Summary of Antoni Tàpies
Largely self-taught, Tàpies experimented tirelessly throughout his career with unconventional, unexalted materials, often creating thick surfaces built up from marble dust, ground chalk, sand, and earth in a way that, as one critic wrote, "seemed to have been not so much painted as excavated..." What became his signature technique of gouging, scratching, and incising enigmatic marks into the surface of his works furthered this sense of his art as an unearthing of primal forms, with references to cave paintings and to the protest graffiti he saw on walls as a youth in the politically turbulent streets of Barcelona. Although influenced by Surrealism - in particular through his friendship with his fellow-Barcelonian, Joan Miró - Tàpies's emphasis on the raw materiality of his works aligns him to such post-1945 movements such Art Informel, Matter Painting, and Pintura Materica. While often refusing to decipher the precise meaning of his imagery, Tàpies also resisted being characterized as an abstract painter, insisting that his aim was to exalt the most profane object, noting that "even an armpit can be every bit as transcendental as the most conventional sacred image."
- Rooted in his early experiences witnessing the brutality of Franco's regime in Spain, and in his hometown of Barcelona, allusions to human suffering and pain appear throughout Tàpies work - in flayed bandages, body parts, and scarred surfaces for example - reflecting his lifelong resistance against oppression and human rights abuses.
- One of the most evocative motifs in Tàpies work is his transformation of the canvas into a wall (in fact, the word "tàpies" means "wall" in Catalan). Weathered, war-torn, bearing the marks and memories of the city street and of Tàpies own periods of confinement, these canvas-as-walls became a repeated element in his work, one that countered the conventional understanding of the painting as a transparent window into another world.
- Like many artists, Tapies was deeply affected by the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which contributed to his interest in matter, the earth, dust, and other atomic particles that go into his paintings.
- Tàpies works sometimes seemed to baffle American critics, who were accustomed to the flamboyant gestures of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop Art. Eschewing bright colors and the gleam of commercial or technological culture Tàpies' noted of his encounter with the Abstract Expressionists, "they were wrestingly with canvases, using violent colors and huges brush strokes. I arrived with gray, silent, sober, oppressed paintings."
- Considered the most important Spanish artist of the second half of the 20th century, Antoni Tapies is not nearly as well-known in the United States as his some of Catalan compatriots, such as Salvador Dali and Joan Miró. In Spain, where he casts a large shadow on the local art scene, he is often regarded less as mentor than as father figure to rebel against.
Biography of Antoni Tàpies
In the final decade of his life, Tàpies spoke of his, "Contempt for everything pretentious, grandiloquent, and supposedly very important" in the face of "that which is small and modest." A small and modest man himself, Tapies nevertheless did not shy away from controversy, boldness, or brutality in his work. As his gallerist, Daniel Lelong, commented, "He paints with his entire self, with all his soul, with all he's got, and ultimately with great violence."