“I make no difference between painting and poetry”
– Joan Miró
It wasn’t his friendship with Picasso or joining the Surrealists that contributed decisively to Joan Miró (1893 – 1983) – the Spanish Catalan artist – finding his signature style in the mid 1920s. That unexpected influence came from poetry and his friendship with “painter-poet” André Masson. As Miró himself described it:
“Masson was always a great reader and full of ideas. Among his friends were practically all the young poets of the day. Through Masson I met them. Through them I heard poetry discussed. The poets Masson introduced me to interested me more than the painters I had met in Paris. I was carried away by the new ideas they brought and especially the poetry they discussed. I gorged myself on it all night long.”
Harlequin’s Carnival, painted between 1924 – 1925, is perhaps Miró’s most recognizable artwork, a raucous celebration of life, with all sorts of shapes floating and bouncing around. The carnival we’re witnessing is supposed to be Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”, in French), the Christian celebration before the Lent, when people eat rich, fatty food, before giving up animal products until Easter.
Poet André Breton, a leading figure of Surrealism, had designated Miró “the most surrealist of them all” and Harlequin’s Carnival stands proof to the Catalan’s talent. There is a deluge of imagination in this painting, of unrecognizable, almost cartoonish, biomorphic shapes splattered all over, as if the artist had somehow managed to turn on the tap of his subconscious.
And yet, in spite of all this randomness and chaos, there is some symbolism to what we’re looking at. Let’s start with the Harlequin himself. You may have missed him initially, because he doesn’t truly look the part. Now, look to the left from the center of the painting, where you see the elongated white shape with a blue-red ball as a head. The Harlequin, represented as a guitar with a very long neck, unveils his identity with the presence of the checkered pattern on his chest. His eyes look very sad, and that might have something to do with the hole in his stomach. It’s known that, at the time, Miró was a struggling artist in Paris, barely managing to get money for food. The more you look at the Harlequin, the more humane he seems, with his long mustache, smoking pipe, collar and tie, arms and feet.
To the left, we have a long ladder, a motif that Miró used later on in his career as well. Signaling his fear of being trapped, the ladder is a tool that provides him with the escape he longs for. The presence of an eye and an ear next to the ladder, suggests that in order to escape, he must use his senses.
Now, if we look at the window to the right, that black triangle is likely to show us the Eiffel Tower, a view that Miró admired in his city of dreams. Below the window, the dark green sphere is said to symbolize the Catalan’s ambitions in conquering the world with his art. Music, present at all celebrations, is suggested by the small guitar and the musical notes on the wall, left from the window. There are many other fascinating elements to this painting, some looking like insects, while others are reminiscent of party decorations.