Joan Miró painted La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune in 1952, during a crucially important campaign in which he created some of his most revolutionary and acclaimed pictures. Looking at the picture, it is clear that Miró has combined his elegant, often delicate symbols and signs with a more brutal gesturality that reflects the developments occurring in the avant garde at the time - developments, for instance Abstract Expressionism, which Miró’s example had helped to spur into existence. In his monograph on the artist, Jacques Dupin pointed out that it was during the course of 1952 and 1953 in particular that Miró created a number of works that took the advances he had made during the previous decades and developed them to a fruitful new extreme, pushing further into the realm of the painterly while retaining his own unique, poetic visual idiom (see J. Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, trans. N. Gutermann, London, 1962, p. 433). As Dupin noted, the approximately sixty paintings dating from those two years were exhibited in New York at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. For the show, which featured La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, a catalogue was prepared with a preface by James Johnson Sweeney, who declared of Miró’s recent works: ‘His technique has never been so varied in its adaption to his expression; his discipline never so subtle, his art never so mature; yet for all this, his spirits have never appeared so ebullient, his art never so young’ (J.J. Sweeney, Joan Miró: Recent Paintings, exh. cat., New York, 1953, n.p.).
Sweeney’s essay for the exhibition in 1953 focussed largely on Miró’s playfulness. In La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, this is demonstrated both in terms of the techniques that have been used in order to create the picture and also in its subject matter. There is a primal energy to La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune that is perfectly suited to the seeming savagery of the main figure dominating the composition. This near-ghoulish form has been rendered with incredible gusto, although the large thrust of it appears perhaps to have been dictated by forms shaped by chance, with various colours appearing scumbled as they bleed into the peninsula of grey which is the central focus of the picture. Miró has then added layer upon layer of marks and signs, prompted by the original mass of colour, adding to the drama of the picture through, for instance, the tooth-like black and white marks of the mouth at the top, while also allowing whimsy and caprice to take their places in the more ethereal forms swirling around it. These forms suggest meanings: faces appear and other semi-recognisable subjects shimmer mirage-like before us through a range of sometimes suggestive ciphers, yet - regardless of the overall impression of humorously savage creatures and characters, stars and plants - direct meaning remains deliberately beyond our clutches. As Dupin explained of the paintings of this period, much of the emphasis is on the process that has resulted in its creation:
‘Precisely because the artist has not “elaborated,” but has let us come face to face with the pure creative act itself, our instruments of investigation are useless. Instinct alone can judge what instinct has created. And yet the brutal forms thus projected are neither arbitrary nor are they mere products of some automatism. They are always related to Miró’s vocabulary of signs and the other elements of his language, but they are spontaneous; they are not “worked-up” emanations of this language, but a deliberate simplification of it. Hence their expressive power is all the greater; their energy has been caught at the source and let go at once, the sign being the condensed vehicle of a subterranean energy that otherwise would be dispersed and lost’ (Dupin, op. cit., 1962, p. 436).
It was perhaps unsurprising that Sweeney would so warmly endorse Miró’s focus on technique, especially considering the backdrop of the New York art world at the time. For by the early 1950s, when La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune was shown there, Abstract Expressionism was in the ascendant. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb, both of whom Miró had met when he had first travelled to the United States in 1947, had broken with sheer illustration and were creating pictures that crystallised the gesture itself, giving a primacy to mark-making. And that mark-making was itself undergoing a series of transformations as the artists broke with tradition, for instance Pollock with his dripping (an innovation sometimes attributed to Miró himself). The artists who were pioneering Abstract Expressionism in New York had largely emerged from a cauldron of creativity that itself had been inspired by the Surrealists, alongside whose works Miró’s own were often shown. The role that chance and automatism had played for Miró was to find new life in the pictures of this thrusting new generation of American painters. In reciprocation, some of the energy and iconoclastic innovation of the American avant garde was instilled into pictures such as La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, revealing Miró’s constant ability to absorb and assimilate influences from around him, bending them to his own purpose, even in works that hint at figuration such as mysterious menagerie. Indeed, it is telling that in March 1952, Miró himself had visited the Paul Facchetti Gallery in Paris to see Jackson Pollock’s works. Intriguingly yet perhaps not surprisingly, during this period, one of the places that received Miró with the greatest enthusiasm was New York.
The playful techniques that Sweeney so strongly endorsed a year after La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, and which found new counterparts in the pictures of Gottlieb, Pollock and others, are clearly present here: the picture combines the vivid, intense yellow of the background with a range of marks, some of which are large and others near calligraphic in their fineness. Thick, rough marks delineate some of the forms of the central figure, giving a vivid sense of the directness of Action Painting, while elsewhere a meticulous precision has been applied in filling in various fields of colour or in rendering the filiform star and other shapes, which themselves recall the sculptures and mobiles of his friend and fellow artist, Alexander Calder. There is thus an intense game of checks and balances, of contrasts, in La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, where the massy main totemic figure is given all the more impact by the juxtaposition with those elegant circles, squares and crescents that are shown elsewhere in the composition. Abstract means have been used to breathe life into this vision, an oneiric rolecall of flora and fauna.
Only a few years before he painted La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune, Miró explained that his artistic processes had changed over the years. The power of the subconscious which had been his great spur in some of his earlier works had been replaced in some ways by the power of the suggestion of the material itself: it was from the canvas, the paint and his surroundings that he took his impetus before embarking upon his creative journey. ‘Nowadays I rarely start a picture from a hallucination as I did in the twenties,’ he said, pointing towards the deliberate abandonment of preconceived ideas. ‘What is more interesting to me today is the material I am working with. It supplies the shock which suggests the form just as cracks in a wall suggested shapes to Leonardo... I start a canvas without a thought of what it may eventually become’ (quoted in J.J. Sweeney, ‘Joan Miró: Comment and Interview’, in Parisian Review, February 1948, reproduced, pp. 206-11, M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 209). Where many of Miró’s earlier works had been the result of an elaborate creative process, often involving sketches that had evolved into paintings which nonetheless appeared to bear the hallmarks of chance, now spontaneity was brought to the fore, as was the artist’s mark or gesture.
This is clear in La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune in the contrast between the almost savage application of paint, itself mingled and mixed in several areas, that dominates the composition, and the more painstaking elegance of the other lines and areas of colour. At the same time, these responses to the forms and colours themselves reveal the artist’s continued interest in the material. ‘You must have the greatest respect for the material. That is the starting point. It determines the work. It commands it’ (quoted in G. Charbonnier, ‘Interview’, 1951, pp. 216-24, M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 218). Intriguingly, despite the fact that Miró’s processes had changed over the intervening decades, strong similarities remain between La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune and some earlier pictures in terms of contrasts and compositions. For instance, his Intérieur hollandais in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, appears to share a focus on the red and dark central components, surrounded by a tumble of less substantial forms, all shown against a yellow backdrop. It is as if Miró had looked back at that earlier work while creating this new one, achieving similar yet divergent results from similar ingredients.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Miró gave a succession of pictures lyrical titles, as was the case in La tige de la fleur rouge pousse vers la lune. Some of these, he himself collected in a handbook. Miró himself said of this development: ‘It sometimes happens that I illustrate my pictures with poetic sentences and vice-versa - did not the Chinese, those grand seigneurs of the spirit, proceed in the same manner?’ (quoted in W. Erben, Joan Miró 1893-1983: The Man and His Work, Cologne, 1993, p. 214).