The Birth of the World exemplifies Joan Miró’s experimental approach to painting, combining his interest in poetry and the Surrealists to create this large scale masterpiece. In this article, Singulart examines Miró’s process as well as the potential meanings evoked within The Birth of the World.
Who was Joan Miró?
Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a Spanish surrealist artist known for his paintings, sculptures and ceramics. Born in Barcelona, he studied business as well as art, but soon abandoned his business studies after suffering from a nervous breakdown and committed himself entirely to becoming an artist. Like many other artists of his generation, his early work was heavily influenced by Van Gogh and Cézanne. In 1920, attracted by the Fauve and Cubist movements, Miró moved to Paris and had his first exhibition there the year after. In 1924, he joined the Surrealist group, although the symbolic and poetic elements that defined the movement were already present in his work before this time. He began to experiment with automatism, creating through the unlocked unconscious mind, as well as experimenting with collage and the rejection of the traditional framing of painting. Miró is today recognized as a pioneer of Surrealism and his fantastical, lyrical paintings remain some of the great masterpieces of the 20th century.
What is happening in The Birth of the World?
Joan Miró’s The Birth of the World is dark, somber and hard to decipher. It depicts a textured, paint splattered, shadowy realm that is only interrupted by the thin yellow line and the red circle of a balloon. Throughout this piece we see several other abstract forms and geometrical shapes, such as a black triangle, a white circle and other markings.
Miró described The Birth of the World as “a sort of genesis” depicting a version of the beginnings of life. He developed a new technique which involved pouring, brushing and throwing paint at an unevenly primed canvas to create varied textures across the composition and an illusion of depth. This depth contrasts with the flatness of many of his later works created by his use of single colors. On top of this uneven background layer of paint he added lines and shapes that he adapted from studies. Miró described his new method by stating:
“Instead of setting out to paint something, I began painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush… The first stage is free, unconscious… The second stage is carefully calculated.”
Miró’s description of his technique demonstrates the influence of the Surrealists with their use of automatism to tap into their subconscious for inspiration for their artworks. However, it also explains his personal adaptation of this technique for his own creative ends. Miró goes beyond the Surrealists by adding a layer of control on top of the unpredictability of the subconscious. Therefore, The Birth of the World demonstrates his mature style through its combination of freedom and control.
The Birth of the World was also painted during a period of time when Miró was highly engaged with studying poetry. His studies in turn had an effect on his painting, as he began to link the process of painting to poetry. This can be seen in his seemingly unstructured and random composition which nevertheless has a certain poetic rhythm to it. Against the textured grey background, the shapes and lines seem to float past one another in a suspended poetic reverie.
The viewer is therefore left to interpret Miró’s composition. The combination of shapes in the lower left hand corner could be interpreted as a child crawling, a symbol of birth or the beginning of life. The balloon brings a splash of color to the composition, reaching diagonally from the lower left hand corner to the center, while at the top right of the canvas, several lines are etched in black and blue. The overall impression of The Birth of the World is eerie and unsettling, however, it could also be interpreted as a scene seen through the dim light of dawn. Miró purposefully leaves the composition open for interpretation without imposing his own subject matter onto the viewer.