The Laurentin Gallery is treating us to a score of paintings, drawings and prints by the Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies. The very name of Tàpies is now synonymous with one of the most prolific creative works of the second half of the twentieth century, yet his works are seldom exhibited in Belgium. What makes this exhibition even more special is that it’s the first of its kind in a gallery.

Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) was born in Barcelona. His father was a lawyer and his mother came from a family of booksellers and publishers. Tàpies founded the Dau al Set movement and the eponymous magazine. He exhibited for the first time in his hometown in 1950, got a scholarship to study in Paris in 1951, participated in the 1952 Venice Biennale, moved to New York in 1953 from whence he returned to Europe with the idea that his works must be devoid of the literary references ingrained in his paintings until then. His aura kept expanding from then on, ultimately winning him a Golden Lion award at the 1993 Venice Biennale.

When Tàpies paints, he performs an act of power. Painting takes him through unchartered territories, as he redefines art in a context fuelled by post-war artistic experimentation. A sublime odyssey, a journey that is as much philosophical and metaphysical as a reality-check, in everyday, commonplace situations. It conveys all at once the intimate voice of his worried ego and societal and political concern, deep awareness and a comprehensive worldview. He draws his visual inspiration from the United States, Italy, and France but also from the Far East.  “I wanted to show that we are linked to every detail, every thing, every tree, every mountain (…). There is an element of truth; we know very well that we create reality.  But if we understood that all this reality does not need humans to exist, we would be a little more humble and a bit more respectful, too, not only with regard to nature but also human beings.” It’s all there: the existential condition of the man, the artist and the oeuvre.

Tàpies was marked by the Spanish Civil War and its atrocities, by Franco’s dictatorship, and by his love of Catalonia. Struck by a serious lung infection at the young age of 18, his body had to fight the disease long and hard in the confinement of two years of solitary convalescence. During this forced rest, he read extensively and decided to dedicate himself to art. His work is like a path strewn with clues, a distillate of symbols which sometimes expresses itself with brushes, other times with objects. Humble, disparate, always taken from everyday life, these objects become abstractions. Indeed, the artist will not separate the mundane from art. Art is revealed as a meditation space, existential thinking, collusion between mind and matter. The expression of suffering, too.

Dense, heavy, unctuous, the pasty paint layers stretch with a primitive force. The palette is serious and austere, consisting of ochres, greys, blacks, and occasional bright, painful and bloody reds. Sand, soil, wood or varnish is sometimes mixed with the paint. From time to time, immaculate, dazzling touches. Tàpies conveys the message of matter, which is at the heart of his work, in a homogenous whole which integrates writing as well as some mathematical characters. The cross is like a recurring esoteric ritual. There is a rush of ink and brush strokes on some paintings, underscoring his passion for Oriental art and calligraphy.

The Laurentin Gallery brought together pieces spanning the period 1958 to 2010.  Worth examining are Petit Ovale Blanc created in the USA in 1958, Empreinte de Semelle marron (1981), this A Renversé (1984) (Upside down A) like an echo to the artist’s first name, Copa I     (2001), a motley of wooden objects, Composition (2006) and Signes et Jambe (2006) from which springs a heartfelt cry. Ever since he started painting, Tàpies enjoyed representing the body or some body parts. Finally, Tableau avec formule (2010) reminds us of his love of mathematics.

Antoni Tàpies
Laurentin Gallery
43 rue Ernest Allard
1000 Brussels
Until 14 January 2016
Tuesdays – Saturdays, from 10:30h to 18:30h 
www.galerie-laurentin.com

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Antoni Tàpies, Sinuos vertical, 2007, (c) Laurentin Gallery

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Antoni Tàpies, Copa I, 2001 (c) Laurentin Gallery

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Antoni Tàpies, Poem 6, 1974, (c) Laurentin Gallery

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Antoni Tàpies, A renversé, 1984, (c) Laurentin Gallery

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