Majorca, a place for inspiration.
The geographic locations where Joan Miró lived left a significant mark on his spirit and therefore on his work.
Barcelona was his birthplace; in Paris he experienced a strong inner commotion, there he took his first steps toward becoming an artist and opened himself up to the world; Mont-roig, in Tarragona, was the primeval force of the earth; New York meant creative freedom and a new expressiveness; Japan, serenity, philosophy and the line, and finally, Palma de Mallorca was the poetry, the light and the blue colour of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as his particular return to the origins.
Yes, I do feel very Majorcan, at least half-Majorcan. Yes, it is very true that I was born in Barcelona and that my father was Catalan, but my mother was from Majorca and I, as a child, learnt to love and understand the colours of Majorca, especially the blue, the blue colours of the sea.
Miró’s relationship with the island goes back to his childhood, because he always spent the summer holidays in Majorca, in the home of the Juncosa family, relatives of his mother. Being a solitary and introspective boy who disliked noisy games, his main occupation consisted in observing his surroundings, the flight of birds, the landscape, the architectures or the plants. These were the first models for a child whose interest in drawing was a real physical need, far beyond a mere hobby. He immersed himself in nature, landscape, traditions and craftsmanship. And this is why the influence of the Majorcan countryside was undoubtedly crucial in the artistic training of the young Miró.
For me, arriving in Majorca was like a liberation. I got rid of the yoke that represented my monotonous life in Barcelona, of my school obligations, even of my obligations towards my father.
His bond with Majorca is therefore an unquestionable fact, as well as the important role the island has played both in his personal life and in his work. In this regard, there are three key moments that should be pointed out: his childhood years, as we have already seen; almost in his fifties, when in 1940 he decided to abandon France to take refuge in Palma, fleeing the Nazi invasion —here did he finish the series Constellations, which he had began in Varengeville sur mer—, and lastly, in 1956, when, well into his sixties and fully consolidated as an artist, he decided to settle for good in the island and began probably the most prolific and free period of his creative career.
This light of Majorca is marvellous. […] The light of Majorca is impregnated with pure poetry; it reminds me of the light of those oriental things that appear as seen through a veil, the light of those delicate things than are drawn… It is not fortuitous at all my coming to live and work here…
A dream come true: the Sert Studio
In 1953, having turned sixty, Miró expressed his wish to settle permanently somewhere, to establish his residence and achieve the dream of his life: to have a big space of his own to be able to work without interference. Taking into account his family predecessors and the need to find a place where he could work in peace and calm, what better place than his loved and pleasant Majorca! And thus, in 1954, the artist and his wife, decided to buy the land and the house of Son Abrines, a rural property located in the area of Cala Mayor, over a hill, a few miles away from Palma de Mallorca and totally surrounded by nature, especially by almond and carob trees. In a letter to the gallery owner Pierre Matisse, Miró explained his plans.
This is a wonderful country… We are about to buy a house near Palma, in a splendid environment. To divide my time between here [Palma] and Paris, and to make a trip to New York every now and then, would be perfect for my work and my health.
Once settled in the island, Miró insists in his idea and need to build a studio of his own. Until then, he had been using the studios of other artist friends though, obviously, he never considered then “his spaces”. In Mont-roig, Tarragona, he could indeed build a studio, but that was his parents’ house after all.
It was the artist’s wife, Pilar Juncosa, who finally took the initiative to write to the architect Josep Lluís Sert (Barcelona, 1902-1983), a very close friend of Miró, and ask him to design the studio in Son Abrines. Miró was somewhat reluctant because he thought his friend would be too busy after his recent appointment as dean and head of the Department of Architecture of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, replacing Walter Gropius. J.L. Sert, however, gladly accepted the commission, although he would have to work from the United States as he could not come back to Spain for political reasons. That is why the works were supervised in situ by Enric Juncosa, architect and brother-in-law of Miró.
The ample correspondence between Miró and Sert allows us to know their exchange of ideas as regards the construction of the studio, as well as the requirements of the artist and the architect’s answer to the problems that arose. Through the letters we also know about the progress of the works.
The ideas that you present in your letter from the 9th of this month seem to me very adequate and will make the building ever nicer. But let me recommend you that you take into account the climate of Majorca, warm in summer, and the big area of the studio, difficult to heat, especially if you take into account that I start to work very early and that, even if I do little things, it will be there where I’ll produce all my work as a painter; to be more adapted.
