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Tic Tic, 1927

From the mid-1920s the Catalan painter Joan Miró was closely associated with Parisian Surrealism. Though never officially a member of the group, he signed its first manifesto in 1924, and throughout his career remained faithful to a notion of art based upon the idea of releasing the creative force of the subconscious mind from the control of reason. Tic Tic provides a notable example of the artist’s exploration of original formal languages based upon the Surrealist principles in the mid-1920s.

The ultramarine ground represents one of the defining aspects of the painting. This was a frequent feature in Miró’s works of 1925-27 and is remarkably intense even on this small scale. The artist’s use of flat backgrounds, enlivened here by the arrangement of black lines and brightly coloured dots, was to prove a powerful influence on later developments of abstract art. The other noticeable feature of the painting is the presence of the inscription ‘TIC TIC’, which is visually integral to the composition but has an apparently obscure meaning. The introduction of the written word was characteristic of Miró’s work of the late 1920s, both suggesting a parallel between calligraphy and mark-making in painting and allowing a condensed narrative. In this he demonstrated familiarity with contemporary developments such as the visual poems of Guillaume Apollinaire and the work of Dadaists like Francis Picabia.

A preparatory drawing in the Fundació Joan Miró (Barcelona) shows all the major elements of the painting, including the words and the arrangements of dots, revealing that, typically for the artist, these were hardly elaborated in the painting. This seems to confirm that the supposedly ‘automatic’ works of Miró were actually carefully worked out in the preparatory drawings, and that there is a clear interrelation in their sequence, largely achieved by using the pressed-through impression of one drawing as the starting point for the next. One notable change in the painting is the dot in the upper centre, which has extending eyelash-like curves; in the drawing these are linked together to form the back of a head and mane of an animal. This reference is neither surprising nor fanciful. Like many avant-garde artists, Miró was attracted by circus animals, a subject on which he made a significant number of paintings. An association with the circus is also found in the inscription ‘TIC TIC’, which is may be related onomatopoeically to the sound of horses’ hooves.

Jim Ede visited Miró on several occasions in the inter-war years. The painter was notorious for the restrained simplicity of his relations, and their contact is unlikely to have gone much further than acquaintanceship. Ede wrote of receiving the painting while discussing Miró’s work with him on a café terrace in Paris. However, many years later Ben Nicholson suggested that it had in fact been the gift of the Surrealists’ dealer Pierre Loeb. His suggestion is significant mainly because of his familiarity with the painting over an extended period. Ede lent the painting to Nicholson, probably for safe-keeping, during his extended absences from the country (1936-56). Tic Tic may well have served as a route for the influence of Miró on Nicholson’s work. During 1933-34 the artist explored the use of fluent line and balance of points of colour in space generally associated with Miró (and Alexander Calder), as exemplified by works like 1934 (first scheme for Massine ballet), also at Kettle’s Yard.

Like Nicholson, Ede’s reading of Tic Tic was essentially in formal terms, and not in relationship to its Surrealist origins. Its yellow dot and its echo in the placement of the lemon on the pewter dish in the same room are characteristic of both the precision of Ede’s vision for Kettle’s Yard and his formalism to the exclusion of other interpretations. This emerges clearly from what Ede wrote of the painting in A Way of Life: “The Miró was to me an opportunity to show undergraduates the importance of balance. If I put my finger over the spot at the top right all the rest of the picture slid into the left-hand bottom corner. If I covered the one at the bottom, horizontal lines appeared, and if somehow I could take out the tiny red spot in the middle everything flew to the edges. This gave me a much needed chance to mention god, and by saying that if I had another name for god, I think it would be balance, for with perfect balance all would be well.”

Provenance: gift of the artist (?) to H.S. Ede, 1932.

Painting [JM 1]

Displayed

Oil on canvas

233 x 323 mm

About the artist

Miró was born in Barcelona. Between the wars he worked in Paris, where he associated with Picasso and the Surrealists. For a short time his art showed the influence of the advanced movements in European painting, but he soon developed his own personal language of signs and symbols, painting pictures deeply rooted in his Catalan heritage.