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In search of... Miro in Mallorca

Take a break from the beach and explore the home and studios of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. Kate Simon reports

Is he the one who does all those splodges and lines?

Is he the one who does all those splodges and lines?

Is that any way to describe the work of one of the 20th-century's great artists, the man who said that "looking at a canvas should be like being punched in the jaw"? Anyway, I presume you're referring to his representation of the landscape of his beloved Mallorca.

I thought he was from Barcelona?

He was born in Barcelona and the city remained dear to him. But late in life he made his home in Mallorca and this is where you will find the Fundacion Pilar i Joan Miro, an exhibition space that showcases his work, promotes contemporary artists, and provides a welcome cultural diversion on a bucket-and-spade holiday.

So how did he end up in Mallorca?

Miro first revealed his talent as a teenager in Barcelona, where he studied drawing in his spare time at the Llotja School of Fine Arts, where his peers included Picasso. Soon he began moving in circles that included exciting, influential thinkers such as the Dadaists and eventually made his way, like all talented artists of his generation, to Paris, where he became a pioneer of Surrealism. He remained in France for several years, but when the Germans occupied, Miro and his wife, Pilar, left. Initially, they headed for Barcelona, but Miro's active sympathy for the Republican struggle during the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier made him unpopular with Franco's new regime. By the 1950s they had set up home in the relative isolation of Mallorca.

Why come here?

Miro's wife was born in Mallorca and had always wanted to return. But Miro was no stranger to the Catalan island; it was the birthplace of his mother and he had spent many childhood holidays there with his grandparents. At first, the Miros lived in a flat on Calle Minyones in the centre of the capital, Palma. But Miro was internationally famous by this time, exhibiting from Tokyo to New York, and he wanted to find a more fitting residence where he could have his own specially designed studio.

At Son Abrines, on the hillside above the Cala Major, a few miles west of Palma, Miro found the perfect spot from which to observe the stars, sea, sun and the birds – elements of the natural world that figure again and again in his works. First he built a home on the lands of Son Abrines, later buying Son Boter, a 17th-century traditional Mallorcan house behind the property, which he used as a studio before eventually achieving his ambition to build one for himself, Taller Sert.

So what can I see?

Everything. Although you can only look at Son Boter and Son Abrines from the outside. On entering the foundation, you'll encounter the final addition to the compound, Edificio Estrella, the gallery built in the early 1990s to display Miro's work and provide a space for contemporary artists to create and exhibit. Miro didn't want the foundation to become a museum. He wanted a living, working space for new artists, even donating his tools for their use.

The building is interesting in itself: designed by Rafael Moneo (who was shortlisted for the job of designing Tate Modern), it is a bright, white fort, with sheer walls set at sharp angles, one area suggesting the shape of a star. The smooth lines are broken by jutting windows and louvred stone. A colourful tiled mural based on a drawing by Miro on one of the star's walls disrupts the uniformity of white, and pools of water on horizontal planes reflect the gallery's proximity to the Mediterranean.

Inside the star is the space permanently dedicated to Miro's art. With 5,000 works at the foundation's disposal, the exhibits change regularly, concentrating on his later works, many of which are unfinished, and revealing the vast array of ways in which Miro, the rebel artist who wanted to "assassinate" painting, expressed himself. Oil, charcoal, acrylic, twine, sandpaper, wood, cardboard, sack and rope are just some of the materials used in his collages, paintings, etchings, lithographs, ceramics and sculptures. Slashing and burning of canvases, use of thick, sweeping lines, circles within circles, stars and arrows, spattered, dribbled and solid blocks of colour, play out his themes.

Within the gallery, two other areas have been created to host temporary exhibitions by living artists and the garden below doubles as a space for sculpture. Here, too, you'll find a pleasant café, selling tortillas and bocadillos. The area around the complex is scarred by shabby tenements these days. Better views of the bay can be enjoyed from the higher ground outside Son Boter.

Where's the studio?

Beyond the new gallery, the path leads to the Taller Sert, perhaps the most interesting part of the compound. The studio was built for Miro by his good friend Josep S Sert, an influential Spanish architect banned by Franco. In secret, Sert and Miro designed a studio that sought to become part of the terrain, using local materials and techniques. Long and low, the façade is divided into different shapes, with ceramic tiles arranged in flat panels or at right-angles, divided by slim walls or shelves of concrete. The most remarkable aspect is the vaulted roof, which dips and curves, looking like birds in flight.

Inside, visitors can advance a few feet into the studio, a vast space with an exposed rubblework wall at the far end, a gallery along two sides and high, slatted windows. It's pretty much as Miro left it on his death in 1983, age 90. Canvases rest against walls, trestle tables are strewn with drawing books, stained rags and turps bottles, squeezed tubes of paint, pine cones, shells, stones, postcards and photographs. In the small hall, a cabinet sets out more of these random objects gathered on his walks on the hillside and the beach below, along with pressed butterflies and Mallorcan folk art, including a small collection of traditional pottery whistles.

I'm convinced. So how do I get there?

The Fundacion Pilar i Joan Miro is at 29 Calle Joan de Saridakis (00 34 971 701420; www.a-palma.es/fpjmiro). Other works by Miro are on display in the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Real Cartuja at Valldemossa (00 34 971 61 21 06; www.valldemossa.com).

I travelled to Mallorca courtesy of The Travel Club of Upminster (01708 225000; www.travelclub.org.uk) and stayed at the Pollensamar Apartments. A week's holiday costs from £424, including flights, transfers and self-catering accommodation in a one-bedroom apartment. Car hire can be arranged through the Travel Club from £98 per week.