The first time I went to the New Orleans Museum of Art was in the Fall of 2015. I remember being surprised when I reached the second floor and discovered the George L. Viavant Gallery. Several Joan Miró paintings were hanging in that room, and one in particular dramatically stood out. The Red Disk was different from the usual Miró paintings I’d seen in museums throughout the United States. A large red disk in the middle of the painting is placed over a blob of white tendrils. The tendrils reach out haphazardly in all directions surrounded by white specks. The blob’s texture is more like that of an industrial spill, and around the red disk it looks as if the surface has been repeatedly rubbed. The disk is slightly off center. On its left is a much smaller transparent yellow dot. In the upper right corner there is a purple dot with an additional blue dot to the right of the red disk. All of this is set against a black and dark blue void.
In many ways, the painting is like a Rorschach inkblot. It can have a variety of interpretations. But what is not ambiguous about the painting is its explosiveness. The static paint tricks the eye and appears to be expanding outwardly and infinitely. Action and aggression permeate from the canvas. There is something bodily about it. It excretes a volcanic discharge. Without words, the painting seems to speak directly about the intimacy and violence of nature. It expresses something primordial in a way language cannot.
Jacques Dupin, in his book Miró: Life and Work, sees The Red Disk as a pendant to a similar work, Joy of a Little Girl in Front of the Sun. Both were produced around the same time, and each has the red disk as a central theme. But the sweeping red brushstrokes of Joy of a Little Girl in Front of the Sun distract the viewer. Its colors have contrast, but lack depth and variety. The whiteness has been watered down to dry brushstrokes. It doesn’t have the raw power of the thick nebula seen in The Red Disk. In addition, Joy of a Little Girl in Front of the Sun is somewhat whimsical, like much of Miró’s earlier work, while The Red Disk is harsh and brutal.
Miró created The Red Disk in 1960 after spending the previous five years focusing on lithographs, engravings, and ceramics. His return to painting was backed by an intent to break from his traditional forms. While The Red Disk still hides some of Miró’s trademark symbols within the disorder, it shows him taking chances with techniques outside of his regular arsenal. Due to the lack of drip marks, I imagine Miró laid the canvas down horizontally and poured the excessive amount of white paint onto the canvas, like something an abstract expressionist might do. In Miró’s lesser known mature works, he would increasingly use this sort of improvisation. He would focus on space, spontaneity, and rage. The Red Disk predates these concerns, but it’s clearly a catalyst for the work he would do in the seventies. Its seed can be found in the violence of his Burnt Canvas series, the anger of his May 68 painting, and the splatters of his celebratory Fireworks triptych.