Interview with Joan Punyet Miró
by Salomé Zelic
* Text written for the catalogue of the exhibition “The Youngest Among Us All: Zao Wou-Ki on Joan Miró” (20 May -23 July 2021, Mayoral, Paris).
Salomé Zelic (SZ): Do you think that Miró possessed certain character traits or creative practices that meant that he remained consistently at the forefront of the artistic avant-garde?
Joan Punyet Miró (JPM): Miró was a consistent, innovative, and tireless worker. Non-conformist, self-critical and courageous, he always tried to improve and challenge himself. Picasso, with whom he maintained a friendship throughout his life, said of him: “After me, you are the one who’s opening a new door.” I remember someone said that Picasso is the artist of the 20th-century and Miró of the 21st. Also, it is worth mentioning that some of the most important painters of Abstract Expressionism acknowledge their great debt to Miró and have expressed it openly. To stay at the forefront of avant-garde art for such a long life and career is quite extraordinary.
SZ: Do you think that, for Miró personally, the idea of staying “relevant” or “current” as an artist was important or did this come about as a consequence of his practice rather than a goal in and of itself?
JPM: I think this question can easily be answered with an exam-ple. The retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais (Paris 1974) allowed Miró to reconnect with earlier works of which he had long lost sight, and to confront them with the new perspective of his recent works (these included the burned canvases that hung from the ceiling). A year later he told the art critic and professor Georges Raillard:
“I went to the Grand Palais when no one was there. I was like a severe art critic. The body of work on display moved me a lot. I did not dwell on the details but considered the scope of all my work. I had a clear feeling that I had worked honestly […]” and then he added “I feel more and more free. It is absolute freedom. I don’t care what they say, I don’t care about anything!”
SZ: What do you think “Anti-Painting” meant to Miró when he first proclaimed it? Did this notion evolve over the course of his career in your opinion?
JPM: In the 1930’s, Miró was a renowned international artist, and it is during this period that he started the works known as “assassination of painting”. He intentionally abandoned the idea of being a “painter” to tackle other techniques such as collage, drawing on unconventional surfaces, experimenting with textures and producing his sculptures known as “Objects”, assembled from found elements. From then onwards, although he returned to painting, Miró wished to experiment with different mediums. “Anti-Painting” was a reaction to the canon of traditional painting.
SZ: How do you think his international travels, such as those to the US and his voyage to Japan in the 1960s for example, affected his work and practice, for example his use of the colour black?
JPM: Miró went to the US for the first time in 1947 to work on a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati, and he continued to return over the next two decades on different assignments. The influence of New York is evident in Miró’s work, and just as he was a reference for the Abstract Expressionist artists, the dripping and large format paintings that he produced from the 1960’s were clearly influenced by the Americans.
His travels to Japan in 1966 and 1969 were an instant success with crowds waiting for him at the airport. Miró later told Georges Raillard that he was impressed by Japan, and his visits had a lasting effect on his work. He admired the work of calligraphers and the exquisite papers and brushes. There are also similarities between Miró’s gestural and oriental painting and calligraphy.
SZ: Miró seems to have had friendships with artists and writers from many different countries and across different generations. How important were these relationships for him both personally and artistically?
JPM: He was also a friend to poets, musicians, composers, and other creatives. From the beginning he kept in contact with Catalan writers and poets, and shortly after discovered the French, who became part of his circle of friends. His interest in literature and music made its way into his work. Miró said that when he entered his study, he read Lautréamont and Rimbaud, and in the afternoons, at home, he listened to music. He illustrated many books (Alberti, Foix, Breton, Éluard, Tzara, etc.) and album covers (Varèse, Raimon). Reading and listening to music helped him with his work, and he also reflected on it on different occasions in regard to projects.
SZ: We have identified common traits in Miró and Zao Wou-Ki’s relations through friends, patrons and dealers such as Josep Lluís Sert, Jean Leymarie and Pierre Loeb. They also shared a common attention paid to poetry, gesture and light. Do you see any other common characteristics in their works?
JPM: In addition to the points made in your question, I could add that both are recognized artists, and we can speak of the parallels in their lyrical signs and space, in the intensity of the line and the purity of the colour, and about the important role of the colour black, since it invades the pictorial space with the help of chance.
SZ: How do you interpret Zao Wou-Ki’s dedication to Miró, “the youngest among us all”?
JPM: This is a heartwarming dedication among a wide range of collaborations by artists, writers, and friends on the occasion of Joan Miró’s 85th birthday. These were later collected in an extraordinary monograph in the newspaper Ultima Hora (Palma de Mallorca). Zao Wou-Ki was significantly younger than Miró; hence, this phrase is even more important. But I think this was a general feeling among Miró’s contemporaries, like Alexander Calder, who referred to him as a young sculptor, when in fact his commitment to sculpture dates back to the late 60’s and 70’s.