In this second part of the blog on Miró’s graphic work, we highlight a diverse and enriching period in his creation of engravings and lithographs. Although he continued to paint, Miró felt the growing need to explore other non-painting art forms, such as sculpture, ceramics, murals, lithographs, engravings and book illustrations, thus expanding his means of expression.
As for engraving, Miró worked in close collaboration with engraver’s assistants and experts in printing his work. These collaborators were experienced in the secrets of engraving, such as chemical baths, plate bites and the use of resins. He worked mainly with Robert Dutrou from 1959 to 1966 at the atelier of the Maght gallery in Levallois and then at the Arte print shop on Rue Daguerre in Paris. He also visited Frélaut-Lacourière’s workshop in Montmartre and continued engraving in Barcelona workshops such as those of Gili and Torralba. Miró created with his collaborators a very high level of commitment in order to unify with them in the works in a homogeneous way. Miró explored, investigated, questioned and looked beyond, which motivated his collaborators to give the best of themselves.
Miró often worked in series, exploring variations from a black plate containing a set of stains, as seen in the series “El aguador“. In this series, the naked and fast line stood out against the background wash, and as it passed from one sheet to another, it revealed a progressive enrichment of the work.
This period in Miró’s career witnessed his constant search for new forms of expression and his close collaboration with experts in the field of printmaking.
Exploration in techniques, 1960s and 1970s
In 1966, Joan Miró created around fifty prints, mainly using etching and aquatint techniques, although he also experimented occasionally with drypoint. During this period, Miró was influenced by the new artistic trend of abstract expressionist painting, especially by artists such as Pollock, which led him to feel the need to explore and react to the application of stains, splashes and accidents that brought an initial impact to his work.
In 1967, the engraver Robert Dutrou introduced Miró to the carborundum technique, a technique invented by Henri Goetz. Unlike traditional engraving in which the metal is attacked with tools or acid, this technique involves fixing highly pressure-resistant materials, carborundum or a synthetic varnish, on the surface of the plate. The interstices between the carborundum grains and the grooves in the coating replace the cavities or lines typical of traditional methods. These interstices retain the ink and transfer it to the wet paper through a press, thus creating the final work.
The resulting prints have a monumental character, not only because of their physical dimensions, but also because of the strength of their strokes, the intensity of the colors and the emotional projection they transmit. These works present fantastic figures full of Miró’s characteristic energy, with gigantic characters, vigor in the materials and intense eyes that emerge from the black and seem to pierce the earth and the sky.
Miró was known for working in series, one of the most famous being “Constelaciones“. In this series, Miró contrasts black inscriptions with sometimes dense and sometimes delicate strokes with a cascade of scattered colors. Another outstanding series is “Wild Archipelago“, created by acid treatment of plates, resulting in white, rounded spots in relief that look like islands emerging from a dark mass of muted colors. In addition, the presence of opposing spots creates a sense of depth and is accompanied by a meticulous theory of dotted signs.
Despite experimenting with various techniques, such as etching, aquatint, carborundum, resins and kilns, Miró also returned to the simplicity of drypoint, a more traditional technique.
One of the most imaginative projects of this period was the book “Le miroir de l’homme par les bêtes”, in which the prominent poet André Frénaud and Miró collaborated to create an imaginative and playful poetic and illustrative dialogue.
In this decade, Miró maintained his loyalty to Barcelona and the Catalan spirit, which was reflected in his works engraved in Barcelona workshops and in his illustrations for Catalan publishers such as Gaspar, Gustavo Gili and Manuel de Muga.
In 1973, publishers Miquel and Joan Gaspar published a portfolio of thirteen etchings and aquatints by Miró, characterized by their powerful graphics and the presence of scattered and tiny signs on the sheets, which closely followed the original plates. These works showed divergences, regressions, inversions and imbalances, as if Miró was revealing the hidden signs and wild harshness of his hometown after walking its streets and walls.
This collaboration with Barcelona publishers continued in 1973 with the creation of etchings and aquatints for the Picasso-Reventós Foundation. Joan Miró remained an attentive and receptive artist, using printmaking as a means to explore, experiment, dialogue and deepen his friendship with other artists and poetry.
