Illustrated companion

The Catalan painter Joan Mir¢ visited Paris regularly from 1919 onwards and was received with enthusiasm into the Surrealist group when it formed in 1924: 'The tumultuous entry of Mir¢', later wrote Andre Breton, the Surrealist leader, 'marked an important stage in the development of Surrealist art'. He also once remarked that Mir¢ may pass for the most Surrealist of us all'. Breton's enthusiasm may be explained by Mir¢'s way of painting, very different from that of Ernst, Magritte or Dal¡ in that it was much more spontaneous in its use of free association and seemed to Breton to correspond more closely to the Surrealist ideal of an art coming straight from the unconscious mind. Breton had defined this ideal in the Manifesto of Surrealism as 'pure, psychic automatism ... the dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all aesthetic or moral concerns'. Mir¢ himself has described his procedure thus: 'Rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting. As I paint the picture begins to assert itself under my brush. The form becomes a sign for a woman or a bird as I work ... the first stage is free, unconscious'. In fact for paintings such as this, Mir¢ generally made a series of drawings in which the signs are developed from representational sources. The process is more conscious and planned than his own account suggests. Mir¢'s paintings then, are systems of signs representing ideas and associations, and they mostly seem to celebrate the basic experiences and processes of life, particularly procreation, using animal and human imagery especially, as Mir¢ indicates, women and birds. The forms in 'Painting 1927' should be looked at in the light of this. For exampie, the solid black form looks very like the uterus, or womb, seen frontally, while the red-tipped form surrounding it suggests a breast with nipple at which is feeding the brown creature. However, it could also be a phallus penetrating the brown form. On the left is a large white form surrounded by black leech-like swimming creatures. Mir¢ said that it is a circus horse - the white cloth kind, with one person inside and the empty body trailing behind. Mir¢, like all the Surrealists, loved popular entertainments. He was fascinated by the circus and similar white circus horses appear in other pictures of this time. The black line probably represents the ring master's whip.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.165