Ways to support us
About The Art Story a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Org
Antoni Tàpies Photo

Antoni Tàpies

Spanish Mixed Media Artist

Born: December 13, 1923 - Barcelona, Spain
Died: February 6, 2012 - Barcelona, Spain
Movements and Styles:
Art Informel
,
Surrealism
,
Neo-Expressionism
"I tend to live in a state of anxiety with the feeling that life is some kind of great catastrophe. Art should startle the viewer into thinking about the meaning of life."
1 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"If I can't change the world, at least I want to change the way people look at it."
2 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"My wish is that we might progressively lose our confidence in what we think we believe and the things we consider stable and secure, in order to remind ourselves of the infinite number of things still waiting to be discovered."
3 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"Like a researcher in his laboratory, I am the first spectator of the suggestions drawn from the materials. I unleash their expressive possibilities, even if I do not have a very clear idea of what I am going to do. As I go along with my work I formulate my thought, and from this struggle between what I want and the reality of the material - from this tension - is born an equilibrium."
4 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"The artist has to make the viewer understand that his world is too narrow, he has to open up to new perspectives."
5 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"There is something evocative about the idea of destruction. This act of destruction is the expression of an idea...that what we call reality is not real at all."
6 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"I feel the desire, or rather the intense need, to do something useful for society, and that is what stimulates me. In every situation I always look for what is positive and beneficial for my fellow citizens."
7 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"If one draws things in a manner which provides only the barest clue to their meaning, the viewer is forced to fill in the gaps by using his own imagination. He is compelled to participate in the creative act, which I consider very important."
8 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"The highest wisdom adopts the humblest of bodies."
9 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"Painting quickly is a calculated act to block out rational thought."
10 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"I often told the fanatics of realism that there is no such thing as realism in art: it only exists in the mind of the observer. Art is a symbol, a thing conjuring up reality in our mental image. That is why I don't see any contradiction between abstract and figurative art either."
11 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"In our world, in which religious images are losing their meaning, in which our customs are getting more and more secular, we are losing our sense of the eternal. I think it's a loss that has done a great deal of damage to modern art. Painting is a return to origins."
12 of 13
Antoni Tàpies
"And the most sensational surprise was to discover one day, suddenly, that my paintings, for the first time in history, had turned into walls."
13 of 13
Antoni Tàpies

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."

Accomplishments

  • 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

Tàpies in 2008

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."



Progression of Art

1945

Composició amb figures (Composition with figures)

Four naively rendered figures make up this early composition, painted by Tàpies when he was 21. A central figure stares straight ahead framed by two heads in profiles with eyes closed. Above them, at the center of the canvas and placed slightly behind a curved horizon, floats a faceless deity, radiating expressionistic lines that flow and vibrate around the picture. This piece represents one of Tàpies's earliest paintings, after he set up a studio at his sister's apartment in 1945 during the first year of his law studies at the Universidad de Barcelona. Many of Tàpies's early inspirations are evident here, including the radiating brushtrokes of van Gogh, the dreamlike symbolism of Odilon Redon, and the haunted quality of Edvard Munch's figures. The painter himself said that the figures may have been inspired by Catalan Romanesque art. The ghostly figures and acid greens and yellows create an unsettling impression that reminds us that this was painted not long after Barcelona's fall to Franco.

Oil on canvas - Fundación Antoni Tàpies

1951

Asia

As a child Tàpies had been captivated by street magicians and fortune-tellers. In this magical, dreamlike image, Tàpies clearly displays his affinity to Surrealism and its own fascination with the mystical and occult. Asia seems like an illustration pulled from a bizarre children's storybook (perhaps the book glimpsed at the lower left edge of the picture) - or a diagram from an occult text. Within a nocturnal landscape filled with celestial forms, plants, and insects, two ominous figures appear wielding scythes and daggers. A bejeweled male figure on the left appears to have severed his own arm and leg. While Tàpies was soon to abandon strong figurative elements, aspects of this composition would appear in later works - the scratch marks against a dark background, conventional geometry that frames the more organic elements, and a fascination with severed body parts. The title, "Asia" may be a reference to Tàpies early encounters with Eastern mysticism, especially during his periods of convalescence.

Oil on canvas - Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Brazil

1953

El crit. Groc i violeta (The Cry. Yellow and violet)

This haunting abstract composition seems to continue Tàpies' preoccupation with dreamlike, night-time imagery, especially in the use of glowing yellow against a dark background. In The Cry. Yellow and violet, however, the earthy materials and technique of scratching into the dense surface of the work are more pronounced than any specific storytelling.

Having experimented with the depiction of social themes based on his understanding of Marxism in previous works, Tàpies' move towards abstraction in the early 1950s, no doubt inspired by his encounter with Abstract Expressionism, finds him exploring the expressive qualities of color and paint. Here the juxtaposition of yellow and violet and the textured, calligraphic markings produce the emotional impact suggested by the "cry" of the title.