Etching and aquatint, “Picasso i els Reventós”, 1973.
1970’s, the proliferation of Joan Miró’s engravings
Sala Gaspar published the “Barcelona” series, while Sala Pelaires in Palma published the “Mallorca” series. All these prints were produced in Enric Torralba’s workshop. The “Mallorca” series stands out for the confidence and skill of the engraver, who created vivid, often intense and sometimes battered strokes, illuminating nine figures that emerge from the darkness.
Another important series are the “Etchings for an exhibition“, exhibited by his friend Pierre Matisse in New York, but printed in the Morsang workshops in Paris. This series includes four etchings and aquatints, along with a lithograph. The compositions are sober and rigorous, reflecting the editor’s style.
Despite his experimentation with various printmaking techniques, such as etching, aquatint and carborundum, Miró had a predilection for drypoint, which he considered the sharpest and purest method. In 1964, he used this technique to create engravings for René Char in his work “Flux of the Magnet“. The following year, in the Maght workshops in Levallois, Miró worked on a set of 45 drypoint plates that he called “Diary of an Engraver“. These recordings were the result of morning improvisations, with sudden and immediate lines, like fragments of an interrupted dream.
In 1974, Miró took up these plates and allowed the “Diary of an Engraver” to be published, a unique but sometimes controversial experience that reflected his creative process. Although he continued to work with drypoint, his style evolved, with sharper and more open compositions, more vibrant colors and more vivid strokes. His works included stellar and cosmic elements in a brilliant, tinkling unity.
In 1974 and 1975, Miró created around sixty etched and aquatint prints, varying in format, style and expression. Each of them showed exceptional quality and prodigious inventiveness, being so individualized that it was impossible to classify them into specific groups for analysis.
Miró adopted a unique approach, provoking external visual accidents, such as stains, squirts or splashes, before starting to record and invent. This led him to establish a dialogue between his artistic language and the visual surprises he encountered.
In addition to these individual prints, Miró worked on a series of 18 small black and white etchings called “Los saltimbanquis“, with small, irregular copper plates printed on paper with wide margins.
Simultaneously, Miró tackled large-format copper plates, sometimes 120×160 cm, adopting a monumental approach. His works featured powerful black graphics that structured the sheet, driven by an emerging energy and receptive to flashes of pure color.
Throughout these years, Miró continued to work both in Paris and in workshops in Barcelona, collaborating with Catalan poets and publishers who shared his passion for art and poetry. His production of engravings was profuse and frenetic, published mainly by Aimé Maeght, who became his trusted publisher. From 1976 to 1981, together with Dutrou, Miró created a set of 22 large-format etching and aquatint prints, ranging from spontaneous and abrupt writing to a delicately elaborated line.
Some of these prints are extremely scarce and evoke Miró’s early modeled sculptures. In particular, works such as “L’Oustachi” or “Le Brahmane” present weighted figures, simplified but charged with energy by the superimposition of black lines on flat colors. Miró maintained his commitment to printmaking as a means to express himself and collaborate with other artists and poets.
Aquatint and cut copper plates, “L’Óustachi”, 1978.
The poetic and artistic fusion in the engravings of Joan Miró
The engraving multiplies the original work and implies from its conception the inclusion and desire of the other. Such was the case when Miró made eight etchings for a “Hommage à San Lazzaro”, prefaced by Alain Jouffroy.
The books that followed, produced and published in France, attest to the sensual link between Miró and poetry. After having already accompanied “Le Miroir de l’homme par les bêtes” and without departing from the animal kingdom, Miró recorded three plates for “l’émancipation definitive de la queue du chat”, another poem by the great poet André Frénaud, this time dedicated to the painter. Another book by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, “Passage de Egyptienne”, contains 27 additional texts. Miró perhaps anticipated, with “Passage de ‘Egyptienne”, his own crossing, anticipating the passage towards death. In the faint recrudescence of the gesture, the repeated empty effort, the color and the retracted line leave him face to face with his own nakedness.
