Highly-regarded and revered during his lifetime, the work of Antoni Tàpies had the potential to alter the viewer’s perception of reality while remaining enigmatic, visceral, and intuitive in nature. A near fateful heart attack when he was just 17 forever changed the trajectory of his life—his strict religious upbringing and ambition to become a solicitor gave way to committed mysticism and a soaring artistic vision. His work hinted at the existence of something beyond the material world but which is felt only in its essential absence. Indeed, he conceived of his work as being a meditation on the subject of the void, or in his own words:
"…that play of emptiness and fullness which composes everything and which reveals the meaning of nature."
Much of Tàpies' early drawings and paintings were self-portraits, but by 1946 he began to create collages with crosses using newspaper and whatever scraps of paper came to hand. By the early 1950s Tàpies had become deeply influenced by abstraction, especially Art Informel, the European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism. However, the "gashes, blows, and scars" of his thrilling new style would soon adapt into something more deep-seated and esoteric.
"One day I tried to arrive at silence… Those millions of furious clawings were transformed into millions of grains of dust, of sand… A whole new landscape, as in the story of one who goes through the looking glass, opened before me as if to communicate the most secret innerness of things."
After the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945 and huge advancements in science, many artists became increasingly curious in the essence of the world and in material. Tàpies himself began experimenting with materials outside conventional academic artistic expression. His "matter paintings" mixed pigment and varnish with marble dust and sand to create dense surfaces both stark and strikingly mysterious. Inspiring a contemplative reaction to reality through the use of unexpected materials, he saw his works as being meditative objects that would be interpreted according to the personal experience of the viewer.
"The artist has to make the viewer understand that his world is too narrow, he has to be open up to new perspectives."
While his work remained elusive and contemplative, Tàpies became increasingly political, and his left-leaning and humanitarian beliefs were evident in both his life and art practice. His strident protests against the dictator Franco and his use of the death penalty—for which he produced a memorable lithograph—even led to him being temporarily detained and fined in 1966.
"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."
Tàpies continued to experiment into his later years and his work remained as diverse and subtle as ever before. Influenced by Buddhism, his final works are more than anything a reflection on pain, both spiritual and physical, something he understood as being integral to life. Only through knowledge of pain are we able to lessen its effects and improve our passage through life. Right up to his death in 2012 Tàpies was concerned with the spirituality of the material world and the eternal worth and inherent mystery in even the most simple of things.
"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. Instead of giving a sermon on humility, I often prefer to depict humility itself."
Tàpies' works have now been incorporated into nearly all major art collections around the world including MoMA, New York and Tate Modern in London. A fervent believer in self-determination for Catalonia, it seems fitting that Tàpies would work so often with Polígrafa of Barcelona–one of the world's most renowned publishers of limited editions and prints. A number of those very prints are available now for purchase here at fineartmultiple—click here to find out more.