The collection of the Fundació Antoni Tąpies consists mostly of the works donated by Antoni and Teresa Tąpies. There are some exceptions, such as Ocre i gris sobre marró (Ochre-grey over brown, 1962), donated by David K. Anderson. Likewise, the initial batch of works has kept growing every year, thanks to Antoni and Teresa Tąpies’ yearly donation of a new work.
Among paintings, sculptures and drawings, books and engravings, the collection has examples of every aspect of Tąpies’ artistic output and of the different typologies, techniques and materials he uses. The collection includes a selection of drawings and portraits from the forties, a major group of the matter paintings of the fifties and sixties, a large number of object works from the sixties and early seventies, and others done with foam-rubber or the spray technique, varnishes and fireclay from the eighties, and objects and sculptures done over the nineties, in which he experimented with new materials such as metal sheets, sometimes used as pictorial supports, or bronze.
Tąpies’ first works display a strong primitive character linked to dada and children’s art or art produced by the mentally handicapped, therefore close to Art Brut. Moreover, those works - which in some cases foreshadow his later work with materials - show a marked Symbolist influence in terms of the importance given to allegory, myth and metaphor. Some works from that period are Zoom (1946), one of the earliest works in the collection, Cap i bandera (Head and flag, 1946) and Creu de paper de diari (Newsprint Cross, 1946-47).
In the forties, as a reaction to the conservative art promoted by the Franco regime, many young artists took an interest in Surrealism, which had been the last avant-garde movement to evolve in Spain before the Civil War. The beginning of Tąpies’ Surrealist period coincided with the foundation, in 1948, of the magazine Dau al Set with other artists and writers. In the works from that period, we find references to Miró, Ernst and Klee. In the case of the work Parafaragamus (1949) we can observe aspects which are classic Miró alongside elements of the art of Klee.
Between 1949 and 1950 Tąpies acquired an increasingly heightened social conscience. That new attitude can be set in the framework of a widespread controversy among defenders of committed art and supporters of an avantgarde variety, which reached its height while he was in Paris between 1950 and 1951. From that period we have the series of drawings entitled Histņria Natural (Natural History, 1950-51), in which the artist shows us the evolution of nature, its metamorphoses and transformation up to civilisation and the class struggle. The works from that period combine a realist representation with a character that remains Surrealist. Such is the case of La barberia dels maleļts i dels elegits (The barbershop of the damned and the chosen, 1950) or Collage de paper moneda (Collage of bank notes, 1951).
From 1952 to 1954 Tąpies’ art became strongly abstract as a reaction to the previous period, openly political and social in tone. During those years his work focused on visual aspects, such as form and colour, and also echoed the neo-Plasticist ideas that were gaining ground in European artistic circles. At all events, those experiments were short-lived in Tąpies’ work, because his interest went beyond mere formal expression. He soon began to work with new materials such as marble dust, sand and coloured clays, among others. In 1954, that line gave rise to a new type of work which is known generically as matter painting.
In the matter paintings, the materials used are no longer simple media used to express an idea; they are the idea itself. That process produces a complete identification between material and form, between concept and language. Those works become opaque surfaces, walls on which the artist writes his graffiti and attaches the forms of objects or people. His identification with the work through his surname (in Catalan Tąpies means “walls”) expresses a more profound desire to break with Western dualism and blend with the material in a continuous formlessness.
Over the post-war years there was a general interest among artists on both sides of the Atlantic in material. Awareness of the atomic bomb and the new scientific discoveries aroused a strong curiosity in science, the new ideas about space-time and substance, while inventions such as the electronic microscope provided a new view of nature.
At the same time, Tąpies had developed an interest in Eastern philosophy, because of its emphasis on material, the identity between man and nature and its denial of the dualism of our society.
Many of the works from the fifties and sixties show a world which is still being shaped, a nature of petrified footprints, of fossils, as if it had been deserted for thousands of years. Tąpies believes that the notion of material also needs to be understood from the point of view of Mediaeval mysticism - through the writings of Arnau de Vilanova, Enrique de Villena and Ramon Llull -, as magic, mystery and alchemy. That is how we can understand the artist as an ‘alchemist of the spirit’, someone who can transform our inner selves beyond ourselves.
That alchemical meaning is to be found throughout his work. It was also over those years that he drafted a series of images, usually taken from his immediate surroundings, which appear at different stages of his evolution. Often, besides being represented in different ways, a single image will have a series of different meanings which are superimposed on one another.
