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Antoni Tàpies: 1923—: Artist

Joined Avant-garde Group

Tàpies's father was determined that his son follow in his professional footsteps, and he dutifully studied law for five years. In an interview for the UNESCO Courier with Serafin García Ibañez, he confessed that art had always been his first passion. "When I was a child I loved drawing," Tàpies recalled. "I lacked the basic skills, but as time went by I became consumed by a desire to do better than all my classmates." Before he turned twenty, Tàpies was diagnosed with tuberculosis after a surprise heart attack. He spent two years recuperating between 1942 and 1943, and used much of the time to draw, read, and listen to the classical operas of nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner.

Tàpies recovered from his illness and re-emerged on Barcelona's cultural scene. By the end of World War II, Spain was firmly a dictatorship, and the Franco regime took harsh measures against Catalonia and its proud spirit, including repression of its Catalan language. Around 1948 Tàpies became involved in a group of artists and poets in Barcelona who were drawn to the Dada and Surrealist movements. They included poet Joan Brossa, philosopher Arnau Puig, and three other painters, Modest Cuixart, Joan Ponç, and Joan-Josep Tharrats. Calling themselves Dau al Set, or "Die at Seven," the group put out a daring avant-garde magazine of the same name, and began showing their work in the city. Tàpies's first exhibition with them, in 1948, included his painting "Collage of the Crosses," which provoked controversy among the more conservative elements in Barcelona; Catholic leaders even attempted to have the show shut down by authorities. The crucifix would continue to appear in many works of Tàpies's throughout his career, giving them a ghostly religious mood. He explained his fascination with the form many years later in an interview with the New York Times's Alan Riding. "At the time, Spain was truly a cemetery," Tàpies said, after so many years of civil war and the political repression. "The presence of the cross was very intense and I used it as a symbol of primitive Christianity as well as to criticize what we called National Catholicism."

At a Glance . . .

Born Antoni Tàpies Puig on December 13, 1923, in Barcelona, Spain; married Teresa Barbara, 1954; children: Antoni, Miguel, Clara. Education: Studied law at the University of Barcelona, 1943, 1945-46; studied drawing at the Academia Valls, Barcelona, 1944.

Career: Artist, 1948–. Held first group exhibition in Barcelona, 1948; first U.S. exhibition, Marshall Field Art Gallery, Chicago, 1953; showed at the Spanish Pavilion of the 1958 Venice Biennale; the Museo de Arte of Bilbao, Spain, hosted his first museum show, 1960; retrospectives held in his honor include the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1962; Museum des 20 Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1968; Musee d'Art Modern, Paris, 1973; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1977; Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporano, Madrid, 1980; Tàpies Foundation established in Barcelona, 1984.

Awards: Academia Breve prize, Madrid, 1950, 1951; First Prize, Carnegie International, Pittsburgh 1958; Guggenheim Foundation Award, 1964; Stephan-Locher Medal, Cologne, West Germany, 1974; Plastic Arts Prize, City of Barcelona, 1979; Gold Medal for Fine Arts, Ministry of Culture, Madrid, 1981; Wolf Foundation Prize, with Marc Chagall, Israel, 1982.

Addresses: Office—Saragossa 57, Barcelona-6, Spain. Agent—Galeria Maeght, Calle Montcada 25, Barcelona-3, Spain.

In 1951 Tàpies won a scholarship from the French Institute that enabled him to live modestly and study in Paris. During this period he was able to meet Spain's greatest living Spanish painter at the time, Pablo Picasso. Returning to Barcelona, his creativity flourished during this decade, and his reputation as an artist accrued accordingly. In 1953 he was invited to show his works in Chicago at the Marshall Field Art Gallery, and the following year he had a show in New York City at its Martha Jackson Gallery. That show was also the occasion of Tàpies's first visit to the United States, and he found the New York art world captivated by the Abstract Expressionist style, in which painters strove to convey emotional content through reducing color and form to its simplest elements. They included the painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and as Tàpies recalled in the interview with Riding, "they were wrestling with canvases, using violent colors and huge brush strokes. I arrived with gray, silent, sober, oppressed paintings. One critic said they were paintings that thought."

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