Two years ago, artist Antoni Miró exhibited a series of sculptures around Valencia’s old port district. Opinion at the time was divided about his work, with some convinced that these images in bronze outline were just too risqué for public view. Further south, on the Costa Blanca, almost all seafront bars offer a cocktail called Sex On The Beach, so surely these works can find a home among Altea’s beach promenade!
Antoni Miró is a prolific artist. He is based in a small town near Alcoi, inland from Alicante in Spain’s Communidad Valenciana. He works mainly at night and incessantly. He paints. He sculpts. He works on canvas, in ceramic, metal and with found objects. He works with computer graphics, and often mixes techniques and media in a single work. He produces images which often include contemporary themes, political ideas, social issues, images from film, history, conflict, popular culture, daily life and anything else that catches his eye. But these images are often transformed by colour, choice of media or context, often by simple juxtaposition, so the message is transformed, amplified and thus communicated in an intellectually challenging way, and always visually arresting.
These particular works on display in Altea are bronze sculptures. In some ways they are a set of positive and negative images because of the way they have been conceived and created. A simple way to visualize this idea is to imagine a sheet of paper having an image cut out. Then imagine working at the cut-out to add more detail. Next display the cut-out next to the original sheet which, of course, has a space the same shape as the image. Now repeat with a large bronze plate. Good luck.
And so for each positive cut-out shape, there is also a negative, rectangular sheet outlining the shaped space. The effect is doubly interesting. The positive images have detail incised, so they reveal something of their setting through themselves. The negatives, obviously, provide an image-shaped experience of their setting, an image-shaped window opening onto the environment that contains them. The results are captivating.
But what caused the divided opinions in Valencia was the works’ subject matter. For this Antoni Miró turned to images he found illustrated on ancient Greek pottery, and some of these are highly erotic. Hence my title, Sex on the Beach. The artist, meanwhile, likes to remind everyone that these images are based on originals that are 2,500 years old. In many respects, human beings possibly have not changed much in that time, and that may be the point. Indeed, some of the sculptures have been damaged by vandals. It seems that some people in Altea objected to the content of these images, an opinion that automatically endowed a few of those same individuals with the right to mangle some of the work. Lists of cocktails were not attacked, apparently.
But there is much more to Antoni Miró’s work than mere controversy. Works in other locations throughout the town illustrate the breadth of this artist’s vision. In the space in front of the Palau Altea, the town’s impressive concert venue, there are other positive-negative bronzes inspired by the paintings of Magritte, that might equally be Stan Laurel. There is an immovable bicycle parked on a plinth, its handlebars transformed into a single wing-like shape that suggests flight, while nearby its negative outline pierces its bronze plate, affording a bicycle-shaped view of the University of Alicante’s Fine Arts Faculty behind, an image that in itself does not normally provoke violent reaction.
Antoni Miró’s art sits firmly in the melting pot of contemporary Spanish art, though he himself might prefer the label Catalan, or Valencian. It approaches photorealism at times, but is suffused with surrealism, the comment of Goya and the almost explosive still-life of the baroque. But it is also intellectually rigorous, thought-provoking and vivid, often so much so that it provokes reaction. And this reaction is not about the art’s abstraction, it is a rejection of its realism. Now there is something novel.