And so Tąpies offers us a ‘materialist’ vision of the world. His message focuses on a revaluation of the low, the repulsive, of material (it is not by chance that he often chooses subjects traditionally regarded as unpleasant or fetishist, such as a defecating anus, a discarded shoe, an armpit or a foot). Material is the substantial element of life. One consequence of that rejection of the idea in favour of material is the notion of the ‘formless’ whose aim, according to Georges Bataille, was to cancel out all formal categories: the ‘formless’ cancels out the distinction between nature and culture.
The technical process through which Tąpies creates the matter paintings conveys that notion of the ‘formless’. First of all, he covers the support with a layer of varnish and before it dries he applies marble dust, sand and other materials and pigments. Then he adds paint on different zones, creating a figure, an object or simply a stain. When the last layers begin to dry, the material cracks and shows its structural components. At times he heightens that impression by scraping the paint in different places. The Fundació Antoni Tąpies collection has a large number of works from that period: El crit. Groc i violeta (The Cry. Yellow and violet, 1953), Terra i pintura (Earth and paint, 1956), Pintura rosa i blava (Pink and blue painting, 1959), Forma negra sobre quadrat gris (Black form on grey square, 1960) or Relleu amb cordes (Relief with strings, 1963).
In the late sixties and early seventies, while his political commitment grew, Tąpies worked even more with objects. No doubt that re-newed interest in the object coincided with the efforts of Arte Povera in Europe and post-Minimalism in the United States, though he did not show objects as they are, but left his mark on them and incorporated them into his language. Unlike many Povera or post-Minimalist works, in general Tąpies’ objects are not interventions on a specific space; they are absorbed by the pictorial frame they are incorporated into, as we can see in Palla i fusta (Straw and wood, 1969) or Pantalons sobre bastidor (Trousers on stretcher, 1971).
Although in the last years of the sixties and the first of the seventies his work showed a special sensitivity towards the object, he never gave up painting or graphic work. Naturally, both of them took on a marked social and political character during those years [A la memņria de Salvador Puig Antich [In memory of Salvador Puig Antich] and Assasins, [Assassins], 1974).
In the early eighties, once legality had returned to Spain and the years of political struggle had come to an end, Tąpies’ interest in canvas as a support took on renewed strength. That new period in his artistic evolution coincided with the return to painting promoted in broad sectors of the art world in Europe and the United States. With that rediscovery of painting, Tąpies used two procedures which, if not entirely new, did take on a vital role. The first consisted of spraying objects hidden on a canvas. The second was staining the canvas or wooden support with varnish, which adopted different shapes when handled by the artist, but never entirely lost its formless character. Examples of these two procedures are found in works such as Efecte d’arrugues i taronja (Wrinkles and orange effect, 1979) and Sinuós de vernķs sobre negre (Wary line in varnish on black, 1983).
In the late eighties, Tąpies’ interest in Eastern culture seems to have grown. He has also been attracted by the latest generation of scientists, from David Bohm to Rupert Sheldrake. Those thinkers have helped to provide a new vision of the universe that understands matter as a whole in constant change and formation.
The works of the last few years are, first and foremost, a reflection on pain - both physical and spiritual -, understood as an integral part of life. Influenced by Buddhist thought, Tąpies considers that a greater knowledge of pain softens its effects and therefore improves the quality of life. The passage of time, which has always been a constant in his work, takes on fresh nuances when lived as a personal experience involving a greater self-knowledge and a clearer understanding of the world around him. It is also interesting to note how certain current events, such as the war in former Yugoslavia or the murders and deportations in Rwanda, have left their mark on his output. And so his latest work is crowded with images of shrouds, dead bodies and coffins. Some of those works in the collection are Parla, parla (Speak, speak, 1992), Cos i filferros (Body and wire, 1996) and Dues piles de terra (Two piles of earth, 2001).
Alongside his output of paintings and objects, since 1947 Tąpies has explored the field of graphics. It is worth noting that he has produced a large number of collector’s books in close association with poets and writers such as Alberti, Bonnefoy, Du Bouchet, Brodsky, Brossa, Daive, Dupin, Foix, Frémon, Gimferrer, Guillén, Jabčs, Mitscherlich, Paz, Takiguchi, Ullįn, Valente and Zambrano, among others. The Fundació collection contains copies of practically all existing editions of these works.
Tąpies’ work is a coherent aesthetic and discursive corpus which has remained practically intact since 1954. So we cannot speak of a formal evolution as such, but of the laying of foundations that give rise to a unified, constant output.