I have planned the whole roof with vaults, far from the reinforcement bars that would remind of a factory or an auto repair shop.
With the preliminary designs, I will also send you a detailed description and another set of copies for Enric. Early next week we will start the model of the studio.
I am very glad and I feel so honored to have this building of yours here. With these working conditions, I think I will be able to work very productively […].
We just made a brief visit to Palma: the studio is nearly finished, it is great, really impressive. I am eager to settle there permanently, when we return from Paris, to start working in it.
By the end of 1956, the studio is nearly finished to the full satisfaction of its client. In Miró’s own words, the space is “extraordinarily magnificent”, and the artist considers it the beginning of a new and surprising period.
The building has very human proportions and it is fully integrated into its site. The exterior, inspired by traditional Mediterranean-style architecture, is characterised by the relationship between the rigour of the straight line, which prevails in the façades, and the agitated curvilinear motion produced by the roof shape. Thinking of the spirit of the the building’s commissioner, Sert was creative with the materials and the chromatism, so that he combined baked clay in its natural colour with the use of red, blue and yellow, primary colours that are a fundamental part of the painter’s palette.
The interior consists of a big rectangular room bathed in natural light that allowed the artist to work on canvases of any format, and fill them with the poetry of his brushes. If there is a singular element worth mentioning in this space, it is the L-shaped interior balcony, located on two of the sides of the room, from which the artist could have a global perspective of his whole creative universe. Being able to contemplate from above all his works in progress must have been something vital for Miró, since he has already designed such an indoor balcony in the Mont-roig studio for the same purpose. The structure of the studio in Mont-roig was possibly a kind of trial for the large studio he had dreamed of for so long and could only become a reality in Majorca.
Once finished, however, Miró did not occupy his new studio immediately; there was a previous period of mutual adjustment. Somehow, Miró had already experienced a similar need of adapting himself to a new environment when he moved to Paris for the first time in 1920. Then, the impact produced by the French capital on the young painter —so thirsty for knowledge and new experiences— was so strong that it prevented him from working until later. Now that the studio in Palma was finished, the situation repeated itself and Miró, already an older man, had to adjust to a new space. Once again, the period of adjustment was not so much physical as mental, and therefore, being an indefatigable worker, while waiting until the time was ripe for him to resume painting, Miró explored other art forms such as pottery, engraving and lithography.
In a letter written in 1957, addressed to Josep Lluís Sert, Miró talked about the painstaking process of gradually “feeling at home” in the new studio, as well as of his expectations with regards to the new stage that was about to begin in his artistic career.
I keep putting pottery things and fishing gear in the studio and in the yard. It all turns out magnificent, which, thanks to the studio’s atmosphere and to the poetry and luminosity of the landscape, will dictate a new and grandiose conception of plastic art to me.
Thus, at the end of 1959, the studio had lost its original bareness. The artist had been filling it with canvases, easels, paintings, brushes and many other objects, so that it had finally achieved the air and warmth he needed to resume his painting activity there. In the new studio there was enough space to open boxes, unpack pieces and present them leaning against the walls or on easels. In this new period, and with the perspective given by time, Miró carried out an intense revision of his works: he destroyed some of them and reinvented others.
In the new studio, for the first time I had space. I could unpack boxes that contained works I had created over the years. […] When I got out of all that, in Majorca, I began my own process of self-criticism. I “corrected myself” coldly, objectively, […]. It was a shock, a brainwashing. I was relentless with myself. I destroyed many paintings, and most of all drawings and gouaches. I observed a whole series, I set aside a batch to burn it, and I then again, crash, crash, crash. There have been two or three great “purges” like these over the last few years.
Nowadays we can see the studio just as Joan Miró left it, full to the brim with little pieces of furniture where he bunched together his work tools, rocking chairs, stools, easels, rush mats, objects of various origins, notebooks, newspaper and magazine cuttings, postcards and dozens of paintings in different phases of creation.
Miró’s creative impulse, spurred on by “collisions” or “starting points” for the birth of new works, was not, however, free from reflection. On the walls of his studio, pinned by thumbnails, all those clippings remain; images that once aroused Miró’s interest. Watching them one by one, we realise that the whole iconographic and formal repertoire of the artist is contained in those newspaper cuttings.
It is a universe that allows the spectator to go through a life entirely devoted to art.
Elvira Cámara López, curator of the exhibition and director of the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró.
Published in Miró’s Studio. Barcelona, 2015. Mayoral. p.17