Antoni Tàpies at Timothy Taylor Gallery
Antoni Tàpies was a major Catalonian painter of the 20th century, emerging in the 1960s and continuing to produce and exhibit work until his death last year at the age of 89. This exhibition shows later work from 1993 until 2009. A lifetime’s pursuit culminates in these masterful pieces from an artist who thoroughly knew his medium and fully materialised his aesthetic.
The paintings are large-scale, using mixed media, especially sand, with grimy, quickly painted areas and scratched out messages. Colours are natural and earthbound, with the weathered tones of found objects and overlooked beaches.
It could all sound messy and random, but Tàpies’ work is visually balanced and completely intriguing. Letters, marks and shapes are scrawled over the surface, signifying meanings and equations you might guess at but could never completely resolve. Conversations at the exhibition pondered interpretations that the artist was drawing inspiration from building sites, commenting on the way his native Spain was built upon and concreted over in post-war decades. It’s a valid guess, yet equally, the expanse of sand references an abstracted view of nature, the marks signifying human presence and a passing intellect.
The titles don’t give many more clues to the paintings’ meanings – Fragments, XIII, and so on – but the point of such abstract paintings is that once they grab the imagination, the mind goes with them, making connections and enjoying the journey. Two stunning works reference human bodies more figuratively and in monumental fashion, incorporating tufts of hair, and producing a visceral, tactile feeling of the raw truth of gender.
You can see where other artists such as Chris Ofili have picked up on Tàpies’ pioneering work incorporating natural substances in paintings, and his influence assures his legacy. You can’t sum these paintings up entirely, but they perform a sort of subtle magic.
Antoni Tàpies is at the Timothy Taylor Gallery until 13th April 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.