Antoni Tàpies was an influential Catalan artist and art theorist whose sculpture, etchings, lithographs and highly textured mixed media paintings can be found in major collections around the world. His numerous essays on art have been collected in a series of internationally disseminated publications.
From 1944 Tàpies studied law at the University of Barcelona. Aside from evening classes in drawing at Academia Valls during his legal studies, he was a self-taught artist. He first encountered contemporary art as a teenager reading the Barcelona-based magazine D'ací d'allà.
In 1946, the year after producing his first impasto works, he abandoned his studies to paint full-time. Initially using Surrealism and Primitivism as stylistic inspiration, he produced both abstract and figurative paintings and used collage to create crosses out of scraps of newsprint and toilet paper—an echo of his Catholic education.
In 1948 the fledgling artist helped found the Surrealist-influenced avant-garde group Dau al Set. His works in this period were heavily influenced by Joan Miró and Paul Klee and depicted monstrous and deformed figures and abstract linear patterns set in bizarre landscapes. The colour, light and shadow of these works generated mystical atmospheres. The artist held his first solo exhibition in 1950 at the Galeries Laietanes, Barcelona—a city that remained his personal and professional home although he travelled often.
In 1953, Tàpies turned his focus exclusively to abstraction and mixed media production. He was drawn to the style of Art Informel—one of the most prevalent art styles in post-war Europe—particularly after seeing the American equivalent (Abstract Expressionism) during his first New York solo exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery.
Much of the work for which Tàpies was stylistically recognised sought to undermine traditional fine art through a focus on odd materials, as could be seen in his incorporation of sand, soil, clay and marble dust in his paint, and his inclusion of discarded materials such as paper, string and rags. Tàpies used these materials to create dense wall-like surfaces that seemed blank and monochromatic but were rich in textural patterns. Texture became his hallmark, featuring in most of his mixed media works.
Influenced by Pop art in the late 1960s, the now internationally recognised artist began to incorporate more substantial objects from his surroundings, crossing into the territory of Art Povera. In his 1979 essay 'Nothing is Mean' Tàpies expressed his firm belief in the validity of the commonplace. These materials included anything from socks to pieces of furniture. The artist often utilised the bed in works such as Diptic nocturn (1993, mixed media on canvas) for its symbolic connections to life, love and death. Doors and windows also featured.
The boldest example of the artist's incorporation of furniture was the Tribute to Picasso on Passeig de Picasso, Barcelona, Spain (1981–1983). It consisted of modernist furniture pierced by iron bars and tied together with ropes and sheets, surrounded by a four-square-metre glass cube acting as a fountain. Tàpies carried these ideas through in large-scale monumental sculpture.
While seeking to develop abstract art that incorporated non-traditional materials Tàpies also explored social and philosophical themes. A strong sense of his Catalan identity ran through early-1970s works such as The Catalan Spirit (1971) and the lithograph series 'Assassins' (1974), which also reflected his political commitment to opposing Francisco Franco's fascist regime in Spain. In the late 1970s and 1980s he developed an interest in existentialist and Zen philosophy and the notion of the void. He started to produce works that meditated on emptiness and the materiality of life. In works such as Empreintes d'assiettes (1973) and Silhouette de baignoire (1982) he used the symbolic absence of material from everyday life, such as imprints left by a full table setting and the silhouette cast by a bath tub.
His later work—from the early 1990s to his death in 2012—increasingly carried references to pain (both physical and spiritual) and death.
For a long time, the art of Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012) has succeeded in being all things to all people: he is an Abstract Expressionist to some and a conceptualist to others; feted here for his mysticism and there for his materialism. The works currently at Timothy Taylor are no less contradictory. They find the artist at his most personal and most...
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