Mixed Media on Canvas - Fundación Antoni Tàpies

1956

Porta metàllica i violí (Metal Shutter and Violin)

Tàpies often likened himself to an alchemist, transforming unprepossessing materials and objects, into art. Throughout the 1950s he began to incorporate such items as furniture, broken cartons, orthopedic devices and eyeglasses. Metal Shutter and Violin is one of these works, an assemblage made for a shop window display. The inclusion of the actual objects - the violin and the metal shutter, are an obvious reference to the Duchampian readymade - the more so because these objects have been rendered useless in this piece. In addition, by bringing together two such different objects, Tàpies invokes the Surrealist technique of juxtaposition, in which objects take on a new order of meaning when taken out of their familiar contexts and placed together. Here, Tàpies plays on the sensory contrast of the sweet sounds of the violin and the loud clatter of the shutter as it clanks shut at the end of the day. The trace of the artist's hand in this piece is relegated to the painted black cross in the bottom left corner, the cruciform "T" with which he signed his name.

Assemblage - Fundación Antoni Tàpies

1957

Peinture grise et verte (Grey and green painting)

The composition in Grey and green painting resembles a landscape with a low foreground at the bottom set against a large area of night sky. The perspective is unclear; we are either looking at the top edge of a wall or an aerial view of a coastline, the loose scratches and marks indicative of human construction or activity. However this particular piece might be interpreted, by the late 1950s Tàpies was covering his canvases with a highly textured base, mixing in clay and marble dust to thicken the surface. Tàpies later wrote of his fascination with incised and scribbled lines, lacerations, and grafitti-like marks, "My pictures became the truly experimental fields of battle... destruction led up to aesthetic tranquility." The work is reminiscent of contemporaneous French movements such as Tachisme, or the Art Brut experiments being carried out by Jean Dubuffet, but Tàpies endows the image with more austerity and monumentality. Materials are deployed for their magical and transformative properties. "His paintings present to us a world subject to constant change and metamorphosis," said Spanish curator Manyel J. Borja-Villel, "a world given shape - if only momentarily - by the artist-alchemist."

Oil paint, epoxy resin and marble dust on canvas - Tate Modern, London

1958

Grey Ochre

The name Tàpies means "walls" in Catalan and the artist created countless variations on the theme of walls, with their rough, pockmarked, and decaying surfaces. Eschewing the Renaissance notion that the picture frame was a window onto a scene beyond, Tàpies described his discovery of walls as a "sensational surprise," a sign of "separation, cloistering", "the romantic prestige of ruins" and "reflections for contemplation of the earth."

In Grey Ochre there is a clear reference to the weather-beaten, eroded buildings in Catalonian towns, mementoes perhaps of the activity that left marks on the walls - and on the memory of a people - by the Spanish Civil War and life under General Franco's dictatorship. "There is a sense," Tàpies wrote, "that there is something absent, covered up, behind the impenetrable surface. These are memories from the adolescence and early youth I spent shut in behind the walls within which I lived out the wars. All the dramas the adults were living through and all the cruel fantasies of an age - that, amid so many catastrophes, seemed to drift according to its own impulses - were traced and inscribed around me."

Oil paint, epoxy resin and marble dust on canvas - Tate Modern, London

1961

Tela encolada (Sized canvas)

During the 1960s, Tàpies often used materials that were aged or decomposing, such as large pieces of fabric, sheets, sailcloth, or blankets, to indicate memory and the passage of time. Sized canvas hints at something hidden away behind a huge folded and crimped canvas. Despite the overall symmetry of the design, the wrinkling and discoloration of the material suggests something weathered and subject to the vagaries of time; the tripartite fold is reminiscent of religious or ceremonial attire. The two thick black painted lines at the bottom seem to invite the viewer to pull them back to reveal what lies beneath. Here, Tàpies extends the notion of the painting as wall even further, suggesting that the canvas itself obscures something more fundamental that lies beneath it.

Paint and collage on canvas - Fundación Antoni Tàpies

Les quatre cròniques (The four chronicles) (1990)
1990

Les quatre cròniques (The four chronicles)

Tàpies' use of calligraphic, graffiti-like marks, scribbled writing and archetypal symbols - such as the cross and the arrow - are on full display in this enormous frieze, 2 ½ meters high by 6 meters long. The piece is divided into four panels, each alluding to a chronicler of the past, and perhaps suggesting Tàpies role as historian in this piece.

The first panel, referring to King James I includes the text "faith without works is dead" from the epistle of St. James. The second corresponds to the Chronicle of Bernat Desclot dedicated to King Peter the Great, who is indicated by the outline of a horse's leg. The third refers to Ramon Muntaner, a Catalan nobleman who took part in several Mediterranean expeditions, and the image of the four bars recalls a saying that not even fish would dare to swim in the sea without showing the motto of the Catalan kings. The far-right panel is dedicated to the Chronicle of Peter III the Ceremonious (PIII), with an allegorical text from the biblical book of Kings, "He took me out of the lion's throat and from the staple of the bear." The whole, with its' bold markings, figurative elements, and scribbled phrases is a clear example of the Neo-Expressionist tendencies in Tàpies' later work.

Mixed media on canvas - Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona


Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Antoni Tàpies
Influenced by Artist
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Antoni Tàpies

articles
video clips

Related Artists

Related Movements & Topics

Share
Do more

Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Nina Rosenblatt

"Antoni Tàpies Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Nina Rosenblatt
Available from:
First published on 21 Oct 2021. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]