"I am Joan Miro," said the frail Catalan painter, his smooth face framed by white hair down to his ears, his blue eyes steady, his large hands firm and strong.
"I will be 85 on Thursday, April 20, but I work every day and I want to die shouting mierda" he said, punching the air with a fist and stamping his feet on the floor. His fingernails gleamed with traces of paint.
The last of the great Spanish artists who revolutionized art and painting by breaking forms and traditions in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, Miro is still determined to shock, to break conventional thinking, to stir "people out of the paralysis of mental laziness."
Three years ago, after an exahibition in the Grand Palais in Paris, he burned all the vancanvases that were shown in a gesture which he described as a rebellion against the "art business." He explained with a blow on a table, "Paintings are not dollars. The works I set on fire were of great plastic beauty, but so was the color of the fire - those yellows, those ochre reds, the blacks and grays of the ashes ... beautiful and transient. I decided they were not meant for museum walls and collectors."
The burning of his works seemed perfectly normal to Miro, an intensely independent artist who has all his life despised "labels" - political as well as artists.
He resents "gratuitous" descriptions of his complicated paintints as "infantile" forms. Childhood, he said, has no content. "The world is what my painting is about," he said pointing to a globe of the world set high on a pedestal tal above the paintings. A straw sun dominates the loft. "I call it a workshop," he remarked. "Studio is too intellectual."
A close friend of the late Pablo Picasso, Miro is the anti-thesis of his great Spanish contemporary. "Picasso was representational," Miro said. "I am not. My figures are providential. He opened many doors for me, and once he told me that my name came from the verb to see - the past, the present. I told him his name meant stonecutter - cluck, cluck, cluck."
On an easel was a painting what looked like a Picasso bull. "No, no," said Miro. "That's a personage - a woman, a witch."
?What interests me is purity of spirit in my work," he said, leaning on a table that had a poster with the inscription, "Miro, the morning Star."
He has never painted anything erotic. "For me sex, the act of love, is a scared ritual," he said. "It was different with Picasso. He had an animal force, a different vitality."
Miro is not concerned about being in museums and in learning who buys and who collects his works, and what they pay. Still he is a rich man, perhaps worth between $5 million and $6 million.
The biggest influence on his work and his approach, has been poetry.Among the poets are the French surrealists, whom he met in Paris, and such Spanish poets as Federico Garcia Lorca, killed by Franco sympathizers early in the SPanish Civil War.
"You will find his enormous eyes in some of my canvases," he said.
Like Picasso, Miro opposed the late dictator Francisco Franco and supported the Republic during the 1936-39 civil war. In 1937, when Picasso was painting "Guernica" to denounce the brutal air raids that destroyed the Basque city, Miro did his famous "Aidez I'Espagne" poster, which shows a man raising his fist in defiance.
After Franco's victory, Miro tried to flee from France to the United States with his wife, Pilar, and infant daughter, Dolors, but they could not find a berth on a boat. They decided to abandon France ahead of the invading german army and return to Catalonia, his beloved homeland - the roots of my work, my inspiration." All their luggage was a folder with watercolors called "constelations."
He was afraid that he would be arrested by Franco's Guardia Civil at the border because of his defense of the Republic, but nothing happened. Close friends, including patron Joan Prats, who used to give Miro felt hats in "exchange for my paintings because in those days I didn't sell my work," took Miro and his family to a hideout in the cuntry near Barcelona.
Later the Miros moved to Palma, on the Balearic island of Mallorca, and have lived there ever since. "People didn't know me, " he said. Prats, hovever, was jailed for eight months.
Later Miro's "Barcelona," a series of 50 litographs showing noseless monsters repressing th people who could only bare their teeth, was published.
"But the censors didn't grasp the political meaning," Miro explained. "Even though I was acclaimed and successfull abroad, I simply did not exist for the Franco regime. I was ignored. Still the regime was harsh ton artists and intellectuals. The executions, the repression and the civil war are in my work - even traces of Franco's face. It's all there, but providentially, spontaneously, without design. I paint of freedom, wihtout ideology, of the free spirit."
Miro despised the Franco dictatorship, but he preffered living in Palma to exile. He recalled visiting Picasso, who was a Communist and refused to return to Spain while Franco was alive, in the Franch Riveria. "I told him his house, La Californie, was beautiful...the garden, the trees," Miro said he told Picasso. "He picked up a pebble and replied, "A stone of Catalonia is worth more than all this."
During the 1970 Burgos military trila of Basque separatist guerrillas he participated in a protest sit-in in the Catalan Montserrat monastery.
He is intensely, passionately Catalanist, and wnants the region to obtain full self-rule. Adamanant about using the Catalan language, Miro refugees to answer letters in Spanish from Catalans.He painted a strong poster calling from autonomy called =Volem Statut - We Want the Automty Statue," and helps Catalan themes.
Mior's current work load would be staggering for anybody half his age. He is working on a major sculpture to go up in Chicago next to one by Picasso, on ceramic murals for Barcelona, and a large tapestry called "Women, Birds, Stars" due to be displayed soon in Washington's National Gallery. He also is preparing exhibitions of his works in Paris, Mardid and New York.
Despite the projects, he still gets up at 8 every morning, works from 9:30 to 1:30 lunches, maps, and is back at work from 5 to 8 in the evening. He deplores the "ugly" high-rises that have gone up around his house, "Son Abrines," and cut off his view of the Meditarranean.
He regrets that because of his age he can't travel any more "because I must save my time and energy." He particiularly loved landing at night in such cities as Washington and Paris - "they're galaxies coming up to thehit your eyes."
The venerable painter's is the Miro Foundation Museum in Barcelona, a unique institution dedicated to the arts, literature, films and drama, and which seeks to invlove young people in experimental projects. Tje foundation, established by Miro in 1971, won a special Council of Europe award last year for ..."contributing to the creation of a new concept of a meseum as a cultural center."
The museum was designed by Joseph Luis Prats, the Catalan architect who fled to the United States after the Civil War and became dean of architecture at Harvard. An old Miro friend and admirer, Prats also created Miro's commodious workshop.
He regards the meseum as a contribution to "the permanent revolution to open minds and to free spirits" so that it will contribute to the emergence of democracy and the return to freedom in Spain.
"Despite everything," he said. "I am optimistic. The 40 years of Franco's dictatorship are a nightmare, but he never could put out the fire of the Catalan people - of the Spanish people. The scars are there, but I have hope because he did not choke the Catalan vitality which has contributed so much to Spain, to Europe, to the world."