Antoni Tàpies 1923-2012
Born in Barcelona in 1923, Tàpies was rasied among the Catalan intellectual elite. His parents were both in prominent positions. His father was an influential lawyer who worked for the Catalan government during the Spanish Civil War, and his mother was the daughter of a prominent right-wing separist and a devout Catholic. His parents insisted, especially his mother, that he had a religious education. Despite gaining a fear of nuns, Tàpies became more spiritually educated which would greatly influence his later work in ways that would not be appreciated by the church. At the age of 17 Tàpies contracted a lung infection that would cause him great problems for two years. During this time, he began to copy the works of Van Gogh and Picasso, read Dostoevsky and studied the practice of Japanese Buddhism.
Once regaining his health, in 1944 he was pushed by his father to enrol in a law degree, but in the meantime, he was attending drawing classes at the Academia Valls in Barcelona, where he was inspired by poetry. He spent the 1940s developing a style that was largely inspired by ‘primitive’ arts and the works of children, but it was Paul Klee and the Surrealists that really sparked his interest. His early drawings were self-portraits but by 1946 his motifs of collages with crosses and scraps of newspaper and loo roll were beginning to surface. He often used the grattage (scraping) technique consulted by Max Ernst and was influenced by Joan Miró, a friend of his whom he met in 1948. Also, in 1948, Tàpies co-founded an avant-garde group named Dal au Set, with the Surrealist poet Joan Brossa.
'The artist has to make the viewer understand that his world is too narrow, he has to be open up to new perspectives.'
In 1950-51, Tàpies was awarded a scholarship to Paris, the artistic centre of the world. Here he met many artists, including Picasso, and became interested in social realism, which fuelled his career further. Having displayed in a solo show in New York, Tàpies experienced the American abstract expressionism. This undoubtedly influenced his new style of “gashes, blows and scars”. Eventually he had a revelation, “to discover one day, suddenly, that my paintings, for the first time in history, had turned into walls.” Coincidentally his name translates to “walls” in Catalan, so one might believe this is part of the influence. However, this imagery of walls suggests something that lies beyond the material world, and is sensed in its absence.
Furniture also became significant in Tàpies’ work. The image of the bed became an archetype as it represented the beginning and end of life: a place of reproduction, birth and death. He used many media to display these ideas, sheets were knotted, for example in his works of 1971. However, his art was not solely focused on abstract ideas. Tàpies was also keen to fulfil his goals of democracy, social justice and self-determination for Catalonia. He created works that represent Catalan and were important for him in expressing his ideas. Tàpies was not only acting through his art. In 1966, he was arrested for attending a secret political meeting, and was involved in high-profile protests against the death penalty, for which he designed an unforgettable lithograph and screen-prints.
'With my work I attempt to help man to overcome his alienation; I do this by surrounding his daily life with objects, which confront him in a tactile way with the final and deepest problems of our existence.'
In his later years, Tàpies’ work remained subtle and diverse as he continued to experiment with a range of imagery and media. His figurative works included sculpture that was made from bronze, terracotta and other metals. His work featured in many exhibitions during his lifetime in Europe and America. Tàpies lived until the age of 88, and died in 2012.
The Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona was created in 1984 by the artist to show his extensive oeuvre and to promote the study and knowledge of modern and contemporary art.