The Desire to Reach for The Stars

A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress (Painting Poem),  Joan Miró, 1938


Joan Miró’s ‘painting-poems’ combine painted and written elements. This work was built around the first line of an erotic poem, balancing words and signs. The two touching triangles represent a woman in Miró’s language of signs, and the bulbous outline with hairs relates to his usual sign for the female sex. The star appears only as a word, although the ladder alludes to the desire to reach for the stars. This exemplifies Miró’s ability to combine simple imagery with ancient symbolism and make contact with deeply held instincts.

Mirroring the Spanish Civil War

Femme nue montant l’escalier (Naked Woman Climbing a Staircase), Joan Miró, 1937


Miró created Naked Woman Climbing a Staircase during the Spanish Civil War. He was living in Paris when he started to attend life drawing classes at the school of the Grande Chaumiere. Miró returned to constructing the human figure to represent the drama that was then taking place in Catalonia. This feeling can be made out in the shapes used to draw this tortured nude woman climbing a staircase.

According to the Joan Miró Foundation, “Miró’s despondency brought about by the moral tragedy of the war can be seen in the violent metamorphosis of the figure, in her heavy limbs and in the effort involved in climbing.” At the top right is a kind of window or box where light rays can be seen entering the room. The woman is using her right arm to try to grab a ladder – this was a symbol that Miró used in several of his works to represent evasion or escape. The external genitals of the woman are similar to those of the woman in Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement as they are exaggerated in size. This work is said to be related to Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, made by Marcel Duchamp, although here the woman is ascending. The distortion and effort of the figure are interpreted as mirroring the Spanish Civil War.