A seed planted
This early Miro fairly explodes with energy and, on second, glance, with a somehow ominous intensity. The handcrafted utensils are poised uneasily on a vertiginous plane, and still have a quality of crouching, or lying in wait. The ear of grain, as the title implies, is the real focus of the work, and bristles like a sentient being. The kernels are bursting with life, but the sinuous stem and fronds have the eerie aspect of blindly groping tentacles, as well.
What is it, in this presentation of such simple domestic objects which can suggest so much ambivalent power, and yet withhold any apparent hint of a rational explanation? Who would look for the rational in Miro, one might ask; already, at this stage (1922-23), he was edging away from Cubist influences and into the intensely personal, lyric surrealism for which he is more widely known. But, to the contrary, reason and the bedrock sense of the natural world are essential components of Miro's character and of his artistic expression -- parts of a complex whole.
He has said of his homeland and his emotional heritage: "The Catalan character is not like that of Malaga or other parts of Spain. It is very much down-to-earth. We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air. The fact that I come down to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump all the higher."
In a slightly earlier work, "The Farm" (1921-22), he seems to have his feet "on the ground," but it is a stubtle preparations for flight. The same type of commonplace objects depicted in "The Ear of Grain" can be seen in the realistic depiction of household and farming implements, animals, and the stalks or sprouts in the fields. But it is an affectionate and harmonious composition, unlike "The Ear of Grain," and with "The Farm's" Cubist overtones, and subtle touches of the surreal, a dreamlike, inward mood is achieved.
Shortly afterm "The Ear of Grain" was painted, Miro made his great leap into the overtly surreal, with words like "The Tilled Field" and "The Hunter" (1923- 24). These works have much more of the wit and madcap playfulness one associates with his later images, but there is still an emotionally ragged edge to these scenes, and unrest heightened by undulating tentacles and jutting spikes. Still, there is a restless dance in the relation of one subject or shape to the next, and in each one to the scene as a whole which gives both these later paintings a warmth and cohesion missing in "The Ear of Grain."
It is as if Miro had, in "the Ear of Grain," begun to strip away the seeming surface reality of physical objects, by isolating and examining two or three of the most common, "down-to-earth" household items we might touch and pass over each day with barely a passing thought. By forcibly extracting these things from their natural functional setting, he has created, not a still life, but a very disturbing juxtaposition of unrelated objects, utterly devoid of context.
Curiously, they seem then to be less the physical entities one assumes they were, than the idea of an energy vehement in the assertion that it exists in relation to a natural and harmonious, underlying order; otherwise, apparent embodiments of that energy, like these "physical objects" are, in isolation, unreal and meaningless.
The ear of grain itself states this most emphatically, with its potential for tremendous generative power blocked here by isolation from the fertile soil it needs for growth, metamorphosis and completion of a natural cycle.
Miro has indeed put his feet "fimrly down," in examination of things of the earth, and in discovering, on one level, their unreality, breaks through our habitual, and incomplete, understanding of the life within them. From here, he will take flight into the lyric realms of fantasy and the imagination, metaphor made visible. His stated goal: "To express with precision all the golden sparks the soul gives off."
In retrospect, this painting is its own best metaphor; though it was conceived and executed in a period of anxiety, personal discomfort and doubt (when Miro was trying to work in Paris, impoverished and without studio or permanent home) the ear of grain did finally make contact with the nurturing soil it needed, grew, and bore rich fruit.