Miro’s magical animals
Hastings, in many ways, is spoilt for choice for culture that is on the doorstep: amazing gardens as well as artists’ and writers’ houses open to the public – Charleston, Bateman’s, Farley Farm, Knole, Sissinghurst; live bands and talks. A few weeks ago HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths tripped across Antony Penrose who had come to the Printworks from nearby Farley Farm to talk about Joan Miró, who he had met as a child, and his children’s book Miró’s Magic Animals.
Antony Penrose is the son of the surrealist artist, Roland Penrose and the photographer, Lee Miller. While in Paris before the war, the couple met and became good friends with artists like Picasso, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Man Ray. Then after the war they visited the Penrose family on their working farm in Chiddingly, East Sussex.
Antony has used his boyhood memories of these extraordinary friends to write children’s books about Picasso, The Boy who Bit Picasso, and now Miró’s Magic Animals. He traces and explains Miró’s history: the times; his Catalan culture; surrealism; the Spanish civil war – which deeply affected him; and his paintings.
Antony remembers him as a kind, thoughtful, quiet man who loved animals. “At Farley Farm House, Miró particularly liked the pets. We had lots of cats and a great big soppy Pyrenean dog called Licq – named after a village in the Pyrenees. Licq always seemed rather indifferent to visitors but she and Miró got on well and they both liked it when he stroked her head.
“In a way it was surprising because Miró was always so dapper, and you might have expected he would have been worried about getting his suit covered in dog and cat hair – a normal hazard in our house – but he seemed to care more about making friends with the animals. They in turn loved his quiet gentle nature.”
For someone so gentle it is amazing the energy and vibrancy of Miró’s paintings. He uses strong, primary colour. His images are seemingly simple, he paints what he loves: birds, trees, the sky, the moon, the sun. Ladders feature too – a strong element in dream-like surrealism, to see the world differently – to get closer to the moon, the stars, visit the moon.
Miró said “The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. I am overwhelmed when I see a crescent moon or the sun in an immense sky. In my paintings there are often tiny forms in vast empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains – everything that has been stripped bare has always made a strong impression on me.”
And they are lyrical. Miró said, “I try to apply colours like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.”
In explanation of his almost naïve, child-like images – which also include cheeky animal-like sculptures. “Simplified as they are, they are more human and more alive than they would be if represented in all their detail. Represented in detail, they would lose their imaginary quality, which enhances everything.”
Antony makes a good stab at explaining the animals, imagining himself into the image, giving fluid descriptions to encourage children to look into the image – to see what they see and to tell their own stories. A great introduction to art.
He has collaborated with a school outside Hove to take the inspiration of – and in the spirit of – Miró, to create their own images. When he finished the book he sent it to Miró’s grandson who wrote back that he thought it was a lovely book and asked that he put the names of the children next to their drawings: “so that people would know what was by Miró and what by the children”.
The book contains some of Miró’s pictures, some of his father Roland’s art and his mother Lee Miller’s photographs of Roland and Miró.
Antony is writing several more books based around his family, including The Artists who Came to Tea and a cookbook called My Surrealist Mum. Lee Miller was a creative cook and would produce imaginary food: green chicken; blue spaghetti and pies and cakes in fascinating surrealist shapes.
Antony Penrose is director of the Lee Miller Archive and Roland Penrose Collection. Farley Farm is open every Sunday until 30 October. All visits to the house are by a 50-minute guided tour – at half past the hour from 10.30am to 3.30pm.
Also in: Visual Arts« Marcus Harvey at the Jerwood
Cautionary Tales Jo Redpath and Liz Finch »