Surrealism And Abstract Expressionism In Subconscious Manifestations
The striking differences and similarities of two contemporary painters, Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky, were the true demarcation borders between surrealism and abstract expressionism. The two gave way to an avant-garde form of art that ultimately transcend to the core of art expression and art history. Miro explored much of surrealism, while he did not conformed himself to surrealist painters, as Kandinsky went slightly varied to the road of abstract expressionism.
Surrealism as a literary and art movement founded by Andre Breton, which focused on the role of the unconscious mind in the process creative expression has been the leading art influences in the 20th century. Joan Miro is one of the leading proponents in art—paintings and sculpture alike in using surrealism as a method of creative process. On the other hand, surrealism has been counterparted by abstract expressionism, where Wassily Kandinsky, a accomplished musician himself, made significant advances.
Abstract Expressionism is also an art movement, not really capable of exact definition yet somehow similar to surrealism, that gives premium to the role of unconscious, subconscious and spontaneity of the mind in creation of art forms. Wassily Kandinsky paved way to this art form that influenced much later French artists and other European painters.
Kandinsky and Miro were both prominent painters in their respective art movements. Miro, a Spanish-born painter (Catalan, Spain), was greatly influenced by Andre Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement. Although, Miro who was largely a surrealist painter, never confined himself to surrealist groups. He experimented, widely expressed himself in various medium, which peculiarly gave his work the label on its own. The ideas from “memory”, “fantasies and imaginations” were sources of his creative art. As a young artist, his early works were reflective of his Catalan ancestry and orientation but his exposure to surrealism in Paris borne out the mature artist in him.
Kandinsky, on the other hand, was a native of Moscow, Russia and was born to a musically gifted family. An accomplished professor of law and musician, the passion for art was a later devotion of Kandinsky. Unlike many painters whose leaning toward the art was seen in much early years of their life, Kandinsky was already seasoned lawyer, teacher and musician when he entered formally the world of fine arts. He left Moscow, leaving behind the world of law and music, and went to Munich to study the newly-found love and passion—art work.
The understanding of the philosophies and artistic inclinations of the two painters is essential in appreciating and finally internalizing the fantastic and almost odd works of the two. As defined, surrealism and abstract expressionism have one thing in common: the use of subconscious, memory as means of creative process; drawing everything from the images the mind represent and capturing such visual image on canvass. Apparently, the works of these two painters are not romantically arrayed in beautiful hues but strong accents of colors, lines, almost dream-like and fantastic. However, Miro was dominantly known for the use of such expressions.
One thing in common, Miro and Kandinsky’s works were not conspicuously displayed to be understood. The works like Ravine Improvisation (1914) and Composition IV (1913) and all other works in this collection are descriptions of various colors, integration, and concentration to the middle, almost musical in its vividness, comparable to Small Pleasures, Fragment 2 for Composition VII. Note that, many if not all of the titles of his art works are titled almost same way with musical compositions (e.g. Sonata II, to Composition IV etc). The musical side of Kandinsky is undeniable in many of his paintings and other works.
In this collection, the use of the colors and play with symmetries and geometrics is strikingly noticeable. Though abstract, the placement of lines with other colors complemented the space and balance, with evident touch of abstraction such examples are “Composition X” (1939), “Yellow, Red, Blue” (1924), “Composition IX” among others. On a different road yet on the same direction, Joan Miro had carefully and artistically woven his artworks with playfulness, humor and fantastically distorted images. The famous Harlequin Festival (1925, Albert-Knox Gallery), and the Dutch Interior (1928), were few of the dreamlike structures he painted in a surrealist themes.
Many consider Miro’s graphic use of amoebic, circular or wavy lines as his imprimatur on surreal art. However, Miro’s work were not focused on this representation, like Kandinsky, the particles and the microscopic organisms as an image in his works are several proof of parallelisms Kardinsky had with Miro. The latter has amoebic images almost similar to Kardinsky’s use of particles. The following works can be seen as comparative works namely: compositions, The use of colors like: yellow, blue, red and green in contrasting and bright shades made the two painters parallel with each other, as they present their themes and tonality of their work. The imaginative use of colors had been their marksmanship to emphasize the mood and the central idea of their works.
