Absolutely everything in this image is total accident. 

It always reminded me of a Joan Miró painting, something along the lines of “Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman” (1941), but it’s not a painting at all, much less a Miró (I  should be so lucky).

It’s not a piece of contemporary sculpture either, or a photo of some Paleolithic cave art, or a symbolist experiment on metal. It’s none of that.

It’s not even art, at least not intentionally. There was no artist except the dynamic duo of time and chance.

The corn-circle star-thing looks too perfect to have been accidental. It seems human-made, and so intentional, and therefore meaningful. But it isn’t. Some fortuitous combination of weight, shape, movement and force etched it there. No symbolism intended. No arcane message. 

The puma’s head down the bottom clearly has an eye. A stare. It’s so strong and stately, so quietly menacing, we can almost sense its prowl. But that’s mere pareidolia (the unwieldy name given to the process of seeing shapes in cloud formations). I see a brown ghost face too, and a volcano, and a bomb crater, and some vicious ash-fall on a snowy landscape.

But none of it is actually there, because this is just a picture of the bottom of a beat-up bowl. A cheap, Chinese-made metal bowl from the 1980s. The enamel is flaked, chipped, stained, burned and scraped, probably having been scrubbed with steel wool or something, or scratched at with a knife by some impatient dishwasher eager to chip away whatever treacly gunk was stuck to it. (Disclosure: that was probably me). 

I don’t know where my mother-in-law bought this Miró bowl, but I’m guessing it was in a small-town supermarket in the São Paulo countryside. Having served its purpose exceptionally well for over thirty years, it is kept around more out of sentimentality than anything else. It’s not contemporary, or modern, or modernist, or surrealist, or rupestrian, or anything grand, it’s just a knackered old piece of kitchenware from a world long gone.  

But there’s something about that crater that suggests depth.  And something in that volcano-like burst in the mantle that threatens unholy violence from the core of the very earth. There’s a scream, too, in that ocherish, Munchy stain. Or perhaps a gasp. The form is so barely there, yet utterly expressive.

If art resides in the intentions of an artist, then there is no art here. None whatsoever. But there is. And it only cost a few Cruzeiros or Cruzados or whatever the Brazilian currency was at the time. No need for Sotheby’s, though. It’s just a bowl. 

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Jeffrey D. Keeten

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