The influence of Abstract Expressionism compelled Miró to begin painting on a large scale, requiring the construction of a massive studio in Palma by the Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. The paintings he created from the early 1950s onwards are a fascinating response to these new trends of abstraction, while at the same time showing Miró's allegiance to his own artistic pursuits. “For me a form is never something abstract,” he once said, “it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form's sake” (quoted in M. Rowell, op. cit., p. 207). This oil may then be viewed as a synthesis of these two distinct styles, of Abstract Expressionism and his own poetic vision of reality, on the border between abstraction and representation. By the late 1960s, Miró had become well-versed in the art of rendering his aesthetic ideas on a large-scale format. In 1969, he completed a temporary, expansive mural for the exhibition Miró Otro on the facade of the Collegi d'Arquitectes in Barcelona, and another for the Gas Pavilion at the Japan World Exhibition in Osaka in 1969-70.
The intensely orchestrated and pictorially commanding Le Mangeur de gigot exemplifies the artist's bold and unstoppable creative spirit during the final years of Franco's despotic regime. When he painted it in the spring of 1966, Miró was one of nation's most renowned cultural figures and an irrepressible champion of progressive civic causes. Art and power, he believed, were deeply interrelated, and his paintings, including this impressive composition, were a vehicle for expressions of social resilience and creative brio. “When an artist speaks in an environment in which freedom is difficult,” Miró explained, “he must turn each of his works into a negation of the negations, in an untying of all oppressions, all prejudices, and all the false values” (quoted in Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London; Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona & National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2011-12, p. 15).
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Miró undertook a series of monumental compositions that were intentionally transgressive and confrontational. In the calligraphically powerful Le Mangeur de gigot, Miró explores the subversive potential of his established lexicon of signs and symbols. His highly graphic rendering pays little regard to defining its titular subject, which is purely a vehicle for the artist's emphatic application of paint. The gesture is not unlike the tag of an urban graffiti artist, where the economized, bold mark is the unmistakable calling card of a complex artistic persona. Jacques Dupin touches upon this very point in his discussion of Miró's paintings from the 1960s: "In some cases, the artist stressed the power, the brutality of a summary, rough graphism, born of a single gesture and closely related to graffiti. In other cases, a few economical, light lines serve as counterpoint to the free play of splashes and spots of color. Seemingly contradictory, both approaches reflect a mistrust of the sign, a desire to eliminated calculated, fixed forms from his vocabulary so as to gain in spontaneity, directness, and a purer revelation of the act of painting" (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 2003, p. 303). The present work, with the figure’s direct and relentless gaze set against a jet black canvas, is one of Miró's braver artistic statements of the era, harnessing the trangressive force of graffiti in a mode that foreshadows the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The works that Miró completed during his mature period demonstrate a level of expressive freedom, exuberance and confidence in his craft. Images of women, stars, birds and moons were omnipresent in his pictures to the point that these elements became symbols for the artist's own identity. While it is tempting to try and identify each titular element in Le Mangeur de gigot, the composition as a whole is an evocation of Miró's own heraldic voice in the night. Jacques Dupin elaborated on the semiotic importance of figuration in these late paintings: “The sign itself was no longer the image's double, it was rather reality assimilated then spat out by the painter, a reality he had incorporated then liberated, like air or light. The importance of the theme now depended on its manner of appearing or disappearing, and the few figures Miró still endlessly named and inscribed in his works are the natural go-between and guarantor of the reality of his universe. It would perhaps be more fruitful to give an account of those figures that have disappeared than of the survivors” (ibid., pp. 339-40).
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