Joan Miró’s Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun represents his simplified technique of lines and block color to create an ambiguous and open composition that remains open to interpretation. In this article, Singulart discusses the composition of Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun and Joan Miró’s renowned surrealist techniques.
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’s happening in Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun?
Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun was painted by Miró in 1949, when he had perfected his language of symbols. As the title suggests, it depicts figures and a dog in front of the sun, however this description is not immediately obvious. Against a cream background is a combination of lines, colors and symbols which contain within them a multitude of interpretations. In the top left hand corner is a large, red circle which seems to represent the sun and below is a star made out of simple black lines. The rest of the canvas in covered by a mesh of forms, lines and colors which can roughly be distinguished as two figures and a dog. However, how the viewer should distinguish them, remains ambiguous.
Overlapping with the sun is the head of one figure, defined by lines which form a nose, two eyes and some strands of hair. The figure’s body is formed by a fluid, almost rectangular shape with a geometric pattern in red, black, blue and green. A small kidney shape also intersects some yellow. Two curved lines from the base of the head, spread out in a triangular form to suggest arms, and another two at the base of the composition end in small black circles to suggest legs and feet. In the bottom left hand corner, black lines, circles and other red and blue shapes intersect to suggest an abstract dog. Behind the first figure, another body seems to emerge, although this time it appears to be upside down, with multicolored legs reaching to the top of the composition and a simple, yet upside down, head at the bottom. Another kidney shape intersects on the same level as the first to suggest arms,with another set of lines and circles in the bottom right hand corner suggesting the presence of a second dog. Needless to say, the title provides a useful guide to deciphering Miró’s simultaneously abstract and figurative composition.
Miró was inspired by the Surrealist’s use of their unlocked subconscious in order to create their works and he often applied a similar practice to his own works. Through his use of simple lines and blocks of flat color, Miró creates a dream-like, illogical world on the canvas in Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun. Despite the title, the work is also as indecipherable to the viewer as someone else’s dream. However, the ambiguous and interpretive nature of his work is also the attraction of Miró, as the viewer approaches it with uncertainty and finds the space to let their minds wander freely. Indeed, Miro once stated that “mastering freedom means mastering simplicity”, and in Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun he has succeeded in creating a composition that embodies freedom through the simplicity of his lines and colors. Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun does not impose meaning, but rather opens itself up to interpretation and appreciation.