Inside Miró’s atelier


7 December 2015

Joan Punyet Miró remains as enthusiastic as the ten-year-old boy he was when he first set foot in his grandfather’s atelier.

Punyet Miró gesticulates vigorously, recalling one of many anecdotes about his grandfather, the Spanish surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983). He removes a painting from an easel to demonstrate the way his grandfather used to wobble canvases to create run-out blobs of paint. He’s also eager to show us his grandparents’ hilltop house, Son Abrines, where he lives with his own family. It’s a space in which Punyet Miró is surrounded by Miró's work, as well as by art from Miró’s contemporaries, including Chagall, Calder and Man Ray. Punyet Miró is evidently proud of the legacy.

Yet for now, we are in the Sert studio. Named after its architect, Josep Lluís Sert, it is one part of Mallorca's Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca, a site bequeathed to the city of Palma by Miró and his wife Pilar Juncosa.

In January, the Sert studio will be replicated in London by Galeria Mayoral to mark the atelier’s 60th anniversary. The space will include 25 of Miró’s paintings and drawings, as well as the many objets trouvés that the artist accumulated during his time in Mallorca: an array of used tubes of paint, mixing bowls and paint brushes, small earthenware Mallorcan Siurell figurines, palm leaves, stones, photos and newspaper clippings.

Commissioned by Miró’s wife and designed by Josep Lluís Sert, the structure incorporates elements of Le Corbusier’s Modern architecture, under whom Sert briefly worked in Paris. Yet Sert, a friend of Miró, added Mediterranean aspects to Corbusier’s principles. Miró’s trademark yellow, red and blue are painted, almost Mondrian-esque, on doors and window shutters. Sert also modelled parts of the roof to resemble abstract seagull wings, a nod to the nearby Balearic Sea that could be reached by foot in Miró’s day, but which is now blocked by a densely built-up area.

The interior of the Sert studio was designed as a simple form intended to stimulate the artistic imagination. The rectangular space has plain walls, with a high, slated ceiling that allows subdued light to enter. An L-shaped second floor with a balcony gave Miró a bird’s-eye view of his work below. Punyet Miró points out the studio's one dry-stone wall: the space was conceived as a cave, a place where Miró could retreat in silence and recall the primitive.

Even though Miró can be counted as a Surrealist, he never conformed entirely to that school or subscribed to its founder André Breton’s militant demands. He owes more to folklore and the absurdity of life than to any academy. Punyet Miró paraphrases his grandfather’s viewpoint thusly: “Education is castration. Academy is imitation.”

Miró’s imagery was more intuitive, emotional and experimental than, for example, Dalì or Magritte’s more literal interpretations of dreams. Miró’s visuals were less tangible and frequently unpredictable. His formal – or rather informal – convictions and aversion to dogmatism were perhaps also expressions of his personal disillusionment with politics as World War II raged and Spain suffered under Franco’s dictatorial regime. To find an escape, the artist retreated to Mallorca, where he led a tranquil life with his family, close to his private studio.

The secluded lifestyle at Son Abrines and his studios, together with Miró’s strict daily routine, intensified the originality of his output over the years. Punyet Miró posits that Miró was afraid of only one thing: repeating himself. Of course, recurring symbolism can be found in his life work – stars, women and birds, for instance – but it is true that Miró’s oeuvre is extensive and varied in medium and forms of representation.

The period he spent in Mallorca was Mirò's most productive. After establishing his studio there in 1956, he worked on the island until a few years before his death in 1983. Over this span of 27 years, he produced paintings on canvas, wood and copper, as well as ceramics, sculpture, pottery, drawings, engravings and even theatre sets.

The space Miró chose for himself afforded him those liberties. It was, as Punyet Miró writes in his essay The Miró Eye, “a large and luminous space where Miró could accumulate, display or conceal his numerous works in progress.” He would “eventually keep, destroy or modify” what would “otherwise have been a merely provisional, failed or circumstantial work.”

Miró destroyed 80 per cent of the work he produced in Barcelona and Paris, the cities in which he lived before establishing the Sert studio in Mallorca. Alongside finished works, the studio is dotted with unfinished paintings, black on white ghosts of what could have been. Some are strikingly suggestive of Cy Twombly’s later, abstract expressionist brushstrokes.

In the museum adjacent to the studio is La Partie de pêche des amoureux (The Loversʼ Fishing Party). This artwork, from December 29, 1965, is made from a flea market tapestry covered in graffiti-like marks. It feels remarkably contemporary. Other works that he burned with petrol, only to put out the fire with a paint-dipped broom, might as well be precursors to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings.

As I leave the studio, the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner enters. It’s an affirmation that Miró and the Sert studio remain relevant to the contemporary art world. Despite his winters as a starving artist in Paris, Miró had a clear sense of what he longed for, as he described in a 1938 essay for the magazine XXe siècle: “My dream, when I am in a position to settle down somewhere, is to have a very large studio, not for reasons of brightness, northern light… but so that I can have space, lots of canvases, because the more I work the more I want to work.”