The surrealism and expressionism of Miro and Kandinsky reflected their avant-garde tendencies. While these art movements were certainly an avenue of peculiar expression in the sense that classical or romantic art had been farther stretched to the inner imagination, the use of these ideas were novel to the 20th century people. Many of Miro’s work are depiction of surrealist poetry, where he oddly yet perfectly captured the subliminal representation (or the picture of a reality in the subconscious), of an image, thought, idea or life itself.
Kandinsky, as expressionist was partly out of the scene in Paris metropolis since this art form is not yet fully grasped by the Parisian artists, art patrons, art circles and enthusiasts. Strikingly, he made attempts to fully open this artistic movement to Europe and later created a core of art expression as an avenue of artistry.
In almost all their works, Kardinsky and Miro powerfully utilized their belief and their reflections on their art and their view in the artistic expression and the actuations of art circles relevant to their creative ideology. Kardinsky, in his actual artistic careeer, emerged more in the field of art theory than actual painting. But his core work in abstraction laid the road to other abstract painters. Similarly, Miro has been regarded one of the pioneers in surrealism in art and translated his ideas not only on canvasses but also in sculpture. He never hides the leanings of his works. The Grand Maternite, exhibited in San Fransciso and colorfully hued Woman and Bird in Barcelone proved that no matter what art form the ideas take place, the artists’ style shall always manifest in their ‘obras’.
Furthermore, Arthur Danto of University of Columbia, advanced the idea that Joan Miro can be regarded as of the most influential artists in his time and in the 20th century. Commenting on Miro’s work, “Still life on Old Shoes”, he elaborately said, “the Catalan artist Joan Miró, prevented by civil war from returning to his homeland, set up in the gallery of his Paris dealer, Pierre Loeb, a still life on which he worked every day for a month. The painting was finished in his studio on May 29 of that difficult year. It consists of an apple, into which a lethal, six-tined fork has been stuck; a gin bottle shrouded in torn newspaper, secured with a thong; a heel of bread; and a left shoe, its lace untied. The apple is brown, so perhaps rotten; the bread is dried; the shoe, we learn from the title Still Life with Old Shoe, is worn. Each object relates to a heavy shadow, represented by black free-forms of the sort we associate with Miró’s vocabulary of shapes-forms that came to be emblems of modern art in the plaques of Hans Arp, in the flat metal pieces on Calder mobiles and in modernesque jewelry and coffee tables, and which have their natural counterparts in deeply lobed leaves or kidneys or human feet. It is possible to read the shadow cast by the gin bottle as a weeping silhouette, but it is also possible to read too much into the painting, wanting it to be deep. The shoe is painted in yellows and greens, reds and bright blues-footwear for a one-legged harlequin. James Thrall Soby compared the work-polemical, memorial, ostensibly lamentational-with Picasso’s Guernica, to which it was allegedly intended as an artistic response. “ (Danto, 452).
Michael Henry, another noted art critic and the author of the book, “seeing the invisible in Kandinsky had this for an opinion, “”[Kandinsky] has not only produced a work whose sensorial magnificence and invention richness eclipses those of its most remarkable contemporaries; he has given moreover an explicit theory of abstract painting, exposing its principles with the highest precision and the highest clarity. In this way the painted work is coupled with an ensemble of texts that enlighten it and that make at the same time of Kandinsky one of the major theorists of the art.” ( Henry, Seeing the invisible, on Kandinsky)
Kandinsky believes in the principle of the art and its core foundations of forms, structures and harmonious mix of colors and hues. Labelling most of his artistic creations the efficient contact of the form with the human soul. The value and the limitations of a plane, or an area—surface at it can be is but every form of another individual, such surface is a reflection of the content of a person and the index to his own soul. Kandinsky also espoused the idea that there is “inner necessity” of an artist to openly and freely create his own forms. The internal need to create, illustrate and capture such concepts and images is the essence of artistic expression, however, it becomes a felony or a crime if such free disposition or freedom is not founded and premised on that “inner necessity. If only an artist will base his work on that belief, as Kandinsky theorized, the work of art shall be independent, mysterious, mesmerizing if not also enigmatic and shall for itself acquire life free and unsubordinated subject matter made alive by the subject’s spiritual tendencies.
Joan Miro had also become more spontaneous in his work in ceramics and other medium in his sculpture. The shapes of his subjects were products of his automatism. This thought in the field of the arts is the use of the spontaneity of the medium and the process of creating a work almost without the control of the painter. Similar to automatic writing, automatism had been regarded as a surrealist by-product. The subjects to automatism are amoral, without any point or reference to any sacrilege and only spontaneous without regard to anything. It only precedes from the mind, and expressed on the art work, regardless of how and what the subject can be. Miro opened the doors to other surrealist artists to untrodden path of artistic expression and movement.
