How much can a single work of art tell you about its maker? As a new Antoni Tàpies retrospective opens at Pérez Art Museum Miami, we look closer at his late painting ‘Matèria rosada’ with chief curator Tobias Ostrander
‘Tàpies: From Within’, on view at Pérez Art Museum Miami through 3 May, presents a selection of 50 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by the artist Antoni Tàpies, one of the most renowned European artists of the post-war period. The artist’s ‘matter paintings’ from the 1950s, up through his recent works, emphasise the materials from which they are made – oil paint mixed with dirt and stones, covered with gestural markings. His early work, through its emphasis on broken and torn surfaces, responds to the destruction experienced in his youth during the Spanish Civil War, followed by that of the Second World War and the era of the atomic bomb.
References to the body appear increasingly in Tàpies’ paintings from the late 1980s onward, as illustrated in Matèria rosada (Pink Matter), from 1991. This interest may be seen as a dialogue with neo-figuration and the general return to figurative painting pursued by many artists (like Francesco Clemente and Julian Schnabel) during this period. The flesh-like pink colour in this painting creates a rough form that recalls a crouching figure. Here, as in many paintings executed over the subsequent decade, the body is depicted as exposed, fragmented, and open, in a sexualised and wounded position. These paintings were a reflection of pain – both physical and spiritual – and were understood as an integral part of life. This work and similar works from the period respond to the violence associated with the body during the 1990s related to AIDS, the Gulf War, and ethnic violence in Yugoslavia.
If any image of the human being can said to be typical of Tàpies’ art, it would have to be the foot. In this painting, we can see bent legs with several feet around the bottom of the image. Tàpies painted with his canvas on the ground, which allowed him to incorporate his own feet and slippers into the pieces, but also served as a reminder to stay grounded to the earth.
‘Tàpies: From Within’ is at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, until 3 May.