Joan MIRÓ, Tête et oiseau [Head and bird] Enlarge 1 /8
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Spain 1893 – 1983

Tête et oiseau [Head and bird] 1981 Materials & Technique: sculptures, bronze, with grey, green and brown patina, wood Edition: no.3 of edition of 6

Dimensions: 137.0 h x 35.0 w x 50.0 d cm ; weight 53 kg
Acknowledgement: Funded by the Bequest of Tony Gilbert AM 2014
Accession No: NGA 2014.6
Image rights: © Successió Miró/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy

It is in sculpture that I will create a truly phantasmagorical world of living monsters; what I do in painting is more conventional.
Joan Miró 1941–2

Tête et oiseau [Head and bird] 1981 is an amusing, intriguing and haunting work by the famous Surrealist artist Joan Miró. A gourd-like shape—with an extended and exaggerated nose, and hollows for eyes and mouth—is mounted halfway up a post, like a scarecrow. The upright is adorned: a pair of wings or horns sits at the top, followed by a cast shell attached at the rear and then a plug or stop. Mounded rocks and wooden beams serve for a stand. The whole object suggests a crucifix where the body of Christ has disintegrated, leaving only the skull.

Use things found by divine chance: bits of metal, stone, etc., the way I use schematic signs drawn at random on the paper or an accident … that is the only thing—this magic spark—that counts in art.

Miró sculpted throughout his life, producing his first serious work in ceramic in the mid 1940s, and bronzes from 1944. His assemblages, made in the spirit of Picasso, were constructed using all kinds of collected objects, elements of wood and iron, then subsequently cast in bronze. From 1967 Miró’s choice of items became more selective, as he began to concentrate on everyday objects. Other sculptures from the period show a similar mix of organic and inorganic materials: incised or moulded clay, scraps of metal, branches and small found objects, positioned deliberately and combined to suggest anthropomorphic forms. For some works, Miró cast individual objects in bronze and assembled the elements. With others, he brought together the raw materials and then had the entire sculpture cast as a single piece. Sometimes he left the surface of the bronze raw from the mould, for others it is carefully polished. Towards the end of his life Miró would paint his monumental sculptures with synthetic resin, using large areas of flat colour or graphic symbols, seemingly enjoying the contradiction between material and surface.

One is led to sculpture through a very direct contact with the earth, with the pebbles, with a tree. When I’m living in the country, I never think of painting anymore. It’s sculpture that interests me. For example, it rains, the ground gets wet, I pick some mud—it becomes a little statuette. A pebble might determine a form for me. Painting is more intellectual. It’s for the city … A sculpture must stand in the open air, in the middle of nature. It should blend in with the mountains, the trees, the stones; when put together, all these elements must form a whole.

Miró’s three-dimensional work is closely related to broader Surrealist collage techniques. Like his great Landscape 1927, the painting in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, the bronze blends automatic image and alchemical fantasy, incorporating a sense of rustic Catalan humour that reappears through the artist’s oeuvre. Head and bird was purchased with funds from Tony Gilbert AM, a generous donor whose bequest also funded the recently acquired Degas dancer, and who gave the Gallery a Rodin figure from his own collection.

Lucina Ward Curator, International Painting and Sculpture

in artonview, issue 78, Winter 2014