It is certainly a considerable privilege to have the opportunity to visit the house and studio of an accomplished artist with an international reputation. When the visit is to Antoni Miró's finca, in Ibi, near Alicante, Spain, then the experience is substantially more than mere privilege: it is nothing less than enlightening delight.
Antoni Miró's work is extensive and challenging, but it is also direct and immediately communicative. It has a fundamental humanity, its subject matter largely drawn from impressions experienced by the artist and not, primarily and crucially, within him. He may have internalised responses to his subjects, but via his art he wants to share those raw responses with his viewers, not to impose his views on them. A phrase that he has used in relation to his work is "a chronicle of reality," and it is the reality of our modern world, with all its complicated social, economic, political and personal relationships that inhabits his art.
Antoni Miró was born in Alcoi in 1944. He confesses to an inner drive that demanded he became an artist, a compulsion that saw him reject a role in the family business in favour of a pursuit of his personal goal. His first solo exhibition came as early as 1965, the year when he founded the group Alcoiart, which functioned until 1972.
Throughout his career he has explored what he calls figurative expression as a tool to create visual communication. His art is thus immediate, never quite photo-realistic, since it liberally employs artistic licence of light, shade, focus and colour to highlight the core of a work. But the images are direct, often drawn from everyday experience and they are presented to evoke and provoke reaction in the viewer.
Beggars in the street figure regularly, often alongside the portrayed reactions offered by those they confront. Everyday objects abound - taxis, excavators, ships, bicycles, buildings and industrial scenes. Beside a multitude of passers-by, anonymous people encountered for just seconds in a day's encounters, there are also portraits of well-known characters, historical figures, politicians, scientists, philosophers and many fellow artists. And there is also the figurative reworking of familiar themes, such as reinterpretations of Velasquez, which appear frequently in his work.
A particular theme which recurs many times in Antoni Miró's work, however, is the process of looking at images. It's almost a process of self-analysis. There are many gallery scenes, where onlookers, some interested, some less so, scrutinise, discuss, ignore, glance at or walk by well-known artworks. The Famous Giaconda looks out at us while the assembled unknown onlookers are potentially all identifiable, with names, families and lives of their own. The lady in the picture is immortalised by time, but is anonymous, despite being instantly recognisable. She can't tell us about herself, whereas all the anonymous onlookers are real individuals destined to remain unknown.
There are also responses to issues in Antoni Miró's work. His burka polyptich is reminiscent of Andy Warhol. But whereas the subjects of Warhol's coloured variants were iconic and instantly recognisable, the women in the burkas remain hidden from view, eternally unknown by choice. There is New York City portrayed as a graveyard, the obelisks presenting a necropolis of a culture, perhaps.
A trip through the grounds of Antoni's Ibi finca - perhaps by Land Rover, on a wet afternoon! - reveals an extensive sculpture garden. There are many works in a multiplicity of media. Again much is drawn from everyday life, using everyday materials, objects and images. There is a striking series exploring the erotic. It is, after all, part of life and experience, so it forms an essential part of Antoni Miró's art.
Antoni Miró explains how dictatorship in Spain stifled freedom. It was an era when he fought for the voice of the individual. The current era, where the market and capital are the new dictators, presents its own issues. In some ways, it was easier to cope with the more obvious contradictions of the past. Today's oppression is more nebulous, but real all the same. He has thus used his art to campaign on behalf of social justice. He advocates a socialist, anti-capitalist stance where environmental, social and political themes dominate, alongside the essential ingredient for him, which is Catalan identity.
His art involves the viewer as it searches for a more fully human world. Its neo-figurative technique is direct, making its subjects both instantly recognisable and communicable. Its inspiration is the stuff of life, itself, in whatever manifestation that might appear. But in order to recognise, in order to understand, in order to react, any of us has first to be able to see, to observe and to notice. Antoni Miró's art is primarily about learning to see, to look and then to realise our relation with life, our own lives, and those of others with whom we interact, with whom we share experience, but rarely know.
Author of Mission and A Fool's Knot, African novels set in Kenya
Migwani is a small town in Kitui District, eastern Kenya. My books examine how social and economic change impact on the lives of ordinary people. They portray characters whose identity is bound up with their home area, but whose futures are determined by the globaised world in which they live.