In Miró live two languages, French and Catalan, two cultures, two impregnations that are united and at the same time separated. Most of his paintings have titles in French, but the notes and indications in his preparatory notebooks are in Catalan. For the last years of the prints, the period under study, those published in France are titled in French, those coming from the Catalan side are titled in Catalan. In constant comings and goings between two countries, Miró periodically changing studios and assistants; in Catalonia working intermittently with J.J. Torralba for the Gaspar Room from whose press the engravings of two books were printed, as well as the last eight prints of 1987 and 1988, from rediscovered plates.
The works created in Catalonia by Miró, however, are due almost exclusively to Joan Barbarà. More than 80 prints, all of them dated 1979, a date that means very little considering how long such a production has been going on. Dates in catalogs are always misleading, but indispensable.
The evocative title “Enrajolats” is the title of a series of 7 engravings in which the “Enrajolats” refer to the colored rectangles arranged on the paper like a chessboard. Clearly defined areas of primary color, both geometric and irregular, sound together like a musical composition. They add uniqueness to the engraving, their black graphics breaking free in trembling lines, exposing sharp teeth. The vaporous spheres diffuse the color with powdery pastel effects. Energy is under control and emotions are balanced; a feeling of lightness and calmness arises.
Engraving by Joan Miró, final stage
The series Personajes y estrellas consists of seven engravings that are closely related to the previous one and transmit the same impulse. Once again, the color is sober, with white backgrounds and washes of grays and ochers, resembling a drip on a wall. The posters appear scattered, like graffiti, lost in an immense space, as they continue to be propelled by a shaky, groping line. Signs, birds, stars. And then there is that “pre-sign”, about to take shape or break, atrophied because the wall palpitates, weightlessly detaching itself from it. This informality, this formative incoherence stirs up friction and cracks, prompting us to listen.
A pair of engravings in the form of positive and negative engravings embody the Gran Rodona. A huge, very round, primitive and infantile figure appears, from which arms, legs and a head emerge. Without resorting to color, this engraving finds its dynamic force in the antinomy of a figure and its double. And finally, alone and unusual, a dry point: like an insect, two lines, two points, two tiny strokes that evoke stars in the sky or the viscera of the body. There is a marvelous simplicity in this figure, which emerges almost from a single stroke, represented with all the sensitivity of the dry line, all the magic of the naked dot.
During this time, Miró also produced a large number of books in Catalan; the country’s authors and poets had not been neglected. “El pi de Formentor” is a gigantic folder of 6 etchings and aquatints, engravings and prints by J.J. Torralba’ s studio for the Sala Gaspar, accompanied by text by Miquel Costa i Llobera, Mallorcan poet of the late 19th and early 20th century.
“Lapidari” is a book of large dimensions: 24 engravings respond to 12 descriptions of stones, extracted from anonymous Catalan authors of the 15th century, selected and prefaced by Pere Gimferrer, an important Catalan poet who has also written several books about Miró and Tapiès.
A last book published after Miró ‘s death in 1985 bears an etching and aquatint engraving, torn out and signed a few years earlier. Miró was one of the eight artists who contributed to “Le plus bear cadeau” to help an association of young blind people, who are present in the book through a selection of their poems. Of all these engravings we could say that they were “circumstantial”, but they all arose from a strong emotion and desire.
Miró left a series of corrected final proofs in Barbara’ s workshop that were published posthumously. “Lliure” is a beautiful head made in etching and aquatint from the imprint of a found object, for Miró a suggestive piece of iron. “Barb I” to “Barb IV” form a series of small, colorful prints. Overall, the series is too loaded and confusing. And finally “Ocells de Montroig”, whose title recalls the village not far from the painter’s summer house and the famous Granja.
Etching and carborundum, “Barb II”, plate from 1982.
In the course of inventories conducted after Miró‘s death, the artist’s heirs found plates and proofs of 8 etchings that were clearly finished works but lacked a B.A.T. Pilar Juncosa, replacing her husband, signed the B.A.T. for the publishing house, Sala Gaspar, and the master printer J.J. Torralba. Three engravings bear the title Son Abrines, the name of Miró ‘s house in Calamayor, near Palma.
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