Miró: The Ladder of Escape is currently on show at the Tate Modern (ends 11 September). The exhibition’s overwhelming success lies in its coherent portrayal of Miró as an artist who is inherently political and who had strong tied to his Catalan roots. Brushing away the assumption that Miró is a whimsical artist who likes to paint squiggly lines in bold colours, the Tate really underlined the traumatic effects that the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s dictatorship, and the Second World War had on his work. What emerges is an oeuvre so inextricable twinned with the politics of its time, which is imbued with such a heavy psychological reaction to those events, and which is therefore often nightmarish and savage in nature.
Miró’s work is private and introverted, growing out of his real experiences in modern Spain and Paris, yet also outward looking in its relevance to human experience in times of trauma. His use of repeated symbolism – stars and ladders in particular – create a rich syntax, a visual language that illustrates his desire to escape, to drift into a dream state and abandon the destructive forces that were controlling Europe. Perhaps, then, Miró was not so much a painter of the subconscious – as standardised definition of Surrealism lead us to believe – but a painter that was very much tuned into the reality of his time, and whose art emerged from the real traumas engulfing Europe. Of particular note are his ‘savage works’ of the 1930s and the ‘Constellations’ series (1940-1941), with wild imagery and dense compositions that were produced during his ‘inner exile’ in Spain.
The Tate’s retrospective reveals another side to Miró. Not the trippy, whimsical and innocent artist we might presume him to be, he was a political painter whose reduced visual language has huge symbolic potency. ‘Dreams, hysteria and even madness are the paths to truth,’ Miró said.
To read my full article, for more images, and to read about Yayoi Kusama at the Victoria Miro Gallery, follow the link to Bareface Magazine.