Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012)

Painter, sculptor, and theorist, Antoni Tàpies was a Spanish artist best known for his mixed-media paintings that incorporated materials including marble dust, found objects, and resin.


Tàpies was born in Barcelona in 1923. Deeply attached to his homeland, he would remain living and working there until his death. Interested in art from an early age thanks in part to the contemporary art magazine, D’Aci i D’Allà, which he read in his youth, Tàpies first studied law for three years before abandoning this career for art in 1946. In 1948, Tàpies founded, along with the poet, Joan Brossa, the Catalan avant-garde movement Dau al Set, the first art movement to emerge from Spain following the Second World War. Inspired particularly by the work of Joan Miró, Paul Klee, and Max Ernst, this group shared the Surrealist notion of an art based on dreams and the unconscious.

At the beginning of the 1950s, he left behind the Surrealist style of his early work, and started to use real materials in his work. Clay, marble dust, sand, paper, string, and clothing became the materials from which he created dense assemblages that explored the transformation of objects and their physical properties. A fascination with symbolism, metaphysics, and an interest in the practices of Zen Buddhism underpinned his work for the rest of his life. Over the several decades to follow, the artist became more nuanced in his choice of materials and attempted to convey the accidental marks of walls and graffiti.


Tàpies’ first solo show was held at the Galeries Laietanes, Barcelona in 1950. Three years later, his work was shown in the United States for the first time, with exhibitions at the Marshall Field Art Gallery, Chicago and the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York. In 1962 the Guggenheim Museum held a retrospective of his art. Having exhibited widely across the world throughout the 20th and 21st Century, in 1993, Tàpies represented Spain at the 45th Venice Biennale, during which he was given the prestigious Award for Painting.


Remaining closely connected to his native Barcelona throughout his life, in 1981 Tàpies was commissioned by the city to design a tribute to fellow Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. This sculpture was inaugurated in 1983. Seven years later, a foundation dedicated to Tàpies was opened in the city, the third artist after Picasso and Miró to have a museum dedicated to his work there.


Tàpies’ work can be found in museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary of Art, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome; Pompidou Center, Paris, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.


Antoni Tàpies died in February 2012.