However Miro is not conservative in his ideas of surrealism in art. He asserted the use of other materials contradictory to the traditional use of the painter’s brush and canvass. For him, the imaginative conception is not only drawn but felt in various modes and materials. In one of his interviews, he candidly moved the idea of the use of modern techniques and non-conventional utilization of different things to express the true work of art. In his many interviews from the 1930’s and much later years, Miró openly advanced the idea and even stated contempt for conventional painting methods and his desire to “kill”,”murder”, or “rape” the conventional or traditional art in favor of more contemporary means of expressions (Rowell, p 114-116).
Miro’s works, for instance, the “Birth of the World (1925), has been one of his classic examples of biomorphic abstraction. The shapes and colors of this painting deduce the effect of inner representation of unreal sense. Graphically speaking, the relationships of shapes, and the dramatic use of colors, to almost in abstraction, give the impression of ‘floating’ while the only colored circle goes across the neutral, gray, black and white background. The picture plane expands as a circle object, colored deviates from the scene. Another is, his sculpture work in San Francisco’s Grand Maternite, where sexual connotations cannot be left unassociated. The spike, protruding thorn-like structure, with an opening similar to an open womb depicts only similarity but not exact picture of whatever it was. Perhaps, this distorted, different way of presenting an object that only exist in the mind is the handiwork of true surrealist work.
As proven, both of the painters Miro and Kandinsky have parallelisms in the use of hues, geometric planes and medium. But the comparison of Miro and Kandinsky is not actually similar. Their comparison is not from tail to head but parallel one facing downside, and the other facing upside. The amoebic images of Miro is Kandinsky’s biomorphic organisms, the yellow, red, blue of Kandinsky is the red, blue and yellow of Miro. The concentrations of the shades might be considerably varied yet, the abstract point of Kandinsky is the surrealist translation of Miro. However, the later use of Miro’s various medium was opposed to Kandinsky’s reliance on spirituality and musical moods in his works. The latter was influenced by another art medium—music as he geared toward the perfection of his craft, while Miro, further expressed the various mode of expressions, and stretching artistic imagination to the point of fantasy and unbelieavable.
The creative processes of both painters are evident. The use of subconscious, free and spontaneous. Perhaps, the real picture of art is not the romantic idea or notion of the object but the innermost and barest conceptualization of the subject matter. A picture of a tree, in reality, may not be a tree to the inner mind; the real fruit may not be a fruit in the subconscious. The task that Miro and Kandinsky explored is the presentation of more than what is real.
Quoting Henry in his observations on Kandinsky, “he…(Kandinsky) has been fascinated by the expression power of linear forms. The pathos of a force entering in action and whose victorious effort is annoyed by no obstacle, that’s lyricism. That’s because the straight line proceeds from the action of a unique force with no opposition that its domain is lyricism. When on the opposite two forces are in presence and enter in conflict, as this is the case with the curve or with the angular line, we are in the drama.” ( Henry, Seeing the invisible, on Kandinsky).
Joan Miro also left an indelible ink in the modern surrealist movement not just to the art circles. His masterpieces, one of them, “Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun” (1957) at the UNESCO hall are but few landmarks in surrealist artwork. The experimentation and his advocacy towards new directions in artistic expression shall be hallmarks of 20th century creativity.
Yet accomplishment cannot be forever, Joan Miro died in a ripe age on December 26, 1983 after nearly a century of artistry. Wassily Kandinsky died also much earlier December 13, 1944. Kandisky’s last work was “Circle and Square in 1943. Joan Miro during his last decades concentrated on gas painting, as again proof that no brush is apt for the wide artistic mind.
The works of painter maybe understood only by the art enthusiast or an art afficionado, but their relevance in the development of thought and idea is undeniable. The works of art, as espoused by Kandinsky and Miro are not just displays on museum but most importantly profound realization of our souls and expressions of our suppressed minds.
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Danto, Arthur C. Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present. California: University of California Press, 1997.
Matthews, J.H. The Image of Surrealism. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1977.
M. Rowell, Joan Mirό: Selected Writings and Interviews. London: Thames & Hudson, 1987. pp. 114-116.
Henry, Michael. Voir l’invisible. Sur Kandinsky. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.2006.
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