Antoni Tàpies. From Object to Sculpture (1964–2009)
October 4, 2013 – January 19, 2014
Composició (Composition), 1991
Oxide paint on refractory concrete, 160 x 243 x 59 cm
Col·leció Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona
“I found one day, suddenly, that my pictures, for the first time in history, had become walls... How many suggestions can be conveyed by the image of the wall and all its possible derivatives!”
Through the materials that Antoni Tàpies (b. 1923, Barcelona; d. 2012, Barcelona) selected for his work and the way he used them, some of his artworks resemble walls—walls that have been scratched and marred by human intervention and time. Tàpies said that in his works, the surfaces become like a skin that has been damaged by the marks of his spatula or brush. He said that he had a special identification with the theme of the wall because his last name in the Catalan language (his mother’s language) means “walls.” To him, this was a sign that he should work on this theme.
Composició (Composition, 1991) brings to mind the theme of the wall. Tàpies executed the piece in refractory concrete, a cement that remains hard after setting even if subjected to high temperatures. He sought to inspire a contemplative reaction to reality through the integration of materials unexpected in fine art. Composició is full of symbols that he repeated and had ongoing significance for him. He painted graffiti and linear elements suggestive of Oriental calligraphy all around the piece, revealing crosses, moons, asterisks, letters, numbers, and different abstract shapes.
In Composició, the predominant signs are the crosses, which are perhaps the sign Tàpies most commonly used. There are many types, which suggest several meanings. Tàpies used it as the initial letter of his surname, but since ancient times it has been a symbol of the combination of opposites and of predestination. It also alludes to crucifixion and accordingly to sorrow and death. It may refer to the plus sign or suggest spatial coordinates.
For Tàpies, the wall became a metaphor for a forum, a discussion in which graffiti was used to protest against the oppressive political situation in his country during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (from 1936 until 1975). Composició recalls public walls covered with slogans and images of protest that the artist saw as a youth in Catalonia, a region in Spain that experienced the harshest repression under Franco. He leverages the expressiveness that writing on the wall can have, to make an impact on the viewer. Tàpies was interested in graffiti because of its spontaneous, direct gesture that returns to the origins of a feeling, to the primitive, but also the sense of protest and vindication it implies. For Tàpies, the wall could reveal the history, the passage of time, and natural events. The walls can can reflect the ravages of wars, but also lovers who leave their names and hearts carved in stone. The wall serves as a board to communicate the concerns of society.
1. Tàpies, Antoni. Comunicació sobre el mur. [Communication on the Wall.] Exh. cat. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1992.
3. Barral, Xavier. “Pintura i pintors del segle XX, en Art de Catalunya. Pintura moderna i contemporània.” [“Painting and painters of twentieth-century art in Catalonia: Modern and contemporary painting.”] L’Isard (Barcelona), vol. 9, 2001.
4. Glossary of the exhibition catalogue
6. Glossary of the exhibition catalogue
7. Penrose, Roland. Tàpies. Paris: Dutrou, Éditions Galilée, 1977.
What do you notice about this artwork? Describe, step by step and with as many details as possible, the process you think the artist went through to create his work.
Does it remind you of anything that you have seen? What other images come to mind when you see Composició (Composition)?
If you could touch the work, how do you think it would feel? Imagine that you could change the arrangement of the pieces. How would you combine them differently? What would you add or subtract?
Curators have said that this work resembles the graffitied walls that Tàpies may have seen in Spain during hard times and repression by dictator Francisco Franco. Do you think that today people express their feelings through graffiti on walls, or are they just meaningless markings? What kinds of messages do you find on public walls today? Where do you see graffiti today?
Tàpies gave this artwork a simple name. Ask students what they might title this work. Create a list of possible titles. Why did they choose theirs?
Communication on the Wall
In the artist’s text “Communication on the Wall,” he described the concept of the wall through a descriptive paragraph where he listed words suggested by the theme.
“How many suggestions come off from the image of the wall and all its possible derivations! Separation, jail, testimony of the passage of time; smooth, calm, white surfaces; tortured, old, decrepit surfaces; signals of human tracks, objects; efforts, fight, sensation; destruction, cataclysm; or construction, sprouting, balance; rest of love, pain, disgust, disorder; romantic prestige of the ruins; contribution of organic elements, suggestive forms of natural rates and the spontaneous movement of the matter; landscaping sense, suggestion of the fundamental unit of all the things; generalized matter; affirmation and considers of the land; …. battlefield, garden; game land; destiny of the ephemeral... and so many, many ideas that were marching past one after another one like the cherries that we pick from a basket. And so many, many things that seemed to become related to philosophies’ pride and wisdom so beloved for me.”
- First, without reading the paragraph to the students, write down a list of all the images that come up when they see the artwork.
- Later, read the paragraph and hand students a copy of it.
- Compare, contrast, and reflect on both lists. How are they similar or different?
- Write a poem by selecting words or phrases from both lists. The poem should not be a description of Composició (Composition), but rather a description of what they feel about the artwork or the theme of the wall. When the poems are complete, students should read them to the class.
- Ask students to select a word or phrase and make a sculpture responding to it. Try this exercise using different materials, including cardboard, clay, and metal foil. When they are finished, reflect on the process and the products.
Collective Wall of Signs
The teacher will invite the students to think about a special wall that they like and why they like it. Just as Tàpies was influenced by his environment and inspired by the events of his personal life, the students should reflect on how their special wall is significant to them, and what characteristics make that wall special.
Hand a sheet of paper to each student. They can use it vertically or horizontally to draw or paint a personal sign they invent as a signature or a special message that they want to communicate. Each student’s artwork will function as a brick on a collective wall built by the entire class. Once the students finish with their individual work, they will tape it together to form a collective artwork.
If possible, the wall should be in the classroom, or in some area of the school on display. To conclude, encourage the students to reflect about how the bricks they created as individuals construct a collective wall which is meaningful to the whole group.
1. Tàpies, Antoni. “Communication on the Wall.” Complete text in Spanish
Calligraphy: The art of producing written ideograms, the basic component of East Asian written languages, traditionally with a soft, fine-tipped brush.
Graffiti: Writing or drawings scratched or sprayed on walls or other surfaces in a public place.
Refractory concrete: A cement that remains hard after setting even if subjected to high temperatures. It is normally made from aluminum oxide, calcium oxide, and silica, among other elements commonly used in refractory materials.
“Antoni Tàpies. Great Painting, 1958,” Guggenheim Museum Collection Online
Barral, Xavier. “Pintura i pintors del segle XX, en Art de Catalunya. Pintura moderna i contemporània.” [“Painting and painters of twentieth-century art in Catalonia: Modern and contemporary painting.”] L’Isard (Barcelona), vol. 9, 2001.
Tàpies, Antoni. “Communication on the Wall.” Complete text in Spanish
Penrose, Roland. Tàpies. Paris: Dutrou, Éditions Galilée, 1977.
Tàpies, Antoni. Comunicació sobre el mur. [Communication on the Wall.] Exh. cat. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1992.