Joan Miró, 'Head of a Catalan Peasant' 1925

Joan Miró
Head of a Catalan Peasant 1925
Oil on canvas
support: 920 x 732 x 26 mm frame: 1187 x 999 x 91 mm
Purchased jointly with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with assistance from the Art Fund, the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Knapping Fund 1999© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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Miró made it his habit in the 1920s – that moment of great excitement when he was deeply immersed in surrealism – to work in Paris in the winter and at his farm at Mont-roig in Catalonia in the summer. On unpacking some that had appeared finished in Spain, he sometimes returned to the canvas again. All of this meant that he had to have a pretty systematic approach alongside the spontaneity of creation. He made lists of works that travelled and lists of those left behind unfinished, as well as sketching compositions that sometimes linked works in series.

One of the most important series of 1924–5, of which we have an intense group in the exhibition, is his Head of a Catalan Peasant. Miró was engaging with surrealism through friendships with artists like André Masson and poets like Michel Leiris. This had a liberating effect. It sanctioned his inclination to make inventive, sometimes improbable images and in the Head of a Catalan Peasant series he abbreviated forms to great effect. The Catalan peasant whom Miró imagines is bearded and pipe-smoking and, most recognisably, wears a red snail-shaped hat, the barretina. This appears in all of the series and related paintings. It is a sign of resilience and associated with the cap of liberty worn in the French Revolution. That he painted this at the moment when the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera had suppressed the official use of Catalan would suggest that Miró was, quietly, subverting the new political status quo. The result is a series unlike anything produced by any artists of that moment.

Matthew Gale is head of displays at Tate Modern and co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape

Comments

d.mcardle

what is a peasant ? is it an agricultural worker ?

d.mcardle

I agree it could be glamorous to smash your crockery and run for the hills ! are women allowed no little fantasies then, men have so many . But here infact is more a device for interrupting the interface of the picture plane ,a pretty reasonable one.

Tony

Yes - women also have fantasies based on notions of glamour. But what did Julian achieve with this device?

d.mcardle

blimey --- THE OPPOSITE OF A FANTASY.

Tony

What do you mean d?

d.mcardle

that is a question for the whole of humanity to answer,mate.

d.mcardle

well I like Punk because of the energy I suppose and it can be healthy to break things and it is a cheap posturing so anyone can do it unlike say having a Porsche or £400 pair of shoes. They do it in Greek restaurants of course and it seems New Yorky so references all those things,quite funny when there might be a mystical Tibetan vista or posh bird in the image for contrast! All work sits in its art historical position having influences from the past so when viewing one is weighing up on balance if a new synthesis has been achieved ,one is always looking for the new bit. The mechanisms of owning the painting as an object in its own right,a sculptural presence if you like rather than a theatre in which you must believe, was established by others yes ,Rauschenberg's earlier work ,& so on. Polke who greatly influenced S.(a real prince of the 70's - because of the amount of acid he did ? dunno) aaaanyhoo - used a great deal of media imagery - like others) but with S. there seemed to be a more subjective experience in which one felt the presence of the artist evoked in the work ,I have also found this in the later work of Louise Bourgeois,and Per Kirkeby .It is this sense that people are referring to as the architectonic I believe ; the artist seems to stand along side one included inside the fourth wall with the work. Some earlier S. paintings,a muddy pink thick field, seemed to evoke this sense of body space which experientially includes our arms reach,side ways this more or less reaches to the peripheral vision. The smashy plates might say amongst other things don't expect a mirror here. Of course good work is always Shakesperean and so operates on all levels,comic dopey bits,high tragic nobility mere mortal humanity,and rock and roll.

Tony

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer d. You may remember (perhaps not)that I'm not a fan of JS. However, I don't think the Shakespeare analogy is appropriate here. What you seem to see in Schnabel's work is fanciful, as you could just as easily see something quite different, and much less appealing. For instance, in the crockery paintings I see the actions of a man using his knowledge of recent history to contrive a work which satisfies the demand for a current, popular notion of art, based on fantasies of glamour.

Tony

d.macardle - why is it that you rate Julian Schnabel's plate paintings? Please explain as I've been wondering about this a lot.

Tony

Is this the usual arty farty retreat into vagueness?

d.mcardle

no, a genuine philosophical,political, humility. Big problems advance slowly from assorted disciplines as you must be aware. There may be quantum leaps as breakthroughs happen in work being done in many areas. Results answer research not quick fire suppositions. Your attack does not frighten or shame me; yourself, possibly !

Tony

I wasn't attacking - just asking you quite straightforward questions out of genuine interest. "Big problems advance slowly from assorted disciplines" - Yes, I believe this is true. However,as far as i can tell, the self indulgent, personal fantasies, which appear necessary to value Julian's work, are at best a distraction from more worthwhile pursuits.

d.mcardle

plenty of self indulgent personal fantasies up at the National: Italian Alter-pieces pre 1500.Don't get me wrong, gawd love em and all . Our statements of belief systems are a different matter now and beyond cultural restraints , territory where yes indeed pursuits are multifarious.

Tony

Yes, medieval people believed all sorts of religious and other supernatural fantasy nonsense. In England today we are free to believe what we choose and have so much material available from which to learn. What I have learn't is that we can enjoy fantasy when it is recognised as such, but believing in it becomes harmful folly. What I am trying to ascertain is whether one can appreciate the plate paintings of Julian Schnabel without having to believe in any fantasy.

d.mcardle

the accentuated indication of threshold; picture plane -job done by plates,simply points out you enter here - from one world to another ,neither is that real ,truth is a pursuit. The world of the senses is a contingency ,but we believe in it.

Tony

I don't get what you mean - or is this just an intentional smokescreen?