Antoni Tapies
Biography and Paintings of Spanish Abstract Artist.

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Antoni Tapies (1923-2012)


Dau al Set: Surrealist Group
Art Informel
Matter Painting
Mature Art Career

Paintings by Antoni Tapies
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One of the most eminent abstract painters of post-war Europe, and a key figure in post-war Spanish painting, Antoni Tapies has been involved in various art movements during his long artistic career, and is one of the best known Spanish painters to emerge in Europe since the Second World War. In 1948 he became part of the avant-garde group Dau al Set and in 1950 he had his first one man exhibition at the Galeries Laietanes in his native Barcelona. Although he lived for a brief period in Paris, he has been active mainly in his native city. His early works were Surrealistic in nature, as he was strongly influenced by Joan Miro (1893-1983). After 1953 however, he turned to abstract art, becoming part of the broad Art Informel movement, and began working in mixed media. It was in this genre of Matter Painting that Tapies created his most original works of art. He incorporated marble dust and clay into his paint, and used found objects like string, paper and rags (e.g. Grey and Green Painting, 1957, Tate Modern, London). In 1958, he won prizes at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the Venice Biennale, and by the end of the 1950s he had established an international reputation. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, influenced by Pop Art, he began incorporating more substantial items into his paintings, including pieces of furniture. Notable works by Tapies include: Gray Relief on Black (1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and White and Orange (1967, private collection). As well as paintings he also produces etchings, lithographs, ceramics and sculpture. Now seen as one of Spain's top modern artists, a foundation devoted to his work has been established in Barcelona.


Dau al Set: Surrealist Group

Tapies was born in Barcelona into a cultured environment, his father was a lawyer and his mother was a book seller. Between 1943 and 1946 he studied law at Barcelona University but then decided to devote himself entirely to art. He was largely self-taught; the few art classes he attended made little impression on him. In 1948 he became a member of the Dau al Set group (the Seven Spotted Dice), which was founded by poet Joan Bross (1919–1998). It was an avant-garde movement with connections to Surrealism, and members stressed the importance of both the conscious and unconscious in art. The group was inspired by the works of Miro, Paul Klee (1879-1940) and Max Ernst (1891-1976). Other members included Antonio Saura (1930-98), Arnau Puig (b.1926), painter Joan-Josep Tharrats (1918-2001), art critic Juan Eduardo Cirlot (1916–73) and Catalan artist Modest Cuixart (1925-2007). The group dissolved in 1954.

Tapies first showed his painting in 1948, at the controversial Salon d'Octobre in Barcelona, and in 1950 enjoyed his first solo exhibition at Galeries Laietanes. The same year, he was awarded a scholarship to spend a year in Paris. In 1953 he was awarded his first on-man show in New York, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, whose owner then arranged for his work to travel throughout America, and internationally.


Art Informel

After 1953 Tapies turned his attention to abstraction, influenced by Art Informel, the European equivalent of American Abstract Expressionism, which became one of the most important styles of post-war art in Europe. Europe had been emotionally, financially and physically ripped apart by the war, and the unemotional intellectualism of geometric abstraction was no longer sufficient. America's answer was Abstract Expressionism, exemplified by the abstract paintings of Jackson Pollock (1912-56), Robert Motherwell (1915-91), and Mark Rothko (1903-70). In Europe, the answer was Art Informel, which was an umbrella term for a new style of formless abstract painting. Leading exponents included Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-92), Pierre Soulages (b.1919), Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), Karel Appel (1921-2006), Wols (1913-51), Asger Jorn (1914-73), Georges Mathieu (1921-2012), Jean Dubuffet (1901-85), among many others.

Matter Painting

Tapies' chosen genre within the general Art Informel style, was Matter Painting, which stressed the evocative power of unusual materials and also undermined the conventions of traditional fine art. He started incorporating a range of new materials into his painting, including: a mixture of glue, plaster of Paris and sand, as well as paper, tin foil, string, dirt, rags and clay. He created textural richness with grattages, collages, engravings and varnish, physically building up surfaces in an effort to explore the transformative qualities of the materials used. His motives included despair with the industrial present and a strong yearning for the natural. In White and Orange (1967), he gives the painting the substantiality of a wall, while a symmetrical design has been scored into the thick plastered surface. Thus, says critic Antony Everitt: "by dialectical contrast, formal balance is either eliminated or submerged by spontaneous gestural techniques".

Tapies went on to create works mostly in grey, interrupted by scratch marks of bright reds and greens, graffiti-like triangles and semicircles, and large letters like X's and O's. Eventually he started attaching bigger items like rope and even pieces of furniture. It was for these later works that he has gained his notoriety. A typical example is Gray Relief on Black (1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1952 the artist exhibited at the Venice Biennale and in 1953 he won the Grand Prize for Painting at the Sao Paulo Biennale.

Mature Art Career

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Tapies exhibited at many of the major international museums and galleries. In 1966 he wrote a book on the practice of art. In 1973 the French National Museum of Modern Art in Paris held a major exhibition of his works, as did the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (New York) in 1977. In 1978 he published his award-winning autobiography. In the early 1980s he began to explore ceramic sculpture and installation work. In 1988 he was made an Honorary Member of the London Royal Academy of Arts. In 1994 he enjoyed another retrospective at the Guggenheim New York. In 2003, he was awarded the Velazquez Prize, Spain's top honour for artists. He died in 2012..

Now firmly established as one of the great 20th century painters, his works can be seen in many of the best art museums in both Europe and America, notably the Reina Sofia, Madrid.

• For more biographies of important Spanish artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more about Matter Painting, see: Homepage.

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