Be the Artist: Joan Miró

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Artist Joan Miro’s work was like his own poetry or music. Try using the Miro method to create a machine and its story. Shown is “Adventures of a Computer Bug Zapper.” Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Joan Miró

Joan Miró was a Spanish sculptor, ceramist, and painter, who created his style of Surrealism partly out of his dislike for what he called “bourgeois” conventional painting. He experimented with complex, busy arrangements of objects and figures. His influence came from many places and styles, including surrealistic methods from Fauvism to Cubism to Dadaism. He was also one of the first artists to work with automatic drawing, a surrealist technique where the hand works freely, leading the subconscious mind in creating the painting. This led to the evolution of his signature style, in which he created a type of “pictorial language.” In this style, he used intricate lines and isolated simple figures to tell the story.

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Miro’s signature style was found everywhere in his art. Images from Public Domain and WikiCommons.

His style was so distinct, it was evident in everything he did from the 1920s well into the 1970s. This included monographs, lithographs, tapestries, murals, and mixed media sculpture. He even wrote essays on exploring more radical ways of creating art, such as “four-dimensional paintings” or “gas sculpture,” the art of making sculpture out of gaseous materials like cold-water steam or fog. He influenced several painters in the twentieth century, including Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Retrospective exhibits of his work have been seen in such prestigious locations as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Tate Modern in London, and in his home country of Spain at Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo in Madrid. He was honored with such awards as a Guggenheim International Award in 1958 and the Gold Medal of Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1980, which was given three years before he died. His works have sold for thousands to millions of dollars, including one record-setting piece, his 1927 painting “Blue Star,”  which went for $37 million during a 2012 art auction in London. To Miró, his work was more than just pictures; they were his literature and music, and he has described his use of color as “words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.”

The Project: Miró Mother Boards

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Miró used all kinds of lines, from spirals to zig-zags. He also took advantage of overlapping shapes for color opportunities. Images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Miró wanted art to be poetic, alive, and not what people would expect. He also wanted it to be spontaneous. For this project, try combining Miró’s poetic free-flowing style with the rigid, immovable world of machines, to create a type of living machine. To a casual viewer, Miró’s work may look like just a collection of abstract lines and colorful shapes, but look closely and there are faces, figures, artifacts, and natural elements throughout. Computer programmers and machinists feel the same way about their creations. The inside of a laptop or watch isn’t just a random collection of wires and chips or gears and cogs, it’s an intricate language all its own. The process is easy, but telling the story is where this gets tricky. First decide what the machine will do. Does it help people with everyday tasks? It is a time machine? Does it help keep track of information? Is it a mad scientist’s secret weapon? Now, use Miró’s style to tell this machine’s story. Draw different types of lines: curvy, jagged, straight. Then mix in two types of shapes: geometric, which are shapes with a precise edge like squares and triangles; and organic, which are free-form and curvy shapes. The shapes can even represent a specific object, such as a sun, star, or alien. It’s okay if they overlap. Miró took advantage of it when objects in his works did. Fill in the solid shapes with bright colors, and use a different color where two or more shapes may overlap. When done, leave the background white or use a very light coat of watercolor sponged on or colored pencils for the background. As an extra challenge, try out Miró’s automatic style, and let the feel of the drawing and painting process guide the hand. Miró felt even the simplest things could give him ideas, so just start drawing. Who knows what story will appear? “The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words,” Miró said of his work in the early twentieth century. “The meaning comes later.”

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If it is hard to think of an idea, ask a friend for a “story prompt.” Then, give them a copy of the finished picture as a gift. Shown is “Octopus-powered Planet-Organizer.” Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

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Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.