such an obvious reality aside:
“For 300 years we have been subject to destruction and we still haven’t been completely destroyed. Even though they have tried to undo civil society, we still have it. They have tried, and still try, to annihilate everything, to sabotage everything, to bury us and to send us into oblivion as if our culture had never existed. But it still exists and there are still many people who continue to be very active; people do amazing things. All our culture is toll based, as Fuster used to say, created under the maximum difficulties. But we’re still here and I believe we will always continue. Our language may even disappear and there will still be some of us, talking in Spanish if necessary, who will continue to claim our right to exist as a people”.
And there is much more, so much that it never ends; and there is never enough time nor enough space to finish getting to know a country that is many countries and many whole worlds, like Antoni Miró’s country. Antoni Miró is a whole universe and what we have seen is only a small taste of what he has permitted us to see by projecting this universe towards the exterior in the way of works of art that interpret the reality that surrounds us. The writer Isabel-Clara Simó asked herself what pushed Antoni Miró to paint, and reached her own conclusions: “Antoni Miró is the only one who knows why he paints. We look at his paintings and let them penetrate us from the skin inwards. His intentions stay within him; they could be neat and ironed or confused and wrinkled. I think sometimes he paints to be political. Other times to cling to erotic desire. Others to make fun of us, of life and probably of himself. Most of the times, from my point of view, to capture his own very original gaze on the world: to show the interpreted world”.
It could be that the interpretation of the world, the communication of ideas, the dialogue with the rest of humanity, the finding of a common ground between people... There are so many objectives to be covered by a blank canvas and so many problems that the world faces in each of its corners... Antoni Miró’s country may not redeem us; this is also not the intention of its creator. On the other hand probably one of these images could be the seed that propagates all around the world and, why not, it could sprout some day. And from a seed of interpreted reality, of denunciation of human inequality and of those who promote it, of irony and faith in the most noble and clear values, someday the tree of hope will grow. And to have contributed to this mission will have been worth it; it is already worth it to travel through Antoni Miró’s country and to let his country disseminate all over, so it can reach every person who still believes in the goodness of the peoples of the world:
“What surprises one the most about doing shows in other countries is that people do understand the “message”. The problem is that many people do not realize that plastic arts have an enormous opportunity and potential to communicate ideas if there is thinking behind them. People know how to read paintings, they understand. You find many people who would not understand a word in your language, but on the other hand essentially understand what you are trying to transmit in a painting. In any country whose culture has nothing to do with ours, people interpret the same things. And that does make you think sometimes that you are expressing yourself in an universal language”.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are reaching the end of our journey; we say farewell urging you to savour this corner of the Mediterranean that surrounds you. And that is because our tour is so special that, really, the destination is at the beginning. You must know that what you have seen is only a starting point that has permitted us to get close to Antoni Miró’s country, but there is fortunately still a long distance to be travelled: the territory is so vast it is practically never-ending, so that frequently we have to be satisfied with getting to know a minimal part and leaving new visits to areas that are still untamed for later. One of the extraordinary traits that distinguish this territory is precisely its enormous extension that, together with its phenomenal expansion, has as a result that we have many, many voyages ahead of us to continue to get to know the most fantastic places in Antoni Miró’s country. And it is worth it to do frequent excursions to it. Never to cease doing them. And stop in Xàbia to enjoy, once more, this beautiful and unique voyage.